Workshop 5: Ear defenders:designing film sound for safe living by Annette Davison

Dr Annette Davison, Music, University of Edinburgh: BSc (City) MA (Exeter) PhD (Sheffield)

Annette’s talk discussed the subjects of eavesdropping, sound and it’s context in safe living. Film sound + music are little discussed as they are unseen. But they work hard to generate how we are able to believe what we see on the screen. Alfred Hitchcock for example did not want orchestra for his film “Lifeboat”(1944), because there is no orchestra in the sea. In 70s, sensitive rifle mikes sanitized audio surveillance as seen in the films The Conversation and Blowup.

What are the current issues of sound + audio surveillance in UK?
1) MPs and eavesdropping: people bugged at prison by police, it was not for a warrant for arrest. MPs and prison conversations had been taped
2) Wire tap intercepts in court. As evidence are admissible in court.
3) ”CCTV must not record conversations” Record the crowds of 2012 Olympics. Not between members of the public, intrusive and unjustified. It must be made clear that audio recording is taking place. Sound is public and private.

Film sound drives content of films or displaces fear from one subject to another. Surveillance in film as we watch scenes unfold e.g. Rear Window and Peeping Tom. Eaves dropping as privileged. “Sounds saturates space like a vapour”. Hear things without visual confirmation of their source. Horror films of the unseen sound is most terrifying.

Case Study
Coppola’s The Conversation (1974)
Gene Hackman is an audio surveillance man. Hired to record a couple’s conversation in park in SF. He uses 2 riflemikes and normal mike. He just wants a nice recording, 100% capture.He finds a sentence that is obscured and finds the sentence via his tech lab equipment. He now cares what the couple are saying, he tells the RC priest and becomes guilty. The confessional is most intimate scene in the film.He allows a woman to seduce him and decides to destroy the tapes.but tapes are stolen. He tries to find the couple. He begins to record conversation via being by a toilet. Seen as filthy and is in the gutter.

The difference in listening to conversation can reinterpret the meaning and has the potential to be abused. Interpretation is fallible(human error). Surveillance carries with it moral responsibility (for it may be abused) The recording equipment presented as subjective and harry is objectified.

The soundtrack? The tapes play a key role – organise depiction of image The film is a lie: 2 sentences. Harry is absorbed into the film’s fabric via the score.He plays tenor sax along with the solo via tapes of jazz players. He is simulating which goes against the free expression. But as the movie develops, he stops listening to the jazz and begins to play on is own and becomes included in the whole musical piano score as he becomes the object of surveillance. Starts to try to find the bugging equipment.He trashes the flat, the camera pans around to him and back across the flat. And the credits begin to scroll. Nice shot.

Sound is private and sight is public. Eaves dropping and wire intercept: state believe is necessary for national security esp if police are doing it. Undermines lawyer/client confidential and release of prisoners. CCTV code of practice alters our understating. Sonic is private and not to be intruded upon.

Walter Merge: film and sound editor: Surround sound systems. People turn around if noise is increased to much away from the screen.

Sound is:
Inherently migratory and unbounded (train conversation)
Relatively invisible
Mixed not like imagery
Mapped across the body, sight comes in at the eyes. Pan-aural
Maureen Webb: illusions of security in the post 9/11 world


Greg interested in the discussion of intonation and what was said. Notorious. Wiretapping on vinyl. Elizabeth Weiss eavesdropping in film The lives of others: Stasi the danger of liberation, desiring of the other to want to help etc Blowout: Brian De Palma

Mark mentions an American TV show police group who try to carry out surveillance of drug group. Ciname owners are now too worried about having too dark a cinema, they are now lighter and louder. Health and safety issues have influenced the presentation of the filmo. Adverts play louder than the film + tv. Matinee is louder when there are no bodies in the cinema , bodies absorb the sound.

Imogen Tyler points out that sound in relations ot security and safe living is an unusual layering and thought provoking. Role of sound in forms of protest. Protests make alot of sound in response to silent protests. Michael Winterbottom and use of sound in his film of torture. Sound makes films appear more professional rather than an image.

Lucy Suchman comments on the subjectification and objectification and relations of agency of fear . From outside to inside from Harry being outside and them as the objects to the other way round and how sound relates to the agency. Using soundtrack to envelop the subject.

You don’t always make us identify with the eaves dropper, but you identify with Harry at the beginning and makes you feel uncomfortable that his job is the eaves dropper but then he becomes the subject. You feel ok in the end

Andrew Clement notices how this talk links to identification: who they are precisely as essential to surveillance to tell people apart. Facial recognition systems, analysis of voice. And tracing a voice to a face.

Relevant Links

Janet Cardiff: artist: omnidirectioanl recording Venice Biennale from Canada. Watching mystery on screen but you hear people talking. Walking tours of places in central park

Mosquito: youth deterrent

One Response

  1. […] Workshop 5: Ear defenders:designing film sound for safe living by Annette Davison Posted on April 9, 2008 by safeliving […]

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