Part one of this two-part post on animated sound focused on the development of animated sound as a compositional tool. The second part of this blog post will outline a second type of animated sound, as developed by Oskar Fischinger in his animated sound experiments, which were designed to explore the relationship between graphic shapes and their sonic complements. Unlike Rudolf Pfenninger, who was interested in discovering and studying what tones were produced by specific graphic shapes, Fischinger was concerned with discovering what sounds specific shapes produced to develop a way to codify the visual images.
This approach was taken up by British experimental filmmaker Guy Sherwin for the production of animated soundtracks at roughly the same time that McLaren was working on Synchromy (1971). As a member of the London filmmaker’s co-operative he was highly influenced by structural/materialist film practice and during the 1970s he made a series of Optical Sound films in which the musical track is also providing the material for the visual track, an approach which has its roots in the type of sound experiments that Fischinger was carrying out in Germany in the 1930s.
Soundtrack was the first of four Optical Sound films produced by Sherwin, which explored what sounds filmed images would make if they were printed on a soundtrack. In Soundtrack Sherwin printed the continuous uninterrupted image of parallel railway tracks shot from a moving train onto both the image and soundtrack so that the audience is both hearing and seeing the railway tracks.
The materiality and image tone has an effect on the quality of the sound produced. Areas of light increase the volume, while the shadows and dark areas lower the volume. As the train passes through a tunnel and the image imprinted on the sound and image track is black there is still a constant rhythm being sounded out by the soft clicks of the tape joins thus drawing attention to the fabric of the celluloid and the artifice of both the auditory and film construct. This film differs from not only McLaren’s efforts at photographing images on the soundtrack (see Part 1 of this post for reference) but also Sherwin’s subsequent efforts in the series. In Soundtrack Sherwin is attempting to see what mysteries are revealed by the process of hearing the sound of the moving image of the train, just as Fischinger was endeavouring to see what would happen if he photographed graphic shapes onto the film soundtrack.
Fischinger, Oskar “Klingende Ornamente,” Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Kraft Und Stoff, No. 30, 28 July 1932, http://www.centerforvisualmusic.org/Fischinger/SoundOrnaments.htm
James, Richard S. “Avant-Garde Sound-on-Film Techniques and Their Relationship to Electro-Acoustic Music,” The Music Quarterly, Vol. 72, No. 1, 1986, p. 74-89.
Levin, Thomas Y. “Tones from Out of Nowhere,” New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader, (Eds.), Wendy Hui Kyong Chun and Thomas Keenan, Routledge
Moritz, William. Optical Poetry: The Life and Work of Oskar Fischinger. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. c2004
Sherwin, Guy K., and Sebastiane Hegarty. Optical Sound Films 1971-2007 DVD. Lux, 2007.
Dr. Aimee Mollaghan is the BA with film studies co-ordinator at the Huston School of Film and Digital Media, N.U.I. Galway in Ireland. She holds a PhD on visual music animation co-supervised between the University of Glasgow and Glasgow School of art, an MPhil from the Digital Design Studio at Glasgow School of Art and a BA in Film Production from University of Wales, Newport. Her research interests include exploring conceptions of sound and soundscape across disciplinary boundaries. She is also interested in notions of psychogeography and soundscape in British and Irish film.