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The Undersea World of the Sound Department: the Construction of Sonic Conventions in Sub-aqua Screen Environments

By David Chapman


The availability of new underwater cameras and sub-aqua diving gear in the immediate post-war era opened up exciting possibilities for both narrative and documentary filmmakers. While the visual elements of this new world could now be more easily captured on film, the sound elements of the sub-aqua environment remained more elusive. What did, or should, this undersea world sound like? This article examines the use of sound in the sub-aqua scenes of both fictional and documentary films in the 1950s and asks questions about the methods used in the sonification of these worlds. Comparing the operation of underwater sound and human hearing with the production and post-production strategies used by filmmakers, I seek to identify the emergence of a sound convention and its implications for issues of cinematic realism. Central to this convention is the manipulation of sonic frequencies. The sound strategies adopted also raise questions about the malleability of viewer perspective and sound-image relationship in terms of a realist mode of address. Linked to this is the use of sound to enhance audience experience on an affective level. As well as underpinning cinematic realism, these new sound environments offered fresh experiences to audiences seeking new reasons to visit the cinema in an era of widening forms of entertainment

Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Year: 2016
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