22 February, 2008

The Opposite of Tennis

Michel Chion has a wonderful way of putting things - droll without being arrogant: insightful, nose-in-front-of-your-face type stuff. Here's a typical example which concerns key differences between cinematic and televisual sound:

In a sports broadcast, of tennis matches especially, acoustic space is uncoupled from visual space. What we hear is at a stable level, always in aural long shot - even though it actually results from the sum total of points of audition of different mikes placed at strategic points on the court. On the other hand, the image selected by the editing crew alternates distanced perspectives (high angled views of the whole arena) with close views (faces or feet of the players, via telephoto lenses). This differential treatment , especially in moments when one of the players is grumbling or ranting and raving, produces a type of sound-image relation that is common to televised sports broadcasts, yet completely unknown to the cinema: faces of men or women in close up, via telephoto lenses, superimposed on their faraway and indistinct voices. In short, it gives us a symmetrical 'close-far' in contrast to the 'far-close' more characteristic of fiction films, where the long shot of a character can be accompanied by his or her voice heard up close.

Chion, M (1994). Audio-Vision, Sound on Screen. New York, N.Y. Columbia Unviversity Press.

I'll get back to why i've quoted this in a minute. The video I've posted here is a sketch for a short film I have planned with the working title 'Stookie Bill's Dream'. If you want to find out who Stookie Bill was, there's a short wiki entry here, and a simply beautiful lecture on him (and his handler) here. Bill was the first TV personality (ask David Hall) from a time when the audio and the image were the same thing. I'm making my own Stookie Bill at the moment, for recording rather than as a test dummy. More on this later...

The video isn't a finished piece. The shots are compiled roughly in subject (fun fair, shops, vehicles etc), and broadly in the order I shot them. I didn't have the tripod, it was bastard cold (just before Christmas) and I wasn't wearing gloves, so there's camera shake and a tendency not to linger for too long on any one thing. Having said all that, there's definitely something going on here which is all of its own. The reason I quoted the Chion is that when looking at how the sound and image work, there's a spacial short circuit going on, which I think is the converse of what Chion describes - the audio syncs directly to the light sources regardless of the distances - because, of course, its not audio in the usual sense - its sonified light. I've not really got to the essence of what's going on with this stuff, so i'm using this quote to illustrate a hunch - a feeling, if you will. Try listening on headphones and you'll get a better sense of what I mean. Perhaps.

It's worth considering that although this is video footage, you really don't need a camera to experience this odd in-between space - in fact a video camera creates complications on all sorts of levels, which aren't necessarily desirable.

I won't deny that there's a dissonance between the images and the sound which gives it a somewhat sardonic feel ( I particularly like the flamenco group, and the Burberry coat) - and I began to home in on this a bit when I was filming. Another working title for this was 'Fun', which alludes to this clash somewhat more.

Hooray for digital lighting systems, I say.