The Acoustic Space of Television
Critics often argue that television is primarily an acoustic rather than a visual medium, as the soundtrack anchors the meaning of the images and the sound practices developed for television are largely derived from radio. In recent years, however, the television screen has become increasingly saturated with textual information, and it has gradually transformed from “illustrated radio” into something that more closely resembles a computer or web interface. Rather than suggesting that television is no longer a primarily acoustic medium, this paper employs Marshall McLuhan’s concept of “acoustic space” to argue that contemporary television is actually more acoustic than ever before, as the television screen has become a non-linear and multisensory information space that reflects the immersive qualities of sound itself.
The Relevance of Point of Audience in Television Sound: Rethinking a Problematic Term
There are good reasons to consider point of audition (POA) as a problematic term when writing about sound. This essay addresses the different challenges one meets when using the term and discusses different alternatives for future use of this terminology within the field of television sound. The motivation for rethinking the term is the analytical and descriptive problems raised when writing about recent trends in television sound in drama, sports, news, documentaries and other television genres. The argumentation refers to the flexible and creative uses of television sound today and discusses how various production examples can be better accounted for by refining the term point of audition. All in all, four categories of point of audition are suggested for analysis: observational, active, individual and personal POAs.
The Legacy of Broadcast Stereo Sound: The Short Life of MTS, 1984-2009
Multichannel Television Sound (MTS) is an innovation that brought new dimensions in sound to American television from the 1980s to the 2000s. This article explores the brief history of MTS and its rise to prominence, with a particular focus on both the early “experimental” years of MTS sound and its short-lived “golden era.” The article concludes with an evaluation of the lasting impact of the technological shift from monaural to multichannel sound design. Although there were numerous technical and industrial challenges to MTS sound, its introduction was essential to the development of television sound design prior to the introduction of Digital and Dolby surround sound in the early 2000s.
The Hiss of Data
This article conducts an examination of the connections between the fantasy user interfaces (FUIs) of computers in the television shows 24 and CSI and the sounds that they emit. The resulting sense of computational activity produces what might be characterized as a digital subjectivity. The significance of this kind of subjectivity is considered in relation to: the historical context of contemporary television/cinema (‘TVIII’); the apparently cybernetic tendencies of complex screen environments; and the political ramifications of a logic of computation. The competing claims of the sound and the image to be the prior, determining factor are discussed. It becomes clear that the distinction between what constitutes information and what constitutes noise (audio and non-informational) is a key problematic both within the screen narratives in question and in the broader media environment that they occupy.
Introduction: Rethinking Theories of Television Sound
Studies on television sound typically begin by emphasizing that television, unlike film, relies more heavily on sounds than images and that the sound practices used in the production of television’s primary genres (including news, sports, game shows, sitcoms, commercials, etc.) are based on practices developed not for film sound but rather for radio. For example, in his 1982 book Visible Fictions John Ellis argues that television, unlike film, employs sound “to ensure a certain level of attention, to drag viewers back to looking at the set” (Ellis 1982: 128). Sound is more important for television, in other words, because it appeals to the sense of hearing rather than the voyeuristic pleasures of the cinematic gaze. Rick Altman’s 1986 essay “Television/Sound” similarly argues that film viewers assume “the stance of the voyeur,” while television employs sound to draw the viewer’s attention away from “surrounding objects of attention” (Altman 1986: 50). Altman also argues that the television soundtrack “serves a value-laden editing function, identifying […] the parts of the image that are sufficiently spectacular to merit closer attention on the part of the intermittent viewer” (Altman 1986: 47). Altman thus concludes that the average viewer watches television intermittently, and the soundtrack enables these “intermittent viewers” to follow the program even if they are not watching the images.
The Envoicing of Protest: Occupying Television News through Sound and Music
The television coverage of the 2011 Occupy Wall Street Movement discloses a tension between the attention-getting sounds of protesters and the networks’ often dismissive reporting of the sights and sounds of their protests. While the conflict over control of representation has characterized the historical reporting of protest, the Occupy movement presented the networks with particular problems in coverage, since the encampments and associated activities did not afford easy or sensational sound bites. The diversity of the Occupy soundscape, which drew upon typical protest auralities but in new configurations, contributed to the trivializing of the movement as projected in the living rooms of Americans. To situate this phenomenon, the essay examines the prior history of televisual news reporting of the sounds of collective protest, from the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam War protests to protest actions related to the Gulf War/War on Terror, the Tea Party and the Arab Spring.
White Noise and Television Sound
Justin St. Clair
Two of the most notable critical accounts of television sound from the 1980s are John Ellis’s “Broadcast TV as Sound and Image” (1982/1999) and Rick Altman’s “Television/Sound” (1986), both of which argue that television audio sustains, focuses, and directs audience engagement with the medium. This essay uses the work of Ellis and Altman to contextualize another televisual text from the 1980s, Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise (1985/1991). DeLillo’s engagement with television sound is characterized by a somewhat contradictory double logic. On the one hand, he anxiously echoes circulating theoretical critiques, offering—as do Ellis and Altman—that television audio expressly manipulates an inattentive audience. Simultaneously, however, DeLillo productively utilizes television sound as a literary device, interjecting snippets of audio into the novel as a method of engaging topics ranging from corporatization to cultural anxiety.