Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

Marguerite Duras's Aural World: A Study of the Mise-En-Son of India Song

Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

Marguerite Duras's Aural World: A Study of the Mise-En-Son of India Song

Article excerpt

The cinema of Marguerite Duras is characterized by the notion that a film is nothing but a highly complex mental construct, a universe where memories and senses are reorganized under subjective orders. In contrast to other filmmakers who probably share the same notion (Alain Resnais, for instance), Duras relies heavily on the power of sound and particularly the suggestive power of the human voice to provoke and promote an active participation of the spectator's imaginative process. Soundtrack, for Duras, is thus not something that is subordinated to the visual aesthetic, but rather constitutes a primordial form that often precedes the visual. In fact, there is an observable aesthetic evolution in Duras's cinematic oeuvre in which the visual narrative is progressively reduced to the minimum. And this 'dépouillement progressif '1 (Borgomano 1985) is accompanied and compensated by the soundtrack gaining more and more textual richness and narrative importance.

India Song (1975) marks a definitive step in this evolution and can thus be regarded as a watershed among Duras's cinematic works. In her films made prior to India Song, the use of sound can still, for the most part, be regarded as conventional, while post-India Song, the visual channel is almost completely prohibited. It is only in India Song that the soundtrack takes a balanced position in relation to the visual and that the sound text coexists and functions along with the visual text that is presented on the screen. The soundtrack of India Song consists of a complex orchestration of sound including instrumental music, chants, disembodied voices, nonverbal utterances and other ambient sounds. The textual richness alone of this sound text is worth exploring. What makes it more interesting is that this sound text is completely conserved for Son Nom de Venise dans Calcutta Désert (1976), a film that Duras made immediately after India Song. If, in India Song, the initiative role of the soundtrack is not selfevident, then the fact that this soundtrack is used in generating another set of images is certainly a proof of its a priori status.

Yet, to propose an analysis of this sound text presupposes a theoretical problem, which can be identified as the problem of soundtrack analysis in general. Despite intense interest in various technical and cultural aspects of film sound, a truly analytical methodology with which to tackle the film soundtrack has not yet been fully established. Generally, it seems more difficult to achieve the same analytical precision with reference to our aural faculty than our visual one, because human language simply does not provide an adequate aural vocabulary that is comparable to the visual vocabulary. The task of decoding the sound, therefore, is first of all a task of describing the sound with a sound-oriented vocabulary. Rick Altman (1992: 249), for this reason, claims that sound analysis calls for 'a new vocabulary, more attuned to the way in which film sound makes, rather than merely possesses, meaning.' Michel Chion (1994: 186), an avid practitioner of sound analysis, also remarks that 'audiovisual analysis must rely on words, and so we must take words seriously - whether they are words that already exist, or ones being invented or reinvented to designate objects that begin to take shape as we observe and understand.'

Naturally, said vocabulary can be composed of freshly baked words (as Chion does often), of terms that have been used in acoustic engineering,2 or again, of terms borrowed from a related artistic discipline (music, theatre). Although, in the last case, the 'new' word does not necessarily require a new definition, it does often bring in a richness of experiences inherited from the 'old' context where it used to be applied. For this reason, the borrowed or 'reinvented' term enriches not only the spectator's perception of the event (by making analogy to another) but also reveals sometimes a connection of the artist's consistent modus operandi across different domains of practice. …

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