The Sound(track) of Silence: Hearing Things in Dada Film

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Appearing just before the advent of talkies, Dada film sits on the cusp of the sound revolution. Quintessentially experimental, this genre is also often viewed as nonsense, as roll after roll of asemic imagery. Yet these films were neither meaningless nor silent, embracing a multifaceted relationship with narrative and incorporating noise, sound and music in a plethora of guises. How are we to understand sound when what we see is disrupted? How do we interpret the visual if what we hear is partial, displaced, or even missing? How should we
compare the unrepeatable, original experience with the contemporary? Dada film uniquely exploits these gaps to the present day and it is this manipulation that creates the works’ continuing ability to frustrate and intrigue.
This article will analyse the collection of Dada works on Re:Voir’s Dada Cinéma,
interrogating the relationship that these films have with sound and silence, as well as with each other. The article will analyse the films in a progression from sound to silence, beginning with Clair and Picabia’s Entr’acte (1924) and Léger and Murphy’s Le Ballet mécanique (1924), with their purpose-written scores, moving through Man Ray’s Emak Bakia (1926) and Richter’s Filmstudie (1926) and Vormittagsspuk (1927), all of which have accompanying music on the DVD, yet none of which exactly matches the original, to Man Ray’s Le Retour à la raison (1923), Richter’s Rhythmus 21 (1921-1924) and Eggeling’s Symphonie diagonale (1921-1924), all of which have always been silent. Through a synthesis of these analyses the article will proposes a re-reading of Dada film, exploring the relationship between silent film and sound to posit the notion of a soundtrack of silence.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHARTS & Minds
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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