The Velvet Light Trap 51 (2003) 1-3
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In introductory remarks made by Theodor Adorno to a 1963 essay collection entitled Der getreue Korrepetitor (The Faithful Music Coach), he explained that the book was originally to be accompanied by a phonograph record. A record never materialized in the published collection, since the hurdles presented by copyright problems proved insurmountable. "As a result," Adorno wrote, "the author had to be content with the more traditional means of citation" (quoted in Levin 44).
The editors of the fifty-first issue of the Velvet Light Trap have had similar dreams. Wouldn't it have been nice, we thought, to supply the sounds discussed, along with images, for reference? The temptation arose perhaps due to the sense that a film sound and film music issue represents at least a small step away from the journal's usual state of affairs and that readers, accustomed to exploring visuality, might benefit from additional aural information. However, that would be true only if sound and music had continued as misfit subjects of research within film and television criticism. But with the increasing amount of work on sound across academic disciplines in recent years, inattention to the topic is finally a thing of the past.
If the sound scholar's lament that the subject has too long been ignored is now a cliché, then perhaps pointing out the increase of academic interest will soon become one too. While the names of those contributing to this growing field of study have become increasingly well known, the urge to start from scratch with each new study has been a hard one to resist.
Those scholars writing about sound in the age of electronic reproduction have often made comparisons between the practice of recording and mixing and the practice of writing and editing. In "Tracking" Robert Ray uses contemporary recording practices as a model for writing media criticism on the subject. In the introduction to Soundtrack Available: Essays on Film and Popular Music, the editors, Pamela Robertson Wojcik and Arthur Knight, can't resist referring to their summary of chapters as a "track list." These examples move beyond mere metaphor, because considering film from the standpoint of sound requires a rethinking of a whole set of other accepted traditions.
Among the challenges to traditional criticism are a reevaluation of the temporality and the spatiality of film narratives, the importance of the sound track to the success of movies at the box office, and sound as an emotional catalyst. In its best use, sound not only reduces ambiguity but adds signification. The agonistics of the image-sound relationship create spaces where narrative expectations are met or betrayed. For instance, Robert Aldrich's choice to keep Cloris Leachman's shrieks on the sound track in Kiss Me Deadly long after the image has given witness to her death instantly makes one aware of the constructed nature of the filmmaking process. Robert Altman's habitual use of multiple voice tracks in order to pick up pieces of conversations across a crowded room while his camera stays transfixed on a solitary figure consistently calls into question the sight/sound hierarchy in film. Quentin Tarantino's intentional mismatching of sound track and narrative in Reservoir Dogs by having Michael Madsen torture a hapless victim while joyously dancing to Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle with You" creates a jarring juxtaposition that renders the viewer complicit with the pleasures of voyeuristic sadism.
The essays included here are meant as additions to these and other ongoing discussions about the importance of sound, in its relation to the image, toward a [End Page 1] fuller appreciation of film as social and industrial product, narrative device, and work of art. The contributions investigate issues spanning from early to contemporary cinema and are arranged in chronological order.
Robert Spadoni explores the introduction of sound in early cinema and its effect on audience reception and interpretation in "The Uncanny Body of Early Sound Film." Spadoni investigates a blend of primary and secondary sources to provide a historical account of early cinema and offers a clear and comprehensive analysis of the...