Acousmatic voice

In many films we hear voices whose bodies we never see, but who could plausibly be part of the narrative or story.

Michel Chion calls these voices ACOUSMÊTRE (see Glossary) , which he defines as:

An invisible character created for the audio-viewer by means of an acousmatic (84) voice heard either offscreen, or onscreen but hidden (behind a curtain or other obstacle). The voice must occur frequently and coherently enough to constitute a true character, even if it is only ever known acousmatically and so long as the carrier of this voice is theoretically capable of appearing onscreen at any moment. In film, the acousmêtre is distinct from the voiceover that is clearly external to the image: an acousmatic character is defined by the edge of the frame, a space where it could appear at any moment, but whose position outside that frame seems to confer on it certain powers over what’s within the frame (e.g., Norman’s mother in Psycho, Mabuse in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse). The
cinematic imaginary regularly bestows on the acousmêtre the powers of ubiquity (being everywhere), panopticism (seeing all), omniscience (knowing all), and omnipotence (being all-powerful).

Examples:

  • The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933, Fritz Lang)
  • The Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming, George Cukor)
  • Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick) : Hal 9000 computer
  • Her (2013, Spike Jonze) : the voice of Samantha
  • Birdman (2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu)
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