(3) DANIEL DESHAYS (keynote) Daniel.email@example.com
Gesture and sound
ENSATT – Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Techniques du Théâtre, Lyon, France
As proof of intentionality, the sound generated by bodily gesture holds in itself the intentions that were essential for its production. The nature of the sound of an object that is placed on a surface reveals the purpose that preceded that gesture: violence, for instance, or clumsiness.
What is perceived and conveys meaning is the primary intent that is carried in the sounds. This summons up, as in the timbre of the voice, the interpretation of a hidden meaning that the listener is eagerly waiting for.
These elements are at the heart of sound. They endure as movements that are intrinsic to sound’s own materiality. The perception of these sounds unconsciously awakes in us memories of déjà-vu, and therefore induces swift bodily reactions. The gesture responds to what is heard: we react unconsciously and without any delay. And even when the ensuing protective gesture is not produced, the neural network that could steer such a response is already connected and ready to react appropriately (in Alain Berthoz, Le sens du mouvement).
The notion of inner movement – subjective thought -‐ is both the result and the cause of an infinite number of original situations. The inner movement can remain in a form of sensations in each of us and never transform itself into a form of outward expression. This movement is a motor and most often the result of a desire to act; a desire to act which is itself fostered by an external perception which preceded it. But this movement can equally be a direct response; by that, I mean that it is not the fruit of any type of analysis of the situation, but rather ‘pure reflex’, as we used to say. This, in any case, is what the study of the function of mirror neurons has taught us. This movement is equally a place of sharing that brings together those who make sound, (musical or not)
or gestures and those who receive them. The body emits flows. These flows start inner movements that do not always lead to an action; Berthoz tells us that to listen is to act but that does not necessarily mean that the act of making a response will take place.
Convolutions, inner movements and gained momentum precede a gesture as it moves toward exteriorization. An imaginary movement is an accelerator which attempts to culminate in the gesture. An orchestra conductor or a dancer are typical examples of those who produce visible gestures which are part of a system of gestural impulses that emanate from a desire to produce meaning. All those who work with their body -‐ carpenters, ironware craftsmen, road workers and reapers – know what it is that drives their broad gestures. This is equally true of dentists or surgeons whose gestures are smaller and finer. We all share this inner movement which accompanies the desire to produce a movement outside of our body based on what has been conceived within us. The inner movement is developed from a desire born of an idea. Is it not the physical essence of every movement, including that of listening (I will come back to this). We listen without being concsious that we are doing it – yet listening is always a type of gesture. In festive group gatherings we also find that this movement is born in the shared moments, as a sort of necessity -‐ the necessity to spend — here I am referring to “the accursed share” (la part maudite) by Georges Bataille; because gestures arise from pure expenditure. They are often excessive and created by exaggerated emotions, rendering the resulting movement approximate.
I would like to confront these considerations with the reality of the practices found in the sound creation industry. This does not exclusively concern the film industry, but all artistic fields.
Considering components and their variables
Rather than broaching the topic of sound production properly speaking, I find it interesting to go back to its basic components, the various elements on which any production is based: material, gesture and space. I should say right away that the vitality and richness of these elements need to be distinguished from the production processes. What I mean by processes is the successive stages of
putting together a project corresponding to automatic steps, induced developments, and operational means conceived by procedural agreements in order to reach a defined objective in a more or less certain way. This series of operations eliminates access to the many variables which should be available in any creative undertaking. The processes themselves, which regulate all the operations involving sound, are no longer even apparent to those who use them, so ingrained have they become in their daily habits. The primary reason for this, of course, is that production needs to be rapid owing to financial considerations. The second reason is that in any creative process, there are so many variables owing to artistic unknowns that the daily habits mentioned represent a welcome haven of certainty. That is why these processes are very rarely questioned. It also means that the question of “How do we do this?” with respect to the elaboration of new forms is hardly ever asked. These processes primarily concern creative sectors, but they also tend to penetrate those which are not; for example, instructions to do a certain type of broadcast or sound recording.
Contrary to what one might presume, these processes do not solely concern technical operations. Each step that leads to the production of a work of art – because art is indeed what we are talking about – from its preparation to completion -‐ must be examined in this regard. Considering creation in its historic evolution by listening to old productions, for instance, would make it possible to understand a bit better the trend in forms. This historical retrospective allows us to step back and discern things that are not now readily apparent.
