“The talking film is not everything. There is also the sound film.” Thus explained the French filmmaker René Clair in 1929. With this statement Clair was challenging us all to push the boundaries of sound design in films. From the primitive synchronization experiments of Lee de Forest and Thomas Edison to state-of-the-art Dolby Digital 10.2 surround sound, there are no boundaries for creating a virtual deluge of sound. Even though one is tempted to hypothesize about the future of sound design, it is only through an educated study of past inventions and their effect on the market that one is led to the next innovation in aural imagery. To truly understand the marriage of sound to motion pictures, one must return to the late 1800s, when The Edison Company under Thomas Edison experimented with the idea. In 1894, under the direction of W. K. L. Dickson, Edison made a short twenty-five second film known today as The Dickson Experimental Sound Film. The film depicts a man playing a violin before a phonograph horn as two men dance about it. The idea of filming a movie and at the same time recording the soundtrack into a phonographic horn on the movie screen seems to primitive today. However, it set a precedent for film with audio. It was blended with the idea of synchronization; if the video film and audio record could be played back on separate machines together then one would be able to have a “talking film”. This gave Edison the incentive to expand on the invention of the Kinetophone, which was a Kinetoscope with an integrated phonograph. One could then look into the Kinetoscope and simultaneously watch a motion picture while listening to the accompanying phonograph with a simple pair of headphones. The picture and sound were synced together by connecting the two with a leather belt. The invention drew vast attention; in spite of this success, Dickson left The Edison Company, which ended any further work on the Kinetophone. Eighteen years later a different version of the Kinetophone was introduced to the public. With a celluloid cylinder record measuring 5 1/2" in diameter used for the phonograph, the sound was made to synchronize with a motion picture projected onto a screen. This was achieved by connecting the projector at one end of the theater and the phonograph at the other end with a pulley system (Library of Congress). During 1913, Edison produced nineteen talking pictures, but by 1915 he mysteriously abandoned all experiments with sound for motion pictures. Even though no one really knows why he halted his experiments on sound for motion pictures, many reasons may have attributed the discontinuation. One reason that could be assumed was that union rules stipulated local union projectionists had to operate the Kinetophones, even though they had no proper training. Because of this, synchronization errors occurred. Another reason was that the Motion Picture Patents Company disbanded in 1915 leaving The Edison Company impecunious of patent protection. Although Edison stopped all future work in furthering sound design for film, it is through his truly genius and innovative efforts that many were spurred on to make his dream a reality.
With the ingenious developments of Thomas Edison, Stanley S.A. Watkins and George R. Groves catapulted motion pictures into an audio revolution. In 1925 Bell Labs impressed Sam Warner, of Warner Bros., with a demonstration of synchronizing picture with sound. This was done by playing a sound on a disc and syncing it to the video. He was greatly enthused, and convinced his brothers to come to another demonstration. Even though they were not impressed with the syncing of dialogue, they were, however, thrilled when they heard orchestra music being played. This eventually led to the an idea that recorded music could be played live in big city cinemas, so that even in the smallest theatres the audience could have the music of a great orchestra, and furthermore have the...
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