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The Sonic Art of Film and the Sonic Arts in Film

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The Palgrave Handbook of the Philosophy of Film and Motion Pictures

Abstract

My goal in this chapter is threefold. First, I argue that film is, at least partly, an art of sound. Most films are not made merely to be seen; they are also made to be heard. This offers an alternative to traditional accounts of film, which take film to be an essentially visual artform, and it suggests new directions for research in philosophy of film. Second, I argue that there are several distinct arts of sound in film. Some of these arts, like film music, are “aesthetic” arts; others, like sound effects, are “functional” arts. Still others, like sound design, are both functional and aesthetic. Third, I consider and reply to the objection that the arts of sound in film cannot be arts at all, because they are all functional.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Even “cinema” is derived from the Greek word for “movement”—presumably visual movement. One exception here is “talkies.”

  2. 2.

    Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979), 16–23.

  3. 3.

    Casey O’Callaghan, Sounds: A Philosophical Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 1–4.

  4. 4.

    Martin Heidegger, “The Age of the World Picture,” in Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, translated by William Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977).

  5. 5.

    Thomas Wartenberg, “Philosophy of Film,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (CSLI, 2017).

  6. 6.

    Thanks to Ben Sellick for pointing out this case to me.

  7. 7.

    Levinson, “Film Music and Narrative Agency,” in Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies, edited by David Bordwell and Noël Carroll (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996), 254–288, at 269.

  8. 8.

    Donnelly notable sequences in other films, such as Se7en (1997), Ju-On: The Grudge (2003), and The Fog (2005). Donnelly, “Saw Heard,” 112.

  9. 9.

    See Carol Flinn, “The Most Romantic Art of All: Music in the Classical Hollywood Cinema,” Cinema Journal, 29 (1990), 35–50; William H. Rosar, “Film Music—What’s in a Name?” The Journal of Film Music 1 (2002), 1–18.

  10. 10.

    Tangerine Dream, a German electronic group, scored films such as Thief (1981) and Near Dark (1987).

  11. 11.

    Some philosophical discussion of film music concerns diegetic music; Peter Kivy provides a taxonomy of certain kinds of songs in film. Peter Kivy, “Realistic Song in the Movies,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 71 (2013): 75–80.

  12. 12.

    The role here is, of course, not unique to film, since it also occurs in opera. See Kivy, “Music in the Movies: A Philosophical Enquiry,” in Film Theory and Philosophy, edited by Richard Allen and Murray Smith (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 308–328.

  13. 13.

    Aaron Copland, “Tip to the Moviegoers: Take off Those Ear-Muffs,” The New York Times, 6 November 1949, section six. Jeff Smith provides a helpful summary of Copland’s view in “Unheard Melodies: A Critique of Psychoanalytic Theories of Film,” in Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies, ed., David Bordwell and Noël Carroll, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996), 232.

  14. 14.

    Noël Carroll, Mystifying Movies: Fads & Fallacies in Contemporary Film Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 219.

  15. 15.

    Carroll, Mystifying Movies, 223.

  16. 16.

    Jerrold Levinson, “Film Music and Narrative Agency.”

  17. 17.

    Peter Kivy, “Music in the Movies: A Philosophical Enquiry,” in Film Theory and Philosophy, edited by Richard Allen and Murray Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

  18. 18.

    Kivy, “Music in the Movies,” 324–5.

  19. 19.

    Theodor Adorno and Hanns Eisler, Composing for the Films (Revised Edition, London: Athlone Press, 1947/1994).

  20. 20.

    Both Carroll and Kivy discuss this theory in more detail. Carroll, Mystifying Movies, 214–216, and Kivy, “Music in the Movies.”

  21. 21.

    Claudia Gorbman, “Narrative Film Music,” Yale French Studies 60 (1980): 183–203, and Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987); Flinn, “The Most Romantic Art of All.”

  22. 22.

    Jeff Smith, “Unheard Melodies,” 239.

  23. 23.

    Smith, “Unheard Melodies,” 240.

  24. 24.

    Jeff Smith, “Music,” in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Film, edited by Paisley Livingston and Carl Plantinga (New York: Routledge), 190.

