How Do Image and Sound Create Meaning and What Other Functions Does so

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How do sound and image combine to make meaning and what other potential functions of sound are there?

Motion pictures and television are audio-visual mediums and so of course engage both our visual and aural senses. The meaning and emotion of a piece is commonly thought to come from the image and that the sound at best just duplicates the meanings from the image. For example Aaron Copland has said that a composer can do no more than" make potent through music the film's dramatic and emotional value." (

Sound does however perform much more important, intricate and complex functions then commonly accepted. Sound combines with moving pictures in various ways to create meaning but is diverse and has numerous other uses.

This essay will show ways that sound enhances and creates meaning in combination with moving image as well as showing some of the many other possible functions of sound use combined with this medium

The sound track is produced separately from the image and includes three ingredients: Dialogue/voice, sound effects and music. The three elements of the sound track can work together and independently to create meaning and to produce different effects.

Music combines with, adds to and enhances moving image in many ways. It can heighten and refine emotion as well as meaning. Music, through tone and instrument selection can create the mood of a piece and of and towards its characters. Music is commonly used to give a sense of continuity and unity to a production and to possible sequels.

Music can give a sense of time and place as well as to help create the ambience or feel to a piece. Another function of music is to create, replicate and increase or decrease the sense of rhythm to and of a piece. Music can act as a precursor to events in a story and also to direct the audience to a particular part/s of the image.

Finally music can work independently and in combination with sound effects to give a sense of genre, time and setting.

One way music combines with moving images to create meaning is through leitmotifs. A character, group of characters or action has a motif that explains who the good guys or bad guys are or that a specific type of situation or action is about to unfold. In Star Wars the rebels have a powerful, uplifting victorious sounding leitmotif that combines with the clothing worn by the rebels and other parts of the misen-scen to inform the audience these are the good people and the people we should be supporting. In Indiana Jones the motif of Jones indicates he is going to save the day and in The Good The Bad and The Ugly the films motif, through repetition of being played as the same type of action unfolds, goes on to indicates a shoot-out is about to happen

The tone of music can be used to create meaning and generate mood in a scene or in a production as a whole. In The Empire Strikes Back the rebels attempt to flee from the empire. During this sequence Darth Vader's and the rebels leitmotif is heard. Vader's motif is played at an increased tempo and higher pitch to normal. The function of this change is to show the imminent danger of the empire and Vader's likely success in capturing the rebels. The rebels leitmotif is played but does not contain the opening and perhaps most identifiable phase. The tone is slightly deeper, the pace slightly slower and is mixed up in and slightly drown out by other sound effects. The function of this use of sound is to put the out come of the situation in doubt and make the rebels attempt at escaping unlikely. When the rebels do escape the distinctive opening to their motif is played at normal pitch and tempo and without the distraction of other sounds. This functions to signal their success but also the finality of the scene. The leitmotifs and the tone of the motifs are used to guide the spectator through narrative change.
Sound effects have a few...
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