Blind or def?

Gorki Glaser-Müller

A couple of years ago my mother noticed that her field of view had narrowed. I turned out to be a tumor around one of the optic nerves. It strangled the blood supply and she lost her sight completely on one of her eyes. Now she has only eighty percent left of her sight on the other eye and it’s slowly but steadily deteriorating. During her life my mother has always been happy and wanted to travel around the world to see all the fantastic places it has to offer. Now she’ll never be able to do that I thought for a start. At least not SEE these places. So during a period of time I collected video images from my own journeys but also those of friends and acquaintances Översätt från: spanskatravels. In this way she would be able to see the world in a short time.

That my mother is loosing her sight is a fact, thankfully it’s happening very slowly. It’s a long time ago now that I gave up the good but naïve idea of collecting video images. Her illness still made me think though, analyze the tolls I use, the image and the sound. It made me value my different senses even compare them to one and other, seeing and listening. I think I may be a bit “damaged by my profession” because for a long time I thought about what seeing meant in relation to hearing. As a filmmaker I always think of the image, the sound and how the interact, it’s part of the job but when it came to my own experiences it was a new way of reasoning. What’s most important and when is it most important? Drawn to it’s extreme, if I had to choose between having my sight or hearing, what would I choose? The question is obviously fictional, childish, the kind question you would ask yourself as a child. But the answer was carefully considered. To come up with an answer I took the question seriously.

It was through the moving images I first learnt about sound and it’s qualities. Film should have sound, no one makes silent films? That was my attitude when I got in to The School of Photography and Film now more The School of Film Directing. It was through my encounters with teachers and later on with sound editors and sound technicians that I got my knowledge. I quickly discovered the hierarchy between image and sound, where image always draws the longer straw. I’ve experienced that hierarchy and unfortunately I continue spreading it. Especially when shooting, sad but true.

One example is that we as filmmakers more and more often use the term moving images instead of film, to avoid philosophical discussions concerning “what’s film and what isn’t? ”. But when using the term “moving images” it’s even worse in relation to sound, considering that sound here is completely excluded. Audio-visual work may be a more correct description. This includes far more genres and doesn’t leave out any of the senses. Neither is it per definition hierarchical.

I’ve had the benefit of teaching at different school around Sweden in specifically audiovisual work and it strikes me how uninterested the students of the sound in their work. I myself know how what it means to count on the sound as a storytelling component early on. It will cost you dearly in all aspects not to consider this. Once a student told me that at the fourth time in a certain song they started crying. I know several people who are affected in a similar way by music. Certain music, or a certain song makes them sad and possibly makes them cry. I myself have several songs like this. But I’ve never heard any one say “that image made me cry”. Indeed they do exist, I have ONE image like that really makes me sad, a moving image. But it’s not heard of as often as with music. Music is sound and when it comes down to it I believe that the sound is stronger than the image. In what regard I will explain later on.

I’d tip most of you would choose to keep you sight i.e. become def. Seeing is highly rated in our society, I’m talking culturally. There are many example of how we express our selves hierarchally when it comes to our senses. In my case I have many times heard and myself said “ver para creer” (seeing is believing) as they say in Spanish. Or the Swedish expression “he who lives will see”. In the land of the blind the one-eyed is king. “Go out and see the world” they say. I don’t believe my eyes. See things for what they really are etc. Maybe it’s not so strange we value our sight so highly. I remember being taught in school that we perceive the world around us mainly through seeing. Some even mean that two thirds of all our impressions are done via our eyes. On the other hand scientific studies of the ear didn’t start until very late, in the 16th century. It may be so that we culturally (using our rating scale) don’t value hearing and thereby don’t use it more than we do and this creates a vicious circle. I think of Aristotle’s belief that the soul was placed in the heart, something that’s still part of our culture today. “To sell ones heart”, “from the heart”, “heartless” are expressions based in this belief.

The image I consider to be absorbing, arresting. It requires you’re full attention, you read it for a matter of seconds, until you’ve understood or experienced it. This is true of the moving image in particular. We in the western world already live with a large number of messages through the moving image that tells us to do this or that. Often it’s to consume. There’s talk of Visual contamination. Within a couple of years there will be even more moving images around in different public spaces, in clubs, on streets etc. Moving image is a stronger, more severe medium that engulfs your attention and is very hard to steer away from. Commercials and propaganda us the moving image at its fullest. They do so with sound as well. But when it comes to sound we humans have ability to ignore certain sounds. Depending on the situation we focus our perception on what is most important at the moment. If you have small children you know when your child’s head’s hit the floor in the next room. You recognize you child scream among others screams. If there is a room with several people sleeping and a couple is having sex, the rest will hear this. No matter how quiet the love makers try to be. A fart is always a fart and not the sound of a chair or something else silly. You stomach rumbling, your lover’s steps and your neighbor’s keys.

The sound isn’t as fictionalized in everyday life as the images are. Is it because it’s harder? Less effective? I rather thing the sound can be more effective in certain aspects.

The sound has a characteristic I’d like to call “veracity” the image could not even dream of reaching. By veracity I mean theirs is an emphasis on the true; that the real is important, that the eye is more easily fooled than the ear. It has several times struck me how false dialogue recorded afterward sounds. This is not only to do with the actors but also with the clang of the room. If you’ve been in the room you know that the dialogue shouldn’t sound like that. It takes a lot of work at the computer to fix that.

Sound is also closer to smell, a sense no mass medium has managed to incorporate. Look at the cinema for example.
A series of images showing garlic and union being peeled, chopped and fried, no matter how “well” shot, it’s hard to bring fourth the sense of smell.
If you on the other hand hear the garlic and the union being peeled, chopped and fried, if you hear someone smelling them and then frying them I a pan I think you will see it in front of you and will be able to sense the smell.

