We are delighted today to announce the publication of our newest book, a beautifully written collection edited by Geoffrey Cox and John Corner:
Soundings: documentary film and the listening experience
It has been a privilege to work with Geoffrey and John on this fascinating collection of essays, and we asked them to put a few words together about their research and the driving force behind the book.
Geoffrey Cox and John Corner explore the arts of sound, investigating the richness of what we hear as well as what we see in non-fiction films.
We all recognise that sound is important to documentary films, without it we would often have no idea of what we were looking at or of its significance. What is far less recognised is the often complex ways in which our listening becomes interlinked with our viewing so as to generate feelings and ideas well beyond those carried simply in ‘what is said’. This is partly a matter of how documentary producers work to let us hear the world as well as see it, a world of noises, natural, and mechanical and of patterns and textures of speech going well beyond the literal content of commentary or interview. The sonic dimension involves a range of technological and aesthetic creativity in the production process right through from initial recording through to final editing. Often, it importantly involves the use of music in ways which we might be encouraged to register but which will often work powerfully in the background, shaping the kinds of knowledge and pleasure we get from a film without our being consciously aware of it.
A huge range of non-fiction film uses sounds in this way to guide and supplement our visual experience and fill it with feeling. The longstanding practices of film, television and now web advertising show a range of sound designs importantly at work, so too do the even more longstanding techniques of film propaganda. However, many documentary and video makers, rather than reinforce the delivery of a narrow message, have wanted to use the possibilities of different sounds to enrich, make more complex and perhaps even challenge, the sense of reality ‘coming through’.
In our work, drawing on international contributors including film-makers and composers as well as academics, we ask questions about how sounds are recorded and assembled in documentary production, about the variety of the ways in which they work when listened to and about their contribution to making this area of visual culture an important culture of sounds too. Our belief is that further critical attention here goes beyond the expanding area of documentary scholarship and connects with a broader understanding of the contemporary media arts.