Are you now or have you ever been?

“In an interview about the sound for THX 1138, Walter Murch charaterised the ambience recordings for the “White Limbo” sequneces in this way: “It’s basically the room tone from the Exploratorium in San Francisco. …It’s a veil of mysterious sound – it doesn’t have have anything specific to it, but it is full of suggestive fragments.” This description could easily be used to categorize the entire sound track of the film. The sound montages are full of “suggestive fragments” that offer subtle cinematic metaphors, sharp social criticism, and even satire in in the tradition of George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldos Huxley’s Brave New World…” [1]

hallway

“Technology mediates the presentation of all of […] images and sounds, filtering them through video cameras and audio processors. Every bit of data is under review and scrutiny, not just by a centralized authority but also by the system of oppression in which the characters are trapped. No individual takes up the role of antagonist, rather the film presents the cumulative effects of intrusive technology and misguided authority and social rules. At this point of convergence, individual rights erode. The filmgoer is also implicated in the process of analysis. Just as with the French New Wave narratives, the film demands an active reading strategy to synthesize the narrative data and evaluate these images and sounds of the future. The hope is that the filmgoer will also speculate about the possibilities of this sort of oppression in contemporary society. Lucas explains, “We have all the potentials today [for this course toward the future], polluted air to drive you underground, tranquilizing drugs and computers. Whether it happens depends on the human spirit. Or the lack of it.”‘

“As the sequence continues, the social and technical mechanisms of observation and oppression are revealed more clearly in the editorial equivalent of a pull back. The images become less processed, though the sounds remain heavily manipulated as a subtle reminder of the notion of eavesdropping. The allusion to “Big Brother” in Orwell’s 1984 cannot be missed. A central control node is revealed, exposing controllers, banks of monitors, and computerized consoles, much like a television studio. Thematically, the setting reiterates the connection to modern media practices, while the screens and sound bites underscore a connection to consumer culture. In a cutaway, a chrome police officer holds the hand of a child as they wait for an elevator. The music accompanying the scene is canned and hollow, akin to something shoppers might hear in a mall. To achieve this effect, Murch played “dry” recordings of the music in the empty hallway then re-recorded it to merge its echoes and spatial cues, using his technique of “worldizing. “‘ The result is the audio equivalent of fluores- cent lighting, dulling humanity and emotion in this controlled subterranean environment. Thematically, the images and sounds reveal that this society has reverted to infancy by a dependency on mechanization and technology.” [2]

William Whittington, “Suggestive Fragments in THX 1138”, Sound Design & Science Fiction. Austin: University of Texas Press. 2007. [1] p 75, [2] 78.

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