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Reviewed by:
  • Essays on Sound and Vision
  • Kathryn Kalinak (bio)
John Richardson and Stan Hawkins, eds., Essays on Sound and Vision (Helsinki University Press, 2007), 452pp.

Essays on Sound and Vision is a welcome addition to the burgeoning discipline of film sound: it looks beyond the soundtracks of Hollywood and mainstream Anglophone cinema to Finnish cinema, cinema of the Armenian diaspora, television, avant-garde cinema and video art, live performance, gaming music, and resistances to and within mainstream practices. Refusing to treat sound and music as separate entities, these essays situate both as 'part of an affective totality whose unity is nevertheless partial and bound up in multiple complex ways with the cultural situatedness of performers and listeners' (15). If there is a thread that runs through these essays and their disparate approaches, practices, and subject matters, it is the attention to the power of ideology whether embodied in the act of performance or shaping representations of gender, class, race, ethnicity, and sexuality in the soundtrack.

The strength of the collection is the coherence of this methodological approach. Relying on intertextuality to examine how auditory texts come to mean, the anthology as a whole eschews the idea of fixed boundaries between genres and texts. Thus a group of essays on subjects as diverse as the opening credit sequence of the American television sitcom Friends by Yrjö Heinonen, changes to the diegetic musical performances of The Return of the Jedi by Anti-Ville Kärjä, the manifestation of queerness in the music for the televisual adaptation of Angels in America by Susanna Välimäki, the representation of gender through dance music by Stan Hawkins, and David Lynch's films by Annette Davison, all illuminate the soundtrack through the consideration of how texts mean in relation to other texts. While all the essays have merit, I would like to single out three for particular consideration here.

The first is Karen Collins' introduction to the audio of video games: 'An introduction to the participatory and non-linear aspects of video games'. Unlike conventional music, which is linear in both its production and in the way listeners experience it, the audio for games is distinctly non-linear. Using the metaphor of an urban metro, Collins offers a fascinating study of the relationship between the gamer and the game [End Page 101] through an analysis of the soundtrack. This is an area of research which, surprisingly, has often been ignored in recent scholarship, and Collins not only lays out the theoretical foundation of the amalgamation of audio and visual in gaming but 'tracks' directions for future research.

Equally impressive is Petri Kuljuntausta and John Richardson's 'Going with the flow: compositional and analytical perspectives on soundtracks for experimental films'. Kuljuntausta and Richardson begin by theorising experimental films as an audio and visual practice. Situating the experimental films of Sami van Ingen (scored by Kul) within the theoretical frameworks of Eisler and Adorno and Michel Chion, the writers tackle the complex audiovisual relationships in these films. Arguing that the pioneering work of Eisler and Adorno in Composing for the Films (1947), specifically their pointed attack on conventional Hollywood film scoring, prefigures 'some of the modes of resistance in video art', while simultaneously raising Michel Chion's reservations about the amount of resistance in the soundtracks of experimental films, the theoretical frame of the article is given an interesting frisson, a shifting and open-ended platform on which to balance its observations. The analyses of the films, and particularly that of The Blow, work through the amalgamation of music and visuals through these theoretical perspectives. I found the analyses provocative and stimulating: they made me want to see these films for myself. The conclusions Kuljuntausta and Richardson draw are also open-ended. They conclude that 'experimental films do seem to conform to a politics of alienation resembling that outlined by Adorno and Eisler' while drawing attention to the 'performative pleasures' of the soundtrack and particularly the music, which are engaged, even in experimental film, to inscribe the viewer into the film.

The work of American scholar Anahid Kassabian is well-known in the English-speaking film music community. In 'Listening to video art and the problem...


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pp. 101-103
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