Soundings: documentary film and the listening experience

Geoffrey Cox and John Corner

Soundings book cover

Cost: 35.00

Paperback Open access download

ISBN: 978-1-86218-154-0

Subject area: Music

Published: July 2018


Pages: 298 pages

Publisher: University of Huddersfield Press

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The associative, connotative and sheer emotive power of sound has the capacity to move and shake us in a myriad of direct, subtle and often profound ways. The implications of this for its role as speech, location sound, and music in documentary film are far-reaching. The writers in this book draw on the lived experience of sound’s resounding capacity as primary motivation for exploring these implications, united by the overarching theme of how listening is connected with acts of making sense both on its own terms and in conjunction with viewing.

The resulting thirteen essays of Soundings: Documentary Film and the Listening Experience cover films made from WWII to the present day in locations across Europe and the Americas, and in styles ranging from political propaganda, industrial promotion and educative exposition, to more aesthetically-driven films taking their bearings from avant-garde art. The authors draw on their experience in scholarly research, practice-as-research, and in the aesthetic and technical practice of documentary filmmaking. This mix of perspectives aims to widen and deepen the outlook of the recent and growing academic interest in the topic of documentary film sound.





Geoffrey Cox



Part 1: The Promotional Imagination


Chapter 1

Stories from a Stay at the Arena Hotel

Will L Finch


Chapter 2

Weave Me a Rainbow. ‘The march, the march of colour and pattern’

Music and cinematography at the service of the creative promotion of the 1960s Scottish woollen industry

Geoffrey Cox


Chapter 3

Sonicules - Designing drugs with sound: approaches to sound design for film, audiovisual performance and interactive sonification.

Radoslaw Rudnicki and Jude Brereton



Part 2: Foregrounding the Aesthetic: Strategies and Practices


Chapter 4

Auralising Action Space: channelling a sense of play in documentary sound design

Simon Connor


Chapter 5

‘The film looks like how Ornette sounds’:  Shirley Clarke’s music documentary Ornette: Made in America 

Rosa Nogués


Chapter 6

Progress Music

James Bulley


Chapter 7

Creative use of voice in non-fiction narrative film: an examination of the work of Peter Mettler

Lars Koens and Demelza Kooij


Chapter 8

Documentary film as a backdrop for active thinking.

Ana Berkenhoff





The unwanted sound of everything we think we want

Andrew Kötting



Part 3: Nationhood and Conflict


Chapter 9

The ‘Appassionata’ Sonata in A Diary for Timothy

Tsung-Han Tsai


Chapter 10

A ‘Symphony of Britain at War’ or the ‘Rhythm of Workaday Britain’? Len Lye’s When the Pie Was Opened (1941) and the musicalisation of warfare.

Anita Jorge


Chapter 11

Building a sonic image of a nation: Finnish documentary and propaganda films in the early decades of sound film

Kaarina Kilpiö


Chapter 12

Raúl Ruiz’s Now We’re Gonna Call You Brother and the problem of the people’s sonic representation

Laura Jordán González and Nicolas Lema Habash




John Corner







Geoffrey Cox is a Senior lecturer in Music and a filmmaker and composer of both acoustic and electronic music with a focus on its application to documentary film sound. This has resulted in a number of solo and collaborative film projects: Cider Makers (Marley and Cox 2007), No Escape (Cox 2009), A Film About Nice (Marley and Cox 2010) and Tree People (Cox, 2014). He has recently finished working with Marley on Mill Study (2017), a short film about a working textile mill in Slaithwaite, West Yorkshire, which receives its overseas premiere at Ethnografilm, Paris in April 2018. He has published articles in The Soundtrack, The New Soundtrack and Contemporary Music Review on the contextual underpinning of his work. His most recent Organised Sound article (2017) links the pioneering approach to sound of pre-WWII British documentary filmmakers, with Pierre Schaeffer’s musique concrète.

John Corner is Visiting Professor in Media and Communication at the University of Leeds and Professor Emeritus of the University of Liverpool. He has published widely since the 1970s in international journals and in books with aspects of documentary history and form, a regular theme alongside theories of media power and the forms of political mediation. Edited collections relevant to this book include Documentary and the Mass Media (1986) and the co-edited New Challenges for Documentary (second edition, 2005). His monographs include The Art of Record (1996) and more recently Theorising Media (2011) and the co-authored Political Culture and Media Genre (2012).