The history of practices in correlation with that of technology would also show other aspects of the trend in sound production, although it would be necessary to take a closer look in order to understand better the developments in production forms.
While both ends of the production chain are important, the middle part is just as important. What is the cause of the disenchantment and hence the disinterest of listeners? The kinds of stagings? The small number of good directors? The invariable nature of studios? Monotonous sound recordings? Writers who no longer succeed in exciting their actors? And while we are at it, do we always need actors? Aren’t films able to do without them? So how do we revive the desire to listen?
I would like to come back here to the fundamentals of sound creation to try and demonstrate that the points mentioned represent variables that are not that difficult to reactivate.
Restoring to sound production the conditions for existence of its wealth and diversity
The quality of sounds depends primarily on their production and ease of manipulation. Quality for us means above all variety:
-‐ Variety of sound colours in the spatial dispositions
-‐ Variety of positions of sound sources but also of the equipment used to pick them up in these different spaces
-‐ Variety of movements made by the sound sources themselves: in film, the gestures are made in real time, e.g. speaking while working or walking means that the voice is heard in a body at work or in movement.
-‐ Variety of movements made by the equipment responsible for capturing the sounds: the boom makes it possible to hear the acoustic variations due to physical movements in the spatial disposition, with radio (lapel) mikes helping ensure precise pick-‐up.
We need to remember that film production constantly varies the distance at which sound is captured by adapting it to the framing of the image. The concept of cutting and editing before, during and after shooting is a variable that radio needs to adopt. Similarly, it is necessary to construct the physical movements in order to allow the voices to be emitted. Behind each voice, there is a body, and the body produces a voice very differently depending on the positions which it adopts. What we hear behind a voice is the body in movement, and behind these movements, feelings can be perceived – and it is because expressing feelings in writing inevitably refers back to our bodies that just any recording cannot be acceptable.
The monotonous post-‐synchronization of television shows done with static actors in front of mikes reminds us at once how boring such a set-‐up can prove. Without pictures, listening to these voices would be quite unbearable.
The significance of sound recording
Recording sound is generally considered a neutral act which objectively captures the sound produced. But we tend to forget that what the mike picks
up is not what we hear, but rather offers us far more data than the ear hears on site. The inner movement is in fact the mechanism that sorts out the chaos of sounds that we are constantly confronted with as we move through the world. We also forget that the “sound image” captured does not allow our brain to make the selection that it would have done on the spot. That wonderful freedom of listening which is part of listening live, and which allows each listener to pick out of the sound environment what he wishes to hear, is lost when listening to recorded sound. The recording of street sounds does not really reflect what we actually heard on the street. There, our perception is not a continuous one but rather disjointed, produced by instantaneous samplings and by tuning out. It presupposes the freedom to let our listening wander around, taking and selecting at any given moment what it wants. By contrast, the recording of street sounds is a continual flow of sounds on a listening medium which indicates no other choice than that dictated by the mike’s location. This continual flow bears no relationship to our subconscious listening attitude, a non-‐continuous and subjective listening mode which constantly selects what it wants to hear, leaving out what does not interest it; this is where the inner movement of listening takes place.
The recording therefore appears as an entity, an entire slice of reality available as an absolute and all-‐encompassing value along with the obligation to listen to the whole “package”.
Consequently, it is necessary to organize the release of this excess microphone offer, as well as to realize an organized designation of the things captured by the mike and to boil down the sound continuum to what is essential.
Sounds are meant to affect us, not merely to convey words which are derived from them. Sounds produce sensations even before they produce meaning, so it is through sensations that the meaning must reach us.
While listening does involve a perception of actual sound forms, these shapes have to do with both the material of the sounding object and the nature of the event which makes them be heard. This event can be a gesture or the result of a natural factor, like wind or rain. The sound of ripe wheat blowing in the wind tells me as much about the form of this plant as it does about the waves of the wind. I feel it in my body through my ears just as I would feel it on my skin if I were in the field. The senses of hearing and touch share the same space of ephemeral perception, as when we say, “Your words touch me.” These senses occupy the same parts of the brain. The cerebral centres for the body’s movements are next to those for perception. When I listen to an event, my body is called upon to respond instantaneously, and this response does not have to go through an analysis of its meaning. The body responds immediately, without waiting to understand the meaning contained in the sound which reaches it. It immediately moves, either to protect itself, or else it is attracted and moves to gather more information and sensations. No wonder we talk about active listening! The senses of hearing and touch know how to forget at once what has happened in order to make themselves available to receive the next sensation.
