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Sounds of The Piano

Sound is one of the most important aspects of film. It is what clarifies image events and shapes how we perceive and interpret the image. Every film has sound. Even those old “silent films” have musical scores, so really there is nothing silent about them. One of the best films that utilizes important concepts of film sound is The Piano. Of course, any film that is about a musician must have an outstanding musical selection. Especially when all the character does is play the piano throughout the entire film. Film sound, however, is much more than that. Its about the dialogue, and sound effects as well as the music.

The original movie poster for The PianoDialogue has a huge role in film. Dialogue advances the narrative, gives voice to the characters’ thoughts and emotions, and establishes the character. It also emphasizes the setting of the characters’ cultural background, age, class and education. In this film, the characters are heavily expressed through dialogue. First of all, when you hear the characters speak for the first time, you quickly notice their accents. This shows that the story is taking place in another country, which is New Zealand in this case. It also suggests that the characters are of a different cultural background, which may play into the overall plot of the film. What is also interesting about the particular dialogue in this film is that the main character, Ada, is a mute, but she uses her daughter, Flora to communicate for her.  The way her daughter expresses her mother is often direct and brash, usually because her mother only tries to communicate when she is angry or when she needs something. Her daughter is able to give her a voice, which not only reveals how Ada is as a character, but also how Flora is as a character. There is also voice-over narration, which also helps to express Ada’s characters. What is voice-over narration? It is what allows the audience immediate access to the character’s thoughts. At the beginning of the film, Ada is shown. As a viewer, you hear her voice, which discusses her thoughts. You do not even realize she is a mute until later on because you first hear her through her thoughts.

Sound effects are also vital in film. Sound effects are the sounds heard as part of the action and the physical environment on the screen. They are usually created by Foley artists to give each sound a distinct noise. Foley artists manipulate various material and record the resulting sounds. For instance, in one particular scene, Ada and Flora are walking through the woods to go see Baines, the man who has her piano. They reach a huge plot of mud in the middle of the trail and as they walk through it, you can hear the intense wet sounds the mud makes against their shoes. Normally the camera cannot catch such sounds during actual filming, so the Foley artists emphasize these sounds and record them amongst the scene. In this film, there are also ambient sounds, which consist of the sound of the wind and the birds chirping. These sounds define the location, and can portray the environments impact on the characters.

Finally there is music. There are two kinds of music that are present in this film. There is diegetic music, which includes any music playing within the world of the story. Diegetic music would be off when Ada plays her piano. All characters present in these scenes can hear the music and experience it. Then there is non-diegetic music, which is music that characters in the world cannot hear. This would be any background music, such as an orchestra playing a particular melody. I know in the first scene, while we see Ada waling through the landscape while a voice-over narration is established, there is what sounds like an orchestra playing in the background. This sets the mood of the scene, which in this case is calm and peaceful.

In general, sound makes the movie. It emphasizes the characters as well as the setting and even gets certain points across. The main components of sound, dialogue, sound effects, and music, are put together in the end in a process called mixing. The final product of a film is when the sound and image are coerced together. The sound and image have an important relationship because they both clarify each others meaning. They also give silence value in film, which is actually shown in The Piano. There are many moments that Ada is sitting in a room in complete silence like she is waiting for something or something is about to happen. This draws more anticipation among the audience and keeps them wondering of what is to happen next. Again, this adds to the film making it a huge success.