Sound to Film

Unit One: Applied Sound Design

After having a fairly tough time with the first assignment for the Applied Sound Design unit (Mixing Techniques), it came as something of a relief during the opening Sound to Film lecture when Mark Dean emphasised that we were here to make a piece of art! I found this to be immensely liberating, as I had felt overwhelmed by the various technical aspects of mixing while working on the previous project.

At first I was drawn to tackle the clip from the French movie La Haine, but after trying out a number of ideas using the ‘needle drop’ technique I decided to go with the Kinetoscope clip instead.

Researching into the Kinetoscope I discovered that it was actually a peep-show viewing machine (first constructed in 1890) that had been invented by W. K. L. Dickson at Thomas Edison’s research laboratory at West Orange in America. The films shown on the Kinetoscope consisted of a variety of short fifteen-second loops, usually of theatrical acts or scenes, while the actual machines themselves were installed in stores, hotels and parlours in cities throughout the United States. Looking at an illustration of one of these parlours it appears that these silent films were accompanied solely by the clank and whir of the Kinetoscope itself, with only the hustle and bustle of the parlour providing any sort of backdrop.

As Edison was the inventor of the phonograph, my first thought was to somehow work the crackle of vinyl into my soundtrack. This would also help to emphasise the overwhelming feeling of nostalgia one gets while viewing these aged and ageing clips. Remembering the term ‘pit music’ (i.e. music from the orchestra pit) from Mark’s first lecture, I dug out my Oxford University Press Instruments of the Orchestra seven-inch vinyl box-set with the idea of sourcing all my sounds from there. As the Kinetoscope films were originally short loops, I decided to construct my own ‘locked grooves’ by applying sticky-tape to the surface of the record. I then recorded these loops, as well as the rumble of the record player itself, with my digital recorder before importing the sounds into Pro Tools.

Edison later came up with a way to synchronise the Kinetoscope to a phonograph (the Kinetophone), but I would have imagined that any attempt to synchronise a phonograph record with a loop of film was bound to be a bit hit and miss. With this in mind I decided that synching the vinyl loops with the action ‘on screen’ was not a priority. Instead my loops would act as orchestral accompaniment to the sound implied by the performance and movement captured on film.

In conclusion, I feel my soundtrack (with its collection of bumps, clicks, crackles and hiss that one no longer hears in this age of digital audio) successfully emphasises the aforementioned feelings of nostalgia. It also provides a common thread, an audio continuum of off-screen sound and pit music that somehow unites the disparate content of each short scene.


Grieveson, L. & Krämer, P. eds. (2004) The silent cinema reader. London: Routledge.

Neale, S. (1985) Cinema and technology: image, sound, colour. London: Macmillan Education Ltd.


Tutor Mark Dean’s comments:

This is an excellent response to the brief. You have clearly researched your material, tested out possibilities, made considered choices, and finally constructed a work which addresses the assignment criteria, and functions as an artwork in its own right. I particularly like the way you have made separate musical scores, each appropriate to its respective scene, and then subtly segued each into the next, thereby maintaining both a discreteness of individual imagery and a continuity of flow throughout the whole. Moreover, the piece builds in intensity and emotion in a way that generates a sense of musical independence, whilst at the same time drawing out the peculiar atmosphere of silent film.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s