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Inside the outsider’s ear – hyperacousia and marginalized character identification

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In this article, Michel Chion’s notion of hyperacousia (a character’s hypersensitivity to sounds, including inaudible ones) is used as the basis of analysis for sound design in The Unbelievable Truth (1989) by Hartley and Greenberg (2010) by Baumbach. I argue for the significance of hyperacousia to film character construction, as well as audience identification with these fictional personalities. In particular, I consider point-of-audition as a counterpart to point-of-view shots. Murray Smith’s cognitive approach to character identification is drawn on and developed from the perspective of the audioviewer’s access to subjective sound. Hyperacousia is suggested as a valuable channel for audience identification with a character, particularly marginalized ones, as well as a means through which sound can create an increased sense of interiority, something generally considered difficult to achieve in cinema. I argue that, in both films, a feature is made of the subtle sound effects, and that dialogue plays an important role in signposting these for the audience.
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Keywords: Hal Hartley; Michel Chion; Murray Smith; Noah Baumbach; hyperacousia; point-of-audition

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Trinity College Dublin

Publication date: 01 October 2012

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  • The Soundtrack is a multi-disciplinary journal which brings together research in the area of music and sound in relation to film and other moving image media. A complex cultural, technological, industrial and artistic phenomenon, sound-with-moving image is a rich area for analysis, investigation and speculation. We encourage writing that is accessible to audiences from a diversity of intellectual backgrounds and disciplines as well as providing a forum for practitioners. The Soundtrack's aim is to nurture this new and expanding area of academic investigation in dialogue with soundtrack producers of all kinds.
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