But back to sound recording: this act implies the desire to be heard and to designate, and it certainly belongs to a voluntary subject. Recording sounds means to deposit designated objects on a medium, which makes it the equivalent of writing.
By its very act of capturing something, photography draws our attention to its variables: axis, distance, lighting, depth. Sound recording should use this as a model not only to make sounds “visible”, but also to construct better a vocabulary adapted to each work. Each vocabulary of sound recording must be proper to it: a sound recording dies if it claims to be “neutral”. There is no such thing as a neutral demonstration – it simply does not exist. Any conception which consists of rendering neutral an artistic production always harms it. Painting and photography, both figurative arts, made it possible for the cinema to understand how to construct its images amidst a series of greatly differing viewpoints.
In its early days, the cinema found itself obliged to join together the excessively short reels of film which manufacturers were able to produce, making it impossible to film an entire theatrical segment in its dramatic continuity. So film-‐makers were forced to invent not only editing, but also at the same time the splice to bridge the transition from one reel to the next, in other words the material time needed to change the reel. Thanks to this change of axis, the spectator “forgot” the position occupied by the characters in the preceding take.
The problem with sound is precisely the opposite: any gap can be bridged too easily. Even if editing takes place in the same axis, it will not be heard. There is no jump in movement in characters’ faces or bodies as in pictures. So sound does not have to worry about how to “get through” any cuts in space or changes in axis, which, however, would provide it with a good opportunity to invent new kinds of links that would reactivate listening.
Through the psychic interpretation that we listeners make, sound appears in the form of homogeneous spaces. In keeping with our basic need to spare our energy, our imagination manufactures within us a continuous performance space. I wish to refer here to the recent work by Alain Berthoz, professor at the Collège de France, and especially his work La simplexité.
Yet the desire to listen is born out of surprise, which in turn originates with sudden breaks and depends for its existence on conditions of discontinuity. It is the discontinuity in movements which captures our attention, and this rupture which triggers our need to understand what has just occurred. This is precisely one of the driving forces behind reactivating our listening.
Furthermore, what is important in listening is not what is defined but rather what is uncertain. It is the degree of uncertainty which is listened to. Our listening is constructed in proportion to its incomplete state. If what is offered is excessive, it will arouse only fleeting interest. Any element perceived and understood is immediately abandoned to enable our “survival instinct” to be available to control the next new event that will inevitably arise. Listening opts first of all for what is suggested rather than what is offered. All this naturally corresponds to safeguarding our libido, and indeed, how could it be otherwise? We know that what we are too sure of having is no longer desired and quickly abandoned.
Sound recording has to do with the facing-‐off of situations, the confrontation of physical movements. What I want to hear in a recording and in the details of the actions made available by sound production is the quality of the desire for
exchanges brought into play. The slightest nuance of movement triggered by hesitation, or on the contrary, by certainty will enrich the quality of the sensation, whether it is the movement in a voice, an object or even of the mike which is capturing it. Such extremely refined data as these are at the heart of what is at stake in listening.
In the same way, the complexities of acoustic spaces and their richness are essential variables for the tension of listening. The diversity and acoustic richness conveyed by physical movements within the complexity of a space constitute the driving force behind listening.
The unsuitability of a sound and of its ordinary venue is simultaneously a factor that augments attention and a catalyst.
Placing events in unexpected spaces acts to trigger questions, especially since the unsuitability of such spaces is not a piece of data that is directly perceived. What is perceived is the existence of something singular, but the listener will not necessarily manage to attribute it to one element in particular. The method can be even more radical. To take an extreme example, the sound of a motor scooter heard within the acoustics of a church is certainly not an association that will go unnoticed. It results in a kind of sound explosion where the reinterpretation of each element is in play, but above all the very question of their confrontation.
The acoustics of an incongruous venue do not remain in our consciousness very long; our listening quickly fades. Choosing to place elements in play or the sound recording at the threshold of two different venues makes them appear
in an instantaneous comparison which maintains them in our awareness. What is primarily perceived is the moment of rupture in space, the passage from one acoustic space to another. The most explicit venue is thus the threshold separating or uniting the two spaces. It causes us to perceive the difference in quality of the venues in terms of both volume and construction material. The physical bodies or objects which produce sounds are relative to their volume: sound actions are perceived alternately and reinterpreted relative to the acoustics of the spaces.
