Some thoughts triggered by Jonna Kina’s film work Arr. for a Scene (2017) by Tessa Praun
Amelie from Montmartre loves skipping rocks, cracking the crust of a crème brûlée, and plunging her fingers into a bag of dried lentils.
When Sailor in Wild at Heart finds out that Lula is pregnant, he lights not one, but two cigarettes at once and takes a deep drag.
With Frodo in her arms, Arwen gallops on her white horse over meadows and through dense forests, chased by the thundering dark riders close on their heels.
Since my sister and I were little, we’ve had a slightly exaggerated fascination with crinkly paper, both for the tactility and for the sound it creates. Touching and hearing thin, crinkly paper gives rise to a remarkable combination of exhilaration and relaxation. A few years ago, we realized that there is a term for this: ASMR, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, which can be triggered by many different things. The common denominator is that one or multiple senses set in motion a sort of tingling sensation in the head that often spreads down the spine, creating a feeling of pleasure. There is as yet no scientific research in this area, but for now the phenomenon enjoys subculture status and is abundantly present on YouTube and Instagram.
Other experiences also have this effect on me. I can dream myself into the scene where Amelie sinks her hand down into the dried lentils. The sound of the lentils rustling is so wonderful that just the thought of it makes me feel as if it were my own hand. Sitting in a movie theater hearing the sound of snorting horses and actually feeling the sensation of their galloping hooves against the forest floor in my chest gives me incredible goosebumps. Or experiencing on the big screen how a cigarette (or two) flares to life and crackles as it turns to ash–it moves me even though I have never been a smoker.
After seeing Jonna Kina’s work Arr. for a Scene (2017), I became aware that I have never questioned these sounds that have etched themselves into physical memories within my body. We have learned not to trust images because we know that retouching and manipulation are more the rule than the exception. But sounds are different, above all when the context has lulled us into thinking that it is just a shower curtain, a flushing toilet, a squeaking shower faucet or thrusts of a knife we’re hearing. Despite the technical ability to synchronize image and sound mechanically when a movie is recorded, every sound apart from the dialogue in any major film is added in post production. Every car door slamming shut, every chewing gum bubble popping, every thrust of a knife into a body (thankfully), snow crunching under the soles of shoes, the flapping wings of a bird, slaps, punches, animal paws, footsteps, highway noise, wet clothes, a fork against a plate, office machines, cooking implements, fire, wind, rain, hail. Every auditory element is recorded and put in afterwards. It’s breathtaking!
The creators of these sounds, so-called Foley artists, have to be inventive and draw the observer in with a soundscape that’s not only heard but felt throughout the whole body. Foley art has its foundation in sound effects developed for live broadcasts of radio theater in the early 1920s. Jack D. Foley had experience in that type of radio work and took the art further when the first films with sound began to replace silent films. Timing was and continues to be a prerequisite for credibility, as is finding exactly the right mood and natural feel for each individual sound effect. Often, it is completely different objects and actions from what we see in the film that turn out to be most convincing.
In Arr. for a Scene we are thrown into action that we have to try to decipher–first from the images, out of pure habit, and increasingly from the sounds. Two parallel stories are playing out for us. One is an enigmatic stage. The other is one of the most famous horror scenes in the history of film. Until the moment of recognition, we remain simply viewers of the image. Two people prepare by adjusting the objects in front of them; then, they carry out a series of more or less mundane and quite unremarkable actions. No words are spoken, no music played, they are in a state of complete concentration. Increasingly, though, this seemingly undramatic scene becomes almost uncomfortable for us as viewers. Both people’s facial expressions are blank: they’re looking right at us, but it is also as if they’re looking through us. We see how the sounds are being made, yet we aren’t certain what we are seeing.
At the moment of recognition we are transported beyond the image of the two Foley artists performing and into the legendary shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho (1960). Scattered memories of the black-and-white scene in which Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane tears apart a slip of paper she has just written on, flushes the pieces down the toilet, and steps into the bathtub. She turns on the water and is washing herself when the shower curtain is suddenly pulled to the side and she is attacked by a masked person with a knife until she sinks down into the tub. Afterwards, we hear only running water. We are transported from an absurd but undramatic scene in full color, lacking dialogue or music, focusing on the sources of the sounds, to one of the most well-known horror scenes in black-and-white film history, complete with music, sound effects, and the epic scream. Jonna Kina deconstructs the iconic scene into a game of auditory charades, the very opposite of a silent film.
Foley artists must refine and emphasize sounds, making them more tactile through sometimes unexpected methods, so that as viewers we get lost in the film. I imagine they have an extraordinary sensibility that gives rise to expanded dimensions of reality. How does a person experience her surroundings when her work is based on reproducing, creating, and re-purposing sounds? What alternative images does she see when she hears the sound of walnuts being cracked, feet walking over wet sand, glass shattering, or a coffee grinder squeaking?
Museum Director and Chief Curator
Magasin III – Museum & Foundation for Contemporary Art, Stockholm
Translation by Suzanne M Cheadle