Archive for the ‘Metaphoric sound’ Category

Metaphoric sound introduction


Sounds can have a metaphoric meaning, which creates an extra layer of signification. When one cannot see the causal source of a sound, it becomes an acousmatic sound (Schaeffer, Chion), which makes the sound ambiguous, i.e. it can adopt more than one meaning, depending on the context.

Evocative sound is another term used in this context. A sound, like a smell (the slightly musty smell of a staircase, combined with the smell of floor wax in an old apartment house reminds me always of my grandmother), can evoke memories and emotions. These evocative sounds are not eternal, but associated with certain historic time periods. The hammering of a locksmith in a village has all but vanished. The church bells are still universally recognised in the West as a symbol of Christianity and the Catholic church.

Some writers apply C.G. Jung’s concept of the archetype for certain sounds. Rain, wind, the sea sounds are examples of these eternal archetypal sounds (derived from C.G. Jung’s psychological theory of archetypes). According to Plato (Phaedrus, 360 BC) cicadae (grasshoppers) are the souls of people who had been inspired by the muses to always sing and forgot to eat or drink. Socrates says:

A lover of music like yourself ought surely to have heard the story of the grasshoppers, who are said to have been human beings in an age before the Muses. And when the Muses came and song appeared they were ravished with delight; and singing always, never thought of eating and drinking, until at last in their forgetfulness they died. And now they live again in the grasshoppers; and this is the return which the Muses make to them-they neither hunger, nor thirst, but from the hour of their birth are always singing, and never eating or drinking; and when they die they go and inform the Muses in heaven who honours them on earth… for these are the Muses who are chiefly concerned with heaven and thought, divine as well as human, and they have the sweetest utterance. For many reasons, then, we ought always to talk and not to sleep at mid-day.






Sound plays a crucial part in alerting us to danger. Our ears are open all the time. Sounds can also be used to re-create emotions. Sounds become evocative through the narrative context.

Basic emotions are fear, joy, sadness, contentedness, rage.

BBC Radio 4 broadcast the programme THE SOUND OF FEAR by Sean Street on 18 Oct 2011

With contributions by David Toop, Chu-Li Shrewring, Sophie Scott, David Hendy, Louis Niebur, Marcus Leadley, Nigel Paterson



Rain is a powerful metaphor for the release of repressed and stirred up emotions. In many films a dramatic situation is underlined by rain – coincidence or calculated design?

Keywords: rain, metaphor, emotion, cliche


  • Il y a longtemps que je t’aime (2008, Philippe Claudel)
  • Jurassic Park (1993), see minutes 53.00-1.07.00
  • Sliding Doors (1998)
  • Halloween (1978, Chapter 3)

Metaphoric sound


Jaws (1975)
Fear is a basic human emotion. Horror movies and thrillers try to recreate a sense of danger and terror. Music plays a crucial part in achieving this. In Jaws (Spielberg, 1975), composer John Williams didn’t write obvious, scary music, but instead played with a musical metaphor. The second shark attack on a child is accompanied by a medium-fast double bass motive. The motive itself is not threatening; it is a neutral sequence of notes. The deep, large sound however suggests the movement of a big object, which the spectator cannot see, but senses that it is a shark. Only the combined effect of the pictures (subjective camera), the motoric music and the knowledge of the spectator creates a sense of danger. The music here is a
metaphor for the basic movement of a large object. The entailments of this metaphor relate in a complex way to the pictures and leave the spectator ample room for imaginative speculation. What is common to music and image is a basic physical movement, emphasised by the subjective camera. Fear arises in the imagination of the spectator. It is neither in the music nor
in the images.
Film music works as abstract, conceptual metaphors (Lackoff and Johnson), because we have the ability to recognise patterns. Music in films enables the viewer to see similarities in Gestalts and construct meaningful analogies on a complex level between the music and the filmic drama. It makes no sense to attach a fixed meaning to music in a multimedia situation as it varies
considerably depending on the viewer.



Sounds of cars, and machines in general can obtain almost animistic qualities in some films. They can express power, aggression, raw, animalistic energy. Through sound these machines come alive like a wild animal.

Duel (1971) Steven Spielberg

  • 17.22 through the cut to the truck, the hard sound cut feels like the truck is hitting the back of Mann’s car (only imagined!)
  • 17.30 music
  • 21.30 inner monologue
  • 23.00 Mann sees the track parked outside the Cafe. Spooky music: everybody in the Cafe is a potential suspect
  • 25.00 inner voice again turns into whispering
  • 28.50 above the drone a two note tritonus motif – like an ambulance siren
  • 37.30 inner voice again
  • 42.50 inner voice
  • 43.35 silence (Mann fell asleep) and then off-screen sound of a big engine – which turns out to be a train.
  • 45.20 the truck again: musical sting
  • 1.01.00 music like in Psycho

Bullitt (1968) with Steve McQueen
Duel (1971) Steven Spielberg