Soviets and Their Theories Around Sound in Experimental Film

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Aspen Stanley

The idea of montage is heavily explained, and defended by early soviet film-makers such as Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Alexandrov. They would discuss theories in the construction and purpose of montage. When the introduction of sound into the cinematic experience, sure enough, the same soviets had much to say about the way sound should exist and interact with the montage.

The Soviets introduce a few possibilities for how sound can serve a purpose in montage, and also how sound could be the detriment of the piece. In attempts to stray away from the theater and grow into the potential film has apart from it use to capture theatrics, rather as a medium of constructing montage, the automatic adherence of sound to film is what is could be the driving detriment of a film. A “backing track”, so to speak, is what these thinkers are referring to: the purpose of adding sound for the sake of adding sound. This addition of a “backing track” to film is curious in early film because, often the music added to a film was being performed by a live orchestra in the cinema. In order to avoid “destroying the culture of the montage” a few applications for sound in film are introduced.

The idea of effective experimental sound should lend itself to non-synchronization. the auditory component of the montage shout be set apart as another element which could lead to the creation of “orchestral counterpart.” The Soviets did not mean unsynchronization, rather an internal synchronization within the components working individually of each other. Visual rhythm is important to bring up here. Could sound constructed in this way create an independence between the auditory and visual components of the film? How could the exist independently and simultaneously? Where does visual and auditory rhythm line up in a work? And, how would this non-synchronization add to the idea of montage as discussed by the Soviets?

Sound is a new element that is introduced to montage. It can be used as a catalyst, or as binding agent, it can be expository, or abstract, it could even be result of the film itself. Whatever sound can do, the Soviets agree that sound as the ability to propel film into international waters.

Pudovkin dives into sound as means of expression when it comes to filmmaking and also as a way to provide further context and information about a scene. He talks about how the viewer could hear something that they cannot see. At the same time, the viewer could see something that they do not hear. How could sound be the ultimate exposition tool? And, How could sound be a tool for confusion and withhold information from the viewer? Pudovkin also address two notable rhythms that cou be used in filmmaking. The first rhythm is that of the objective world, what is quantifiable, tangible and observably present (or absent). The second rhythm is a bit more complex and could be used experimentally heavily in concept. That is, the rhythm a person perceives as they view the world as the pick up on only part of the entire rhythm. How does the idea of perceivable fragmentation tie into the use of sound in film. How are these idea applied effectively to film? Film has the power to obtain rhythm without the use of sound (i.e. visual music). Why, then does the addition of sound add so much to the overall meaning of  the film? What then, is there a difference between sound and music within a film? Is it possible for music to transcend the theatrical application of being sustained as a simple “backing track” and step into the realm of experimental sound while still existing as perceivable and notable music?

Pudovkin states, “Just as the image is an objective perception of events, so the music expresses the subjective appreciation of this objectivity.” So, could music, a “backing track” be more than a space filler? Could it, in fact be a response to the image itself? If so, if music is a response to the imagery, how does it contribute to the idea of montage as explained by the Soviets? Music play a pivotal role in film by setting the mood, the rhythm, the ambience of a sequence. It often serves as the binder, connecting one shot to another, one scene to another, or following the idea of associative montage connecting two seemingly unrelated ideas.

How then, does music and sound differ? Do they serve the same purpose, are they interchangeable? Or, are they distinctly different, acting independently of each other and the image?

Both sound and music are a component of the montage. They can be used as individual modules within the film, or they can be used to mold, shape, and propel the film as a medium of expression of ideas.

Sound has the ability in film to provide information as much as it has the power to withhold it. Sound in film should be selected, curated and intentional. In experimental film such as structural film, sound could act as catalyst by drawing attention to the mechanism of the structural film. The sound could also be result of the visuals, a consequence of the mechanism, or a result of an action. In terms of montage, sound has the ability to hold together crucial imagery within the composition, or juxtapose images in an intentional way. Sound, when included in film will always interact with the visuals.

  1. How does the idea of non-synchronization, when dealing with applying sound to film create an “orchestral counterpart”? How then does this “orchestral counterpart” act independently within the context of the visual nature of film, and how does it add to the entirety of the piece?
  2. How does music and sound differ? Do they serve the same purpose, are they interchangeable? Or, are they distinctly different, acting independently of each other and the image? How do they act as an addition to montage as discussed by the Soviets?
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