Diegetic and Non-diegetic Sound in movies

Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sounds in movies

Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sounds in movies

When Resul Pookutty received the Academy Awards Awards for best sound mixing for his work in the movie Slumdog millionaire many of us came to know the existence of department of Sound mixing in movies and the background score is not just limited to background music but also includes sound mixing.

Resul Pookutty receiving academy award
Resul Pookutty receiving academy award

In this week’s Friday Fundas we will see one of the basic ways of classifying the sounds in movies. It is done in the following two ways

  1. Diegetic Sounds
  2. Non-Diegetic Sounds

Diegetic sound is basically the sound that arises from the elements of the surroundings. These are natural and realistic sounds of the particular scene. Often this is confused as recording the real sounds during shooting. Actually diegetic sound can be composed, mixed and recorded during the dubbing of the movie. But they would represent the typical sound that would arise in the scene. For example the character is sitting in the hall, reading a newspaper and sipping a cup of coffee. The ceiling fan is turned on. The sounds of a ceiling fan, turning pages of a newspaper and placing of the coffee cup onto the table are all diegetic sounds for this sequence. These sounds can be recorded live or created later in the studio.  These are sounds that can be heard by the characters on the screen. The opening scene in Slumdog millionaire where Jamal is interrogated by a police officer is an example of Diegetic sound. The sound you hear is from the police office blowing the smoke on Jamal’s face. In the Korean movie The Chaser diegetic sound is used predominantly to build the suspense of the scene.

Non-Diegetic sound arises from outside the story space. Usually this is used to create a specific mood to the scene. For instance in the above sequence where the character is reading a newspaper, he is seeing a news article that is shocking, now a background music conveying the shock of the character is added to the scene. This coupled with the reaction of the character helps in creating the mood for the scene. These are sounds that cannot be heard by the characters on screen. Other sound elements like narrators voice is also a non-diegetic sound in the context of the movie. In the Tamil movie 7G Rainbow Colony Yuvanshankar Raja composed a background music using a symphony orchestra that goes well with the mood of the scene. As director Selvaraghavan explains it, even if you are not watching the visual the background music would convey the mood of the film. This is an example of Non-diegetic sound.

Film is a visual media and to connect the audience to the images on the screen sound mixing plays a vital role. Diegetic sounds connect the audience to the environment of the scene while Non-diegetic sounds connect the audience to the mood of the film. Normally in a movie you would have a mix of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds.

Next time you watch a scene from a movie identify the diegetic and non-diegetic sounds.

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4 thoughts on “Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sounds in movies”

        1. Yes correct. Although that is not the only way of breaking the 4th wall. Any means of reaching out to the audience breaks 4th wall.

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