Dissynchronicity in Sound and Film Art


Izzy Adams

Soviet filmmakers spent their lives defining and redefining montage film. Montage is the central genre in experimental film in Soviet Russia. Earlier in the course we discussed and read S.M. Eisenstein’s theories on montage. Precisely, he defines the genre as such: “montage is an idea that arises from the collision of independent shots.” Montage revolves entirely around editing, and when the soviets coined the term they introduced a new kind of cinema to the film world which would greatly affect the future of narrative filmmaking and filmmaking in general.

In their essay titled “A Statement,” S.M. Eisenstein, V. I. Pudovkin and G. V. Alexandrov discuss the introduction of sound to the art of film and its merits and possible detriment it could bring to the medium. Throughout, they seem to go back and forth on what good they think sound can do for film.

Their first argument is against the use of sound in film in terms of aiding theatrical performance and traditional narrative. Sound in talking pictures is usually there to create the illusion of people talking and the sounds of the world around those people and it tries to imitate reality as closely as possible. Sound in film “satisfies the simple curiosity” in popular film, and doesn’t investigate deeper into the possibilities sound has to offer, therefore “destroying the culture of montage.” 

While the soviets are against using sound simply to mirror reality, they find that there is a certain wherewithal that sound presents for montage film. This is in what they call dissynchronicity. Dissynchronicity in sound and film art is where the sounds don’t represent what is literally going on visually. The sound can work independently from the film, vice versa for the film from the video.

One way this works is with orchestra music. Orchestra music has been used in film since before synchronicity between visuals and audio was something that people thought to be possible. In the instance of montage film, music works as its own medium but also contributes to the visual of film. Pudovkin states in his second essay that music must never be an accompaniment, and that it must be it’s own line. If the same principle of editing is applied to sound as is applied to montage, the addition detracts nothing conceptually from the soviet ideas of montage. However, isn’t orchestra often used to accentuate the theatricality of a film? I find that orchidstra becoming accompaniment is almost unavoidable. Isn’t this totally against the ideas of the soviets? What new argument for orchestration in cinema could possibly arise out of this contradiction?

Moving away from orchestration and into the present millions of possiblities that sound art, this concept of dissynchronicity works even more than with the opportunities classical music represented in the 1930s and 1940s. What are some new ways that the ideas of montage film  could work in todays rapidly advancing

To work for montage film, the sound should also in some cases present a juxtaposition against the visual in which the sounds present something completely different from what’s on the screen, and in that way, Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Alexandrov agree that this is one of the ways that sound uses its potential.

They also agree that as long as the synchronization of sound and visual is an intentional and thought out decision that is coherent with the idea of the film, the sound is working as fully as it can.

All in all the soviets agree that sound is a powerful new introduction to the art of film and can and will be used for a variety and will extend internationally and exist through a timeline much longer than their lifetimes. 

A perfect example of these ideas for sound in film is our old boy Pudovkin’s first sound picture from 1933, The Deserter, which we watched an excerpt of in class today. “The Deserter is a communist film about a Communist Hamburg shipyard worker who is commissioned by the USSR to organize a strike and exert pressure on employers.”  Pudovkin creates a kind of sound collage through editing and edits the non-musical sounds to develop their own rhythm. The sounds kind of have their own narrative too: the clash and clang of the hammer are used as percussive music and the violence and vitality of those shots probably have something to do with Pudovkin’s resentment of the russian work system. There is a rhythm to the shots of the hammer hitting are very clearly synchronized with the sound, but the sound would still function independently of the visual of the hammer, but together, they work well. This is an example of how the soviets believe that intentional, important synchronicity works.

In Pudovkin’s “Asynchronism as a Principle of Sound Film,” he talks about sound as an expression, and says that in that category, sound is also far from potential it could possibly reach. He talks about how sound could be used as a window into the real world instead of a boring imitation of an idealized world. Sound has the power to provide more or less context for a situation, and this is a powerful tool. Pudovkin discusses the rhythm of perception and sound, referencing specifically two particularly notable rhythms. The first is the objective, definite, tangible outside world and the second is the rhythm of personal perception of sound. A person has the ability to focus on only one sound, hear only a few things at a time. Human perception of sound “varies with the rousing and calming of his emotions, while the rhythm of the objective world he perceives continues in unchanged tempo.”

Sound in film has evolved so much since the essays written by the soviets. That it has taken nearly 100 years to reach this amount of potential though shows how ahead of their time the soviets were. The ideas on sound that the soviets state now are featured widely in most films. It isn’t clear to me whether this would be seen as a positive or a negative by these writers, that it has reached the masses and one of the most consumerist and capitalist mediums of art now are proponents of what were at first very experimental ideas. Sound will continue to evolve and its relationship with imagery will also.

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