Wednesday, January 16, 2013



The film CONVERSATION made in 1974 by Francis Ford Coppola , is an epitome in sound designing . The film revolves around a lonely man who has been hired for recording eavesdropping. So the man’s job is here to record sound ! And that challenges the spectators igniting their skill to become an active audience so to be compatible with the sound-centric film journey where images follow the sound track , chiefly.

This essay will examine the characteristics of sound designing as have been employed in the  neurosis - scene of the film  “ Conversation “. And it’s a film about people where people are being watched. The scene where Caul the protagonist is behaving out of paranoia certainly strikes us with the very theme of this particular film. The sound scape designed by Walter Murch, famous editor of Hollywood, has been masterly crafted to keep an analogy with the theme.

Before we delve deep into sound analyses, we’ll try to recognize the sources of the sound used in this scene.

The sound sources :

By sources it is generally meant the “ location “ from where the sound originates. It gives us a very clear sense of both spatial and temporal awareness. This scene has successfully used both the diegetic and non-diegetic sounds to build up the character and the ambience. The layers of sound tracks have also exploited A) vocal sound ,  B) environmental sound ( ambient , sound effects , and Foley sound ) C) Music and D ) silence .

A) In this scene we hear Caul , the protagonist is conversing on a phone call. This is the only use of a vocal sound. The sound track of this telephonic conversation begins with a synch sound with Caul saying the “ Hello “ which is immediately followed by  the sound of a  sound recorder playing blank. Coppola and Walter Murch remind us about the theme of the film ! The sound track gets more interesting as the conversation ends with a non-diegetic sound of saxophone. The shot shows that the saxophone is held by Caul, who is certainly not playing that but Murch adds the extra non diegetic layer to create the sense  of neurotic atmosphere.

B) Environmental sounds are the most complex usage in a scene especially when it is devoid of dialogues. The whole scene is about the inner world of the protagonist which hardly has a vocal sound or dialogue. The sound track has employed a tons of layers to compliment this situation. The sound of diegetic telephone , the sound of non diegetic saxophone and the sound recorder , the  diegetic noise of breaking  furniture and other stuff , all are example of creation of a perfect role of sounds as a narrative device.

C) Music : The scene begins with a piece of music. The shot focuses on a black vintage telephone and a saxophone is heard playing in the background. The shot starts panning from the telephone and ends up capturing Caul the protagonist in a mid close shot.  He is seen playing the saxophone.  The use of saxophone seems very apt as it connotes the performers’ involvement and loneliness. The very act of saxophone playing philosophically separates the player from the outer world.

Coppola has successfully added the piano as a background music for this scene. A loner is easily identifiable with this piece of Piano.  Both these classical pieces of  piano and the saxophone create a very slow and lonely ambience to keep the verisimilitude of the scene.

D) Silence does the same justice to the scene as the other sound tracks. Before he Caul begins his paranoiac activities we hear a pause – a pause of silence. And it speaks. It speaks the inner silence and hollowness of the character.

The camera in this film along with this soundtrack is perfectly analogous and ignite spectator’s voyeurism. Yes , Coppola and Murch  successfully  make every individual in us an essential voyeur  as we watch the scene.

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