As I watch more and more video essays I’ve come to realize that the ones that draw me in best and most capture my attention are those that utilize sound in interesting ways, whether it be using sound to enhance the imagery on screen or dissecting the sound of the films themselves. It goes without saying that the difference between the video essay and the traditional academic essay is that the former uses images and the later only words. However, for me, the most exciting part of the video essay is the chance to explore and use audio to articulate an argument. To my mind, sound, even more so than images, is the great differentiator between the two.
As I was watching the above scene from Mad Men that Michael Mclennan dissects in his video essay, “Journey of a Sound: Signal 30 (Mad Men),” I was thinking about how I would go about making his argument in a traditional academic essay. The crux of his essay is basically following a similar/sometimes identical sound that follows Peter Campbell throughout the episode, paying special attention to how the sound is used expressively. As I watched the essay I was trying to think about how I would describe the sound. I’ve described how things look before, the visuals, but I don’t think I’ve described a sound before. Sounds are far more nuanced, and thus much more difficult to describe. If we are to write, to borrow the sounds explored in the essay, that a “whistle sounds” or “water drips,” our language is limited only to that person’s understanding of what that sound is. They can only “hear” what they remember as water dripping, or what they perceive as a whistle. This is limiting, and thus makes it so an argument cannot be fully articulated to its fullest ability.
One thing I also like in this video essay is the use of text on screen. It is a great example of how to illustrate an argument while also letting the sound and images do the talking.