Steven Woloshen's Selected Bibliography:

Experimental Sound in Film

This annotated bibliography is a survey of sound thinking and academic advancements in avant-garde filmmaking from 1960 to the present day. This period of experimental audio/visual strategies begins with Stan Brakhage’s comments on sound in film from his self-titled article, “The Seen.” and his letter to Ronna Page in 1966. Although he advocates silence, he has openly recognized the efforts of filmmakers Peter Kubelka (Adabar), James Boughton and Kenneth Anger for bringing an innovative use of sound techniques to the lexicon of avant-garde filmmaking.

In our present search for innovative sound in experimental film, the essential readings focuses on filmmaker, Hollis Frampton and his experiments with sound and image. Frampton, like Bruce Conner’s experiments in Report (1965), uses music, silence, voice and sound effects as a counterpoint to its’ images. Additionally, we will be exploring a broad selection of sound strategies in other experimental film practices.

In contemporary avant – garde cinema, filmmakers such as Paul Sharits (Ray Gun Virus) and Tony Conrad used mathematical and analytical arrangements of sound and silence in their films in order to achieve a dichotomy between the ontologicla language of the image and sound. Additionally, the films of Arthur Lipsett (Very Nice, Very Nice)and Bruce Conner(A Movie) are of great interest for their use of collage (musique concrete) and sound citation (including found sounds, sound appropriation and parody/irony within the frame). The use of sound repetition Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (Arnold) and hyper - real explorations of natural sounds in Glass(Pierce) are also exploited as essays on aural and visual experiences in film.

Experimental animation has always been an essential part of the experimental film experience. Abstract animation experiments, dubbed “absolute cinema” has contributed to the formal, self- reflexive nature of cinema and conversely, structural and mytho-poetic experimental filmmakers have influenced animators as well. Filmmakers such as Robert Breer (69)have explored sound as a synthethic collage media: Synthetic sound and noise by Norman McLaren (Dots and Loops) and Harry Smith as well as audio and visual citations from Hollywood films (Widrich's Fast Film and Paul Bush's Dr. Jeckle and Mr.Hyde). Today, the Center for Visual Music, the IOTA Center and Ubuweb have become important websites for contemporary writing on diverse animation subjects such as visual music, synthetic sound, expanded cinema and general sound issues in the art of film.

Essential Readings:

Burch, Noel. Theory of Film Practice. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981.
In chapter six, ‘On the Structural Use of Sound,” Burch cites experimental films that have redefined the allegorical and dialectical uses of sound. Films such as Markopoulos’s Twice a Man or Maas’s Geography of the Body prove that sound cannot be as easily “deciphered” as the images in the film. Burch argues that) the creation of the analogy is “another possible relationship that [exists] between sound and […] image.” (p.95.) Sound, used in this manner, as Eisenstein had observed many years earlier, can be the dialectical association of the structural elements of the film.

Fischer, Lucy “Sound Waves”. SOUNDINGS, Neuberger Museum, State University of New York, College at Purchase, 1981 (ISBN 0-934032-X).
Fischer writes, as Paul Sharits has observed, that “sound is the most engaging problem in ‘cinema’.” In her Ubuweb article, Fischer constructs a timeline beginning with enthrallment of, to the modern disillusionments with sound. “Although the mainstream commercial cinema has always had its monuments to the creative use of sound, by and large a routinely realistic aesthetic has predominated.” After this statement, Fischer annotates a brief survey of experimental use of sound in film and media arts. Part of this survey examines “reflexive” gestures in experimental sound. At this point, Fischer initiates provocative notion that the“ impulse to expose the very materials of the sound-film medium, avant-garde artists have unconsciously harkened back to the aesthetics of the Kinetophone movie, which quaintly included the sound recording horn within the bounds of the film frame itself.”

Jordan, Randolph. “Brakhage’s Silent Legacy for Sound Cinema.” Off-Screen February 28, 2003.

In Brakhage’s letter to Ronna Page in 1966, he states that “I now see/feel no more absolute necessity for a sound track than a painter feels the need to exhibit a painting with a recorded musical background.” In Jordan’s article, he sides with Cage’s sound practice of unwanted noise and Chion’s “transsensorial model” whereby the senses are channels or pathways and hearing and seeing are interchangeable. Jordon concludes that re-learning to hear is as important as Brakhage’s quest to re-learn sight.

Ragona, Melissa. “Hidden Noise: Strategies of Sound Montage in the Films of Hollis Frampton.” MIT Press Journals October, summer 2004, Vol. -, No. , Pages 96-118.