  25. 25.

    Noël Carroll and Margaret Moore, “Music and Motion Pictures,” in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music, edited by Theodore Gracyk and Andrew Kania (New York: Routledge, 2011), 457.

  26. 26.

    Carroll and Moore, “Music and Motion Pictures,” 458. Carroll and Moore use the phrase “motion-picture music,” but I use the phrase “film music.”

  27. 27.

    Carroll and Moore, 458.

  28. 28.

    There is also a question about whether film scores are musical works. Jeff Smith argues that they are not. Musical works are the kinds of things that are instantiated in performances. But film scores, Smith argues, are not performances—they are recordings of performances. Jeff Smith, “Music,” In The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Film, edited by Paisley Livingston and Carl Plantinga (New York: Routledge, 2009). For an argument that films are not works for performance, see David Davies, “Ontology,” in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Film, edited by Paisley Livingstone and Carl Plantinga (New York: Routledge, 2009).

  29. 29.

    One exception is Gerald Mast, who defines film as an art of projected images and recorded sounds. Mast, Film/Cinema/Movie: A Theory of Experience (New York: Harper & Row, 1977).

  30. 30.

    Berys Gaut, A Philosophy of Cinematic Art (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 302; see also 18 and 307.

  31. 31.

    Noël Carroll, The Philosophy of Motion Pictures (Malden: Blackwell, 2008).

  32. 32.

    Interestingly, one might argue that “moving images” are not to be understood in a strictly visual sense, since images are not just visual. Consider, for example, Aristotle’s definition of images, according to which images are any sensory representation of an object. On this view, there can be auditory images. If one held an account of “image” that was not modality-specific, one could hold that an account of film as moving images can allow for audition, since there are auditory images. See Aristotle, De Anima, translated by C.D.C. Reeve (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2017), II.2 and III.3. Thanks to Shawn Loht for this point.

  33. 33.

    Katherine Thomson-Jones, “Movie Appreciation and the Digital Medium,” in Current Controversies in Philosophy of Film, edited by Katherine Thomson-Jones (New York: Routledge, 2016), 37–38.

  34. 34.

    Rudolf Arnheim, Film as Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957), 210. Arnheim goes on to say that words interrupt silence, but images do not interrupt.

  35. 35.

    Indeed, for many sequences of film, we would do better to hear rather than to see the film. Michel Chion, Audio-Vision, translated by Claudia Gorbman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 3–4.

  36. 36.

    Gregory Currie, Image and Mind: Film, Philosophy, and Cognitive Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, 3.

  37. 37.

    Currie, Image and Mind, 3.

  38. 38.

    Katherine Thomson-Jones, Aesthetics and Film (London: Bloomsbury, 2008), 12–13.

  39. 39.

    Noël Carroll, “The Specificity of Media in the Arts,” Journal of Aesthetic Education 19 (1985): 5–20. I suspect, however, that, using Lopes’ account of art kinds as appreciative kinds, it will follow that the art kind of film, as it exists today, depends essentially on sound.

  40. 40.

    Gerald Mast writes: “The movies have never been silent… The piano was as essential to the early nickelodeons as the projector.” Mast, Film/Cinema/Movie, 206.

  41. 41.

    Gaut, Philosophy of Cinematic Art, 221.

  42. 42.

    Presumably, Gaut is following Currie’s line of reasoning here, for he writes earlier that sound is an “extra capacity” of film, presumably inessential. Gaut, Philosophy of Cinematic Art, 37.

  43. 43.

    “we will regard something as an instance of the moving image if and only if (1) it is a detached display or a series thereof; (2) it belongs to the class of things from which the production of the impression of movement is technically possible; (3) performance tokens of it are generated by templates which are tokens; (4) performance tokens of it are not artworks in their own right; and (5) it is a two-dimensional array.” Carroll, The Philosophy of Motion Pictures, 78.

  44. 44.

    Carroll, Theorizing the Moving Image (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 72.

  45. 45.

    Gaut, Philosophy of Cinematic Art, 94–95.

  46. 46.

    M.G.F. Martin, “Sounds and Images,” British Journal of Aesthetics 52 (2012): 331–351.

