Michel Chion: The Audio-Spectator Presented by Liquid Architecture, Melbourne International Film Festival and ACMI

The Voice in Cinema

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About the event

In this ground-breaking lecture performance based around Chion’s two short films Le Grand Nettoyage and Eponine , Chion will trace the history of the ‘acousmêtre’ a term he coined referring to the mysterious offscreen voice in cinema. Join us for a rare opportunity to hear from one of the pioneers of audio experimentation as Chion traces his legacy alongside works by Robert Bresson, Fritz Lang, Hans Jürgen Syberberg and Spike Jonze in an unlikely-to-be repeated journey into sound and cinema, as part of MIFF 2017.

Program notes

Acousmêtre: a kind of voice-character specific to cinema that derives mysterious powers from being heard and not seen. The disembodied voice seems to come from everywhere and therefore to have no clearly defined limits to its power.

When I published my essay La Voie au Cinéma in 1982 – where I proposed the theory of acousmêtre, a word I invented and which had a certain resonance thanks notably to the English translation by Claudia Gorbman of The Voice in Cinema (Columbia University Press, 1999), and the writings of Slavoj Zizek – I had already ‘lived’ this concept. I had lived it both in my life experience – like any child – and also through certain films that particularly marked me, such as Bresson’s A Man Escaped, Hitchcock’s Psycho, Lang’s The Testament of Dr. Mabuse and Syberberg’s Parsifal based on Wagner's opera. And I lived it through my own creative works based on absence and suggestion like Requiem, the 1973 musique concrète composition full of "characters" and "scenes" one does not see, or the short film Le Grand Nettoyage, 1975, a sound film without words.

When I began to write and shoot my film Eponine in 1975, I wanted to consciously ‘test’ this and other concepts of analysis with a film; the character of a mother without a face; the suggestion through sound of an outside world that one never sees (since the film takes place within the walls of a house from which one does not go out); the creation of an imaginary topography. The success of this film showed me that the concepts ‘worked’. Thus, for me, theory is not a dead demonstration. A living theory must be drawn from a personal experience.

In this lecture-performance, I will share projects, sketches, essays, personal creations (including for a future film), alongside excerpts from Bresson, Hitchcock, Lang, Syberberg, and Spike Jonze, who, as some have said, renews the idea of ​​acousmêtre. I’ll present these materials sometimes deprived of sound, sometimes deprived of images, sometimes associated with other images and other sounds, and sometimes accompanied by my own live voice. I will show how easy it is to ‘live’ and to experiment with audio-visual combinations.

Liquid Architecture is an Australian organisation for artists working with sound.