Master class Michel Chion: Trans-Sensory Rhythm in Cinema

Date: Friday, December 7, 2012
Venue: Universiteit van Amsterdam
Lecture: Time: from 11-13, location: Bushuis F 0.22
Seminar: Time: from 15-18, location: Bushuis F 0.22
Registration: Send an email to: before December 4, 2012
Due to room size, the number of available places is limited.

Credits: 1 ECTS

Event co-organised by NICA and RMeS.

We are proud to welcome the French composer, filmmaker and film theorist Michel Chion for a NICA Masterclass. In film studies, Chion is best-known for his ground-breaking work on sound in cinema, as exemplified in the two books translated into English, Film, a sound art, and Audio-vision: sound on screen. During his stay in Amsterdam, he will talk about his latest research as well as give interested students and researchers the opportunity to discuss his work.

Michel Chion’s lecture will re-visit his earlier work on the relation between sound and image in order to reassess the question how to analyze films appropriately. The Masterclass consists of a lecture and a seminar. The lecture will be devoted particularly to the “trans-sensory” nature of rhythm. The seminar will turn to the role of texts in cinema and confront the differences between “reading a text” and “listening” in the perception of a film. The abstracts of both events can be found below.

The NICA-RMeS Masterclass with Michel Chion is conducted as part of the ASCA 2012/13 film-philosophy PhD seminar “Resonances and Rhythms: The Epistemology of Cinema as Aural Art” (convenor: Prof. dr. Patricia Pisters (, coordinator Philipp Schmerheim (

If you want to participate in the Masterclass, please register by sending an email to before December 4, 2012. Due to room size, the number of available places is limited.

The lecture will be in French, but we will make available an English translation of the manuscript beforehand. The seminar discussion will be conducted in English.

Lecture: “Defining sound cinema differently, and re-dividing it for describing it in a better way”

Since the publication of my book Audio-vision: sound on Screen in 1990, where I introduce the concept of “rendering” (“rendu”), I suggest that analyzing movies using the technical distinction between “sounds” (“les sons”, sometimes erroneously called “soundtrack,” “bande-son”) and “images” (“les images”) is as false as analyzing a sonata for piano and violin by describing separately the violin and the piano part. But at the same time we cannot act as if there were no difference between sounds and images, or between a violin and a piano.

On the other hand, what about the texts which may be present in the film’s image (letter, newspaper, signs, inscriptions, generic titles, etc.) or sound (voice, dialogues)? This is why I suggest, first, to incorporate into the analysis of films the language and the words read and heard, which are not just images and sounds (hence the notion of the “audio-logo-visual” (“audio-logo-visuel”) introduced in Audio-vision), and, second, to study how sounds and images together constitute mental representations and “trans-sensory” perceptions which are neither visual nor auditory but rather “audio-visiogènes”, and, third, to also study how they divide each other (“audio-division”).

The lecture will be devoted particularly to the “trans-sensory” nature of rhythm.

Note: the notions of the “audio-logo-visual” (“audio-logo-visuel”), “trans-sensorial” (“trans-sensoriel”), of “audio-visiogenic effects” (“effet audio-visiogène”) and “audio-division” (“audio-divisuel”) are defined in the Glossary contained on the website The definitions are currently only available online in French. An English translated version will soon be available. A print version of the English translation can be found in the book Film, a sound art, translated by Claudia Gorbman, Columbia University Press, 2009. (Original French title: Un art sonore, le cinema)

Seminar: “Having time to read: Reading a text and listening to a film”

Sound cinema is the only art that almost systematically confronts the written and spoken text, although this confrontation is often manifested in specific scenes. It thus raises the question of the “time that is left” to the viewer to read (a letter, a newspaper article, a generic text, but also the subtitles, etc.). This question obviously presents itself in a different way since the viewer has the possibility (roughly since the advent of video cassettes in the 1980s) to own or borrow a copy of the film in order to make “judgments on the image” and to read quietly.