In this article from October Magazine, Ragona investigates Frampton’s use of sound “as means of divesting film of its syntactical burden.”(p.98) Ragona points out that Frampton’s use of “contrapuntal” or “over tonal” sound relationships can be traced back to soviet experiments of the 1920’s. Prior to Frampton, avant-garde sound film would employ strategies of silence as means of incorporating unwanted noise (i.e. Cage, Brakhage) or concealing the sound source (i.e. Duchamp). Ragona cites the Aristotelian narrative that “point[s] to location, position and [the] order of events’ (p.105) to explain Frampton’s use of conceptual set theory mathematics. In order to build vertical meanings in film, Frampton’s set theories permit “the film’s capacity to catalog intersecting planes of perception in infinite combinations.”(p. 99) Ragona concludes her article with Frampton’s ability to turn a horizontal axis into vertical in “audible rotation.”(P.118). In this respect, sound clarifies, while image classifies.

Russett, Robert and Starr, Cecile. Experimental Animation: An Illustrated Anthology. Toronto: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1976.

Since the animated film and the abstract film are created synthetically or means other than camera (i.e. hand scratched images or manipulated frame by frame to create the illusion of motion), sound can be “created” in the same manner. In Chapter seven, “Experimenters in Animated Sound,” Russett and Starr use Norman McLaren, John Whitney and Barry Spinello as case studies of film artists who use constructed and/or synthetic sounds. Sounds created from hand drawn sound tracks or computer programs were used in short abstract films from the 1930’s onwards. One of the principal proponents of synthetic sound was Moholy-Nagy. His experiments in the 1920’s convinced filmmakers such as Oskar Fischinger (later, McLaren) to “interrelate the sensory modes of sight and sound into a totally synaesthetic film experience.”(p.163)

Youngblood, Gene. Expanded Cinema. Toronto: Clark Erwin and Co., 1970.
The dictionary defines synesthesia as “a sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color.” In Part Two (Synaesthetic Cinema: The End of Drama) Youngblood takes this definition further to include a new synthesis of opposites. Originally, hearing/seeing, which is seen as a binary element such as on/off, black/white or good/bad, is expanded in the human experience of the “Paleocybernetic” man as either/or or both good/bad. This “triadic logic” (p.82) would attempt to bring the phenomenon of hearing and seeing films as an inseparable experience. There isn’t a clear explanation how this process can be achieved but Youngblood’s chapter description, (Synaesthetic Synthesis: Simultaneous Perception of Harmonic Opposites) may provide some clues.


Apprich, Fran. “Born into Sound”. Quest.,52394,en.pdf+Apprich,+Fran,+Born+into+Sound.&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=ca
Apprich’s doctorial thesis discusses several diverse topics in film sound and silence. Her argument focuses on the role of technology and its’ role in “pure” cinema. Since technology is “constantly evolving,” this will eventually result in the extension of the artistic palette.

Belton, John and Weis, Elisabeth. Film Sound: Theory and Practice. Columbia University Press, 1985.
A comprehensive book on film sound, this anthology makes available for the first time and in a single volume major essays by the most respected film historians, aestheticians, and theorists of the past sixty years. In addition, it provides useful models for the analysis of sound stylistics in the form of case studies of a number of the most important sound films ever made. It is a compact primer/handbook, which reviews in a coherent, rigorous, yet eminently accessible way the techniques and practices of sound filmmaking from initial recording to final playback in the theater.

Bordwell, David. "The Musical Analogy". Yale French Studies.

Cahill, James Leo. “The Cineseizure.” Martin Arnold – The Cineseizure. DVD Supplementary Essay. Austria; Index/Re: Voir, 1998. 1- 16.
Friedlander, Paul. What is Visual Music? On – line article:

Frampton, Hollis. The Circles of Confusion. Visual Studies Workshop Press. 1983.
In Frampton’s own writings he assumes the role of “critic – as – conjurer”, inviting the reader into his filmmaking processes.

Gawthrop, Rob, “Film Noise Aesthetics”: Experimental Film and Video. John Libby Pub. 2006. Pgs. 53 – 60.
For artists working with moving image in the late twentieth century, the past forty years of technological innovation has significantly altered the materials of production, revolutionizing the possibilities for experiment and exhibition. Not since the invention of film has there been such a critical period of major change in the imaging technologies accessible to artists. Bringing together key artists in film, video and digital media Experimental Film and Video, revisits the divergent philosophical and critical discourses of the 1970s and in the light of the convergence technologies of digital media and paradigms encompassing the technological, narrative, expanded, per formative, theatrical and sculptural, re-positions these debates relative to contemporary practice.

