You’re heading to the movie theater, the newest movie with your favorite actor is playing. You get to your seats just as the (hour long!!) credits end and the theater grows dark. Suddenly you can hear low music swelling up. Film company logos flash across the screen and the music only gets louder till the opening shot of the movie begins. The music is important. It signifies the genre and style of the movie you are about to watch. If there are loud droning tones it might convey the film is suspenseful or horror. If you hear a pop song, you should expect a rom-com or some kind of happy kids movie. Music sets the tone before we even lay our eyes on the set or characters.
That sound, during the credits and not the cinematic universe, is called non-diegetic. The music and sound the characters within the film can hear and can interact with are called, you guessed it, diegetic sound. Sometimes music can change from diegetic to non-diegetic and the other way around. For example, we can hear a song as a part of the soundtrack (non-diegetic) while the movie shows us the setting of the film. Then, the film shows the character turn off the radio causing the music, which we now realize is diegetic, to stop. Directors can play with our expectations of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds, which draws interest in the film.
Horror is an easy genre to hear, how directors can put us in the shoes of the character for an effect. A classic example is heartbeats. If you hear slow heartbeats in a movie while a character is walking, the character is probably calm and the viewer feels the same way. If the heartbeats are speeding up while the character is also speeding up, viewers understand that the character is scared, and running away from something. For my Introduction to Film Class, we watched A Quiet Place and discussed how both diegetic and non-diegetic sound makes meaning throughout the film. In A Quiet Place because one of the main characters is deaf the film plays around with periods of silence as the audience is immersed in her point of view. This movie creates suspense so well when it uses sound to condition the viewer into hair-raising reactions from the dramatic score and sound effects.
What are your experiences with sound in film?
-DJ lil witch xoxo