Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Art and Craft of Sound in Cinema


Mathrubhumi Books, Calicut, Kerala, 2o10

C S Venkiteswaran

Very few books on cinema explore the art and craft of those who actually create the audiovisual experience that cinema is. As a result, the exciting and tenuous work of cinematographers, editors, sound directors, set/costume designers, effects specialists etc remain forever invisible and unheard.

T Krishnanunni’s fascinating book ‘Sound in Moving Pictures’ is a significant contribution to the field that gives a concise yet comprehensive introduction to the topic which also maps the professional and aesthetic dimensions of sound design and recording. Such a book coming from a professional like Krishnanunni, one of the most eminent sound designers in the country, who has won several state and national awards and has worked with illustrious filmmakers like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, G Aravindan and Shaji N Karun, is a welcome sign. The book explains and explores the use of sound an exciting avenue of creativity and freedom in cinema, dwelling upon the various aural elements that complement, contrast and accentuate the visuals.

In a very simple and lucid language, the book deals with all the technical and aesthetic aspects of sound. In the first part it covers areas like recoding procedure, recording media, audio monitoring, mixing console, sound mixing, followed by a discussion on various audio elements in cinema like songs, dialogue, background music and sound effects. Chapters like ‘Sound in Malayalam cinema’ and ‘The Oscar for Rasul Pookkutty’ give a very personal touch to the book as it contextualizes the thrills and pains of sound design in the Indian context. It also draws upon personal experiences to illustrate relevant points and pays rich homage to predecessors and peers like P Devadas of and Vairam. The author also brings into the book a techno-historical dimension as the last decades witnessed the transformation from analogue to digital technology, a shift that had radical implications in the area of sound design.

Significantly, Krishnanunni entered the industry at a very exciting moment when Malayalam cinema was waking up to the technical and aesthetic nuances of sound as a vital element in cinema: “In 1980, when I joined Chitranjali Studio, I used to listen to Devadas and Adoorji conversing regarding the emotional relevance of a particular sound effect for a particular scene and I stood in amazement wondering what it was all about. That would have been the sound of a stone falling into water or that of a night bird calling or that of a particular type of bullock cart. Slowly such discussions became part of the filmmaking agenda for many Malayalam film makers.”

Also interesting are author’s observations about emerging challenges especially in the face of rampant urbanization. After describing the travails of recording sound effects in Kuttanad, which was marred by the blaring devotional songs and traffic of houseboats, he muses: “Will it be possible to record any sound effects in any location in Kerala after a few years? Where will we get those nice bird chirps, flowing river, streams, early morning ambience of a Kerala village etc .. That reminds one also of the importance of recording those sounds now and preserving them for the future.”

Like his art, Krishananunni’s approach to technology is very sharp and clear: “Whatever be the technology, whatever is the number of tracks, whatever be the directions sounds come from, ultimately what matters is how the sound track complements the visuals and how it enhances the artistic or aesthetic value of the film as a whole. ..Technology is only a tool. It is the way one utilizes it that matters.” (p 66-7)

What adds to its charm is the author’s ability to bring in historical, aesthetic and personal dimensions while dealing with a very technical topic like sound. The foreword by Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Preface by Shaji Karun help to put both the book and the author in perspective.

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