Audiovisual Montage

3 Perception-related Basic Principles of Audiovisual Montage

In the montage of audiovisual film components, which are brought together, small or large, to form a complete whole (frame, take, sequence, scene, act, whole film), the editors can rely on the inherent tendency of all recipients to create coherences. This is based on the fact that we perceive everything as coherent and smooth in the everyday world around us, and our audio and visual perception continually adjusts on a spatial and temporal level. Everything that we perceive sequentially in everyday life is objectively physically coherent, that means that we create a consequential connection, independent of whether or not we walk, drive, or fly from A to B, for example. Because the laws of causality that can be explained on a natural-scientific level have been engrained by evolution into the development of the human means of perception with its audiovisual subsystems in order to guarantee survival, they also form the basis of film reception. However, the loss of the spatial-temporal continuity must be structured by the montage.[10]

Up to a certain level, film montage can anticipate the connections made by viewers, provided that specific coherency criteria have been taken into account. Continuity editing, eyeline matching, and match-on action are criteria for a practice of film editing that evokes the impression of a continuous flow of action despite the lack of continuity in terms of time and space.[11] The edit separates and shortens so that the montage of the parts can be put together more coherently. On the other hand, hard and disjointed cuts, which do not serve the everyday expectations of continuity, are possible as intentional breaks in the image sequence, e.g., in the case of transitions between sequences with a clear differentiation of space and time in the procedure, or in the case of jump cut as a deconstructivist stylistic device. For illusion technology in Hollywood the smooth flow of continuity editing is the trump card because it helps override the medial aspect, the constructed nature of the film reality created by the camera and montage.

We perceive the everyday world as an audiovisual whole, in which the rules regarding the creation of coherency apply just as much to sounds and their relationship to visual events. When the montage of the images is able per se to rely on the recipient assuming congruence, then the same applies to the combination of images and sounds. As previously mentioned, the direct impression of audiovisual coherence is evoked on the audio track by mixing reproduced sounds with representative sounds. Lip synchronization as such would not be accepted by the recipients, if they did not unify the more or less minimal differences between the synchronal and asynchronal sounds in order to create an overall impression of syllables, words, sentences, dialogue. Significant synchronal points between the film images and the sounds on the lips of the protagonist are sufficient to create a coherent impression of spoken language.

Michel Chion introduced the term synchresis to describe this phenomenon, by which the combination of image and sound is always accepted unquestioningly as soon as a sound corresponds to the object or person shown in the frame on the level of our auditive expectations.

Audiovisual montage very fundamentally only functions on the basis of an audiovisual contract by which the producer and consumer mutually agree to forget that the sound is coming from loudspeakers and the image from the screen.[12] In the light of this the term immersion, already established in other areas of film, can be introduced as a category of effect into the discourse about aspects of perception in image-sound montage. With its roots in the Latin immersio, it refers to the physical experience of diving in,[13] diving into a screen in the same way one can jump into water.[14]

This experience of immersion can be evoked using technical equipment in the cinema, but also using computer-aided virtual realities. The determining factor is the moment of evidence, the impact of the it’s truly that within the audiovisual contract in relation to what we hear, see, and feel. Especially in feature films the reality check is intentionally suspended in order to experience the evidence of an illusion for which one is prepared to buy an entrance ticket or make another form of payment.[15] The fact that we are dealing here with pseudo-evidence is no contradiction for the recipient, who endorses a temporary and partial immersion, knowing that the film events are genuinely unreal, or have their own reality.[16] Both the congruence of the sequence created by the montage and the auditive synchresis, which are brought into harmony with the action by the assembled and mixed soundtrack, encourage immersion. This is intentional and leads to an unquestioned acceptance of the as if in the film, on the experiential level.[17] As the synchresis has already shown, the immersive empathy replaces the reality check making rational explanations for the presumption that something exists superfluous.[18] The immersion resulting from the montage of image and sound creates a level for causal and logical probabilities as well as the narrative coherence of anticipated sequences of action and the immersive engagement helps in a feature film [and not only there, author’s note] to easily combine intellectual and affective qualities.[19] However, the film editor must have an awareness of the ‘madeness’ of things which is only compatible with fictional immersion when the appropriate processes remain sufficiently subtle.[20]

Montage AV, a magazine for theory and history in audiovisual communication, dedicated its complete issue 17, 2 from 2008 to the theme of immersion. In the following section, several references will be made to this issue and selected articles from it. Cf. here Robin Curtis, Christiane Voss, “Theorien ästhetischer Immersion,” in: montage AV, 17, 2, 2008, 4.