A big part of my research thesis – the core conceit if you will – was one part a belief in the power of the relationship between audio and visuals, and an equal belief that videogames present a new direction for that relationship to be explored.
Images and music (even just sound generally) have a particular way of working together – when combined in certain ways they inform and affect each other to change the meaning we derive from them. When viewed together they have the potential to change what you would perceive, and understand them to mean, than if you examined them independently. Think of any popular song you have seen a music video for –after viewing the attendant visuals created to accompany that song, from then on you may have trouble thinking of the song without taking into account what the visuals add to the music.
In any serious theory based discussion of how and why music and visuals go together as well as the effect it has, one quickly runs into audiovisual theorist Michael Chion as he had some quite a bit to say about the subject. Chion was focused specifically on the music of cinema, and how music and visuals inform each other in that medium. He notes the because of the inherent difficulty in pinning down descriptions and categories of sounds,
“…there remains the risk of seeing the audio-visual relationship as a repertoire of illusions, even tricks- all the more contemptible for being so. Audiovisual analysis does not involve clear entities or essences like the shot, but only “effects”, something considerably less noble.”
Does that mean, then, that we should give up trying to better our understanding and ability to control these audio-visual relationships? Certainly not, and Chion advocates a number of activities we can do to improve our understanding.
He recommends one activity in particular which he says reveals the power of something he calls “forced marriage” – one aspect of potential audio-visual relationships. Forced marriage demonstrates that even music composed with no regard for the visual elements can present a synchronisation with the image onscreen. As we shall see, in some cases no effort even needs be made to try and match the audio to the visuals, they can just ‘work’ almost as if it were intended.
He describes an experiment we can do to look at the effect of “forced marriage”, saying…
“Take a sequence of film and also gather together a selection of diverse kinds of music that will serve as accompaniment. Taking care to cut out the original sound (which your participants must not hear at first or know from prior experience) show them the sequence several times, accompanied by these various musical pieces played over the images in an aleatory [random] manner. Success assured: in ten or so versions there will always be a few that create amazing points of synchronisations and moving or comical juxtapositions, which always come as a surprise.”
So that is exactly what I have done in the following seven videos. I have replaced the music from a piece of footage that (hopefully) you will have never seen before (or forgotten the specifics of if you have) and overlaid some other random pieces of music over them. The video is taken from a pre-launch trailer for the videogame Army of Two, it is arranged in a playlist with all seven ‘forced marriage’ examples from A to G followed by the original. The videos are approximately one minute in length and the only thing different between them is the sound. The very last video is the original footage.
A video playlist with all seven videos plus the original at the end.
Chion designed this experiment to highlight how, even accidentally, music and visuals can be made to work together. He says,
“Changing music over the same image drastically illustrates the phenomena of added value, synchresis, sound-image association and so forth. By observing the kinds of music the image “resists” and the kinds of music cues it yields to, we begin to see the image in all it’s potential signification and expression…”
He says that the effect of revealing the original videos sound after all the other alternatives,
“…never fails to be staggering. Whatever it is, no one would have ever imagined it that way beforehand; we conceived of it differently, and we always discover some sound element that never would have occurred to us. For a few seconds, then, we become aware of the fundamental strangeness of the audio-visual relationship.”
What did you notice about the sound and music in the videos? Was the "real" music and sound surprising? Did you notice "the fundamental strangeness" of the relationship between sound and image? Even having heard the final clip several times, after watching all the videos again followed by the original, I can't help but feel certain things - particularly some of the weapon sounds - sounded strage or mis-matched.
Understanding and utilising the Audio Visual relationships is particularly applicable for games since, as Marty O'Donnell noted in the very first part of my interview with him, there is no "real" sound to go with a particular image - it's all virtual. It is entirely created, designed, sculpted, engineered and controlled.
I hope that I’ve gone some way towards convincing you that audio-visual relationships are worth examining. As we have seen, even accidental synchronisation can prove startlingly interesting. In the second part of this series I will examine the issue further by asking the question 'What would be the result of a more deliberate synchronisation of sound and image?' and hopefully have some interesting points to make.
In the mean time - I would like to encourage you to discuss the different effects you felt particular pieces of music had on the video, as well as any salient points of synchronisation you noticed. I'd love to have a conversation on which pieces of music people felt were "better" and which ones they felt were "resisted" by the images, as well as why.