December 30, 2009

Getting Cinemate: #8 Sound Recording

Film captures image discretely, frame by frame. And relies on the physiology of ‘persistence of vision’ to create the illusion of moving image. But this phenomenon has no aural equivalent. Sound must be captured in real time, that is, it must be recorded continuously. This basic difference did not allow the two to merge and thus cinema was born mute. Later, sound could be converted into electric signals and further into light signals, giving birth to the concept of optical sound and enabling sound films or Talkies. But this equipment of recording sound was noisy and thus recording sound on location that is while shooting, was discouraged. The artists were supposed to dub later in a sound studio, trying to match their lip movements, looking at the edited film clips.

In the late 40s, the development of tape, or magnetic sound recording enabled recording sound on location. Later, further improvements in optical sound also helped to achieve this. This procedure is called the Sync Sound technique. The equipment used to record sound is called Nagra. The device on which microphone is fixed to reach close to the actors is called Boom. Sound is recorded essentially separate from the film. The final print that is sent for exhibition contains the audio track incorporated in the film.

Aesthetically speaking, Sync Sound technique is a better alternative and adds authenticity to the film, and has been widely accepted. However, Italy and India – two major film making nations have been reluctant to accept it. In fact, the only technical drawback of Fellini and Antonioni films is the sound they use. In India, it is more to do with the professional discipline required while using Sync Sound, which along with its higher costs has been an important reason to prevent it from being the norm.

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