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Semester 1

Sounding Documentary: voices, texts, contexts (MUSI10117)







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Students must be taking either music or film as thier degree major. Visiting students' eligibility for this 3rd year Music course (including any required Music background) will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, by the Course Organiser. **Spaces on Music courses are limited in 2022/23, and so enrolment cannot be guaranteed for any visiting student**

Course Summary

Documentary involves focusing a lens on an aspect of the lived world, rather than producing a fictional narrative. The boundary between these modes is not always clear, however. For example, a fiction film may draw upon techniques or conventions more usually associated with the documentary, and vice versa. This course asks how sound creates, critiques, and enables reflection upon the images and narratives presented in documentary films. Students will be introduced to a range of different types of documentary and approaches to documentary sound through weekly readings and allied viewing. The scope of "sound" in this course comprises music, voice, sound effects/design.

Course Description

The course provides a brief introduction to documentary through the lens of sound. The primary focus is on the analysis and evaluation of sonic elements (voice, sound, music) in terms of their contribution to the emergence of meaning in documentary. Course reading will include historical, theoretical and analytical/critical texts. A broad repertoire of films will be viewed and discussed, with examples of the documentary types described in genre classifications, such as Bill Nichols' (1991), as well as content-focused categories such as, "actualities", "ethnographic" films, sponsored and industrial films, and music documentaries, through to recent films that challenge classifications through an engagement with radical aesthetics. Documentary involves a direct and factual relation to lived worlds, as opposed to imagined ones. The British filmmaker, John Grierson, defined the genre as the "creative treatment of actuality" (1933). A documentary has different responsibilities to its subjects in terms of representation and ethics than do fiction films, but there is overlap here: the selection and editing of any captured footage requires decisions that impact the resulting narrative, and thus bear the imprint of a film's producers. Although documentary has traditionally been associated with the depiction of "reality", an "authentic" depiction of life, the genre's stories and organisation are necessarily shaped to some degree. The place of sound (which here includes music, voice, sound effects and design) is particularly interesting in this regard. In documentary, voices, sounds and musical performance may be bonded closely to a film's image and narrative. Others are less tightly coupled. For example, many documentaries do not use location sound. The voices of individuals may be recorded and synchronised onscreen or off-, but voice-overs exist in a time and space separate from the captured footage. While music documentary is a significant subgenre in its own right, beyond (and sometimes within), a majority of documentaries add a music score. These may be composed for the particular film, or draw upon library music or other pre-existing musical material. Music always does something in terms of the generation of meaning in audiovisual formats. Nicholas Cook (1997) noted that music's effects in audiovisual media are often affective; presenting values, emotions, and attitudes. Its contribution generally goes unnoticed, however, forming an undistinguishable part of the audiovisual whole. Each of these sonic elements bring potential to the construction or negotiation of meaning in documentary, and how its ethics are rendered: e.g. speaking for vs. speaking with; hierarchies between component elements ("drowning out" vs. "listening to")

Assessment Information

Written Exam 0%, Coursework 100%, Practical Exam 0%

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