“Every drop of my blood sings our song. There, can you hear it?”: Haptic Sound and Embodied Memory in the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul

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Frequently drawing on avant-garde formal strategies, bringing together personal, social and cultural memories in a cinematic collage, the films of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul recreate what Richard Dyer has called ‘the texture of memory’ (Dyer 2010). Using narrative techniques such as repetition, fragmentation, and convergence (as different threads of a narrative resonate uncannily both within and across the films), the work expresses what the process of remembering feels like, how the warp and weft of the past continuously moves through and shapes the present just as the present shapes our memories of the past. While sound design in classical cinema often privileges the voice, lowering ambient sound in order to ensure intelligibility while creating an illusion of naturalism, in these films ‘natural’ ambient or environmental sounds are amplified to the extent that they become almost denaturalized, thus heightening their affective power. In Blissfully Yours (Sud sanaeha, 2002), Tropical Malady (Sud pralad, 2004), Syndromes and a Century (Sang sattawat, 2006) and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Loong Boonmee raleuk chaat, 2010) the sound of the environment is often so dominant that it dismantles our reliance on the verbal or the linguistic to ground our understanding of what is happening in the narrative, and instead encourages (or rather insists upon) an embodied, phenomenological, engagement with the sensuality of the scene. This use of sound and textual synaesthesia foregrounds sound's materialism and its relationship to touch, sight, and taste, creating a feeling of sensory immersion on the part of the spectator where the senses seem to become indistinct. Alongside frequent bursts of pop music (expressing jouissance), the films’ sound designer Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr uses these environmental sounds to create rhythmic ‘sonic sequences’ that have themselves an almost musical quality reminiscent of experimental avant-garde compositions from the 1950s and 60s made up of single or multi-tracked field recordings. This essay examines these moments in Apichatpong's films and argues that they enable a sense of connection and intersubjectivity by appealing directly to the audio-viewer's shared knowledge of how we remember.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-79
Number of pages18
JournalThe New Soundtrack
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013


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