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Sounding loneliness in under the skin

journal contribution
posted on 01.03.2016, 00:00 authored by Sean RedmondSean Redmond
How one affectively sounds loneliness on screen is dependent on what instruments, melodies, voices and sound effects are used to create a sonic membrane that manifests as melancholy and malcontent. It is in the syncretic and synesthetic entanglement that sounding loneliness takes root. It is in the added value inherent in the “sound-image” – to draw upon Chion1 – that loneliness fully emerges like a black dahlia.

So many lonely people, where do they all come from?

And yet, as I will suggest, this sounding loneliness is not only textually specific, simply or singularly driven by narrative and generic concerns, but is historically contingent and nationally and culturally locatable. For example, the sounds of urban isolation of the American 1940s film noir are different from the Chinese peasant laments of Chen Kaige’s Yellow Earth (1984), or what I will presently argue are the British austere strings of sounding loneliness today. When one employs a “diagnostic critique”2, one undertakes to find the history in the text and the text in the history. It is in the interplay between sound and image that historical and political truth emerges.

These contextualised and historicised soundings change across and within national landscapes and their related imaginings. We don’t just see the crumbling walls of the imagined nation state, but get to hear its desolate tunes: The Specials wailing “Ghost Town” – the anthem of/to Margaret Thatcher’s first wave of 1980s neo-liberalism – is a striking case in point.

But what specifically is this contemporary “sounding loneliness”, and where does it come from? I would like to suggest that this age of loneliness is composed in, through and within the sonic vibrations found in the wretched politics of austerity. My case study will be the anomic soundings of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2013).



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Publication classification

C Journal article; C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2016, Senses of Cinema

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