During our ‘sound seminar’, we reflected on David T Johnson’s text, “You Must Never Listen To This” : Lessons on Sound, Cinema, Mortality from…”

The text is based on Herzog’s ‘Grizzly Man’ and it’s “presence of…absence”. The Grizzly Man tells the story of confident animal-lover Timothy Treadwell, who romanticises bears. In the end, he and his partner are actually attacked by one. As the bear enters the tent they’re in, Timothy switches his camera on to record, but has no time to remove to lens cap. Because of this, the attack is only audible rather than “visible”.

The recording of the deaths is never made available to viewers of ‘The Grizzly Man’, and is only listened to by Herzog. After digesting what we gather is an incomprehensible noise, Herzog tells the friend of Timothy and girlfriend Amy to never listen to the audio and to destroy it, as it will forever be “the white elephant in the room.”

David T Johnson asks, “If we could hear this sound, what would it tell us? Probably only how undeniably gruesome the deaths were. And that is how “presence of absence” is absolutely fantastic.

Towards the end of the seminar we were given the chance to explore Johnson’s theory to a greater extent. We were presented with 3 scenes, each from a different movie and asked to write down what we could hear. It gets better…

We were told to close our eyes so we could not see the on-screen visual counterparts, making it harder for us to guess what was happening, just by listening to the audio. The films were ‘The Birds’, ‘Elephant’ and ‘The Conversation’. After comparing my pretty off-course notes to the visual, I realised how sound can be perceived much differently when it is only heard, not seen.


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