Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts

Digital Polyphony Number Four

Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

The Sound of Silence

(Note: The following was written in Fall 2002 and has not been revised. Spaces between paragraphs have been added for sake of readability and various photos included)


The first time a person sits and watches Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the last thing they‘ll often take notice of is the sound in the film.  Occupied with stunning visuals, sound tends to take a backseat to the interest of the viewer.  Kubrick himself labels 2001 a “visual experience” and often times, unless the audience is intently concentrated on listening, 2001 will come across as a quiet and often times soundless movie.  This lack of noticeable sound, alongside the use of music, reinforces and promotes the visuals where you watch, not listen, to what happens.  In parts where there is a lack of sound and music again forces you to pay attention to the screen, not the speaker.  However, this is still a Stanley Kubrick film, where every facet isn’t analyzed and looked over by the late filmmaker with painstaking detail; this includes the sound which, like the visuals, are meticulously inserted throughout and could have meanings as eminent as the black monoliths themselves.

    Just as he decides the look of the film, so too does he decide how it will sound.  Usually, it’s the use of classical and contemporary music that gets noticed; the works by artists such as Strauss and Khachaturian and their usage in the film have probably been written about dozens of times.  It takes precedence over the usual flare of sound effects, however Kubrick also takes the time to express sound in an affective way.  

The film’s audio can be broken down accordingly with the division in the film itself: The Dawn of Man sequence, Heywood Floyd’s sequence, the Discovery and Jupiter sequence and finally the awe-inducing final sequence of the Stargate and hotel room.

    In the Dawn of Man sequence, where the man-apes are scavenging across the plains of Earth millions of years ago, the sound of nature makes itself known before the first man-ape appears.  Ambient noises of insects, birds and sweeping winds reflect a natural place, unlike later on where the ambient noises reflect an artificial place.  

    While the ambient noise is constant throughout the sequence, there are moments where Kubrick’s sudden use of a loud sound makes you take notice.  This is something that will reoccur throughout the film.  In the Dawn of Man sequence, there are two major sounds that do this: the leopard attacking the man-ape and the yells of the ape-men as they fight.  As the leopard attacks early man, Kubrick wants to show us how weak early man truly is.  The loud growl and the man-ape’s yelping as he’s attacked shows this in a very dominant fashion.  The uses of these sudden loud sounds allow us to take notice of what’s happening, moreso than if they didn't have the sudden shift in loudness and audibility.   Kubrick again shows the man-ape’s  fear of the leopard as they are trying to sleep at night (this is before the appearance of the Monolith the next morning).  As Moonwatcher and his comrade’s sleep, we hear a constant growling of the leopard.  This tells us the leopard is always on their mind and is something they fear due to their weakness.

    The other “loud sound” of this sequence is the yelling and growling of the man-apes as they fight over the water hole.  Again, Kubrick draws in our attention into the scene and makes us take notice; one group of ape-men becomes superior for discovering how to use tools which is a major part of the story.  Once the assumed leader of the opposing group is killed, Moonwatcher gives out one final yell, perhaps a call to future descendants who will benefit of his discovery, and tosses his bone into the air.  

    Although it is not a sound-effect per se, there must be a mention of the Ligeti’s, Lux Aeterna (Requiem for the Dead,).  Despite it actually being a piece of music, it is used as though it is a sound effect and will reoccur more times in the film.  Hearing the dissonant and choir sounds of the Ligeti’s music, there is an implication that there is something strange, something alien, that is going on.  This will be repeated two more times in the film; Floyd’s approaching of the monolith and Dave Bowman’s sequence beyond the infinite and into the stargate, both indicating an outside alien presence reflecting the strange sounding music.  In the Dawn of Man scenario, we hear this strange music and sounds as the ape-men awake.  We know something is going to happen even though the monolith has yet to appear on screen.  The man-apes wake up, see this strange black slab and begin to jump and yell at it.  Eventually the Requiem takes over the sound of their yelling as the man-ape become calm and place their hands on the structure.  This could be symbolism of the power of the monolith overtaking the man-apes both within the soundtrack and the narrative.

    In the second sequence, after the now-infamous jump cut four million years into the future, we have the Heywood Floyd sequence.  Here, we begin with the “space ballet” with the Blue Danube Waltz by Strauss and eventually have Floyd enter a space station.  His entrance is first introduced in stark contrast to the Dawn of Man portion, where sounds of nature are heard.  Instead we’re greeted with a mechanical revving sound; a mechanized door opens and introduces us to Floyd.  For the next two sequences, the ambient sounds of mechanical and artificial noises are heard almost constantly.   It is difficult to assess the sounds during the Floyd sequence because music is so prevalent, especially during transition scenes where Floyd is traveling to the station, to the moonbase as well as the to monolith.

    There are also little touches added in, such as an intercom on the space station informing of a sweater left in the bathroom or asking for someone to contact the med office.  On the station, the most noticeable sound is of footsteps as people walk.  The fact the place is so silent makes these sounds stand out.  In the scene with Floyd and the Russians, the Russian scientists stops what he is saying as hears someone approaches.  This person is not seen until she walks by, but the fact that he hesitates implies that something odd and secretive is going on.  Sound is used to show this small portion of the story and to foreshadow the events to come.

