Ever since the inception of sound cinema with 1927’s groundbreaking Th e Jazz Singer, there has been an intrinsic, virtually inseparable relationship between sound and vision in the minds of filmmakers. Al Jolson’s musical contribution to that film’s success cannot be underestimated. Electronically mediated synchronous sound replaced externally produced, and to an extent extraneous, live music, and the possibility of a total fusion of cinematic sound and vision was born. Th e twin channels of reception were not, however, destined to be of equal status. Rather like the converse of a Victorian child, film sound was usually intended by the producers to be heard rather than perceived. In other words, it was not expected to be too obtrusive or exceed its strict narrative functions of punctuating action and heightening emotion, thereby promoting audience identification with character and situation. Perhaps reasonably enough, given cinema’s primary appeal to optical channels of consciousness, the role of sound, whether ambient and diegetic or atmospheric, narrative-driven, and nondiegetic, has inevitably been a secondary and subordinate one. To use an auditory metaphor, sound has always played second fiddle to the virtuosity of the visual in cinema’s orchestra. Even in the earliest days of pre-sound cinema in the nickelodeons the piano accompanists, however resourceful their playing and however familiar or catchy their scores, were arguably less present for the audience than the two-dimensional images purveyed on screen.
Postcolonialism, Diaspora, and Alternative Histories © 2015 Hong Kong University Press.
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