Magazine article Metro Magazine

Sounding Rural Australia: Analysing Documentary Sound Tracks

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Sounding Rural Australia: Analysing Documentary Sound Tracks

Article excerpt

ANALYSIS AND TEACHING OF FILM sound and music has blossomed vet the last decade, stemming largely from critics and theorists in the USA, Britain and France. (1) In Australia, too, these areas have expanded in fields of film and music studies with, most recently, a special issue of Sounds Australian journal devoted to screen composition. (2) However, there are still film-making arenas that are neglected in terms of in-depth analysis or critique of their sound and music. One such form is Australian non-fiction film. (3) An important reason for this deafness may be the problem with methodologies for sound track examination. There are no obvious models for documentary sound track (4) analysis, and models applied for fiction film music and sound do not automatically translate across to non-fiction. In any case, it is difficult to represent sound in print. Film-makers and theorists might feet intimidated by the prospect of using complex musicological terms, although these are not always necessary or appropriate, in fact, there are alternative, more 'user-friendly' approaches. This article offers a tentative exploration of different approaches via a discussion of a documentary screened on ABC Television's True Stories series in July 2002: Surviving Shepherd's Pie, written and directed by Diana Leach, produced by Franziska Wagenfeld, with music by Jamie Saxe and sound design by Craig Carter.

The film is about four cowgirls who live in rural Australia and ride the rodeo circuit. It looks at how the identities of these Women are shaped by the land. The four women (all from Euro-Australian backgrounds) are Eunice Bougoure, Traci Tapp, Cissy Bright and Enid Healey. They talk about working with horses, cattle, husbands, children and, most of all, rural lifestyles. They talk with emotion, humour and sometimes bitterness about everyday aspects, like washing clothes, cooking, working on properties as well as dealing with alcoholic husbands, snakes, drought, fire and floods.

This film raises several issues about how sound and music work as effective and affective devices. Music and sound elements are also used to suggest the land (as 'the outback') and to highlight issues of cultural identity.

My analysis of the film sound and its concerns draws upon research into the production history of the film involving talking to the principal film-makers, including the composer (all quotes are extracted from these interviews (5)). This production study material informs my reading of the film, how the sound track can be heard and my methodology for its analysis. By this means, the film-makers' intentions for the specific film are considered alongside their filmmaking approach, both of which do not always coalesce with a reading of the final outcome.

In relation to Surviving Shepherd's Pie, writer/director Diana Leach argues that 'Music and sound were always something I envisaged as being important in creating ... the emotion and adding another layer or subtext in the storytelling'. This is part of Leach's interventionist approach to documentary production. She says, 'I tend to be a film-maker that enjoys the detail of craft and see the pictures and sound bringing [their] own sub-text[s] and narrative[s] that layer the subject's narrative'.

It could be argued that this creates a subjective context for the women's stories, and ties the audience response to the film-maker's perspective and framework for them. (6) But any use of music and sound calls upon emotional and perhaps uncontrolled effects for audiences. If this was not so, then it would not matter whether image tracks used sound--synched or otherwise--and neither would the precise nature of the sounds be significant. Leaving aside the more obvious emotive elements of music, even the qualities of a particular voice as well as vocal performance, pronunciation and speech style affect our hearing of spoken content, often an important element in non-fiction film. …

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