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Occasional posts on subjects including field recording, London history and literature, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.

11 November 2010

Recordists on film: The Stone Tape and The Shout

MORE EXAMPLES OF sound recordists and recording on film courtesy of contributors to Phonography on Yahoo Groups.

Sound is acknowledged in horror fiction as a royal road to the brain’s fear centres. Seamus Heaney perceived this in a poem as old as Beowulf when he described the presence of Grendel the fen-monster as ‘a dog’s breath in the dark’. And so through the eldritch voices and hideous ululations of HP Lovecraft, to the plot-friendly demon voices of Sam Raimi’s film The Evil Dead, informing a bunch of hapless teenage jerks that you have disturbed our ancient slumber.

Seth Denizen made a superb recommendation with The Stone Tape, straight from the BBC’s golden age of innovative drama in the 1970s. In it, scientists discover how the fabric of an old building can act as a recording medium for the sounds and sights of intense past events. As Seth wrote on Phonography:

[I] can’t think of a better example. an amazing portrayal of the terrifying potential always at the other end of the microphone. those who go in search of sound always go at their own peril, but the rewards are tantalizing, and in this case, are nothing less than capitalist accumulation.

An altruist has uploaded The Stone Tape in segments onto YouTube, and the final installment begins and ends with the horrors of disembodied sound:


The Stone Tape is consistent with the themes explored in earlier dramas by its writer Nigel Kneale, including Quatermass and the Pit and a radio drama about a haunted telephone line titled You Must Listen. The notion of stone-as-recorder also matched the rise of a widespread appetite in the early 1970s for topics such as geomancy, Stonehenge and ley lines.

Sound-magic from another culture featured in the 1978 British horror film The Shout, starring Alan Bates and John Hurt, and recommended on Phonography by Steve Peters. Alan Bates plays a drifter who has acquired an Australian Aboriginal knack for killing others by giving voice to a terrifying magical shout. Sound features in other intruiging ways. As Steve wrote:

Hurt plays a composer living in the country who collects sounds to make musique concrete (or sound effects?). I remember a vivid scene of him recording bees in a jar.

Here’s a short extract in which Hurt experiments with sound, beginning around 5:10:


The effects of Alan Bates’s death-dealing voice are hinted at without much subtlety in the film’s entertaining trailer:


Steve also recommends this review of The Shout. Despite some critics concluding that it would have worked better as a short feature, the film aspires to finding a role for sound that goes beyond suspense and towards the intensity of the sublime.

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