Izvolov, Nikloia, “The History of Drawn Sound in Soviet Russia”. Animation Journal. Spring 1998. Vol. 6. No. 2.

Lye, Len. Figures in Motion: Selected Writings. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1984.
This is a wonderful autobiography of Len Lye’s life in visual arts. First, as a contemporary to Norman McLaren and founding father of hand made films with a visual music sensibility and secondly, as a creator of kinetic sculptures.

MacDonald, Scott. “Martin Arnold.” A Critical Cinema 3: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers. Berkeley and LA California: University of California Press, 1988.

Maxwell, Stephanie and Schindler, Allen “Animated Image, Animated Music” The Sharpest Point; Animation at the End of Cinema: Gehman, Chris and Reinke, Steve, Eds. YYZ Books. 2005. P.198 – 205.

McDonnell, Maura. "Visual Music. Notes for Lecture on Visual Music." October 2003. On-line article: PDF.

Metz, Christian. “Aural Objects.” Yale French Studies, No. 60. Cinema/Sound 1980.
This landmark article questions our perceptions with the world and the process of perception is inseparable from the unnamed objects in a film.

Moritz, Dr. William. “Towards an Aesthetics of Visual Music.” ASIFA Canada Bulletin. Vol.14: 3, December 1986.
This article, Moritz contends “there are no one color or shape or motion is always equivalent to a certain tone or chord or rhythm. And the secrets of constructing a satisfying overall structure must be learned from a great deal of comparative study of successful and unsuccessful Visual Music compositions - and a lot of trial-and-error practice!”

Moritz, William. “Mary Ellen Bute: Seeing Sound.” Animation World Network. 1996.
In this on-line article, Moritz sums up Bute’s sound/image methodology:
“Mary Ellen continued to use the Schillinger system in her subsequent films, often to their detriment, for Schillinger's insistence on the mathematics of musical quantities fails to deal with musical qualities, much as John Whitney's later Digital Harmony theories. Many pieces of music may share exactly the same mathematics quantities, but the qualities that make one of them a memorable classic and another rather ordinary or forgettable involves other non-mathematical factors, such as orchestral tone color, nuance of mood and interpretation. In Mary Ellen's weakest works, like the 1951 Color Rhapsodie, she is betrayed precisely by this problem, using gaudily-colored, percussive images of fireworks explosions during a soft, sensuous passage--perfectly timed mathematically, but unsuited to mood and tone color.”

Russolo, Luigi.” The Art of Noises.” 120 Years.Net
This is considered an important Futurist manifesto. Published in 1913, Russolo praised the aural achievements of 20th Century futurist man to withstand new, loud and strange noises. The Futurist believed that “this limited circle of pure sounds must be broken, and the infinite variety of "noise-sound" conquered.”
Sitney, P. Adams. Visionary Film: the American Avant-Garde 1943-1978. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1979.
Critics hailed previous editions of Visionary Film as the most complete work written on the exciting, often puzzling, and always controversial genre of American avant-garde film. This book has remained the standard text on American avant-garde film since the publication of its first edition in 1974. Now P. Adams Sitney has once again revised and updated this classic work, restoring a chapter on the films of Gregory J. Markopoulos and bringing his discussion of the principal genres and major filmmakers up to the year 2000.

Spinello, Barry. On Sound and Image as a Single Entity. OFFSCREEN: Vol. 11, Nos. 8-9, Aug/Sept 2007. On - line PDF

Taylor, G. The Cinema Of Ontology - Sound-Image Abstraction In Robert Breer's 'T.Z. Wide Angle, Jan V15; N1; 1993; p.44-65.


Belson, Jordan

Broughton, James
The Gardener of Eden (1981)

Brakhage, Stan
Desistfilm (1954)
I, Dreaming (1988)

Breer, Robert
A Man and His Dog out For Air (1957)
69 (1968)
Mt. Fuji (1974)

Conner, Bruce
A Movie (1958)
Report (1965)

Frampton, Hollis
Surface Tension (1968)
Zorns Lemma (1970)
Series: Hapax Legomena (1971 – 1972)
Gloria! (1979)

Kubelka, Peter

Lipsett, Arthur
21-87 (1963)

Lye, Len
Free Radicals

Maas, Willard
Geography of the Body

McLaren, Norman
Loops and Dots

Rimmer, David
Real Italian Pizza

Sharits, Paul
Ray Gun Virus (1966)
T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G (1969)

Smith, Harry

Snow, Michael
Wavelength (1967)

Spinello, Barry

Whitney, James

Websites on sound in film: