Movie Reviews

Whiplash Is An Orchestra of Sound

As a student of media, I was recently introduced to the concept of sound in an AV classroom. The movie Whiplash was screened to help us understand more about the use of sound. This sparked off a thought about doing a piece using my newly acquired skills.

Before you guys delve into this piece, I would like to give you a little heads up on the jargon used in here. Apart from that this is a piece I had fun writing.

Whiplash. The word itself is a representation of a sound. The sound in the movie Whiplash is just not placed for effects. It augments the story through its entire running time. The opening sequence of the movie sets the tone for it. Drums being played echoes across the scene. From being non-diegetic, it transitions into a diegetic piece.

The brilliance of sound used in the movie is described through foley. Foley in the movie is put to good use to convey information. It aids in creating a sense of authenticity making the visuals look real.

There is a contrast in the way foley is used for the characters of Andrew Neiman and Terence Fletcher. Fletcher has an air of power and ruthlessness, while having a tough mentor act. From his initial appearance on screen, the foley used to make his presence felt has been diegetic.

The sound of the feet tapping is always accompanied by a shot of his shoes and the way he slams the door open or shut reflects his dominating persona. In the sequence, after Neiman joins the band of Fletcher, Fletcher walks in removes his coat and hat to place them on a stand. Then he approaches the lectern to look at the notes, the finger slides across the page. The sound that accompanied enhanced the actions and made it much more real.

In contrast, the foley used to convey Neiman’s journey has mostly been non-diegetic. When he is at the cinema, the dialogues in the background convey the information. But the most important sequence where this aspect comes to light is when he goes home after a successful performance of ‘Whiplash’ with the band. At the family gathering, the sounds of the cutlery and eating are quite clear. They get the message across but the action of eating on screen is quite sparse.

In the classroom sequences, the sound is a mix of diegetic and non-diegetic. When Neiman is walking through the corridor to his class, music can be heard playing from within. But with Neiman inside, the focus is on the band. And when he is shown playing drums the focus is entirely on him, making the sound diegetic.

But as the movie progresses along, there is a sharp reduction in foley. It is replaced with ambient sound. But it reappears at intervals to serve its purpose. Though the relationship between Neiman and Fletcher has its share of bumps, the bond between the two central characters is aptly captured by the leitmotif.

The composition of Whiplash has been able to underscore Neiman’s triumphs and his relationship with Fletcher.

Ill-treated at first, Neiman manages to win over Fletcher with his skill. When Neiman misplaces Tanner’s notes at the Overbrook Jazz Competition, he gets to perform Whiplash at the event without the notes, gaining Fletcher’s respect. The duo begins their musical journey with Whiplash. After a fallout, Fletcher tries to get back at Neiman at the JVC Festival but his drumming skills at the event, specially performing Whiplash impresses Fletcher. By the end of it, the master and the protégé share an understanding.

The sound effects in Whiplash set the tone for the sequences and aid in moving the story forward. This aspect of sound makes it different from the other movies.

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