Sound Design, Violence and the Ethics of Listening
Thursday 5 February 2015, 4.30 – 6pm
Screening Room, 50 George Square
Recent writing on violence and film sound has tended to focus on the horror genre and related sub-genres such as body horror, the slasher movie, torture porn and new extremist cinema (Winters, 2008; Whittington, 2014 and Coulthard, 2014). Collectively, these films belong to what’s known as body genres, where Linda Williams explains: “the body of the spectator is caught up in an almost involuntary mimicry of the emotion or sensation of the body on the screen” (1991: 4). In the horror genre it is generally accepted that we have to identify with either the victim or the perpetrator in order for them to “work” and indeed this process is often considered one of its pleasures. Sound design in all genres plays a crucial role in shaping our responses to what’s happening in a particular moment on screen. Through point of audition it can also align us with the perspective of certain characters, often encouraging a sense of intimacy, and sometimes empathy, with their situation. Films that deal with political violence have a very different register however to those mentioned above, which don’t necessarily have a specific political or ideological agenda. What happens then to these processes of identification when the perpetrator is not a random homicidal maniac but is acting on behalf of the state? Discussing films that depict state violence (including Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008) and Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012)), this paper, which is part of a larger project on sound design and the ethics of listening, seeks to expand on Shohini Chaudhuri’s claim that “every aesthetic choice is also an ethical choice” (2014: 19) and will consider the ways in which sound design can align us politically and ethically with a film’s characters.
Dr Philippa Lovatt is a lecturer in Media and Communications at the University of Stirling. She has taught sound design at Glasgow School of Art and has a particular interest in the relationship between film and television sound, phenomenology and the ethics of spectatorship. She has published her research in the Screen and The New Soundtrack. Philippa’s research interests are in film censorship, artists’ film and video, documentary and Asian cinema.