Part of Series

Dresden Dynamo

Optical Sound


Part of Seeing Sound
Where State Library of Queensland. Brisbane, Australia
Date Wednesday, 18 July 2007
Tickets Free

In the history of sound in experimental film, one of the most important creative practices is the use of sound tracks created by images. Most film-sound systems use what is known as an optical sound track, a variable-area film exposure system which runs parallel to the image. The optical sound track is illuminated in the projector by the exciter lamp as it passes over the sound head. The sound head consists of a photodiode which converts fluctuations in light into electronic pulses to reproduce the sound. In this system, the modulated area (width) corresponds to the amplitude of the audio signal.

Usually the optical sound area and the image are re-combined in the film laboratory to form a synchronised print. However, avant-garde filmmakers used experimental printing methods deliberately working into this area to achieve a range of effects. Some handmade filmmakers have scratched into the sound area, while others have printed photographic images to generate sound. Lis Rhodes’ Dresden Dynamo animates dots from the letter stencilling material, Letraset, to produce an onslaught of sound, David Perry’s Halftone uses enlarged news print to achieve a similarly dynamic result. Guy Sherwin’s three films (Musical Stairs, Railings and Soundtrack) deal with the black and white abstraction of the everyday and use it to construct a photographic sound narrative. The films in this program highlight the range of exciting sonic effects possible through the generation of sound by graphic images.


Optical Sound - WORKS

  • 6 Min
    Diagonal, William Raban, UK, Color, 6 minutes, 1973 (3 Screen Film)

    William Raban was a colleague of Lis Rhodes’ and Guy Sherwin’s at the LFMC, and like them, is also known for expanded cinema presentations. “I was looking for a pure image, an image which was intrinsic to the medium of…

  • 5 Min
    Dresden Dynamo, Lis Rhodes, UK, Colour, 5 minutes, 1974

    Lis Rhodes was one of the key figures in the London Filmmakers’ Co-operative, possibly most well-known for her work exploring the film medium in expanded cinema performances and multi-screen presentations. Dresden Dynamo continues her interest in experimenting with the limits…

  • 3.5 Min


    (1966) David Perry Australia

    David Perry was a member of the Ubu film collective (1965-1970) who later formed the Sydney Filmmakers’ Co-operative, an important local manifestation of the international avant-garde film movement. Ubu’s anarchic celebration of their poverty of means saw them champion ‘handmade’…

  • 7 Min
    Light Traps, Louis Hock, USA, Color, 7 minutes, 1975

    Light Traps

    (1975) Louis Hock USA

    In the 1970s, Californian artist Louis Hock created a number of studies in the effects of pure colour. The late 1960s saw the rise of the ‘colour field’ vogue which arose in abstract painting in reaction to the emphasis on…

  • 10 Min
    Musical Stairs, Guy Sherwin, UK, Black and White, 10 minutes, 1977

    “In MUSICAL STAIRS, 16mm footage of an iron staircase was printed to produce both picture and soundtrack images, i.e., the optical sound sensor in the projector reads the photographs of iron steps as variable density soundtrack. The staircase is filmed…

  • 7 Min
    Railings, Guy Sherwin, UK, Black and White, 7 minutes, 1977


    (1977) Guy Sherwin UK

    “In Railings Sherwin films along the bars of a park railing with the camera turned through ninety degrees, so that they appear in the soundtrack as closely-packed horizontal lines, which generate a buzzing sound that varies according to the movements…

  • 8 Min
    Sound Track, Guy Sherwin, UK, Black and White, 8 minutes, 1977

    Sound Track consists of a series of shots of parallel railroad tracks taken from the window of a moving train. The film’s soundtrack is a rendering on the optical track of the visual image, creating a rhythmic, staccato effect.