A CONFERENCE at the University of Huddersfield broke new ground when it assembled film makers, composers and researchers from around the world to discuss and analyse the role that sound and music play in documentaries. 

It was the first time that the topic had been tackled on this scale, and now the event has led to the publication of a book, titled Soundings: Documentary Film and the Listening Experience.  It is co-edited by the University of Huddersfield’s Dr Geoffrey Cox, a lecturer, composer and film maker. 

Introduction

In his introduction, he states how the book was conceived at 2017’s Sound and Music in Documentary Film Symposium, which he convened.  Published by the University of Huddersfield Press, the new volume is a collection of essays that “considers the ways sound as noise, music and speech informs the documentary form”. 

Dr Cox discusses the “special power of sound to generate profound feeling, employed in documentary to represent, inform, interpret, inspire and persuade, and ultimately to create powerfully affecting meanings”. 

Contents

The book has 12 chapters, thematically grouped, contributed by a wide range of specialists from the UK and overseas.  There is a poetic centrepiece from Andrew Kötting, creator of a sequence of experimental documentaries and feature films that have earned critical acclaim. 

He was the keynote speaker at the Sound and Music in Documentary Film Symposium and his contribution to the new book is his highly distinctive script, posing fundamental questions about the nature of documentary and drawing on a moving experience in his own life. 

Co-editor of Soundings is John Corner, who is Visiting Professor in Media and Communication at the University of Leeds and a Professor Emeritus of the University of Liverpool.  He provides an afterword, drawing on his long engagement with documentary, and recalling his first encounter, in the 1970s, with two classics of the genre – John Grierson’s Coalface (1936) and Humphrey Jennings’ Listen to Britain (1942). 

“What struck me most powerfully,” writes Professor Corner, “was not just the aesthetic richness of which documentary was capable, but also the way in which music played a vital part …in the construction of this richness”. 

  • Soundings: Documentary Film and the Listening Experience is available as a paperback and a free, open access version can be downloaded. The University of Huddersfield Press home page includes a specially-written article by Professor Corner in which he discusses the research and motivation for the book.