International Symposium

Sound and Music in Documentary Film

23-24 February 2017

The University of Huddersfield, Queensgate, Huddersfield, UK


Early film was dominated by ‘actualities’, short silent films that delighted viewers with their simple representation of everyday things and events. They are the first examples of what was to become the documentary. As the medium evolved, sound effects troupes began to perform live in movie theatres, sometimes alongside musicians, in an attempt to bring sonic life to the images on screen. The coming of sound-on-screen in the late 1920s aided the growing dominance of dialogue-driven narrative continuity but the persistence of montage editing and less reliance on narrative structures allowed considerable experimentation in the use of sound in documentary film. It thus had significant common ground with avant-garde cinema in its freedom to re-arrange fragments of the world. Concerns with ‘authentic’ representation, social issues and thus more journalistic approaches began to dominate after WWII leading to what one might hear and see in contemporary documentary but the legacy of the avant-garde experimental approach to the use of sound (and image) persists alongside and within these more mainstream forms. The study of the use and importance of sound and music in fiction film has grown considerably in recent decades but within documentary studies discussion of the sonic is still relatively rare and perhaps reflects the cognitive, information driven focus of its contemporary conventional use. The more creative treatment of sound and use of music is viewed with suspicion as a potentially emotive and insidious commentary.

This symposium aims to bring to the fore such issues and allow a focus on sound and music within documentary, possibly for the first time in a conference setting.

Clear definitions of documentary are problematic and complex but for the purposes of this call the definition is deliberately broad and can range from avant-garde non-fiction to conventional mainstream TV documentary taking in, for example, relatively abstract (though still representational) video-art through aesthetically focussed documentary to factual investigative programming. Radio documentary and non-fiction radio-art / Hörspiel are also included. For the purposes of the call all such definitions come under the term ‘documentary’. Papers are encouraged that seek to justify their content as documentary, or more loosely, non-fiction. Practitioners especially are encouraged to present about their own work.

Call for Papers

The Sound and Music in Documentary Film Symposium therefore seeks proposals for 20-minute presentations from researchers and practitioners in light of the above introduction. Suggested themes are listed below though are by no means exclusive:

  • Historical perspectives on the use of sound and music in documentary film
    • Historical case studies
  • Contemporary perspectives on the use of sound and music in documentary film
    • Contemporary case studies
  • Aesthetic issues of sound – documentary as an aesthetic project
    • Creative treatment of diegetic sound
    • Musical evocation
  • Issue of actuality and reality – sound in service of information and investigation
    • Questions of emotive use of sound
    • The effects of technology and technique on authenticity
  • Sound as sense of place
  • Music as diegetic sound e.g. music documentaries
  • Sound and image relationships specific to documentary film
  • The role of the voice in documentary
    • Voiceover
    • Interview
  • Sonic representations of gender, ethnicity and race in documentary
    • Sonic bias

Please submit an abstract of approximately 250 words and a short biography (maximum 100 words) in MS Word or RTF format to with the subject line ‘SMDF Abstract’. Please state any special technical requirements as an addendum to the proposal – good quality a/v facilities will be provided as standard.

Call for Works

The symposium will run alongside The University of Huddersfield’s annual Electric Spring electronic music festival (22-26 February, 2017) and will feature a documentary themed film night on the evening of the 23rd February as part of the festival. Details of the 2016 festival can be found here:

Additionally, the morning of the 24th will be given over to a practice-based session where practitioners can present short completed works or works in progress (maximum 15 minutes). Works must fall under the broad definition of documentary outlined above and place importance on sound and / or music. Audio-only works are also welcomed. The pieces can be in stereo or multi-channel audio format, will be played on the University’s high quality HISS sound system ( and projected in full HD. Short proposals, including technical requirements, a short biography and online links to the works should be sent to with the subject line ‘SMDF Practical Call’.

Those presenting papers and works will be expected to register for the symposium. Registration details and cost will be available soon.


Call for papers: 21st July 2016
Deadline for abstracts: 16th November 2016
Notification of results: 28th November 2016
Symposium: 23-24th February 2017

Publication Plans

Approval for a themed journal edition in early 2018 on sound and music in documentary film, to be drawn from written-up symposium papers, is currently being sought. Further information will be provided as soon as possible.

Contact and Symposium Team

For general enquiries, please contact

The symposium panel is:
Geoffrey Cox (University of Huddersfield)
Demelza Kooij (John Moores University, Liverpool)
Holly Rogers (Goldsmiths, University of London)



A propos Desartsonnants

Promeneur écoutant, paysagiste sonore, spécialiste des arts sonores, concepteur sonore, curator, conférencier
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