Questioning The Works of Tarkovsky

The problem I have had with this module is not all down to the work load and the stress with juggling two massive projects, although this has been troublesome. No for me the difficulty came with the screenings themselves. Let me explain, a lot like many others I took some time with coming to terms with what exactly it was I wanted to study, by this time several films had passed. I had touched upon a few but I always  knew in the back of my head they would have to be re-done as soon as I had my topic. The topic I landed on was finally sound, so I had the topic now time to look back and see what I could do.

I was met with a small list of films that were actually useful or interesting in regards to the sound design, I am not saying that the Tuesday screenings were completely void of any films that used sound as a tool, I did feel however that the majority was extremely visual based which meant any findings I had come a lot more from my personal screenings.

Screenings such as Wings of Desire (Wings of Desire, 1987) and Berbarian Sound Studio (Berbarian Sound Studio, 2012), were fascinating in terms of sound design, discussion of these in class were slim however.

This came with its rewards however, seeing as I was in this predicament I had to spend time really trying to unearth any substance in terms of sound design. I had to almost find an in. As this was time-consuming and time was against me I didn’t manage to look at as many as I first wanted to, I did come back to Tarkovsky. I have spoken of Tarkovsky’s work fully before, especially in Comparative study with my film Goby taking heavy influence from the works of Tarkovsky. The master of long take, the king of camera movement, the man whose one quote terms the art of cinema as ‘Sculpting in time’. I wonder however, is this sculpting in time deemed by the camera choices he picks, or something a lot more audible.



(Stalker, 1979)

I am in no way going against his or any use of long take but I find it troublesome that sound is pushed to an almost state of non-existent. Not only is this naive, it’s disrespectful to one of cinemas greatest Auteurs. First looking at the opening scene from Stalker, we peer into the house of the stalker. The house is quiet, we gradually spend our time making our way through time and space. This is what would be coined as sculpting in time, however the sculpture isn’t complete until we are met with the rumble of a train moving past, shaking the foundations of the house. In this noise we are aware of time and space. Tarkovsky’s soundscapes, as well as the travelling camera allows us to exist in this world that reacts with offscreen sound.

In Chion’s work he coins different types of listening, two of which are casual listening and reduced listening. Casual listening is concerned with the source, either on or off-screen, creating a real world through space, time or memory. Memory being a theme that shows up in the works of Tarkovsky. Reduced listening takes the idea of hearing each note of sound as a separate language, codes and semiotics do not consist in this.

For example, in regards to the train scene:

From the opening shot there is something strange and unsettling about Stalker’s visual and sonic aesthetic. We move slowly through a doorway gradually revealing a bed with three sleeping figures. The room is almost silent and therefore tells us nothing aurally tangible about the environ- ment we are in. Periodically we hear the sound of what could be a train, already experiencing the unique sound world created by Artemiev and Tarkovsky in which electronic and natural sound have been merged to give the sense of something both familiar and strange at the same time. The sound is initially experienced as reduced listening, as it is so abstracted, but slowly transfers to causal listening as the sound becomes familiar enough to derive information about its cause source.

(Smith, 2007)

The use of both natural and electronic sound is something that I have wished to use within A Journey To Paradise running with the theme of machine and primal, it’s uses seem to have great effects when heard by the audience, when listening to the sound scape of Stalker I am always left with unease, something about the sound scape almost shouldn’t be.

Another example of this can be seen in the works of Kubrick, especially with the film A Clockwork Orange (A Clockwork Orange, 1971), a world that seems to be struggling with young and old, this is stressed through electronic orchestra and heightened electronic sounds.

Like all of sound music can be used as a platform to send more messages through narrative, as mentioned above A Clockwork Orange asks the question or more so makes the audience aware of these two different worlds colliding. Tarkovsky’s use of music in Mirror  (The Mirror, 1975) is no different. The music is sending hidden messages and metaphors to the audience, the music acting as a mirror of Tarkovsky’s feeling and spiritualism

To Tarkovsky, music not only enriches the interactions between audience and Film, it also gives possibilities to the director to put special lyrical notes, metaphors into Film stories.He mentions his thoroughly autobiographical Film, Mirror , within this sense. While theMirror reflects Tarkovsky’s spiritual experience as a whole, the music in this film functions as the mirror that reflects the protagonist’s life in the modern fragmented world.
(Colak, n.d.)

Time is another process that has been noted to Tarskovsy’s film tool belt, although this can again be seen in audio perception just as much as visual. In his film Nostalgia (Nostalghia, 1983) we are settled in a house with the clock ticking in the background, this creates the idea of time forever passing. As the camera continues to move throughout the space we are met with a mirror image with voices echoed over the top, after the clock stops, why?

For me this is the moment that we slip from reality into memory, time has ceased to play importance in the world we are known in, therefore the sound of ticking has become extinct, the eerie feeling that this memory is edged into the mind of the viewer forever as time will never pass, the individual will always have this memory for as long as they live. In doing this Tarkovsky manages to create two worlds, side by side, with the use of one sound.

This is one of the moments that I touched upon above, I had to take my time when trying to find a connection. Although this is met with huge reward I do feel I cannot do it with every film I came across which is a shame, however I am glad that I decided on Tarkosvky as his films seem even more special than they were on previous viewing.


A Clockwork Orange. (1971). [film] United Kingdom: Stanley Kubrick.

Colak, M. (n.d.). THE FUNCTIONS OF SOUND AND MUSIC IN TARKOVSKY’S FILMS. 1st ed. [ebook] Available at: [Accessed 6 Jun. 2014].

Nostalghia. (1983). [film] Soviet Union: Andrei Tarkovsky.

Smith, S. (2007). The edge of perception: sound in Tarkovsky’s Stalker. The Soundtrack, 1(1), pp.41–52.

Stalker. (1979). [film] Soviet Union: Andrei Tarkovksy.

The Mirror. (1975). [film] Soviet Union: Andrei Tarkovsky.

Wings of Desire. 1987. Directed by Wim Wenders. West Germany: Basis-Film-Verleigh gmbh. [Film]. 

Berbarian Sound Studio. (2012). [film] United Kingdom: Peter Strickland.


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