Chion, synchresis and audiovisual construction.
July 3, 2007
Michel Chion’s ‘Audio-Vision: Sound of Screen’ provides a rare theoretical framework for studying the audiovisual relationship. Chion forges terms such as synchresis, spatial magnetization, acousmatic sound, reduced listening, rendered sound and Acousmêtrē highlighting the lack of theory regarding sound which he accredits to, “something about sound that bypasses and surprises us, no matter what we do.”
Chion begins by pointing out that there is no “natural and pre-existing harmony between image and sound” and makes a point with definite conceptual implications for the fused AV practitioner:
Visual and auditory perception are of much more disparate natures than one might think. The reason we are only dimly aware of this is that these two perceptions mutually influence each other in the audiovisual contract, lending each other their respective properties by contamination and projection.
The reassociation of image and sound is the fundamental stone upon which film sound is built. Using example after example Chion highlights the ease in which the viewer can be fooled by sounds ambiguous nature. This reassociation is done for many reasons – often because a simulated or rendered sound seems more real than the original sound. Synchresis explains the phenomena and simultaneously highlights the perceptual possibility of audiovisual construction while revealing the unfeasibility of a true and unique audiovisual harmony:
The spontaneous and irresistible mental fusion, completely free of any logic, that happens between a sound and a visual when these occur at exactly the same time.
Excluding the small section on music video, it is important to note that Chion’s observations describe the process of adding sound to image – the reverse process to which many fused AV producers work. Chion’s notions of the audiovisual illusion and added value are particularly attractive providing the process works both ways. Imagine the following excerpt with the words sound and image substituted for each other:
By added value I mean the expressive and informative value with which a sound enriches a given image so as to create the definite impression, in the immediate or remembered experience one has of it, that this information or expression “naturally” comes from what is seen, and is already contained in the image itself.
Chion does later point out the danger of applying musical analogy to film and explains the relationship between counterpoint and harmony by studying audiovisual dissonance; points in audiovisual experience in which the audio has no tangible counterpoint to the film. I’ll be thinking about this some more and applying some other theories of consonance and dissonance in fused AV and visual music.
I just received a big box of books in the mail including David Lynch by Chion, a filmmaker who is definitely worth studying considering his powerful and strange use of audio/music in film. It will also be interesting to apply John Whitney’s quest for Digital Harmony to Chion’s thoughts of audio visual disparity.