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The Use of Sound in A Passage to India Essay

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    “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. ” As we hear this cheery song, we are instantly transported to the wonderful month of December, imagining everything that it brings. The snow falling, the decorating of the Christmas tree, hot chocolate and time spent as a family. All these memories and feelings of joy were brought up by a simple verse of a well known song. It is the power of sound and music that can instantly transport us to different places, situations and times, whether fantasy or real. Movie directors use this same power to their advantage.

    The noises, sounds and music used in films have all been carefully selected to create particular feelings and subconscious thoughts in the viewers mind. Yet, how is this achieved? What goes into the making of each sound and musical note in a film? To what point does sound enhance a movie and have an impact on its audience? The purpose of this research paper will be to analyze the effects of sound in the movie A Passage to India and learn the process that goes into creating the score for such a film. The first movie with sound was The Jazz Singer in 1927.

    At the time, many critics felt that this would ruin movies altogether. However, movies were never actually “silent. ” All movies have always had music in order to create further understanding of the overall plot. In Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, an energetic and lively song was used during the fight scene, yet a romantic and gentle song is played whenever he sees the blind woman selling flowers. In both cases, music helped define the events. Despite the film being silent, music was an important component. Critics who believed movies would suffer from adding sound were proved wrong.

    Now, sound is one of the richest sources of meaning in a film. Sound is divided into three primary sections. The human voice or dialogue, sound effects and music. Each division of sound has its own influence throughout the movie. The purpose of the dialogue is to tell a story. The dialogue will express the feelings and intentions of the characters. The actors playing a role need to portray feelings and emotions through their tone of voice and conversation. It is their job to make their body movements and intonation seem natural, not forced.

    When this is done correctly, the actor creates a true persona rather than an “actor playing a role. ” The speed at which the actors read the script is also influential and essentially considered for each character. When a character has a slow, soft and stuttering voice, the audience will immediately see the personage as weak or as the underdog. When the person speaks incredibly fast and is very opinionated, the viewers will likely see the person as annoying or perhaps even humorous. In the movie, “A Passage to India, Dr. Aziz’ had a voice filled with energy, happiness and excitement.

    In part, he came across as an innocent man due to his expression. Incredibly, all these effects were caused simply by the tonality of the human voice. The next part to be considered is that of the sound effects used in film. A Passage to India had the distinct and constant noises of crickets and water whenever there was a moment of tranquility and loneliness. There was also the loud noises of animals and undistinguishable talking at the local markets and towns. In the case of A Passage to India, all the additional noises used were synchronous sounds.

    In terms of sound, to be synchronous is to have the sound match the actual events occurring in the film. Synchronous sounds are used to create a sense of realism in the film. However, asynchronous sounds also have an important role in filmmaking. Asynchronous noises can be used to show an annoyance or to create suspense. In the case of A Passage to India, the echoing noise in the Marabar Caves is the perfect example. Mrs. Moore and Adela both kept hearing the echo of the caves even after it was no longer there. It was used to show the sickening effects of the caves.

    Every additional noise added to movies are considered to be “sound effects. ” Movies are made up of a series of sound effects added together. The last component of sound in film is that of music. Music is one of the most versatile and oldest tools of sound used in movies. Silent films had music before the 1930s and action movies today still have musical numbers. Amadeus uses music as a primary character, Jaws has a theme song that most can recognize, and Rosemary’s Baby has background music that sets the tone for the entire film. A Passage to India has two types of music to identify specific qualities.

    The credits begin with a song that has an Indian influence but it is slowly overtaken by an English orchestra. It is this same orchestra that is then used at all events hosted by the English. It represents how the English culture completely overtook the Indian lifestyle. Each film has a different musical score that can either add emotion, foreshadow events or link scenes together. Many times however, the audience does not notice the background music, but the movie would feel incomplete without it. The effects of music are sometimes subtle and only our subconscious mind will note the sounds.

    In the end, each component of sound, whether the human voice, the sound effects or the music, are all necessary to finalize a film in its full potential. It is the director’s job to decide how he wants these sounds to overlap and what the desired effect is. The director will have to consider what the dialogue will sound like and with that, try and find the right actor for the part. He not only has to think of how the words will be said but what the tone of voice will be as well. Then he has to think of all the sound effects that will transpire throughout the movie. Some will be real while others will be added for greater effect.

    All the while, the musical score should be in the back of his mind. The director needs to decide what type of music and when it should be played during the film. However, the movie director cannot do this alone. In a film with barely any sound effects, the director still has over fifteen people whose only job is to work with sound. The most well known is the sound editor as he is the one that gathers every sound necessary to make the director’s vision possible. The director and sound engineer go through every second of the movie to generate a list of every single sound that needs to be added or omitted.

    A Passage to India had eighteen people in the sound department for the film. The main roles were that of the composer, conductor, sound editor, boom operator, sound recordist, foley artist and sound engineer. However, a movie such as Avatar, can have over 118 people working with the sound production, not including the orchestra. “The soundtrack is the most collaborative component of filmmaking. ” (Sync Tanks) Directors hire a large number of people to work with the sound production because they know the effect it can have on the audience. Scientifically, noise evokes emotions in the human brain which release stress chemicals.

    Because of this, certain sounds can create emotions of fear, stress, excitement, love and happiness. Music impacts the part of the brain that is connected to our memories and emotions. Some doctors have discovered that premature babies will grow at a faster rate when exposed to music such as that of Mozart. It is also known that people who listen to music are less likely to suffer depression. Not only does music influence our emotions, but it organizes our thoughts and develops our neural pathways. In the film, the noises consist not of music but of sound effects and dialogue.

    The most common sound in the movie is of the chirping of crickets at a distance and the slow and steady rhythm of calm water. Being sounds of nature, the viewer remains relaxed and entranced by the simple moments of Indian culture. Yet, whenever there has been a moment of clashing culture between the English and the Indian, a loud western orchestra plays which shows how the British have overtaken Indian land. Despite the English having power over the people of India, the growth of the Indian people is shown throughout the movie by slowly adding more typical noises of their culture.

    At the beginning of the film, the sounds of the town were covered by the orchestra yet towards the end, the noise that the townspeople are making are too hard to ignore. It is at this time that Dr. Aziz is released and the Indians gain victory in a trial that had a decided fate. Sound, music, noise, echo… Each one adds to the overall success of a film. Many times, sound is not given the credit it should be. Sound creates subconscious emotions in a person that cannot otherwise be achieved. It adds to the plot of a movie, many times as an additional character. Other times, it sets up the narrative and develops the storyline.

    A scary film would not be as effective without sounds adding suspense every step of the way. Just as an action movie wouldn’t be successful without the loud noises of explosions and gunshots. Yes, the process of post-production is difficult and painstaking but it is necessary. The director spends a great deal of time deciding what to add and omit because without the special consideration of sound, a film would not be complete. The viewers will not enjoy or maybe even understand the movie without the special effects added by the music. Sound is one of the most essential parts of filmmaking.


    “Passage to India.” Film Education., n.d. Web. 3 Oct. 2012. .

    “Making of A Passage to India.” A Passage to India. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2012. .

    “Indian Heritage – Music.” Indian Heritage – Music. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2012. .

    IMDb., n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2012. .

    “The Art and Technique of Postproduction Sound.” The Art and Technique of Postproduction Sound. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2012. .

    “Introduction to Film Sound.” Introduction to Film Sound. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2012.

    “How to Create Professional “Sounding” Films.” The Importance of Sound in Films. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2012.

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