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Gone with the sound: critical perspectives on studying imaginability of American cinematic experience in the “sound” era, 1927-1935


This article explores the human-technology relationship during the transition from silent films to sound films in American history and analyzes how this specific technology has influenced film audiences’ experiences. The author revisits the importance of humancentered technology and uses the term “imaginability” to describe the likelihood for both spontaneous bodily responses and technologically cultivated thinking activities inspired by cinematic engagement. The article challenges the discourse of technology as progress while focusing on the audiences’ experience during their cinematic engagement. The author’s hypothesis is that sound film provides a linear channel of synchronization and hence produces restrictions on the audience’s imagination by limiting their temporal and spatial sensibilities. This synchronized sound technology offers a streamlined audiovisual reality through matching sounds and images in real-time, leading to a shortened processing of images, sounds, and their interconnections. The transitions between filmmaking and cinematic presenting have also revolutionized theater design, leading to the liminality that describes the state of transitioning under this circumstance led by sound technology, which generates metrics, measuring how fast and how thoroughly technology conquers an outdated society by enforcing innovations. The article focuses on the interplay between the spectatorship that addresses the condition of viewing films and the sound consciousness led by the synchronized sound system as applied to filmmaking. The analysis of imaginability becomes measurable, descriptive, and referential. The author suggests that the preservation and scrutiny of silent films are urgent and necessary to recognize the values of silent film production and the audience’s cinematic experience during the silent film era.


sound studies, cinematic experience, silent films, phenomenology, techno culture, subjectivity