Cinema as Archeology: The Acousmêtre and the Multiple Layering of Temporality and Spatiality

Hye Jean Chung


Michel Chion’s concept of the “acousmêtre” is useful when exploring the spectator’s cinematic experience in regard to the juxtaposition of sound and image, as the acousmatic presence troubles the false sense of unity that is created by the synchronization of sound and image by its invocation of off-screen space through sound. The acousmêtre neither prioritizes sound nor image but calls attention to the disjunction between them. Also, the acousmêtre leaves the source of the sound open to imagination and interpretation. Thus the presence of the acousmêtre destabilizes the seemingly unified, contained realm of the film by expanding the temporal and spatial boundaries of the diegesis. In this essay I explore how the power of this ghostly voice of the acousmêtre is manifested in cinema, and the significance of its power to the spectators in their relationship to the film, by asking questions regarding the function and effect of the disembodied voice and spectral presence of the acousmêtre, the scope of the acousmêtre’s power, and what can be created from the disequilibrium that is provoked by this power. I explore possible answers by analyzing the use of the acousmatic voice in Y Tu Mama Tambien (dir. Alfonso Cuaron, 2001) and Calendar (dir. Atom Egoyan, 1993).


acousmetre, archaeology, sound theory in cinema

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