Thanks to a fellowship of the IKKM of Bauhaus University Weimar, in 2011-2012 I conducted a research project on “Writing in Cinema” (L’Ecrit au Cinema), which was particularly interested in the confrontation between “reading a text” and “listening,” and fits into my overall research on the “audio-logo-visual” (“audio-logo-visuel”). I will illustrate this issue with the help of film examples.

Biography of Michel Chion:

Michel Chion was born in 1947 in Creil (France). After literary and musical studies, he began in 1970 to work for the ORTF (French Radio and Television Organization) Service de la recherche, where he was assistant to Pierre Schaeffer at the Paris Conservatoire national de musique, producer of broadcasts for the GRAM, and publications director for the Ina-GRM, of which he was a member from 1971 to 1976. It was there that he met Robert Cahen, composer and video artist, and with whom he entered into a long-lasting friendship and collaboration.

Parallel to these activities, he composed musique concrète works in the studios of the GRAM including Requiem (Grand prix du disque 1978) and several concrète melodramas, a dramatic form which he inaugurated in 1972 with Le prisonnier du son (The Prisoner of Sound) and continued with Tu, 1977-85, La tentation de saint Antoine, 1984, and Nuit noire, 1985. Also worthy of mention are La Roue, cycle du quotidien, 1972-85, 24 préludes à la vie (24 Preludes to Life), Variations, and Sonate, 1989-91, Crayonnés ferroviaires, 1992, Credo mambo, 1992 — realized at Musiques & Recherches (Ohain, Belgium) —, Gloria, 1994… all works for which he developed original compositional techniques.

He also works as a theoretician in a new area: the systematic study of audio-visual relationships, which he teaches at several centres (notably at Université de Paris III where he is an Associate Professor), and film schools (ESEC, Paris; DAVI, Lausanne) which has developed in a series of five books. Besides the twenty written publications translated into a dozen languages, he has also written on Pierre Henry, François Bayle, Charlie Chaplin, Jacques Tati, David Lynch, diverse subjects on music and film; he has published in French and international journals, and has contributed to numerous dictionaries and encyclopedias. He has also commenced work in film direction and production with the short film Éponine (Prix Jean-Vigo, prizes in Clermont-Ferrand, and in Montréal). Most recently in 1995, he has begun an audio-visual piece entitled Messe de terre at the CICV Pierre Schaeffer in Montbéliard (France).

After having dedicated his Guide des objets sonores to the ideas of Schaeffer, he continued with Le promeneur écoutant, essais d’acoulogie, (Plume, éditeur, 1993), and finally with Musique, médias, technologies (Flammarion), a theory of sound based on language. In 1991 he published, with the support of Jérôme Noetinger, L’art des sons fixés in which he proposes, in order to properly designate this music, the return to the term ‘musique concrète’ in its initial non-causal sense. His redefinition insists upon the effects particular to the fixation of sound, a term which he proposes in place of recording.

Recent publications:

  • CHION, M. (2012). False Reality in the Audio-Logo-Visual Sphere: on Science and Cinema. The New Soundtrack. 2, 23-38.
  • CHION, M. (2012). Audio-vision: son et image au cínema. 2e éd. revue et corrigée. Paris, Armand Colin.
  • CHION, M. (2010). No man’s France. Studies in French Cinema. 10, 251-256.
  • CHION, M. (2010). Le son: traité d’acoulogie. Paris, A. Colin.
  • CHION, M. (2010). Ton und Bild – eine Relation?: Hypothesen über das Audio-Divisuelle. Bild Und Stimme. 49-64.
  • CHION, M. (2009). La musique concrète, art des sons fixés. Lyon, Mômeludies éditions.
  • CHION, M. (2009). La femme desarticulee – La folie chez Jane Campion. Positif. 51.
  • CHION, M. (2008). Andreï Tarkovski. Paris, “Cahiers du cinéma.
  • CHION, M. (2008). Toute une epoque: le temps de L’Eclipse. Positif. 44.
  • CHION, M. (2008). Les films de science-fiction. [Paris], “Cahiers du cinéma.

English book translations:

  • CHION, M. (2009). Film, a sound art. New York, Columbia University Press.
  • CHION, M., GORBMAN, C., & MURCH, W. (1994). Audio-vision: sound on screen. New York, Columbia University Press.