Friday, January 23, 2015


With or without much science or knowledge, people try to solve problems they run into during their daily lives. As a by-product, they create Technology: tools and techniques that help keep solving the problems efficiently without having to re-invent the solution multiple number of time...                                                                                                                                  -Eduardo Escardo-Raffo

(Contd from Sound…Music...Cinema...)

So, initially at the instance of the pioneers like Edison, the film was buttressed by sound created in the pit, as there was no known expedient for putting the same in the horse’s mouth. The sounds would vary with each performance and the public had to stretch their convictions, and pretend that the illusion was real. In general, all authorities are in agreement as to the purpose of Cinema: creating a credible and sustained illusion. Cinema pioneers doggedly went after problems that beset the fledgling craft. Columbus stumbled into a new continent and in the process created avenues that enriched human existence immeasurably. Likewise, cinema pioneers created a whole new Culture, a major component being the technology of Sound in Cinema, which is now one of the most critical disciplines associated with cinema, next in importance perhaps, to Editing.  Before we see how sound was wedded to vision, a covert and hitherto unsuspected association between the two needs to be highlighted.

The process of evolution of the talkie and how sound and vision interact, is quite instructive. McGurk and MacDonald (1976:US) experimented exhaustively with the phenomenon, producing their paper “Hearing Lips and Seeing Voices” wherein the McGurk Effect-how the sum of vision and sound differed from merely the sum (vision+sound) - was unveiled.


The burden of the song is this: “vision is the primary sense for humans but sound is multimodal, involving information from more than a single sensory modality, more particularly from audition and vision… when it comes to recognize speech or sound, the brain cannot differentiate whether it is seeing or hearing the incoming information” (Wikipedia). By throwing sound into the arena, the players changed the very complexion of the cine-experience.

As a small illustration, take the example of synchronous sound: one that emanates from the screen visuals, and asynchronous sound, which is disembodied.  Asynchronous sounds impart an unexpected dimension to the visuals. For instance a couple fights on-screen and in the background we hear the siren of an ambulance. This could imply that the fight might result in a medical condition, or could go on to enhance realism of the scene by underscoring an urban setting. All this, without being saddled with a separate visual, achieving the desired outcome in an economical and a more subtle manner. Similarly the Akashwani signature tune has conventionally become a surrogate for day-break- the audio obviates the need to show the Sunrise, people brushing teeth, birds scurrying to get the worm for their chicks- and remember, initially there was no colour to embellish the morn… Likewise a tell-tale musical track could be used in the background to indicate the feelings fleeting through the mind of the on-screen character or sought to be engendered in the minds of the audience. Battleship Potemkin was a silent movie, but released with an original background score in Germany. The score supposedly had a ‘crushing effect’ in Germany, so much so that in many places the German military command passed the film but banned the musical score. Goebbels reputedly said about the movie ‘it is a marvelous film without equal in cinema…anyone who has no firm political conviction could become a Bolshevik after seeing the movie..’

Another interesting instance of the secular interaction between vision and sound  is quoted by Ashish Rajyadhyaksha from Keshavrao Bhole’s book Majhe Sangeet: Rachana ani Digdarshan. Bhole composed music for V.Shantaram’s initial talkies like Amritmanthan and Andhalyanchi Shala. Keshavrao Bhole wrote:

During rehearsals I timed every sequence with a stop-watch and composed my phrases to given durations. And then to demonstrate the effect to the director, as much as to actors and musicians, we would play to the action in the rehearsal. But we had a remarkable and unforeseen result. The actors started choreographing their performance to the music, finding a rhythm that they matched with their movements, speaking their lines to the curves of the music….the pace of the performance was bound to the music…..I got new ideas about the music itself. We could exercise greater control on sound volume than ever before…The pitch and qualities of the spoken voice helped us to choose our instruments as well, so that there was no interference in frequency. It helped us choose our octaves…

Putting sound into cinema was easier said than done. The noises of whirring cameras, lurching trolleys and overhead cranes could not be overcome and the best that could be done was nocturnal shooting. But so what- during dance-shoots the costumes would create their own noises.  Microphones would be stationary, restricting movements of characters. Voice delivery, for instance pitch of singing, would be affected by vigorous movement of characters. Retakes had to be done constantly, adding to costs. Songs posed their own challenge. The rhythm had to be synchronous with the action in case of real-time recording- imagine what would happen to an Ayega Anewala in such conditions…and indeed song would prove to be the thin edge of the wedge which was destined to prise open the can of Dubbing…

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