Martine Huvenne: Transmitting an Experience

Transmitting an experience: An introduction to a phenomenological approach of film sound in the creative process of filmmaking.1

To avoid pure technical courses about sound, I developed together with my colleagues Griet Van Reeth, a specialist in sound recording, and Michel Coquette, a specialist in sound mixing, a practical sound course in the third year of film education.2

The aims of this course were multiple:

  • to give the students the chance to discover that the sound is in the first place a dynamic movement and with this the importance of thinking in movement.
  • to learn by doing and to learn from your peers
  • to understand that listening is always the starting point and that there are different listening strategies
  • to experience the pathway from a concept to sound recording, to sound editing, to sound mixing.

The exercise was also an introduction in a phenomenological attitude towards film sound and film making with the resonating body at the centre of its listening. To enable the transmission of experience instead of representing something, the fact that we are often aware of sound without reflecting is one of the key insights.

Without thinking towards a result at the end, the students had to follow different steps which can be described as follows:

1) Writing down a very personal experience. Their experience is their benchmark for themselves as well as for the feedback they will receive during this exercise.

2) Recording 3 sounds. We listen in small groups to the work of each student. The students are ‘resonating’ with the sounds. They have to avoid any criticism. They have to react directly, without giving a meaning or an emotion. This first peer feedback on the recorded sounds gives the student an indication of if he/she is on the right track. The sound recording does not start from a thinking in concepts, symbols or images. The concepts of resonance, the non-thematic awareness of sound and ‘thinking in movement’ are introduced.

3) In a third step, the students present a first editing of the sounds. Again the peer feedback starts with resonating with the sound and trying to verbalize what is evoked through the editing. Questions are: where am I positioned as a listener? Does the sound evoke a certain space? Does the edit combine spaces? How am I moving through those spaces as a listener? How important the sound is to the listener, is he/she touched by the sound?

4) In step 4 we go back to the experience and put the focus on the right sounds to evoke the experience (dynamics, haptic qualities, space in sound, situatedness of the listener…).

5) Step 5 focuses on the sound edit (composition of sound, rhythm, dynamics, evocation of spaces, superimposition of spaces, evocation of feelings, contrasts…).

6) In step 6, an external person who knows nothing about the experiences, with open ears and able to verbalize what he/she is hearing/feeling/understanding is invited to listen to the sound edits of the students.

7) In step 7 the sound edit is refined and the students try to combine their soundtrack with images. This very difficult step makes clear that the timing in an image edit can differ from a sound edit. By doing this, the students learn how to make space for sound in an image and with this how complementary sound and image are. They also learn that, as an audience, we switch easily from listening to looking and vice versa in our audio-visual perception.

8) Mixing the sound of an audio-visual project to learn how to prepare a sound edit to work together with a professional sound mixer.

In each session the students were confronted with a peer feedback, following some rules:

  • Never speak in terms of good or bad, or even interesting, these are all judgments revealing a certain opinion or taste. The first comments have to start from an open listening. The external listener tells about the way he/she resonates with the sound: what does this sound evoke? (Questions about the kinaesthetic experience, sound without fixing a meaning or a source.)
  • Resonating with a sound implies an embodied listening to a felt sound.3
  • A listener is not only positions in space through sound, but is also engaged in the sound through haptic, dynamic or movement qualities.
  • Once the sound editing starts, the auditory spaces are a topic in the feedback and with this the possibilities of the superimposition of auditory spaces.4
  • As in every experience, different time elements are intertwined; the editing of spaces will be connected to the concept of time as a field, rather than to a linear time construction.

This brings us back to the phenomenological approach of sound and listening in which the experience does not take form as a re-presentation of something, but as a presentation of the experience. With the body in the middle of the lived auditory space, unifying all filmic elements in the audio-visual perception and the layering of the auditory spaces, the unity of the virtual space and the transmission of the experience occur. It is not the understandable construction of the elements to re-present the experience, but rather an interpersonal resonating feedback that is used as a method.

1 This text is part of a longer article Transmitting an Experience: A Sound Exercise for Filmmakers published in ARS et PRAXIS. 2018.VI., p. 157-170.
2 We developed this exercise in the film course at KASK ( Ghent, Belgium).
3 For felt sound, see also Petitmengin, Claire et al. “Listening from within.” Ten Years of viewing from within: the legacy of Francisco Varela, edited by Claire Petitmengin. Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2009.
4 see also: Huvenne, “Editing Space as an Audio-Visual Composition”.