Ambience of Cinematic Sound

Essay by crinihendrixUniversity, Bachelor's August 2009

download word file, 7 pages 3.0

Ambience is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “the special atmosphere or mood created by a particular environment.” This definition reveals the ubiquitous and ambiguous identity of acoustic ambience, as “environment” is a broad collective term. Unlike music or dialogue, ambience in film is akin to peripheral vision: once focused upon it loses a collective identity. Yet, there is a means to unraveling the aural atmosphere of a particular environment.

The solution in defining ambient sound lies primarily in the logical process of eliminating the tangible sound components within the soundtrack of film. Metaphorically speaking the soundtrack may be seen as a glass jar. The solid rocks placed in the jar are the major components of film: voice, sound effects and music. All other sound is like coloured liquid poured around the rocks. Not only does liquid fill the jar, but also affects the appearance of the rocks. Consequently we encounter unique practical examples that weaken terminology and provide inevitable exceptions to the rule.

The lack of theoretical development in a medium borne in the late nineteen twenties is both mystifying and understandable. Sound is the underdog to visuals, and ambience is overlooked for more recognizable components such as music. Indeed, there are multitudes of books on music and sound effects (impact effects) in film. Ambience however, appears to be advanced in practical application but primitive in theoretical exploration.

Exploring sound film holistically has not deterred all theorists. Michel Chion is a pioneer who devises credible terminology with an emphasis on the equality of sound and visuals. Naturally, in a medium rife with subjective interpretation, it is all but impossible to make cut and dry theoretical statements.

Chion comments:Of course we must continue to refine and fill in our typology of film sound. We must add new categories—not claiming...