Spatial Logic & Dimensionality in Film

unpublished talk delivered @ Sound In Space, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 1995

Catalogue notes

Body Melt (1993)

Any audio-visual continuum (be it an object like a film or a space like an installation or even an event like a radio broadcast) self-generates narrative. Something starts; stuff happens; eventually an end comes. And during this, you hear and see or picture things.

While the history of literature has elaborated structural, poetic, formal, psychological and textual ways in which the passage of time can be disinterred and atemporally configured (traces and tropes of plot, character, theme, meaning, symbolism, statement, authorship, etc.), there is a more appropriately temporal way to experience, follow and become conscious of the dynamic happening of any audio-visual continuum. That way is through perceiving the dimensionality of the text.

Dimensionality is a term I use here to describe the imaginary space created and shaped by narrative. And 'imaginary space' is the realm you psycho-physically inhabit while experiencing the audio-visual continuum. You might be sitting, walking, interacting - it doesn't matter. You'll be caught up in a confounding mix of physical, psychological and cultural sensations.

This is a realm where the senses engulf each other. Sonically, it is where breathy flute is a label; bass is a blanket; a fuzz-wah is a concept; the ocean is architecture; and the voice of Jack Palance is pure abstraction. Such sensations and experiences occur whenever the cerebral gives way to the sensual. To put it soncially once more: when the throb of nightclubs bathes you; when talkback radio anaesthetizes you; when crowd noise at sports arenas erases you; when ambient silence alienates you.

As all these sensations swirl in a disembodied void, your temporal experience provides you with an identifying place within their dimensionality. That 'place' is forever shifting and unfixed, governed by the dynamic changes continually occurring. It is these 'dynamic changes' that become epicentral to the creation and shaping of those components we call sound design and film score.

As such, an awareness of the primary, ancillary and compound surges which drive any narrative construction will best suggest ways in which to compose sound and music for an audio-visual continuum. Primarily, the sound designer and film composer are involved in creating and shaping a sonic space within which the viewer/listener finds their place. Spatial logic then is not necessarily 'spatial' nor 'logical' - because when watching a film, for example, space is more imaginary than actual, and the logic of its narrative is more invented than determined.

Demonstration of examples of sound design & film scores

Stills (1986): DAT audio tape

Example 1: ID #5 part 1

Example 2: ID #5 part 2

1. Live stage sound score based on the removal of all acoustic presence. In place - amplified and displaced acoustic sensations.
2. Sounds chosen for their textural sensation (memory trigger of physical presence) and recorded with emphasis on their spatialization (their performance across the stage of their amplified space).
3. The sound score is more a fusion of recorded events-in-spaces than a montage of sound effects.
4. Overlapping spaces are accentuated in the construction by the interlocking an 'cross-talking' between different microphones and different microphone placement.

Salt Saliva Sperm & Sweat (1988): VHS Hi-Fi video

Example 1: opening sequence of SALT

1. Film soundtrack based on the blurring between music score & sound design with emphasis on bodily textures (flesh slaps & rubs; fist thumps; hand claps; various breath sounds; guttural noises; internal low-frequency rumble simulations; etc.)
2. Sound effects sampled and triggered in musical rhythm - the one tempo and beat for the whole film
3. 'Music cues' based on deconstructed mixes of 6 key themes (each derived from the one tempo/beat.
4. Concept: one core total and encompassing body rhythm for the film's 'body' whose rhythm is modulated by daily pressures: atmospheric changes, dramatic shifts; psychological transformations; etc.
5. All body foley recorded live with 8 microphone perspectives (3 stereo pairs & 1 binaural pair) to enhance the hyper-subjective effect of the viewer/auditor 'being' the body of the film.

Body Melt (1993): VHS Hi-Fi video

Example 1: opening sequence through to court smash

Example 2: Cheryl drops placenta through to her womb eruption

1. Sound design for film based on creating 2 distinct zones: (1) the sound of the social body as expressed through the music score, where consumer musical styles typify a character; and (2) the sound of the individual body as expressed through a phantasmagorical injection within the physical body's domain.
2. The 'themes' or musical fragments which make up the score are essentially a landscape of stylistic traits which are attached to the character's in certain situations. Various submixes of these 'themes' reflect variations of their situations. Cliches are deliberately explored in keeping with the generic base of the film. These musical fragments were composed first as 'songs' then broken down to perform as thematic fragments.
3. The body sounds were composed by accentuating physical sensations and textures (much like STILLS). Principles of movement were important as the sound had to be both performed and animated to suggest weight, mass, density, flow, rupture, stretch, surface, etc. To this end, a variety of sound textures were assigned specific relationships to the various bodily collapses throughout the film. On top of this, a series of wind movement dynamics were overlayed for more precise on-screen synching.
4. Further defining the difference between these two zones - when the musical parts happen, they tend to occur 'within the film' when the body sounds occur, the film tends to occur within them.
5. Technically, specific track laying of sound effects and sound elements were sent to surround channels to enhance the extra-spatialization effects of the 'inner body' moments.

Body Melt (1993): ASR10 digital sound demonstration

Note: DPOV WIND and DPVO TEXTURE to be loaded separately
Note: DPVO-TEXTURE FX to be loaded
Note: HCTC1-INST-3 contains choral voice instrument


1. Drug sounds and textures

2. Textures for bodily dimensions

3. Wind movement dynamics

4. Breakdown Carrera's theme (HCTC-1)

Only The Brave (1994): ASR10 digital sound demonstration

1. Music score based on textures representing the dynamic relations between the key characters:
Alex - a column of air in wood; smooth rounded and wooden; breathy with bass resonance;
Vicki - harmonic distortion and feedback from string tension; screeching an screaming.
2. Emphasis on the creation of digital instruments to embody the above traits, so that ultimately melody is the execution of a primary note with occasional movement away from and back to the primary note.
3. The dramatic space between the two key characters always changes, so too does the textural dynamics between the two created digital instruments shift.
4. Aspects of memory and location also used for further embellishment of the instruments texture (eg. the suggestion f an out-of-tune upright piano played in a school gymnasium; the rebellious intonation of the grunge guitar; etc.).
5. Memory - both lost and repressed - cues within layers of the digital instruments, particularly in the samples of Alex's mother: her memory is materially and phenomenologically shaped by the texture of her mother's recorded voice.


1. Breakdown of main theme

2. Breakdown of dream sequence

Text © Philip Brophy. Images © Dumb Films.