Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

The Visible Acousmêtre: Voice, body and space across the two versions of Donnie Darko

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2009), 3, (1), 47–70.

Abstract

This article draws on contemporary theories of voice and body in cinema to examine the changes made across the two versions of Donnie Darko. I focus on how the character Frank illustrates Michel Chion's concept of the acousmêtre, a figure he defined in the early 1980s as a disembodied voice imbued with supernatural powers. More recently, Chion has discussed the increasing visibility of the acousmêtre in the face of new modes of film sound exhibition. To flesh out the significance of Chion's evolving line of thought, I situate his work within the discourse of feminist psychoanalytic film sound theory, with a particular emphasis on Britta Sjogren's recent challenge to the dominant position in the field. In her book Into the Vortex, Sjogren argues for a critical approach to film sound that recognises the autonomy of sound and image and the potential for the body to be understood as an acoustic spatial entity rather than being defined by a voice's attachment to something visible. I suggest that Chion's discussion of the visible acousmêtre points towards a similar conclusion: that all voices in the cinema are markers of spatial entities that exist independently of the image, even when attached to visible bodies. I conclude that the director's cut of Donnie Darko, with its alterations to the figure of Frank, offers an example of the kind of corporeal space that Chion and Sjogren theorise, space that I suggest can extend beyond the soundtrack into the realm of the image.

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Jordan, Randolph