- RoundtableWild Sounds and Women's Voices
This roundtable discussion was conducted on October 19, 2016 with, Chris Stults and Genevieve Yue (myself), the programmers for the fall 2016 Flaherty NYC program "Wild Sounds" during the Colgate/Flaherty Distinguished Global Filmmaker Residency with Sandra Kogut. We were joined by filmmakers Mary Helena Clark, Penny Lane, and Aura Satz. Films by Kogut and Satz were screened in the "Wild Sounds" program.
The transcription work was completed by research assistants Tania Aparicio Morales and Zachary Yanes. As neither was present at the discussion, I provided them notes to help them distinguish the roundtable participants. Realizing that it wouldn't be sufficient to identify people merely by accent, I added other descriptors: their proximity to the microphone, the frequency with which they spoke, the timbre of their voices, and, in the case of Satz, who joined us from London, the occasionally garbled mediation of Skype. While practical, these notes were meant also to address a prominent concern that manifested among the participants in the conversation: the texture of voice, not only what was being said but also the manner in which things were spoken. Because of this, the conversation benefits not only from reading but also listening (at least imaginatively) to the intonations, the breaks and occasional laughter, and [End Page 338] the flow of conversation as we worked through a complicated set of issues around voice, sound, and cinema.
"Wild sound" is a technical term for an audio recording done independently of the main shoot. It is recorded without being synchronized to an image, though it may be synchronized later, in postproduction. For our Flaherty NYC program, the notion of a wild sound, with its connotation of autonomy and a relation to an image track that is not necessarily subordinate to it, offered a conceptually rich way of considering the placement and use of women's voices in film. The series explored the variety of ways in which women are heard in film, drawing on the gendered distinction between women's voices, closely allied with the body and pre-linguistic sound, and those of men, associated with the making of meaning, as theorized by Michel Chion, Kaja Silverman, and Adriana Cavarero. Against the dominant structures privileging male speech over female sounds, "Wild Sounds" explored the affective, sensorial, and political dimensions of women's voices.
The notion of wild sound also offered a way of subverting the documentary expectation of sync sound realism and opened the practice to more experimental forms. The filmmakers who joined us for the roundtable, all of whom have used voice and sound in unconventional ways, represent the heterogeneity of documentary form today. Indeed, we chose this group because their innovative uses of sound are very at the heart of their redefinition and expansion of contemporary documentary practice.
I have a question: Is it important that we are all women, that this is a part of the issue? I was just curious.Penny Lane:
Or is it just a coincidence?Genevieve Yue:
Well, the "Wild Sounds" program was about women's voices, so it ended up being about women filmmakers, but that was a bit of a slippage that happened. It wasn't intentionally that way.Chris Stults:
Not intentionally, but, and it's funny, we haven't talked about this, but the more I talk about the "Wild Sounds" program, the less I think it's about women's voices. And that seems so reductive, so I would like for this conversation to be more generally about sound and thinking about using sound as difference.GY:
I was thinking of it in terms of gender and the way gendered voices are heard differently in film, so that ended up being not [End Page 339] wholly intentional but not accidental either. But it made sense that female filmmakers might be exploring female or gendered voices or be more attentive to those issues.CS:
Yeah, "Wild Sounds" for me started in a number of conversations I'd had with women who had narrated their own films and [the...