Film Sound

Processing Music Materials and Film Sound Post-production: From Music Recording to the Writing on Optical Media (Rome, International Recording, 1959-1973)

by Ilario Meandri

Often more prone to recognising the vitality and variety of silent cinema, the historical examination on cinema sound following the introduction of sound-on-disc and sound-on-film technologies in the second half of the 1920s starts, and most of the times finishes, with the analysis of technological standards and of the production processes spreading from North-American film industry. Few exceptions aside, in current literature Vitaphone, Movietone, RCA Photophone or other competing systems, or even, since the beginning of the Fifties, the introduction of magnetic tape in sound post-production process before writing on optical media, the time of Dolby, even more recent digital revolution, are introduced as universal, neutral, a-historical media, whose intrinsic characteristics are independent from the production and culture system they operate in.

Recent research has nevertheless shown that, for each period and nation, the cultural, artistic and technological picture is far richer and multi-faceted. Also in the presence of codified standards and processes, the history of film music and film sound is, primarily, a matter of adaptation: different production systems propose multiform practices, original technical solutions with which sonic style and artistic conceptions are interwoven. On the surface, quickly and widely adopting a technical innovation worldwide appears as a global fact; but a more careful examination describes the same phenomenon as a local and multiform fact, determined by the encounter with pre-existing practices which provide an original response to technological change, if not a resistance and, often, a sui generis assimilation.

Media are social and political practices: in this scheme we are interested in describing the history of this technique and recognise the handcrafted and artistic peculiarities of each production system. Composing for cinema means, for the composer, taking part in a complex industrial process, made by technical and artistic figures who, together with the musician, concur in making the soundtrack. Composing for cinema means knowing how to commensurate the musician’s poetic needs of artistic expression with the sometimes uncertain but inescapable ones of an assignment; it means knowing how to mediate with the technical constraints of this medium, from respecting synchronisation points, to the limits of the recording process, o better still, it means knowing how to creatively use these very constraints.

Within Cabiria Project the field research carried out in Rome in contact with the factories general directors, technical directors, music recording technicians, sound mixing technicians, foley artists and sound effects editors, has allowed to trace sound post-production practice from post war years to today, by means of a systematic examination on oral resources focusing on the technological innovation cycles of one of the most important European factories, International Recording (today Technicolor) from its foundation to the beginning of the 1970s.

From the methodological point of view a reconstruction of the production process is complementary to a correct philological approach, since it urges to more consciously delve into the exceptional technical stratification of film music. The examination on the relationship between composition, score and recording media, on the relationship between the composer and the craftsmen taking part in the process is pivotal in order to gain a better understanding of this art form and its specific sources.

Bibliography: Ilario Meandri, International Recording (1959-1969). Indagine sulle memorie orali. Working paper n. 1, Torino, Kaplan, 2013 (; Ilario Meandri, A History of Technique in Film Music and Film Sound Post-Production in Italy. Methodological Remarks Complementary to an Examination of Oral Memories, in Film Music: Practices, Theoretical and Methodological Perspectives. Studies around Cabiria Research Project, edited by Annarita Colturato, Torino, Kaplan, 2014, pp. 187-219.