Sound and Visual Memory in Narrative Film

Do audiences remember seeing things that they only heard when watching a film?

This question lead to a funded research collaboration between myself and cognitive psychologists Suzy Styles and Gerrit Maus. To test this question I wrote and directed the short film Bird Sounds.

Bird Sounds examines grief through sound and memory and is particularly concerned with exploring novel uses of sound in film narrative. For study, 2 versions of the film were created, each with the same soundtrack but different an image track, where key moments are represented by sound alone in one version of the film. Test audiences viewed one version of the film and completed a questionnaire. Complete details of the methods of the study can be found here. This is the first study of its kind and the first to suggest that visual memories might be evoked by sound alone in some audiences, some of the time.

Synopsis: Joel, is an acoustic ecologist who records soundscapes, and documents his family life through sound recordings. Unable to process the death of his son, Joel returns to the jungle seeking out echoes of sounds they recorded together, while at home he listens to recordings he made documenting his family life. This process slowly unlocks Joel’s ability to accept and engage with his loss as the sounds trigger vivid memories. 

The festival cut of the film can be viewed here: Bird Sounds

Bird Sounds – Subject and Objective Sound