Sound is more basic and primitive in an important way, i.e. “humanoid” than the image. It’s more tangential to our instincts than the image. Pornography is mostly visual; pornography with just sound isn’t done on a mass scale. Still sound is the most erotic thing between people when it’s dark. I read that in a small community I Holland a couple of years ago, a lot must have happened, because nine months latter the rate of childbirth hade increased with fifty two percent.
The sound is what tells me if I’ve overslept, my street shouldn’t sound like that that early in the morning.
Before there was fire people only had sound to orient themselves in the dark in their caves. Sound is used identify with each other and to communicate. We people have so many ways of making sound. Our bodies make sound, whether we want to or not. The sound tells if someone is sick or upset before it can be seen. You can hear if someone is lying. There is a level of authenticity and veracity that is hard to match. Those working with recording dialogue know this. All the actors working with dubbing know this. Musicians with absolute pitch know this. We can create sound, but not images, in that regard and that is why I consider sound to be more humanoid. Sound as a mean of expression is always close at hand. This is always true, because everyone can make sounds. Sound is more general human.

There is something unconstrained in actually hearing sounds from thing we can’t see and sift through them. This works with radio and commercials as well, but this is not true when it comes to images. This is especially true with kids; they sit transfixed in front of the TV or the computer. The radio doesn’t have the same “negative” effect. If they listen to music in a MP3-player they can still move about freely and think of other things.
Here in is what I mentioned earlier, the strength of sound. In the freedom it gives, both in a practical, philosophical and existential way. I even dare to say that the sound is more democratic than the image. From this freedom those of us working with sound have a lot to learn that can really benefit our art form. Through different dimensions reach our viewers and listeners. The sound reaches our recipients through their subconscious enabling them to create their own inner images. Though this is not always what everyone wants.

2004 I wrote and directed a radio play for Swedish Radio Gothenburg. To make up a story and leave behind the social realist tradition of most Swedish films was pure joy.
All of a sudden I could create a world of my own and everything there within was true according to that world, because at the end of the day it’s the listener who create the world.
It’s been vice versa in my latest ventures, experimenting within the field of video art. There I have mainly focused on the visual part and some pieces have been completely silent. Before I attended The School of Film Directing I would never have considered this. Now I have to work with the dimensions of storytelling with sound and images.

It’s peculiar how the digitalization and thus the democratization of film production hasn’t been as developing for the sound as for the image. I’m not thinking of the music, but rather sound and sound design.

The software exists for both sound and image but when practically applied sound has been rather neglected. It’s easy to find clips on the net where (often boys) have filmed something and with the help of digital aftereffects created something amazing, often in the action- or fantasy genre. Many day, months or perhaps years of work lay behind the result. The effects per say are often top notch, but the sound they haven’t spent many days working on. If the visuals are pastiche, even more so is the sound.

In the western world and especially for those of us living in rich countries we have the possibility to listen to sound in “3d” in our home, if you have a 5.1 home cinema system that is. Speakers are getting better, smaller and cheaper but the technology is not used in the full. I am still to hear of a radio play or other form of audio work being sent in this format.

Those of us who have experimented with watching a horror film or an action film without the sound on know it’s not nearly as involving. You get scared and stressed. Even with the over-the-top sound sometimes the film has no effect at all. This is because the sound design is overloaded, just like the image. It’s no longer a depiction but an illustration. I often feel that older films have better sound. I imagine that each choice was more important when there where fewer elements to work with. When you had a soundtrack and fewer effects at hand. I think of Bogdan Dziworskis documentaries. They reach a dreamlike state because of the specific sound design. In this sound I find the freedom I was talking about, the freedom for the recipient to associate freely. This probably gives a stronger experience than the film and stays with you longer than the actual film. It’s a film that reaches you as a human being and on a humanist level. There are specific sounds I will never forget, like in Jean Pierre Melvilles “`Lármee des ombres” (1969) when the insurgents are about to free one of their own from prison. The very specific and disgusting sound of the gate finally opening, freeing them. I remember several films in the same way, horror film (Japanese) and Finnish film (A. Kaurismäki).

Right now both of my films being shown at GIFF have hade use of my “sound versus image” analysis. In my short 9/11 My Code Name Was Emanuel” I whisper the whole voice over. The film is four minutes long. Already at the first test I as struck by what the whispering created for my as a listener, namely an interest. I made more of an effort to understand and listen more carefully than I would, had it been an ordinary voice over. It had a hypnotic effect which was good for the film. In my feature film debut Once a Year (a manifest film with only two actors) sound and images are cut separately, that is they are not in sync with each other. We leave the physical and timely continuity and move freely in a play with time and space. With Sound and image. We see characters speak even though they’re mouths don’t move. Once again the result is exciting. It’s associative and poetic which makes you freer with ability to associate freely around the situation. What the characters are saying and in particular what they are not saying. Their dialogue becomes stronger. Another result of this was that we had to remix the sound for the film completely, from the beginning. Things like that happen. The fact of the matter was that the first mix was so clean and correct, that it lost its ability to communicate with the audience. There was no “feeling” to it. It had lost its humanity. The sound had lost its veracity; it might as well have been recorded in a studio. The second mix brought fourth the core of the dialogue, the intimacy and closeness. Once a Year is a very simple film, made with a minuscule budget and mainly recorded by only on sound technician. He (it usually is a he) had it tough; the prevailing hierarchy once again got the upper hand over better judgment. It’s important to use every storytelling component to the max and finally it was the sound that gave me the stronger experience.