In response to Richard Barsam’s Looking at Movies seventh chapter on sound:
I find the idea of silence equally as important and perhaps even more so than sound. We have been conditioned to accept that the transitions and contrasts of sound certainly create a sense of drama, and so much is said too in the space of silence. While I realize this has more to do with music than film, listening to Ani DiFranco in my 20s is what first alerted me to the importance of both sound and silence. I never much thought about it prior.
On her 1990 album, Not So Soft, the tune “Every Angle” incorporates sound in a way that moves beyond the music itself and into the audience’s imagination via the story.
i’m imagining your laugh again
the one you save for your family
and your very
i’m imagining the way you say my name
i don’t know when
i’m going to hear it again
my friends can’t tell
my laughter from my cries
someone tell this photograph of you
to let go of my eyes
If this were a film, we’d see a tortured soul, heart broken, perhaps laughing/crying indistinguishably in the style of Charlie during the opening scenes of Barton Fink. In the background we’d hear another layer, a voice over of laughter perhaps muted at a distance like something nearly as intangible as memory. The main character’s name is softly spoken with that same echo of distance. In those few seconds of a single shot, we’d probably infer what is offered by Ms. DiFranco in descriptive lyric form.
Of course, the interpretation can’t end there. On the flip side, the 1995 song “Asking too Much” off Not a Pretty Girl emphasizes many of the understood meanings of silence to which descriptive language cannot easily be assigned:
If you hear me talking
Listen to what I’m not saying
If you hear me playing guitar
Listen to what I’m not playing
And don’t ask me to put words
To all the silences I wrote
Don’t ask me to put words
To all the spaces between notes
I read this passage to mean that there is always more to be said in the space of silence than in speaking. Language is limiting, as is the implied language of edited sound. This reminds us that, along with examining what is happening, we must remember to equally examine what isn’t. Sound alerts us to action, but silence often alerts to a lack thereof or a suspenseful lead up to a particular climax. It is in these silent moments where we must examine why the choice is made to include it and what it speaks of.