Cinematic Transcendence From a Synaesthetic Perspective

(A Review of Michael Snow's Wavelength & David Rimmer's Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper)

Kenneth Hemmerick

Originally published in Lonergan Review Number 6 - Canada's Film Century: Traditions, Transitions, Transcendence

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Synaesthetic Film Analyis

I believe that synaesthetic film analysis addresses these biases and provides a different ideological nucleus from which to explore. I propose that film analysis must address both time concepts and space concepts within a unity of comprehensive experience. To separate the visual/space concept from the aural/time concept means not considering the synergistic interaction of the two concepts/dimensions and their combined effect on perception and consciousness. I believe critical analysis from this synergetic/synaesthetic perspective could provide insight into how the cinematic whole is greater than its parts.

Diana Deutsch in her Paradoxes of Musical Pitch notes research into the way individuals hear particular sequences of tones reveals how the brain uses different cues to make sense of ambiguous sounds. Indeed, the latest studies suggest that perception of certain musical paradoxes is related to the processing of speech. It appears that during childhood individuals gradually acquire a representation of pitch that is peculiar to a particular language or dialect. Hence, a native of California will perceive a certain pattern of tones differently from a native of the south of England. Such studies have revealed that a common influence on perception of both speech and musical pitch exists in individuals.

Furthermore, the research has over-turned some assumptions, particularly one concerning perceptual equivalence for musical patterns. This assumption states that a musical passage remains identifiable even if it is presented in a different key from that in which it was originally heard. But on the contrary, certain pitch paradoxes show that this principle is not universal. Rather, the brain may completely reinterpret the relations between tones transposed to another key. This notion is as paradoxical as the idea that a visual shape might undergo a metamorphosis if shifted to a different location in space.48

I find the notion that humans from different parts of the world will hear a certain pattern of tones differently intriguing. Does this information provide insight into the way a film is perceived - considering the film's sound track to be an essential constituent of the film? Many more questions spring to mind when understanding a film as a visual and aural unity. These questions point to synaesthetic analysis as a possible starting point. It would be a challenge to continue this line of investigation in another paper.


1. Richard E. Cytowic, Synaesthesia: A Union of the Senses (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1989), p. 1.

2. Mary Ann Doane, Ideology and the Practice of Sound Editing and Mixing, Film Sound: Theory and Practice (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), p. 54.

3. R. Buckminster Fuller, Synergetics I (New York: MacMillan, 1975), P.801.09.


5. John W. Yolton, Locke and the Compass of Human Understanding; A Selective Commentary on the Essay (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp.34-45.

6. W.H. Auden, Collected Longer Poems (London: Farber, 1968), pp.13-14.

7. Aristotle, The Works of Aristotle, ed. and trans. W.D. Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958-68), chs. 1-7.

8. Stillman Drake, Galileo Studies: Personality, Tradition, and Revolution (Ann Arbour: University of Michigan Press, 1970), p.56.

9. Thomas Hobbes, Human Nature, The Fundamental elements of policy, ed. Ferdinand Tonnies (London: Cass, 1969); originally published, 1656.

10. John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding; ed. A.S. Pringle-Patterson (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1978).

11. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Wemer S. Pluhar (Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett Pub, Co, 1996;originally published, 1781), pp. 150-67.

12. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge (New York: Clarendon Press, 1978; originally published, 1739), pp.84-85.

13. John Stuart Mill, An Examination of Sir William'Hamilton's Philosophy and of the Principal Philosophical Questions Discussed in his Writings (New York: H.Holt, 1884; originally published, 1865).

14. E.M. von Hombostel, "Unity of the Senses," Psyche 7, (1988): 83-89.

15. Carlye Ferren Maclntyre, French Symbolist Poetry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1958), p.l 19.

16. Cytowic, Synaesthesia, pp. 32-33.

17. Ibid., pp. 120-27.

18. Ibid.,pp.91-146.

19. Kevin B. Korb, "Synaesthesia and Method," PSYCHE, (Internet Journal - ISSN: 1039-723X), 2(10), 2(24), 1996. 2.2.

20. S. Baron-Cohen, J. Harrison, L.H. Goldstein, and M. Wyke, "Coloured Speech Perception: Is Synaesthesia What Happens When Modularity Breaks Down?" Perception 22, (1993): 419-26.

21. Lawrence E. Marks, Robin J. Hammeal and Marc H. Bornstein, Perceiving Similarity and Comprehending Metaphor (Chicago: Society for Research in Child Development, Inc., 1987), p. 8.

22. Ibid., p. 52.


24. Leonard Shiain, Art and Physics (New York: William Morrow, 1991), p. 223.

25. Marks, Hammeal, and Bornstein, Perceiving Similarity, p.3.

26. Voltaire, The Elements of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophy, trans. John Hanna (London: Frank Cass, 1967).

27. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Theory of Colours, trans. from the German (Zur Farbenlehre) with notes by Charles Lock Eastlake, introd. by Deane B. Judd (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1985; originally published 1840).

28. Olivier Messiaen, The Technique of my Musical Language, trans. John Satterfield (Paris: A. Leduc, 1966).

29. Rose-Carol Long and Kandinski Washton, The Development of an Abstract Style (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), pp. 51-52.

30. The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music, ed. Stanley Sadie (London: MacMillan, 1988).


32. Shiain, Art and Physics, p. 398.

33. Ibid., p. 400.

34. N. O'Connor and B. Hermelin, Seeing and Hearing and Space and Time (London: Academic Press, 1978), p. 14.

35. John Gilmow, Picturing the World (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), p. 5 8.v

36. Jeremy Campbell, Grammatical Man (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982),p.241.

37."Michael Snow and Bruce Elder in Conversation," CineTracts 17 (Summer/Fall 1982):! 4.

38. Bruce Elder, "Michael Snow's 'Wavelength'," in Seth Feldman and Joyce Nelson, (eds.), Canadian Film Reader (Toronto: Peter Martin, 1977), pp. 308- 323.

39. Ibid., p. 315.

40. Claude E. Shannon, The Mathematical Theory of Communication (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1949).

41. Samuel Pellman, An Introduction to the Creation of Electronic Music (Belmont, CA.: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1994), p.329.

42. Ibid., p. 359.

43. Bernard Lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (New York: Philosophical Library, 1957).

44. Moira Carley, Chart ofLonergan's Levels of Consciousness, (LUCC 200/3 The Creative Experience Class Hand-out), 1997.

45. Peter Harcourt, class lecture, LUCC 399C/3 Contexts of Canadian Cinema 1996.

46. Al Razutis, "David Rimmer: A Critical Analysis," pp. 275-86 in Seth Feldman (ed.) Take Two (Toronto: Irwin, 1984).

47. Harold A. Innis, The Bias of Communication (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1964), p. 64

48. Diana Deutsch, "Paradoxes of Musical Pitch," Scientific American, (August 1992):88.

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© 2006 Kenneth Hemmerick