Item 2. Book Chapter - Auralising Action Space: channelling a sense of play in documentary sound design

2019-04-08T09:27:51Z (GMT) by Simon Connor
Book chapter from 'Soundings: documentary film and the listening experience' edited by Geoffrey Cox and John Corner, published by the University of Huddersfield Press.


Walter Murch’s traditional sense of the the sound designer working within cinema was responsible for ensuring sonic consistency through every stage of the production process, in short ‘sound from start to finish’ (Wright, 2013, p. 139). The role extended beyond the technical responsibilities of the soundtrack to more artistic and aesthetic considerations, famously exemplified by his work in Francis Ford Coppola’s films of the 1970s such as The Godfather Part II (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979) (Buhler, Neumeyer, & Deemer, 2010, p.391). This required a successful coordination of the main components of the ‘multiplane soundtrack’; the dialogue; sound effects and music, or what could be identified as Rick Altman’s 'mise-en-bande’ system (2000, p. 341) . The definition however has increasingly been resisted and, according to Wright, become more diversified in modern day Hollywood (2013), with what Jeffrey Ruoff describes as having inherent ‘mass production techniques and precise divisions of labour’ (1992, p. 221). Alternatively, the financial restrictions and minimal crew typical of low budget documentaries or guerrilla-style filmmaking can require those with responsibility of sound to take a more holistic approach to the sonic world of the film (Jones and Jonliffe, 2006). This encompasses both technical and creative practices, embracing the notion of play and experimentation, and requires an overarching understanding of the entire soundtrack.

Action Space (Wahl, 2016) is such an example of this guerrilla-style of documentary filmmaking, with a small budget and skeleton crew. The film explores the work and ideas of the arts collective Action Space, between the years 1968 – 78, and how their work in education, the arts and cultural and public uses of space are relevant today. With a particular focus on Action Space, this chapter explores the importance of play in documentary film sound design from a practitioner perspective. My role as sound designer and recordist covered several responsibilities including production sound, recording the featured musical performances, archive digitisation, sound collage and the final film mix. Here I aim to reveal how the Action Space’s do-it-yourself (DIY) ethic, and ethos of learning through play, influenced my approach to shaping the sound world of the film.