Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

'Bring the Noise!' Sonic Intensified Continuity in the Films of Edgar Wright

Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

'Bring the Noise!' Sonic Intensified Continuity in the Films of Edgar Wright

Article excerpt

While discussing the climactic, violent battle in the picturesque town of Sandford during the DVD commentary for Hot Fuzz (2007), director Edgar Wright suddenly exclaims, 'It's so loud! I love it!' Wright is not wrong; his major film works to date - Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz, and The World's End (2013) (known as the 'Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy')1 and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) - all have overt and highly stylised soundtracks. On the surface, then, the last line of Hot Fuzz - Danny Butterman's 'Bring the noise!' - seems to sum up the director's approach to sound design. However, as supervising sound editor Julian Slater explains about Scott Pilgrim, Wright's soundtracks are not just about achieving a particular 'level of loudness'. Rather, Wright's soundtracks display, in Slater's words, 'a level of intricate detail that I think we've managed to get across and knit very finely with all the different elements' ('Sound for Film Profile' 2010). This combination of overt loudness and intricate detail is typical of certain approaches to contemporary sound design, and Wright's films point toward some of the stylistic possibilities that have become available in the age of digital sound.

Characterisations of contemporary sound aesthetics often emphasise how the widespread adoption of digital sound technologies in the 1990s and 2000s has made sound design more excessive, especially in action- oriented genres and blockbusters. Digital technology has expanded film sound's dynamic range (Kerins 2011, 53-65; Buhler et al. 2010, 399-400) so that films often seem 'louder and noisier' to audiences (Smith 2013, 338). Digital sound also allows filmmakers to create denser sound mixes, combining more sounds without loss of quality; to edit non-linearly and place sounds more precisely in relation to the image; and to move those sounds readily around the theatre space via the surround channels (Kerins 2011, 65-80; Holman 2010, 153; Buhler et al. 2010, 392-93; Smith 2013, 341-45). Outside of technological developments, however, filmmakers and audiences in recent decades have come to expect sound to be used in increasingly versatile and complex ways ( Whittington 2007, 1, 192). Thus it has become easier, and perhaps more common, for contemporary sound design to exceed narrative motivation; though sonic devices are generally justified by the needs of the film's story, they are often deployed in ways that make audiences aware of them as purely formal elements - as excess (Thompson 1977/1986, 134-36). As a result, many contemporary films appear to be 'brimming with an almost uncontainable amount of sound' (Buhler et al. 2010, 400).

This turn toward noticeable sonic excess corresponds to similar changes in contemporary cinema's visual style (Smith 2013, 335), which have brought to modern films a visual exuberance that often draws attention to its own stylistic flourishes. In The Way Hollywood Tells It: Story and Style in Modern Movies, David Bordwell refers to this more overt visual style as 'intensified continuity', describing it as 'an intensification of established techniques. Intensified continuity is traditional continuity amped up, raised to a higher pitch of emphasis' (2006, 120, emphasis original). That is, despite their heightened visual style, contemporary films still aim to 'assure that the spectator understands how the story moves forward in time and space', and this places them firmly within the larger, enduring system of classical continuity that has governed mainstream global cinema since the late-1910s (119).

The concept of intensified continuity also allows us to understand the concurrent 'intensification' of contemporary film sound. Though Bordwell does not focus on sound in The Way Hollywood Tells It, he does note the importance of considering sound's role in the creation of contemporary film aesthetics (2006, 158), and he has mentioned sound-image relationships in blog entries about intensified continuity (Bordwell 2007). …

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