Silent film sound

From the book cover for Rick Altman’s Silent Film Sound

I don’t know what might be the cause, but there has been a dearth of silent film-related conferences so far this year. Maybe the upcoming Domitor conference (from which the Bioscope will be reporting) has so dominated the landscape that there hasn’t been the urge to come up with anything that might compete with it. Or maybe it’s because we don’t need to confer quite so much these days because we’re all talking to one another online (now there’s a topic for discussion).

But film conferences aren’t quite dead yet, and a call for papers has just been issued for Silent film sound: history, theory and practice, which is to take place 22-23 February 2013, at Kiel, Germany. The conference, which takes its title from Rick Altman’s highly influential book Silent Film Sound, is being organised by Christian Albrechts University Kiel, in collaboration with Kiel Society for Film Music Research.

Here’s the full call for papers (for which the deadline is 30 June 2012):

Silent film sound: history, theory and practice
Friday 22 – Saturday 23 February 2013

Christian Albrechts University Kiel, Germany
in collaboration with Kiel Society for Film Music Research

We are pleased to invite proposals for papers in the broad theme “Silent film sound: history, theory and practice”, to be presented at a conference of the same name on February 22 – 23 at the Christian Albrechts University Kiel.

With a few exceptions silent cinema was never silent. Cinemas and other spaces of film exhibition were in fact rather loud places where music, voices and sounds intermingled during the screening.

Today public interest in silent cinema is on the rise. Film screenings with live accompaniment have gained popularity in recent years, silent films are shown in concert halls and at festivals and they are (again) staged as events and not simply as presentation of a piece of entertainment or art.

Music and sound for silent film are relatively young fields of study and most research focuses on the American tradition. With this conference we seek to expand the field for other – especially European – regions, and compare them with well documented American cases.

We aim to gather scholars from various disciplines, to discuss and reflect on current and historical approaches to the study of sound and music and moving images. We particularly encourage both musicologists and film scholars to participate in the debate surrounding this topic, in order to benefit from each other’s perspectives and to challenge prevailing views and methodologies in this thriving field.

Ultimately, we aim to strengthen the European and international research network concerned with the variety of sound and musical practices in silent film accompaniment. We also want to discuss contemporary practices of silent film accompaniment and explicitly invite musical practitioners to share and discuss their experiences with us.

Papers may address repertories or issues relating to one of the following areas (or others related to the conference theme):

  • Film narrator/lecturer
  • Sound effects in silent film exhibition
  • Relationship of cinema with antecedent theatrical forms like Vaudeville and Variety
  • Relationship with theater music, opera and musical theater in general
  • Early film and the music recording and publishing industry
  • Singers in cinema
  • National and regional idiosyncrasies of silent film sound
  • Gender aspects in production, performance and reception
  • National identity in musical forms (community singing)
  • Diegetic music in silent cinema
  • Silent film and popular music/jazz: improvised or compiled (structural and formal issues)
  • Mechanical music
  • Opera films, music films
  • Early transmedial star systems
  • Historical discourse about music in cinemas
  • Issues of research, teaching and knowledge transfer
  • Contemporary practices of silent film accompaniment
  • Experimental silent film and its accompaniment

Proposals (max. 350 words) for 25-minute presentations should be sent to Claus Tieber (claus.tieber@univie.ac.at), no later than June 30, 2012. Please include a short biography, all current contact information (name, e-mail, phone number, affiliation) and specific AV requirements.

We plan to publish a book based on the refereed proceedings.

More information : http://soundofsilents.wordpress.com

Well, that looks like a fairly thorough survey of the kinds of questions likely to be thrown up by such a subject. It’s quite close in its preoccupations to the recent Sounds of Early Cinema in Britain project, and seems to be part of a welcome trend of cross-disciplinary investigation, with musicologists (hopefully) as likely to be attracted to the themes as film historians.

You can always find information on early and silent film conferences, future and past, on The Bioscope’s Events pages – and do let me know of any other such conferences coming up.

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