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1929 __ Theory of caterwauling — and sound newsreel films
Ippolit Sokolov (1902-1974)
Comment : In an article, "The Possibilities of Sound Cinema", published in Kino n° 45, 1929, the film critic Ipploit Sokolov claimed that nature and life were not "audiogenic", that "sound films in science and for propaganda will not be based in the lap of nature and on the noise of the street, but will be made behind the sound-proofed, double-layered insulating walls of the studio." He added that attempts to record natural sounds would result in cacophony and "caterwauling".Despite his thwarted early ventures in sound, once he embarked upon a career in cinema he did not wait for proper sound film technology to begin realizing his ideas of sound. From the moment he began filmmaking until his first sound film, Enthusiasm (1931), he engaged in virtual sound, to prepare for the inevitable advent of sound in Russian film. He did this, by the way, before sound had come to American film. He introduced this ``implied sound" into his films, argued theoretically concerning sound, championed an expanded concept of radio and argued against the dogma of asynchronicity between sound and image set forth by Eisenstein, Alexandrov and Pudovkin -- A Statement. He also argued against the ``theory of caterwauling." In 1929, while Vertov embarked upon Enthusiasm, the film critic Ippolit Sokolov wrote in On the Possibilities of Sound Cinema that the natural world of sound was not conducive to recording (Vertov, p. 112 footnote). The outdoors and the remote, the sounds of work, industry, celebration, public gatherings -- that is a large part of the domain of documentary -- was not ``audiogenic": Agitational and scientific films will be produced not in the lap of nature, not in the noise of the streets, but within the soundproof walls of the film studio, where no outside sound can penetrate. The sound movie camera will least of all film ``life caught unawares." The unorganized and accidental sounds of our streets and buildings would become a genuine cacophony, a literally caterwauling concert (Quoted in Herbert Marshall, Masters of Soviet Cinema, (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983), p. 81). Vertov understood Sokolov's ``theory of caterwauling" to be ``anti-newsreel," i.e., very much within the mold of formalist critics who preferred only actors and acting upon the screen -- in the vernacular: played films. Vertov also understood it as a symptomatic of an exclusivist conceit derived from music. everything which is not ``sharp" or ``flat," in a word, everything which does not ``doremifasolize" was unconditionally labeled ``cacaphony." (Vertov, ``First Steps," p. 114). Vertov considered the true refutation of Sokolov's ``theory of caterwauling" to be Enthusiasm itself. There was nothing do-re-mi in the ``setting of din and clanging, amidst fire and iron, among factory workshops vibrating from the sound." (Vertov, ``Let's Discuss Ukrainfilm's First Sound Film: Symphony of the Donbas," p. 109). Vertov ``penetrated into mines deep beneath the earth," much like Nadar in the catacombs, and rode atop ``the roofs of speeding trains" lugging twenty-seven hundred pounds of recording equipment, developed specifically for the film, and: for the first time in history recorded, in documentary fashion, the basic sounds of an industrial region (the sound of mines, factories, trains, etc) (Vertov, p.109). Vertov may have rejected Sokolov's music-like exclusivity but he didn't reject music, nor could he with his background and approach. He often referred to his role in filmmaking, not as director, but as composer (Jay Leyda, Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film, (New York: Collier Books, 1960), p. 177). He called Enthusiasm a ``symphony of noises" and the film's second name, under which it is known in Russia, is ``Symphony of the Donbas." ``Symphony" as a figure is, in one of the many aurally reflexive moments of the film, extended to signal the ``harmonic" organization of the activities of the Five-Year Plan in the Don Basin region, and its parallel in the structure and process of the film itself. In a note sent to Vertov from London (Nov. 1931), Charlie Chaplin wrote: “Never had I known that these mechanical sounds could be arranged to sound so beautiful. I regard it as one of the most exhilarating symphonies I have heard. Mr. Dziga Vertov is a musician” (Vertov, ``From Notebooks, Diaries," p. 170). Vertov invoked musical metaphor without the reduction, regularization or aestheticization it had come to impose in general cultural discourse, because the metaphor had to interact within a documentary context that Vertov called an ``enthusiasm of facts" and a literary process wherein sounds themselves were scripted; with Enthusiasm, the sound was scripted prior to the visuals (Compare Vertov ``Sound March," pp. 289-293 and Michelson's comments on p. 327). (Douglas Kahn)
Original excerpt : « First Steps.A predominance of sound newsreel films characterized the Soviet sound cinema's first year of existence. For an understanding of this, we must take a look backward. Newsreel film workers spoke long ago of the possibility, not only of radio broadcasting, but of recording and filming sound-and-image documentaries, radio-cineam films from a distance; they discussed the possibility for proletarians of all nations, all countries, to see, hear, and understand one another. It was the preparatory work that enabled filmmakers in newsreel (unlike those in acted cinema who were caught off guard) to embark immediately and confidently on the first experiments in sound newsreeel in March 1930. The start of work on "Enthusiasm" had been preceded by Ippolit Sokolov's "theory of caterwauling" and by the "negation", on the part of specialists here and abroad, of the very possibility of recording industrial sound. It was preceded by "negation" of the possibility of making the unacted newsreel sound film. The work on "Enthusiasm" and its consequences represented, as it were, the "negation of that negation". "Enthusiasm" not only completely refuted the "theory of caterwauling" and other antinewsreel "theories", it opened the door for the production of sound newsreels, of unacted sound newsreels, and it also cleared the way for future production and sound-and-image documentaries outdoors. [...] Either professorial -- everything which is not "sharp" or "flat", in a word, everything which does not "doremifasolize" was unconditionally labeled "cacophony". Or we had to deal with the "deaf" critic -- only the visual part of the film was critically examined, while the sound content was ignored. Or we had to deal with the "acting-oriented critic" -- say, a formalist critic in the guise of an antiformalist, while hunting out and abusing formal qualities of one sort or another in the film. Or we had to deal with an "antinewsreel" critic, and "opponent of the nonacted film", one of the authors of the "theory of caterwauling", for instance, defensively foaming at the mouth and attempting to prove that "Enthusiasm" is "caterwauling" and that the "theory" is consequently correct, confirmed, etc., etc. [...] » (Dziga Vertov, "First Steps")
Source : Sokolov, Ippolit (1929), “The Possibilities of Sound Cinema”, In Kino, n°45, 1929.
Source : Vertov, Dziga (1931), “First Steps”, In “Kino-Eye - the Writings of Dziga Vertov”, ed. Annette Michelson, Translated by Kevin O’Brien, Berkeley : University of California, 1984.
Source : Kahn, Douglas (1990), “Audio Art in the Deaf Century”, In “Sound by Artists”, edited by Dan Lander and Micah Lexier, Toronto : Art Metropole : Banff : Walter Phillips Gallery, 1990, pp. 301-309.
Urls : http://www.soundtoys.net/journals/audio-art-in-the (last visited )

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