"You have to feel a sound for it to be effective": sonic surfaces in film and television

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A significant concern in discussions of sound and music in film and television is the relationship between sound and image. The topic can range from the synchronisation of sound effect and action as achieved through foley work to the affective contribution of non-diegetic music, both of which contribute to the density of the fictional world we experience and respond to. Yet, unlike the image, sound is not a tangible phenomena, so what are we responding to and what do we feel? In order to address such questions about the material impact of sound to experiences of film and television, this essay will explore the affective materiality of sound through discussion of surface. If hearing itself is a tactile process, a result of interaction with surfaces (reflection and reverberation) (Altman, 1992: 21– 23), the correspondence between sound and image involves a number of relationships between surfaces. This might be most evident in sound design: the ensuring of surface heard matches surface seen (for example, a clipped hard thwack if someone in leather shoes crosses a polished wooden floor); a lack of reverberation accompanying sounds made in a cluttered room with soft furnishings. Moreover, sound design is a textured process creating a layered sound mix from multiple surfaces, the qualities of which contribute to the overall nature of their interrelationship. Although music is neither tangible, nor strictly representational, we can still discuss its surface, through the ways quality of sound is modified is through rhythm, harmony and pitch, and in reference to the surface qualities of instruments.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Screen Music and Sound
EditorsMiguel Mera, Ron Sadoff, Ben Winters
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherRoutledge Taylor & Francis Group
ISBN (Electronic)9781315681047
ISBN (Print)9781138855342
Publication statusPublished - 25 May 2017


  • Film sound
  • Television sound
  • Music
  • Sound effects
  • Sound design
  • Surface
  • Texture


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