Updated: March 22, 2011 00:55 IST

The art and craft of sound in cinema

C. S. Venkiteswaran
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Sound in moving pictures: T. Krishnanunni; Mathrubhumi MM Press, Cherootty Road, Kozhikode-1. Rs. 60.
The Hindu Sound in moving pictures: T. Krishnanunni; Mathrubhumi MM Press, Cherootty Road, Kozhikode-1. Rs. 60.

Very few books explore the art and craft of creating the audiovisual experience that cinema is. As a result, the exciting and strenuous work of cinematographers, editors, sound directors, set/costume designers, effects-specialists and others remains forever invisible and unheard.

This fascinating book is a significant contribution to the field. It gives a concise yet comprehensive introduction to the subject, apart from mapping the professional and aesthetic dimensions of sound design and recording. That it has come from a professional like Krishnanunni — one of the country's most eminent sound designers, a recipient of several State and national awards, and one who has worked with illustrious filmmakers such as Adoor Gopalakrishnan, G. Aravindan, and Shaji N. Karun — makes it all the more welcome. How sound offers an exciting avenue for creativity and freedom of expression in cinema, and how the various aural elements serve to complement, contrast, and accentuate the visuals are explored and explained clearly.

Technical aspects

A striking feature of the publication is that all the technical and aesthetic aspects of sound are presented in a simple and lucid language. The first part deals with areas such as recoding procedures, recording media, audio monitoring, mixing console, and sound mixing, and this is followed by a discussion on various audio elements in cinema, as for example songs, dialogue, background music, and sound effects.

The chapters titled ‘Sound in Malayalam cinema' and ‘The Oscar for Rasul Pookkutty', which have a personal touch, place the thrills and pains of sound design in the Indian context. They also draw upon personal experiences to illustrate relevant points and pay homage to the author's predecessors and peers like P. Devadas and Vairam. He has added a techno-historical dimension to the book by discussing the recent transformation from analogue to digital technology, a shift that has radical implications for the craft of sound design.

Significantly, Krishnanunni entered the industry at a very exciting moment, when Malayalam cinema was waking up to the technical and aesthetic nuances of sound as a vital element in film-making. He says, “In 1980, when I joined Chitranjali Studio, I used to listen to Devadas and Adoorji conversing regarding the emotional relevance of a particular sound effect for a particular scene and I stood in amazement wondering what it was all about. That would have been the sound of a stone falling into water or that of a night bird calling or that of a particular type of bullock cart. Slowly, such discussions became part of the film-making agenda for many Malayalam film-makers.”


Also interesting are the author's observations about emerging challenges in the wake of rapid urbanisation. After graphically describing the travails of recording sound effects in Kuttanad, a place marred by the blare of devotional songs and the heavy traffic of houseboats, he muses: “Will it be possible to record any sound effect in any location in Kerala after a few years? Where will we get those nice bird chirps, flowing river, streams, the early morning ambience of a Kerala village etc...? That reminds one also of the importance of recording those sounds now and preserving them for the future.”

Like his art, Krishnanunni's approach to technology is very sharp and clear. “Whatever be the technology, whatever be the number of tracks, whatever be the directions sounds come from, ultimately what matters is how the sound track complements the visuals and how it enhances the artistic or aesthetic value of the film as a whole...Technology is only a tool. It is the way one utilises it that matters.”

What adds to the charm of the narrative is Krishnanunni's ability to bring in historical, aesthetic and personal dimensions while speaking about a highly technical subject like sound. The foreword by Adoor Gopalakrishnan and the preface by Shaji Karun help in putting the author as well as the book in perspective.

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