The Evaluation of Audio in Britain in Early Sound Cinema




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Peer reviewed



The coming of sound was a swift and decisive moment in cinema history. In the space of half a decade, the paradigms for film production and exhibition underwent a sea change largely unparalleled elsewhere in the medium’s history. In Britain, this change was primarily concentrated in the years between 1929 and 1931, when cinemas around the country rapidly transitioned to the new standard. With this new technology serving almost to effectively create a new medium, there grew a need to define it and to understand the effects and meanings of sound in both popular and industrial discourse. This paper intends to discuss the ways in which sound was mediated to the public and the trade in the earliest years of mainstream sound cinema, drawing from local news sources, trade publications and film magazines. During these formative years, sound was discussed both stylistically – such as with early critiques of the musical, vocal acting styles and dialogue – and as a physical phenomenon. Physical qualities discussed were diverse, including the apparatus used for sound recording and theatrical reproduction, the quality of performers’ voices and accents, accommodations made for the deaf and blind, and the ways in which apparatus manufacturers and cinemas advertised the acoustic benefits of their wares. Exploring the priorities of early sound cinema practitioners and critics lends some insight into how sound was understood during these early days of the talkies, and may provide an early touchstone from which later thinking on sound outside of academic discourse might better be understood.


A presentation as part of a panel entitled Silent Cinema and the Transition to Sound, given at Sensibility and the Senses: NECS Conference 2017, held at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3, June/July 2017


motion pictures, British silent cinema and the transition to sound, 1920s, 1930s, film history, cinema, film criticism, sound design, history of sound, sound effects, film music


Sibanda, N. (2017) The Evaluation of Audio in Britain in Early Sound Cinema. NECS Conference: Sensibility and the Senses, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3, June 2017.


Research Institute