Interviews & Articles 2016
Being there: Putting the “Awe” into Audio Description
By Louise Fryer
I attended my first Languages and the Media Conference in Berlin in 2010. I was nervous, as I was new to the academic world of AVT, although I had been a practicing audio describer for many years. Packed in my luggage was a copy of the journal Perspectives in Translatology, which contained my first published article about AD (“Putting the audio into Audio Description: A Practitioner’s Point of View”). It had arrived on my doorstep that morning, and I hadn’t had time to read it before I left, so I put it in my rucksack and got it out on the plane.
As well as my own paper, the volume contained Jan-Louis Kruger’s “Audio Narration: Re-narrativising Film”, in which he advocates audio narration (AN) as an alternative to audio description. Jan-Louis was at the Conference, and I was impressed by his knowledge of statistics and interest in reception research, which mirrored my own. For inexplicable reasons, his paper niggled me, although at the time I was a lowly Master’s student looking into research methods in psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. He, in contrast, was already a recognized expert in the field and widely published scholar.
At the Conference, I met some major figures in AVT who up until then had simply been names to me. I am proud that many of them have since become my collaborators.
Returning to this conference in 2016, I have been asked to run a workshop on AD. Almost by accident, I have returned to Jan-Louis’ theme, having finally put my finger on what I feel to be the flaws in narratology as a solution to the describer’s perpetual search for ways to narrow down the immensity of the visual array that needs to be described to provide access for people who are blind or partially sighted.
Christian Metz (1974) recognised that the reality of a fictional world “comes only from within us, from the projections and identifications that are mixed in with our perception of the film”. This fits neatly with the concept of presence or the way a mediated environment is experienced immersive as though it were real. As Jones (2007, p. 64) explains. “Presence is the ’response to a mental model of an environment that takes shape in the mind of the individual based upon a combination of cues that originate both externally and internally’”.
Ben Winters (2010) contends that aspects of a film that contribute to our sense of “being there” may be independent of narrative process. He has highlighted “the non-diegetic fallacy”, arguing against the “tendency to see cinema in overtly literary narrative terms.” His discussion focusses on music, in particular extra-diegetic music, which, as it is not heard by the characters, cannot influence the story but does influence our response to narrative events. Music is only one such influence, together with costume and lighting and the entire mise-en-scène. Kruger recognizes that traditional AD is extradiegetic, and his advocacy for AN stems from the fact that by providing a framing narrative, Audio narration would be intradiegetic. His implication is that intradiegetic is necessarily better. I will argue that AD is no more extrinsic than the music – indeed the entire sound track of a film - which is constructed post hoc to draw the attention of the sighted audience to some visuals more than others and to influence our interpretation of and emotional response to what we see.
I have also returned to the title of that first paper, narrowing it further, as the workshop will explore ways in which to put the “Awe” into Audio Description by conveying the visual impact of AV materials that do not have narrative as their primary function. I invite you to join me in exploring ways in which to communicate the sublime.
I am thrilled that the Conference organisers have offered to help me launch my book “An Introduction to Audio Description: A Practical Guide”. Washbourne, K. (series editor). London: Routledge. 2016. I am now a wheelchair user, which makes it hard for me to seek you out, so whether you are a frequent attendee of L& M Conferences or this is your first time, please come and find me.
- Jones, M. (2007). Presence as external versus internal experience: How form, user, style, and content factors produce presence from the inside. Proceedings of the Tenth Annual International Meeting of the Presence Workshop, Barcelona, Spain (pp. 115– 126). Retrieved from www.temple.edu/ispr/prev_conferences/proceedings/2007/Jones.pdf
- Kruger, Jan-Louis. 2010 Audio narration: re-narrativising film.Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 18.3: 231-249.
- Metz, Christian1974. Film language: A semiotics of the cinema. University of Chicago Press,.
- Winters, B., 2010. The non-diegetic fallacy: Film, music, and narrative space. Music and Letters, 91(2), pp.224-244.