Power of Sounds


As mentioned, sound is able to add value to images and present them different as what we have might seen otherwise. However, this added value works reciprocally and images are able to influence the way we perceive the sounds we have heard. Thus our final perception of images with sound is made up of the product of their mutual differences.

A comedic way of showing the above can be seen in The Wilhelm Sound Compilation:

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As human minds naturally bonds sight and sound together, sound is able to add value to images and link otherwise separated images together. 

Using an example of Persona (1981) as shown below. 

You probably interpret the pictures as a nail going through the same hand 3 times continuously. If you were to turn off the volume of the video and watch it again, you might noticed that the video is made up of three separate individual shot, which might not be related to each other at all. It might represent three different hands, or the same hand being nailed once but replayed three times from different angle.

The linkage of images give a film rhythm and unity, and sound does this in unnoticeable and subtle ways.

Given any sound environment in which we hear voices, the voices will capture our attention before any other sounds. We all have text structured vision, as shown by the example below:

If there was commentary saying that the plane in the centre looks a little misaligned, your first instinct will be to look at the middle plane and decide for yourself if it is indeed misaligned. If instead the commentary mentioned about the weather being a little gray, your first instinct will be to look at the weather.

This shows that the words we hear are illusionary, guiding and structuring our vision so that we would see them “naturally” in the image. This is a technique to bring to audience attention the image amound the clutter that you want them to focus on.

The eyes perceive things much more slower than the ears as it has more to do all at once, while the ear is able to isolate a detail of its auditory field and follows this point or line in time. Thus, in the days where silent movies are made, images are simplified to the maximum to facilitate perception in time, as shown below:

Even though the film is shown in a relatively fast-motion, every action is repeated many times and often exaggerated to ensure audience comprehension of the images. 

Now that we have the luxury of using sound to help us transmit some of the meaning of the images, we are not longer restricted in our presentation of the film. Using an example of a kungfu scene from Fist of Legend Dojo:

The fight scenes are fast paced and constantly changing. However, the audience is able to keep up with the rhythm of the fights as they are able to “spot” these rapid visual movements in the form of shots, bangs and tinkling, which marks certain moments and leave strong audiovisual memory. If we turn off the sound and rewatch the fight scenes, we will realize that a punch is never really seen. We believe we have seen the past as we hear what we haven’t had time to see.

Film used to run on flexible time, each exhibitor had a certain degree of freedom in setting the rhythm of the projection speed. However, the introduction of sound demands a fixed and stable projection speed for synchronized sounds and image. Thus the reason for us having a stabilized projection speed now might be due to film sounds.

Sound vectorizes real time as contrasted to images. Given a comparable time scale, aural phenomena are much more characteristically vectorized in time, with an irreversible beginning, middle, and end, than are visual phenomena.

To prove this point, let’s compare the two videos below:

This video shows of various clips being played backwards. The sounds effects and music are dubbed on after the clips are reversed and does not reflect the natural sounds of the video. We can see that even though the movies appear unnatural in some of the scenes, it is probably due to the fact that we are logical enough to understand that some of the actions probably cannot be accomplished naturally. However the whole flow of the video is smooth and acceptable, and we can watch the whole thing through without much trouble.

Now let’s look at the second video:

This is Disney’s High School Musical 2 being played backwards. At once we can tell that the film is being played backwards as the sounds effects in the video is reversed too. If you try turning the volume off and watching it again, you might find nothing out of the ordinary about it until you see a guy flying out of the pool at 7 seconds.