My project maps film sound practices in India against the backdrop of the digital turn. It is a critical-historical account of the transitional era, roughly from 1998 to 2018, and examines practices and decisions taken ‘on the ground’ by film sound recordists, editors, designers and mixers. My work explores the histories and genealogies of the transition by analysing the individual, as well as collective, aesthetic concerns of film workers migrating from the celluloid to the digital age.
My inquiry aimed to explore linkages between the digital turn and shifts in production practices, notably sound recording, sound design and sound mixing. The study probes the various ways in which these shifts shaped the aesthetics, styles, genre conventions, and norms of image-sound relationships in Indian cinema in comparison with similar practices from Euro-American film industries. I analysed nearly 60 hours of interviews I conducted with sound practitioners in India, examined trade magazines, online journals, the personal blogs of practitioners, technological literature from corporations like Dolby and Barco, and, as case studies, analysed the soundtrack of key Indian films from both the analogue and the digital eras.
While my research clearly indicated significant shifts from the analogue to the digital era in India – increased stratification of sound recording and editing processes, aggressive adoption of multichannel sounds, wider acceptance of sync sound, the increasing dominance of the sound designer – it also revealed that many of the analogue era practices remain deeply embedded within digital era conventions. Moreover, technologies and practices from the Euro-American context have undergone substantial ‘Indianisation’ during the process of their adoption. I argue that digital technology, while reshaping deeply institutionalized practices of the analogue era, contributed to particularly radical changes in the practices of sound recording and editing in the digital era in India. While this dissertation is an ethnographic investigation of ‘living history’, it is largely informed by film sound theory, and seeks to achieve a balance between empirically grounded historical research and film theory.