Posts tagged ‘non-diegetic’

August 30, 2014

Research: Diegetic and non-diegetic sound

by Suzy Walker-Toye

Project 13 Non-diegetic sound

Non-diegetic sound originates outside the scene. It is not directly justified by the image or actions. The most common example of this is the musical soundtrack. Another example would be voice-over or narration. Sometimes the line between diegetic and non-diegetic can seem blurred. The soundscape created for a scene may include a range of audio sources taken from archive or recorded elsewhere, but if the effect is to create a soundtrack that appears to be justified within the scene it is diegetic. Conversely sounds from within a scene may be exaggerated or manipulated so that they become abstract and therefore non-diegetic. Where either of these processes are used there is also a grey area where the definition is subjective.

The most common form of non-diegetic sound is music. Music can be used to create emotion or atmosphere, to follow events or even to predict them. It sets the tone of a film, implies a range of social and cultural references, provides clues as to dates and locations and identifies genre. Music also sets the pace of scene; it can be used to justify cuts, judge timing, expand or contract time and provide continuity.

(source: p70 of course notes)

One film which springs to mind as using sound very effectively is the 5th Element. There is a sequence which illustrates non-diegetic sound that sets the pace of a scene, give clues or cues to action and creates atmosphere and emotion. The one I’m thinking of is where the Diva is performing a partially operatic song on stage (so the music is diegetic) while Leeloo is fighting the baddies in the Divas room (where the music is therefore non-diegetic). The music links the shots and in both the music sets the pace of the scenes. Leeloo punches and kicks in time with the music and the action is created with quick cuts (also paced by the music). The music is also very emotional which lends atmosphere and tension to the sequence, almost as if the Diva is changing her song because she somehow knows what is going on.

I managed to find a clip of the scene I was referring to on you tube:

When thinking of other examples of music and other non-diegetic sound used to create atmosphere, tension and emotion, one cannot help but think of any horror film you’ve ever seen. There is always some damsel in a flimsy outfit or innocent teenager heading into danger, and how do you know there’s danger before you see it? Well the music hints that there is trouble brewing of course! There is a famous sketch by comedian Eddie Izzard about this phenomena. (reference is at 8:30 in the following clip)

The Monty Python films spring to mind when thinking about sound that is hard to identify as either diegetic or non-diegetic and intentional confusion of diegetic and non-diegetic sound. In a similar way to the Blazing Saddles reference in the notes these films play on the sound effects you’d expect for a scene and then turn them on their heads, for example in a scene of King Arthur riding into view through the fog accompanied by the sound of hoofbeats, we see that actually he’s pretending to ride (he’s just walking along as you might on a hobby horse) and his servant behind him has two coconuts banging together to create the sound of the “horse”. This carries on throughout the movie. I found a clip of this too:

I was a bit puzzled at first re Music (non-diegetic) used to identify social and cultural references, but then I started to think about what sorts of music are in films that are a set abroad and realised that I couldn’t think of a film that is set in Mexico which doesn’t have at least some Mexican music in it (some examples are Desperado, Zorro, From Dusk till Dawn, the list goes on). Then you have Bollywood films which are filled with music which has cultural references even non-Bollywood films such as Slumdog Millionaire and East is East have Indian music in the soundtrack as a cultural reference. Films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon also have cultural music in their score.

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