Posts Tagged ‘ Film Sound ’

Can You Hear Me Now?

Have you ever wanted your life to be more like a movie?  It would definitely be cool to have your own theme music whenever you walk into a room.  When attempting to reunite with a lost love, to have some sappy song like “I Will Always Love You” or “Eternal Flame” start playing organically from thin air would certainly be nice.

The above examples are of non-diegetic sound, or, sound not a part of the world in which the characters live.   I like to think of it as what an audience can see/hear in the film.  Just because you can hear a dog barking in a film but can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  Over the years, the video medium has commented on the ideas of diegetic sound and non-diegetic sound, with most of the examples of the tinkering being humorous.

Take the clip below of the movies Gross Point Blank (Armitage, 1997) and High Anxiety (Brooks, 1977):

In Gross Point Blank, “Live and Let Die” is believed to be playing from the car radio.  I think the non-diegetic element comes up when the song increases in volume (it might be just the song, but I feel like they boosted it in post-production) right before he enters the store.  John Cuscack’s character even looks back at the car because of it.  Then, when he enters the store, a Muzak version plays directly where the car radio version of the song left off.

In High Anxiety, Mel Brooks’ character looks frightened by the idea of “foul play,” but if you look/listen closely, he’s reacting to the first note of the suspense music, which of course is the orchestra passing by on the tour bus.  A lovely comment on diegetic vs. non-diegetic sound.

Another interesting example of playing with diegetic and non-diegetic sound is in David Bowie’s “Thursday’s Child”:

Bowie begins by singing a line from the song at hand.  Then we hear the radio DJ say, “…new single, ‘Thursday’s Child’.” as Bowie turns up the volume.  The rest of the music video is a competition between the diegetic sounds of the radio and the diegetic sounds of the bathroom (water running, Bowie coughing).  Honestly, there are points when the diegetic radio seems to be overpowered by a non-diegetic force.  Then, the music video reassures us (maybe?!) that it was the music from the radio all along by having the female actress turn it off.

There are several other examples of non-diegetic vs. diegetic in TV, Film, Music Videos, and other mediums.  Be sure to keep an ear out for them!

– Andrew J. Daniels

Video Editor, Contemporary Creative Productions

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