Sound Film

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sound film

[′sau̇nd ‚film]
(engineering acoustics)
Motion picture film having a sound track along one side for reproduction of the sounds that are to accompany the film.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sound Film


the production and showing of films in which the screen image, in contrast to silent film, is accompanied by speech, music, or sound effects.

Even in the early stages of cinematography attempts were made to join or synchronize the image on the screen with sound. Musical accompaniment was used (piano, orchestra), and actors were brought in to reproduce the speech or songs of the film characters synchronously with the screen image. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries many attempts were made to create a device capable of such effects (among them the kinetophone invented by T. Edison in the USA in 1899, the chronophone invented by L. Gaumont of France in 1901, and special phonograph records). Synchronization of the two during showing was made possible only with the invention and perfection of a method by which the image and a photographic (later magnetic) sound recording were combined on a common medium, the film.

The Russian scholars A. F. Vikstsemskii in 1889 and I. L. Poliakov in 1900 were the first to propose a plan for photographic sound recording by means of a photoelectric cell and the positive of a sound track. In 1906 in the USA, E. Lauste developed a system with great implications for the future, one by which sound vibrations could be photographically recorded on film. Effective sound film systems were developed almost simultaneously in the USSR, the USA, and Germany. Soviet systems of sound filming with photographic sound recording were first designed in Moscow in 1926 by a group of inventors headed by P. G. Tager (the Tagefon system) and in 1927 in Leningrad working under A. P. Shorin. In Shorin’s system the sound track had a variable width; in the Tagefon system, a variable optical density. The first film using the Shorin system was shown in 1929; the first full-length Soviet feature film to use the Tagefon system was Road to Life (1931; directed by N. V. Ekk).

In the 1950’s the development and adoption of magnetic recording and reproduction and the invention and mastery of new kinds of cinematography, such as wide-screen, widegauge (65–70-mm), Cinerama, stereoscopic, and multiscreen films, brought about significantly higher quality films. Wide-angled color viewing produced a sense of audience participation in the action; stereophonic sound reproduction, making possible spatial sound perspective, served to strengthen this impression: a sound seems to follow the image of its source, thereby creating the illusion of reality.

The technique of shooting and snowing sound films involves several steps. The object being filmed is recorded on film by a movie camera. Sound vibrations are picked up by a microphone; after amplification, they are transmitted to a volume-control unit, and amplified again, they are transmitted to a sound recorder, which records the sound on a sepa-rate magnetic tape. The various sounds (speech, music, and sound effects) recorded for the film are usually distributed over several tapes (from two to eight or more). After the film has been edited the sound is rerecorded: signals from speech, music, and sound-effect sound tracks are transferred onto one track, with the necessary adjustment of volume level. From the picture and sound track negatives that the film studios give to the printing factories, a large-scale printing (the release printing) produces the positive copies combining image and sound that will be shown at movie theaters.

In showing the film the combined positive copy moves in the film projector with a speed equal in most cases to that of the movie camera, and the image is projected onto the screen. An optical sound track of variable width or density, re-recorded from the magnetic sound track, intersects the light beam of an incandescent lamp at a point where the film moves at a constant speed (in the sound head); the sound track modulates the light beam to correspond to the recorded sound vibrations. A photo cell converts the light beam falling on it into electric oscillations that, after passing through a photo-cell amplifier and a sound-reproducing amplifier, are transmitted to a loudspeaker near the screen in the theater. When magnetic sound tracks are used the sound reproduction is accomplished by a magnetic head instead of a photo cell.

There are many sound film techniques. Sound can be recorded simultaneously with the shooting of the picture, either in or outside the film studio; this is the most common and complex technique since it demands special acoustics in the film studio, complete silence, and other precautions. A different technique is prerecorded or postrecorded sound, with a separate recording of sound and image. Other techniques include dubbing, during which a new track is prepared, usually in another language, and special kinds of sound recording designed to imitate telephone conversations, echoes, changes in sound frequency, and other special effects.

The introduction of sound film was a revolutionary development in the art of cinematography, increasing its ideological and artistic potential enormously and enriching its means of expression.


Shorin, A. F. Kak ekran stal govoriashchim. Moscow, 1949.
Tager, P. G. “Iz istorii razvitiia sovetskogo zvukovogo kino.” Izv. AN SSSR: Seriia fizicheskaia, 1949, vol. 13, no. 6.
Vysotskii, M. Z. Magnitnaia zvukozapis’ kinofil’mov. Moscow, 1960.
Goldovskii, E. M. Osnovy kinotekhniki. Moscow, 1965.
Konoplev, B. N. Osnovy fil’ moproizvodstva. Moscow, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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