Listening to Faint Sounds and Silence: Cinema’s Transition to Sound and the Emergence of a New Auditory Sensitivity
Daniel Wiegand (University of Zurich)
Through a case study of Die Nacht gehört uns [The Night Belongs to Us] (Carl Froelich, D 1929), this paper will discuss how filmmakers in the early sound film era experimented with the use of faint and sometimes barely audible sounds, how these sounds were integrated into “scenes of listening”, and how the required listening practices were embedded within a larger framework of electronic media around 1930. As I will argue, audio culture at this time was characterized not only by a heightened mediation through transmitting devices, by a split of voice and body, and by a defamiliarization of voices and noises but also by a new auditory sensitivity and intimacy. Die Nacht gehört uns makes this link between sound film and the new electronic audio culture explicit by presenting other “devices of listening” such as telephones and loudspeakers while simultaneously demonstrating the capacity of the new medium of sound film and by turning spectators into conscious listeners who mirror the fictional listeners on-screen.
‘Put Your Voice Where Your Mouth is”: Sound re-recording as ‘synthetic versioning’
Carla-Mereu Keating (University of Bristol)
My presentation focuses on the experimentation within the field of film sound recording which took place between the late 1920s and the mid-1930s. I present a selection of speech replacement methods known at the time as ‘voice-ghosting’, ‘doubling’, ‘dunning’ and ‘dubbing’ developed by North American and European motion picture engineers and producers in the attempt to find a commercially viable solution to the language localization issues raised by the industrial conversion to synchronised sound. These ‘synthetic versioning’ methods were implemented either during shooting or in post-production. I also highlight which of these methods gained critical appreciation and those who did not, exploring the reasons behind their commercial success or failure.
PANEL Retuning the Italian Screen: Toward an Archaeology of Film ‘Musicking’
This panel attempts to frame the role of music (and musicological perspectives) in cinema against the backdrop of the archaeological approaches that have characterized the field of sound studies since its very foundation. In this respect, the latent tension between ‘sound’ and ‘music’ takes the shape of a rift between sound’s ‘weak’ historical directionality (Kahn 1992 and (western art) music’s ‘strong’ historical paradigm, which demands to be reviewed in light of the relativization of canons and the encompassing of technological epistemologies. Such tension is mitigated by the fact that both sound and music partake in the configuration of screen media and can thus be investigated as ‘symptomatic’ (Elsaesser 2016a) manifestations of screen media history. This is true also the other way around, that is, screen media can be analyzed as symptoms of music history. The panel elects Italian cinema as its focus, pinpointing three interlinked shifts in its history, namely the transition from silent to sound film, the growth of self-awareness around the technological possibilities and limits of sound in cinema right after the setup of Cinecittà in Rome (1937), and the gradual introduction of stereophonic sound formats starting from 1953.
Tracking symphonic imagination in early Italian sound cinema: Resurrectio (1930) and the tone poem as film (music)
Maurizio Corbella (Università degli Studi di Milano)
Responding to a 1929 inquiry in the trade paper Kines (“Our Referendum on sound film”), composer Ezio Carabella claimed that “the future of music in sound film ought to be put back in the hands of symphonists” (Carabella 1929: 7). Few music historians would currently link the name of Carabella with those he enlisted in his statement, and yet the Roman composer arguably counted himself among those “younger Italian symphonists” to fully engage with the promise of synchronized cinema. He would go on to become one of the most prolific composers of Italian cinema from the 1930s to the 1950s. Interacting with recent studies that have freshly tackled the discourse about sound/noise/voice (Dotto 2017) and song (Mosconi 2017) in Italy’s transition era from silent to sound film, my contribution aims to track how a latent ‘symphonic imagination’ animated film dramaturgies and the craft of composers such as Renzo Rossellini, Enzo Masetti, Giuseppe Rosati, and the above-mentioned Carabella, whose work would inform Italian cinema for almost three decades, up to the late 1950s.
The debate around the technical state of film sound in Italy at the end of the 1930s
Ilario Meandri (Università degli Studi di Torino)
Starting with issue no. 57 (1938) through issue no. 81 (1939), the Italian magazine Cinema devoted a regular column to problems concerning sound in Italian filmmaking. The column’s contributors saw leading technicians of the time engaging in an intense debate: it presents us with a close look at the state of the art and production practices of the time. It also summarises the contrasting visions—regarding not only technical aspects but also intellectual and critical outlooks—expressed by various professional figures who took part in the debate. Analysing these contributions allows us to address a hereto overlooked topic: the acoustics of cinema theatres, along with the ideas—and utopias—underlying their conception, the way in which these ideas evolved over time, and the reasons that drove these changes.
Composing Film Sound: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino and the Cinemascope
Alessandro Cecchi (Università di Pisa)
This paper proposes an archaeology of stereophonic cinema drawing on the study of a composer’s sonic imagination—namely Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, the first Italian composer to face with Cinemascope’s sound diffusion system. Lavagnino’s well-known collaboration to the ‘Indonesian’ documentary Continente perduto (‘Lost Continent’, 1954), by Enrico Gras, Giorgio Moser and Leonardo Bonzi was not an isolated episode nor the result of an occasional interest. Lavagnino in fact collaborated to at least 15 short documentaries for Astra Cinematografica in 1954, all involving the Cinemascope. I intend to underline how a pragmatic response to technological preconditions was used to effectively enhance the spectators’ experience in a film based on the representation of a cultural ‘other’ as Continente perduto. The use of the fourth track, reimagined formusical aims, proves to be a crucial point.