The sound of cinema

The first talkie was The Jazz Singer, which was released in 1927

July 04, 2016 05:24 pm | Updated 05:40 pm IST - Chennai

A poster of the film Alam Ara.

A poster of the film Alam Ara.

Though films are primarily a visual medium, sound plays a key role too. Sound in films includes dialogues, background music, and sound of an object, say, falling. They also include the songs.

Earlier films were produced without sounds and are called silent films. This era lasted from 1894 to 1929. It was only in 1927, that sounds came to be and they were called ‘talkies’. The Jazz Singer was the first feature film to have synchronised sounds.

There are many types of sound. The sounds that appear to be within the story or the frame are called Diegetic. They refer to the sounds that the characters can hear. For example: dialogues, noise made by a car crash or a falling book or the music actually played within the story. It also includes barking of a dog or chirps of insects, where you may or may not see the subjects.

Background music, voice over or narrator’s commentary are called Non-Diegetic Sounds. They are not visible on the screen, but are implied to be part of the story.

Technicians involved

One of the key persons involved in the production of sound is a Production Sound Mixer. His role is to make sure that the recording on set goes without a hitch. He decides what kind of microphones to use and how the sound, thus recorded on set, can be used for the final mix. In short, he acts as the head of the sound department.

Boom operator

You might have seen in ‘the-making’ videos of films, where a person holds a long boom pole with microphone attached to its end, during a shoot. He is called the Boom operator. The microphones are usually held above the head of the actors to capture the dialogues. He co-ordinates with the production sound mixer and ensures that noises are cut out and pitches are suitable.

Live sound recording

Live sound recording is one of the challenging areas in the production process. Though many studios do not prefer the live sounds, it is always better to get the most authentic sound possible. It requires more number of sound mixers on the set meticulously recording the different sounds along with the dialogues, before finally mixing them for final out. Due to such practical challenges, live sounds are restricted to television production.

Sound mixing and sound editing are the two major departments as far as post production, with regard to sound, is concerned. Though mixing and editing may sound similar, there are a few differences. While sound editors create sound, the mixers take the raw sounds from the shoot and environment and figure out the best way to balance them. Sound mixers job is to use the on-location recording to portray the emotion or the feel the director or the editor wants to pull off.

(The writer is an assistant professor at the Department of Visual Communication, Loyola College, Chennai)


*The films that have sound technically synchronised with image is called sound film or talkies.

* Alam Ara, a Hindi-Urdu film, was the first Indian talkie, premiered in 1931.

* Indian film saw a commercial boom with the sound cinema. It was on par with the United States in the number of sound films produced, even as early as 1932.

* Introduction of songs too caught up quickly in India, with Alam Ara featuring 7 songs, while Indrasabha, produced a year later, having 70 songs.

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