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DRPS : Course Catalogue : Edinburgh College of Art : Music

Undergraduate Course: Sounding Documentary: voices, texts, contexts (MUSI10117)

Course Outline
SchoolEdinburgh College of Art CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryDocumentary involves focusing a lens on an aspect of the lived world, rather than producing a fictional narrative. The boundary between these modes is not always clear, however. For example, a fiction film may draw upon techniques or conventions more usually associated with the documentary, and vice versa. This course asks how sound creates, critiques, and enables reflection upon the images and narratives presented in documentary films. Students will be introduced to a range of different types of documentary and approaches to documentary sound through weekly readings and allied viewing. The scope of "sound" in this course comprises music, voice, sound effects/design.
Course description The course provides a brief introduction to documentary through the lens of sound. The primary focus is on the analysis and evaluation of sonic elements (voice, sound, music) in terms of their contribution to the emergence of meaning in documentary. Course reading will include historical, theoretical and analytical/critical texts. A broad repertoire of films will be viewed and discussed, with examples of the documentary types described in genre classifications, such as Bill Nichols' (1991), as well as content-focused categories such as, "actualities", "ethnographic" films, sponsored and industrial films, and music documentaries, through to recent films that challenge classifications through an engagement with radical aesthetics. Documentary involves a direct and factual relation to lived worlds, as opposed to imagined ones. The British filmmaker, John Grierson, defined the genre as the "creative treatment of actuality" (1933). A documentary has different responsibilities to its subjects in terms of representation and ethics than do fiction films, but there is overlap here: the selection and editing of any captured footage requires decisions that impact the resulting narrative, and thus bear the imprint of a film's producers. Although documentary has traditionally been associated with the depiction of "reality", an "authentic" depiction of life, the genre's stories and organisation are necessarily shaped to some degree. The place of sound (which here includes music, voice, sound effects and design) is particularly interesting in this regard.
In documentary, voices, sounds and musical performance may be bonded closely to a film's image and narrative. Others are less tightly coupled. For example, many documentaries do not use location sound. The voices of individuals may be recorded and synchronised onscreen or off-, but voice-overs exist in a time and space separate from the captured footage. While music documentary is a significant subgenre in its own right, beyond (and sometimes within), a majority of documentaries add a music score. These may be composed for the particular film, or draw upon library music or other pre-existing musical material. Music always does something in terms of the generation of meaning in audiovisual formats. Nicholas Cook (1997) noted that music's effects in audiovisual media are often affective; presenting values, emotions, and attitudes. Its contribution generally goes unnoticed, however, forming an undistinguishable part of the audiovisual whole. Each of these sonic elements bring potential to the construction or negotiation of meaning in documentary, and how its ethics are rendered: e.g. speaking for vs. speaking with; hierarchies between component elements ("drowning out" vs. "listening to")
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesStudents must be enrolled on a home programme that includes either music or film as a major. Students must contact the course organiser to discuss prior learning.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2022/23, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  25
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 22, Online Activities 4, Feedback/Feedforward Hours 1, Formative Assessment Hours 1, Summative Assessment Hours 1, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 167 )
Additional Information (Learning and Teaching) A minimum of 22 hours of self-directed viewing
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Feedback Formative feedback will be given verbally and/or in written form (viewing diary, essay plan).
Summative feedback will be given in line with current university regulations. Detailed feedback on the essay will be given in line with current university regulations. Students will be invited to submit an essay outline for formative feedback in c. week 8/9.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. demonstrate awareness and understanding of the contribution of sound to issues of diversity and authority in a range of documentaries
  2. identify and analyse characteristics of documentary sound critically in relation to relevant theoretical concepts and analytical approaches
  3. produce a detailed and contextualised analysis and interpretation of the contribution of sound in documentary, and articulate this effectively
Reading List
A full reading list will be given in LEARN. The following is a representative sample:
Cox, Geoffrey and John Corner (eds) (2018). Soundings: Documentary film and the listening experience. Huddersfield: University of Huddersfield Press.
Honess Roe, Annabelle and Maria Pramggiore (eds) (2019). Vocal Projections: voices in documentary. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.
McLane, Betsy A. (2005). A New History of Documentary Film. New York: Continuum.
Nichols, Bill (2017). Introduction to Documentary (third edition). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Rogers, Holly (ed). (2015). Music and sound in documentary film. New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Demonstrate detailed knowledge and understanding in one or more specialisms, some of which is informed by, or at the forefront of, a subject/discipline/sector
Demonstrate a critical understanding of the principal theoretical, concepts and principles.
Critically identify and analyse complex problems and issues, using a range of established techniques of enquiry or research.
Present or convey, formally and informally, information about specialised topics to informed audiences
Course organiserDr Annette Davison
Tel: (0131 6)50 2426
Course secretaryDr Ellen Jeffrey
Tel: (0131 6)50 2430
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