The neutralization of acoustics is not devoid of interest, but it functions all the better if it corresponds to a particular need for a space devoid of sound, as for instance in the plays of Samuel Beckett. The studio as a neutral space makes it possible to eliminate the invasive continuity of background noise with which real life gratifies us all too generously. Yet conversely, its lack of presence as a sound space is but another element of expression to be found in the toolkit of sound creativity. We should therefore take over other quiet sound spaces whose acoustics are livelier than those of a studio and make living performance spaces possible. The very complexity of these spaces and the diversity of their architecture enhance the succession of fluid, vibrant and changing situations, reintroducing surprises for the listener.
We know all this, at least intuitively, but we must constantly remind ourselves of it at every moment of our activity, no matter what position we occupy, in order to make the most desirable element of all available for listening: the inner movement.
This question about the inner movement is equally shared by those who are currently conducting research on interface technology that will soon be used to simultaneously operate all light, sound and live performance machinery. Any questions concerning the control of these devices are related to haptic aspects.
Control surfaces that are now emerging are the result of that question and would tend to make the control gesture more flexible, and closer to the sensitivity of the planned action. But for now, despite the fact that the parameters can be adjusted, there is no proposal that can meet our high expectations. A command that is assigned to data characterizing two or even three axes is far from responding to parameters of the imagination. We can still envisage, as in a dream which can never come true, the outright suppression of any interface at all. The idea would be to establish a direct connection between thought and action on an object outside the body, without having to make any movement to achieve this connection. Driving a car by simply thinking about it or composing music by the use of “cortical art” as Pierre Henry did in the seventies is still a dream. Few shortcuts are possible between thought and action. The body, be it that of another or by an indirect path, always establishes the movement which is the result of thought. The limbless man who can write a text on his computer is only able to do so by blinking his eye. There is no shortcut between thought and action.
A trace which is the result of a desire is thus created. And a sound is equally the trace of the desire which can be found at the heart of the very action which produced it. The action that produced that sound is recorded in the depths of the materiality of sounds. We can understand that the most important element in the perception of sound is the intention that it conveys; the intention which is the foundation for the meaning borne by the event. If the sound-‐object seems to have meaning, this meaning initially derives from the intention of the action. The intonations in the human voice are a visible example of this.
And when the action is heard by my ears, it was regulated by the ear of the person who produced it. A carpenter uses his ear to measure the force needed to drive a nail into wood. The sound that he produces and which he then hears enables him to measure his next gesture. His own ear is the regulator of his inner movement, by feedback. The force of his movement decreases in relation to the sound of the nail that he hears.
This inner movement is not necessarily the origin of the sound. The sound originates on the outside; the outside nurtures all desires, in the same way that the silence of another person leads me to respond. My response can be made based on my perceptions or on my capacity of being affected, moving me closer to the desire to respond – but it is always adjusted.
In order of priority of our perception, a glass set on the table does not appear to us first as the sound of a glass carrying the meaning of the object represented. This is equally true of the table on which the glass clatters. What comes first is the relationship created by the glass/ table association which is perceived in the gesture. The only real sound is that sound which is borne of an inner movement. -‐ But the material existence of intentions seems to be located outside the body and this, in fact, is the only place where the event exists. If this were not the case, how could we account for clumsiness, a missed punch, tripping and falling or a missed target, for example? — What gesture led to the meeting that produced the sound and what was the prevailing intention? The event that led to setting the glass on the table a bit violently is the first thing that will be perceived behind the sound – a sound that will only secondarily appear as the sound of a glass, because the gesture – which could have been made on any other object – expresses anger, first and foremost. What is heard first is the irritation and this is where we find the inner movement of the situation: between the irritation and the broken glass. But for those of us who work in sound or are stage directors, the sound takes on meaning when we hear the broken glass. And at this point we must consider what type of sounds can be recorded onto film images. Is it possible to use sound effects, sound alone or a sound library – because they do not contain the same gesture or any gesture at all, for that matter? What I must hear is the touch which will be touching to me -‐ and it is unbearable to be touched in just any way. This inner movement is the place where gestures towards others are born. My ties to others begin to be materialized at this place. Gentleness, tenderness or violence begin here and will be led to my body by the gesture and by my hearing. An initial inner pressure from the sound produced by one body leads to a final inner pressure in another body. Thus, the inner movement is the place where there is an exchange of sensitivity -‐ which is the only reason for the existence of art.