Hiss, crackle, hum


Ian Magor


Published on/by

The Cine-Files


Accompanying text

“I am very affected by any extraneous sounds when watching films. I invariably listen through headphones and if there is a regular click on the soundtrack, however slight, I will find it impossible to carry on watching. At the same time I love those films which contain a kind of surface excess that either makes me think about whether it is an intentional part of the film or just subtly alters what I am seeing. Or, in the case of early Edison recordings, [it] comes bound up with the whole feeling of nostalgia and loss.

When I watch scenes from Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia, I hear both the crackle of a fire and the scratching of a loved, old record. When I listen to the ‘room tones’ created by David Lynch I might have no idea what it is in the environment that is making the sound but I know that it is as representative of how it feels to occupy that space as the most memorable, evocative image could ever hope to be.

With Stan Brakhage I don’t even know if the sound is only there because I have a poor copy of his films but, if that’s so, I would never swap for a clear [version]. Just as his images can open the eye to looking and seeing, so for me the sound is something like an aural kaleidoscope. It’s similar with Maya Deren [and Alexander Hamid]’s Meshes of the Afternoon. The film does have a record player as a central motif, but I’m not sure whether the scratching is connected to this or is a production ‘fault.’ Would an answer affect my viewing/listening? I don’t think it would. This experience of the film is my desired experience—hiss, crackles, hums and all.”