THE MONSTER SPEAKS…

Rolf Giesen [view CV]

…promised the posters that announced the release of The Bride of Frankenstein in 1935.
While Boris Karloff, the actor with the slight lisp who portrayed the Frankenstein creature, had only growled and imitated animal sounds in the original film version of 1931, the sequel depicted him speaking a number of one-syllable lines. The film was created at a time when sound film, produced through the synthesis of radio and silent film, had finally learned to speak, just like the monster.

When they did speak, artificial creatures often talked in the voices of others, such as the Frankenstein monster of the 1940s, which spoke using the voice of an ugly hunchback after receiving the brain of his “friend” Ygor (The Ghost of Frankenstein, the uncut version of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man), just as children spoke in the tongue of the Devil (Linda Blair in The Exorcist). Extraterrestrials used speech modulation to dictate their commands to the earthlings (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, The Mysterians). And animated film, the most fantastic of fantastic genres, has taught us that the animals of fables and fairy tales really speak and quarrel with one another. Voice actors such as Mel Blanc (“Bugs Bunny”) and Clarence Nash (“Donald Duck”) let anthropomorphized rabbits and ducks speak; in its early beginnings, Walt Disney himself recorded the voice of the mouse which helped found an empire (“Mickey”). A whole range of sound effects and acoustic gags are integrated into the onomatopoetic soundscape of the cartoon. Even God occasionally had a voice in American Bible films.

Sound effects helped to defamiliarize voices, by exaggerating the shrieks of the Scream Queens, for example. While Fay Wray und others, sometimes assisted by the voices of professional scream-actresses, screamed their heads off, the giant gorilla “King Kong” roared as terrifyingly as a lion, even if backwards. “Godzilla”, the giant dinosaur created by Japanese film studios, roared like a contrabass whose strings are being stroked with a suede glove.

These days, however, powerful feelings on the screen are conveyed by a historical rather than a horror film: The King’s Speech.

The age of digital technology has opened new dimensions for sound design in Dolby Stereo: it is almost one hundred percent synthetic.

And we cannot even trust everything that is said in the news and later placed into the internet, because it is not only possible to artificially electrify voices, to digitalize them and adjust them to their original source. Images, too, can be digitally manipulated, for example with a software that adapts a speaker’s lip movements to a new text which he himself did not speak. Digital doppelgängers with synthetic voices.

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