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sound, image, text. Lecture Five Wed Aug 20, 2008 1. An Important Idea regarding Sound and Space and 2. Contextual Meaning: Altering how we see and hear the world. PART 1; SPACE IS THE PLACE.

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sound image text

sound, image, text

Lecture Five

Wed Aug 20, 2008


An Important Idea regarding Sound and Space



Contextual Meaning:

Altering how we see and hear the world

part 1 space is the place
  • Up to now we’ve talked a lot about specific audio-visual correspondences between sound & image and the ways these are articulated in film, music, art etc.
  • We’ll now turn to the idea of SPATIAL CORRESPONDENCES.
  • In particular the distinction between sound which originate from INSIDE and OUTSIDE a narrative space.
  • Diegesis is a Greek word for "recounted story"  A diegesis is the total world of the story action 
space is the place

Sun Ra (1964) Blaxploitation Free Jazz Epic…

non diegetic sound
Non-diegetic sound
    • NON-DIEGETIC SOUND - Where sound is represented as coming
    • from a source outside the story space we called the sound
    • Non-diegetic 
    • The source is INVISIBLE and has NOT BEEN IMPLIED by the
    • onscreen action. Common examples include:
      • Narration, commentary, voice over
      • sound effects which are deliberately unrealistic
      • Score music – ie. Non-diegetic Music.
diegetic sound
Diegetic sound
  • Where the source is VISIBLE on the screen or is IMPLIED to be present by the action of the film we call the sound Diegetic
  • Diegetic sound originates within the Story Space or Diegesis .
      • character voices / dialogue (internal or external)
      • sounds made by visualised objects
      • music from instruments or implied sources
      • ambient / atmospheric sound
  • ON-SCREEN SOUND - sounds/ dialogue heard while seeing the source of the sound on-screen
  • OFF-SCREEN SOUND sounds that appear to come from outside the frame but are implied by the story.
narrative space
Narrative space
  • “The distinction between diegetic or non-diegetic sound depends on our understanding of the conventions of film viewing and listening. We know of that certain sounds are represented as coming from the story world, while others are represented as coming from outside the space of the story events. A play with diegetic and non-diegetic conventions can be used to create ambiguity (horror, suspense), or to surprise the audience (comedy). “
part 2 sound music meaning
  • The MEANING of sound / music / images are relative to CONTEXT
  • Music especially could be said to carry little INHERENT meaning; it is dependent on context.
  • New or evolving contexts = new ways of understanding or interpreting meaning.
subjective interpretations
Subjective Interpretations
  • Our interpretation / reading of a sound or musical text could be based on:
    • personal values or experiences
    • cultural & social conventions and knowledge
    • physiological / neurological response to sound
  • In the interplay of sounds, images and language we can distinguish between the material (i.e. what we hear, see, sense etc) and contextual meaning (i.e. what we understand, interpret).

Example: Decasia by Bill Morrison. Music by Michael Gordon.

music constructs meaning beyond words
Music Constructs Meaning Beyond Words
  • Nicolas Cook (1998) describes music as a source of meaning beyond what can be expressed with words. Music in its abstracted form has no meaning but when placed in the same space as words and pictures it is “a potential for the construction or negotiation of meaning in specific contexts” (eg. Soap Operas)
  • At the same time, the strong social or cultural meanings of sounds and music are used to engage specific target groups. This happens in advertising, film, everywhere… meaning is based on preexisting notions of a social group or culture.
  • Ex… Grand Theft Auto uses in-game radio stations, building social identity or choice into the game world.
  • A metaphor connects two ideas by creating a conceptual link.
  • One thing is conceived as representing another; a symbol:

"Hollywood has always been an irresistible, prefabricated metaphor for

the crass, the materialistic, the shallow, and the craven"(Neal Gabler).

  • In a metaphor, one thing stands in the place of another. One thing IS another: Johnnie IS a shark. Yet in understanding metaphors we accept that a thing IS (metaphorically) and IS NOT (literally) the thing it refers to.
  • In many creative works we see & hear sound, images and words as symbols for other things. (Two low notes oscillating back and forth represent a shark in Jaws)
  • A more esoteric example: Spontaneous Music Ensemble – sound as a metaphor for anarchic utopian civil society.
  • The term ‘TEXT’ in semiotics (the study of meaning) refers to anything that can be interpreted for meaning. A text is a system of signs (sounds, words, images, and/or gestures) that exist according to the conventions of a genre or medium. (Chandler, 2002)
  • INTERTEXTUALITY refers to the relationship between one text and another (eg a novel and a film based on the novel, the songs on an album)
  • INTRATEXTUALITY refers to the internal relationships between the parts of one specific text—-that is the internal tensions and linkages between components of a whole. (eg a song and its title).
  • Where are the ‘boundaries’ of a work? Where does a sound become an image, or an idea become a song, or a text merge with its interpretation?
an intertextual example
An Intertextual Example

Artists:People Like US (UK)

Title:Story Without End

About the work:Made using footage from the Prelinger Archives

this film explores how technology enables us to communicate

faster. The narrative is from a public domain film of the same name

made in 1950 about the development of microwave radio

transmission and the transistor.

An interpretation: By recycling visions of the future from the past,

recontextualising these visions, we project new meanings onto

old images and sounds.

multiplicity of meaning
Multiplicity of Meaning
  • When we start to address the meaning of sounds/ music, images and words we see in many examples multiple layers of interpretation are possible.
  • Interpretation is based on a mix of subjective (personal) & collective (or cultural) meanings.
  • There is no definitive interpretation of a text - the composer’s (or author’s) intentions give way to the listener’s (readers) (re)interpretation of the work.
brecht s alienation technique
Brecht’s Alienation Technique
  • The ALIENATION EFFECT is atheatrical or cinematic device developed by German playwright / director Bertold Brecht. (Its literal translation is ‘to make strange, uncanny, bizarre)
  • It occurs when a text BREAKS THE ILLUSION of reality it has constructed. The Suspension of Disbelief is shattered. This emotional distancing effect allows the audience to reflect critically on what is being presented
  • Techniques include:
    • direct address to the audience
    • disruptive or ironic use of song or music
    • reflexivity
tasks readings
tasks & readings


Prepare a brief outline of your tutorial presentation (max 1 page) for discussion in

class next week.


• the essential style or quality of the each medium: SOUND/ MUSIC, IMAGE and/or WORDS/ TEXT

• the key CONTEXTUAL aspects of your example (ie. genre, history)

• the ROLE or FUNCTION of sound/ music in relation to the image and/ or text elements. How is sound shaping our understanding of your example.

• the STRUCTURE of the sound/ image/ text relationships - how the elements relate to each other e.g. synchronisation, rhythm, layering

• the RELATIONSHIP of sound/ music to other CONCEPTS such as narrative, diegetic and non-diegetic distinctions.

• the INTERTEXTUAL or INTRATEXTUAL relationship between your example and another text i.e. film, song, narrative. How is meaning constructed through this relationship.


  • Chion, Michel. Audio-Vision, Sound on Screen, New York: Columbia University Press, 1990 - Chapter 4. On CMD
  • Source: Daniel Chandler. Semiotics for beginners.
  • Cook, Nicholas. Analysing Musical Multimedia, Oxford University Press 1998.