Notes on ‘The Acousmêtre’ by Michel Chion

Acousmatic: a sound that is heard although its source remains unseen

Acousmêtre: when the acousmatic presence is a voice, and especially when the voice has not been yet been visualized

“The acousmêtre…. cannot occupy the removed position of commentator, the voice of the magic lantern show. He must, even if only slightly, have one foot in the image, in the space of the film; he must haunt the borderlands that are neither the interior of the filmic stage not the procenium – a place that has no name, but which the cinema forever brings into play” (161).

“….the acousmêtre brings disequilibrium and tension. He invites the spectator to go see, and he can be an invitation to the loss of the self, to desire, and fascination. But what is there to fear from the acousmêtre? And what are his powers?
The powers are four: the ability to be everywhere, to see all, to know all, and to have complete power. In other words: ubiquity, panopticism, omniscience, and omnipotence” (162).

“Why all these powers in a voice? Maybe because this voice without a place that belongs to the acousmêtre takes us back to an archaic, original stage: of the first months of life or even before birth, during which the voice was everything and it was everywhere” (163).

“The greatest Acousmêtre is God – and even farther back, for every one of us, the Mother” (164).

Embodying the voice is a sort of symbolic act, dooming the acousmêtre to the fate of ordinary mortals…. [like] the purpose of burial ceremonies is to say to the soul of the deceased, ‘you must no longer wander, your grave is here’ (164).

Chion’s paper actually made me think about Coda, a 2015 short animated film that has won a countless number of awards. The film is as much about death as it is about birth. There is a moment where the protagonist, a lost soul transformed into his self as a baby, imagines he is in the arms of his mother who is simultaneously the transformation of Death. Death’s lips do not move but we are aware of the voice coming from this body, though the body is not a physical one but an embodied figure. Can Death be seen as the acousmêtre?

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Works Cited:
Chion, Michel. “The Acousmêtre.” Critical Visions in Film Theory: Classic and Contemporary Readings, edited by Timothy Corrigan et al., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011, pp. 156–165.

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