  47. 47.

    For introductions to these issues, see Casati and Dokic (2010) and O’Callaghan (2009).

  48. 48.

    Michel Chion, The Voice in Cinema, edited and translated by Claudia Gorbman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 17.

  49. 49.

    See, for example, Vivian Sobchak, The Address of the Eye (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), and Carnal Thoughts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004). I thank Shawn Loht for bringing this point to my attention.

  50. 50.

    See, for example. Amy Coplan, “Catching Character’s Emotions: Emotional Contagion Responses to Narrative Fiction,” Film Studies 8 (2006): 26–38; Carl Plantinga, “Putting Cognition in Its Place: Affect and the Experience of Narrative Film,” in Current Controversies in Philosophy of Film, edited by Katherine Thomson-Jones, 131–147 (New York: Routledge, 2016); Dan Shaw, “Mirror Neurons and Simulation Theory: A Neurophysiological Foundation for Cinematic Empathy,” in Current Controversies in Philosophy of Film, edited by Katherine Thomson-Jones, 148–162 (New York: Routledge, 2016); and Murray Smith, Film, Art and the Third Culture: A Naturalized Aesthetics of Film (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

  51. 51.

    Andy Hamilton, “Music and the Aural Arts.” British Journal of Aesthetics 47 (2007): 46–63.

  52. 52.

    Donnelly, “Saw Heard,” 112.

  53. 53.

    I diverge from Hamilton’s original wording here. Hamilton’s terms are “non-significant sound design” and “significant sound design.”

  54. 54.

    Hamilton, “Music and the Aural Arts,” 62.

  55. 55.

    Hamilton, “Music and the Aural Arts,” 62.

  56. 56.

    Several films are themselves about how sound effects are produced in films, for example, Brian De Palma’s Blow Out (1981) and Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (2012).

  57. 57.

    Many films draw explicit attention to sound design. Miguel Gomes’ film Tabu (2012) involves heavy fictionalization and stylization of sounds. In Michael Haneke’s Cache (2005), background sound is often amplified for indoor scenes, whereas it’s drowned out for outdoor scenes. The Coen Brothers are famous for their attention to sound in film, working closely with their sound designer Skip Lievsay; their films often include noticeably stylized sounds.

  58. 58.

    Chion, Audiovision, 5.

  59. 59.

    Jerrold Levinson, “The Concept of Music,” in Levinson, Music, Art, and Metaphysics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 273. Notice that Levinson’s account of music diverges from Hamilton’s formalist account of music.

  60. 60.

    Hamilton, “Music and the Aural Arts,” 54.

  61. 61.

    See Christopher Bartel, “Music without Metaphysics?” British Journal of Aesthetics 71 (2011): 383–398, at 390. Bartel is responding to Aaron Ridley’s argument that musical ontology is useless. See Ridley, “Against Musical Ontology,” Journal of Philosophy 100 (2003): 203–220. Bartel argues that Muzak might be really bad music, but it’s music, nevertheless. That’s exactly the problem with it!

  62. 62.

    Stephen Davies, “On Defining Music,” The Monist 95 (2012): 535–555, at 552.

  63. 63.

    Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings, edited by Raymond Geuss and Ronald Speirs (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 77–80. I thank Shawn Loht and Katie Brennan for helpful comments and discussion on this point.

  64. 64.

    Adam Gopnik, “Music to your ears: The quest for 3-D recording and other mysteries of sound.” The New Yorker, January 28, 2013. Accessed at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/01/28/music-to-your-ears

  65. 65.

    Adam Gopnik, At the Strangers’ Gate: Arrivals in New York (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017), 227.

  66. 66.

    I’m grateful to Ben Sellick for guiding me to interesting instances of sound in film, and for his illuminating reflections on them. Thanks also to Noël Carroll, Laura di Summa, Shawn Loht, and Katie Brennan for their help at various points.

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Dyck, J. (2019). The Sonic Art of Film and the Sonic Arts in Film. In: Carroll, N., Di Summa, L.T., Loht, S. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of the Philosophy of Film and Motion Pictures. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-19601-1_34

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