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New Article: "Unpacking a Punch"

posted Jul 31, 2014, 11:52 AM by Mack Hagood
I make a foray into film sound in the summer 2014 issue of Cinema Journal. "Foray" sounds a tad aggressive, but that's appropriate enough, as the piece centers on the sound of the cinematic punch. In "Unpacking a Punch: Transduction and the Sound of Combat Foley in Fight Club," I unpack the production and impact of the Foley punch in David Fincher’s film to theorize the sonic transmission of affect in cinema. 

Formally, this article is inspired by my personal history as an electric guitarist. I use the cinematic punch as a sort of signal source and treat three influential theories or paradigms from sound studies--syncresis, schizophonia, and transduction--as stomp boxes, plugging them in, ripping them out, and seeing how it all changes our perception of the sound of the punch. I wrote the piece because I wanted to better understand the ontology of film sound--especially the neglected art of Foley. I also wanted to revisit postmodernist concepts such as the simulacrum, which figure (though not, perhaps, by name) so prominently in people's everyday media anxieties and in films such as Fight Club, which thematically centers on "copies of copies" and a perceived lack of authenticity in a mediated capitalist society. In the process, I also wound up revisiting one of the classic debates in film soundtrack studies: Is the soundtrack a reproduction or a representation? 

So what came of my signal chain experiments? The short story is, I came to the conclusion that neither "reproduction" nor "representation" quite does justice to the mediated transmission of energy and affect that happens between Foley artists and moviegoers. There's a visceral, impactful connection happening there, even if the pasting of a digitized punch sound to an unrelated punch image perfectly exemplifies the simulacrum, "the copy without an original." In the end, I advocate for the adoption of my last paradigmatic stompbox, transduction, as a model for a soundtrack analysis that allows for authenticity in electronically mediated experiences--and that also points to the already-mediated nature of aural subjectivity. 

If you get chance to check it out, let me know. I'd love to get your feedback.