Yet another paper proposal. I wish it were as easy to write the actual papers as it is to propose topics.
POST-CINEMATIC ARTICULATIONS OF SOUND AND VISION
In this essay, I would like to look at the differences in the articulation of sound and image in audiovisual media, that have resulted from the digital technologies of the last twenty years or so. On a basic ontological level, digital video consists in multiple inputs, all of which, regardless of source, have been translated into, and stored in the form of, binary code. This means that the most heterogeneous sources are all treated in the same way. There is no fundamental difference, on the binary level, between transcoded visual images, and transcoded sounds. This means that moving-image media can no longer be understood in terms of a (Godardian, or indeed Eisensteinian) dialectic between sound and image. Rather, digitized sound sources and digitized image sources now constitute a plurality without intrinsic hierarchy, that can be articulated in various ways. The mixing or compositing of multiple image and sound sources may arouse new sensory modalities (synesthetic, intermodal, etc.), and may exhibit different sorts of rhythmic organization than was the case with previous sound cinema.
I think that looking at digital audiovisual media in this way can shed new light on the current transition away from analog cinema. A number of prominent film critics (including David Rodowick, Vivian Sobchak, and Laura Mulvey) have mourned this transition, suggesting that something fundamental has been lost in the process of digitization. Rodowick, for instance, criticizes digital audiovisual media for lacking both the Bazinian indexicality, and the sense of temporal duration, that were crucial to the experience of analog cinema. But I consider it symptomatic that Rodowick almost entirely discusses the image, and has almost nothing to say about sound. A reflection on sound as well as image, and on the softening of the opposition between them, can lead to a very different take on the powers and potentials, as well as the defects, of new digital media.
My investigation will also have consequences for the historical typology of film offered by Gilles Deleuze in his two Cinema volumes. Deleuze distinguishes between the “movement-image” of classical film, and the “time-image” of modernist film. The former measures time indirectly, as a factor in action and in narrative. The latter fractures both linear and cyclical notions of time, in order to present us with sheer duration, or “time in its pure state.” Deleuze crucially insists that the “image” to which he refers is a “sound image,” as well as a “visual image.” Nonetheless, it is unclear to what extent his analyses of the “time-image” in the second half of the twentieth century can still be applied to the audiovisual forms now emerging in the twenty-first. I want to consider how these newer forms rework temporal relations, so as to provide us with a third sort of Deleuzian image, irreducible either to the movement-image or to the time-image.
Everything that I have discussed so far is rooted in the ontology of audiovisual media. But it should not be assumed that ontological differences automatically translate into corresponding differences in the perceptual and affective experience of the audience. Digital technologies process images and sounds in different ways from how analog technologies did; but they also provide different sorts of experiences to their audiences or “endusers.” Digital audiovisual works can be accessed in different ways; they can appear on different sorts of screens and audio devices, with varying degrees of sound and image resolution; and they allow different sorts of audience response, including a greater degree of interaction or intervention. All these factors play a role in how audiovisual works address the human sensorium, and in how they mobilize our feelings.
In order to address these issues, I will look primarily at music videos of the last decade, and secondarily at recent films that embrace something of a music-video aesthetic, opening up new articulations of vision and sound.