    For the most part, the ambient noise of the station is faint.  It sounds sterile and artificial.  We’re reminded that they’re in space when Floyd takes time to make a call to his daughter.  In the booth we hear what sounds like air being fed into the small cubicle in a form of a slight hissing sound.  This is similar to later in the film where we hear a hissing sound that indicates air for Bowman and Poole in their spacesuits.  For the most part, this portion of the film is incredible silent at both the station and the moonbase, but when something does happen we take that much more of a notice to it.  This leads us to the monolith.

    As Floyd leaves the moonbase, where little sound takes place in the conference room so there is little distraction to what Floyd says, he heads out to an excavation site and a familiar sound returns.  The alien sounds of Ligeti’s Requiem begins as we see the moonbus head towards the site.  A smart movie-goer should be able to add up the clues and like in the Dawn of Man sequence we “hear” the monolith and this alien presence before we even see it.  Ligeti’s piece in this scene with the moonbus does fade out, albeit temporarily, when we go inside the moonbus to watch Floyd discuss the findings and eat some chicken-like sandwiches.   Any other shot in the moonbus, the sound and the music coincide (outside, of course, there is no sound so it is only the music we hear).  They slowly approach the site and the music builds.

    Kubrick again piques our interest through the use of a sudden, sharp sound.  The team gathers in front of the monolith for a picture, like a family at an amusement park, and the monolith unleashes a high-pitches screech.  Again, this is a major point in the film and an impact on the story that you must take note on and Kubrick ensures that by blasting our ears suddenly within a scenario that had been tediously quiet.  Like their ancestors, the scientists are overtaken with the monolith, both by its presence and the symbolic use of sound.

 We then are pushed forward in time once more to the Discovery portion of the film.  Here we have three characters, Dave Bowman, Frank Poole and a “niner triple zero” computer known as HAL.  When thinking of sound in 2001, most people tend to think of this segment.  The quiet vacuum of space in absolute silence and mechanical-like breathing of the astronauts in their spacesuits are some of the most memorable portions and uses of audio (or non-uses) in film history.  In this longer portion of the film, audio plays much more of a key role.

    As we’re introduced to characters and Discovery with Khachaturian’s disheartening music, we also are able to hear the ambiance of the ship.  Like the nature sounds of earth and the sterile air sounds of the space station, the ambiance here is mostly a constant.  It’s like a unremitting machine hum, saying to  us we’re in a ship and also reminding us, in a sense, that HAL is everywhere at all times.  

    Unlike most films in space, there aren’t a lot of buzzing and beeps going on.  It’s quiet and lonely with just the ambient mechanical hum most of the time.  The first major change to this is Bowman’s first trip outside Discovery to replace the AE35 unit.   As he’s heading to the pod and eventually out towards the dish to be repaired, the loud sound of his breathing in his suit and a constant hissing, signifying air-flow much as it does in the space station scenario, becomes dominant.  Also, Bowman’s voice when speaking, such as “Rotate B pod for EVA, HAL” becomes more robotic through the suit.  He’s talking through a communication link which comes out through a speaker.  The same occurs when Bowman goes out to retrieve Poole’s body.  He asks HAL to open the pod bay doors with the same mechanical sound and, surprisingly HAL responds in a similar mechanical sound that different from his normal voice even though he’s a computer and, theoretically, would sound the same as he does on Discovery.

After scanning the “defective” unit back in the ship it’s found that something is a bit out of the ordinary.  The unit checks out fine and Poole and Bowman confront HAL on the matter.  There are two subtle, yet interesting uses of sound here as they finish checking the unit.  One is that Bowman sighs.  While this isn’t exactly a “sound effect” it’s not dialogue either and is an indication through sound of Bowman’s disappointment.  Another isn’t a sound effect either, but indicates sound use through a dramatic pause.  Bowman says “Well, HAL, I’m damned if I can find anything wrong with it.”  HAL pauses after this, almost indicating a human quality in that he’s trying to think of what to say as though he’s hiding something.  It’s like he’s rushing, in fear that he might be wrong, to cover his tracks.  Eventually he responds “Yes.  It’s puzzling.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this before.”  There had been pauses in the film before (Floyd keeping things from the Russian scientists is a good example) but this is significant in reinforcing the idea of HAL being a sentient entity and more than just the ship’s computer.

    Worried that HAL might be malfunctioning, Bowman and Poole go off to have their only conversation with each other in the film.  They lock themselves in a pod to hopefully speak in private away from HAL.  It’s implied that they do, in fact, have privacy from HAL hearing them when they flip all the switches and no sounds of the ship is heard.  This ship is a part of HAL and this sudden drop into silence and no ambient noises (the first time in the film other than musical scenes and scenes in space) indicates they are indeed isolated from HAL.  It then cuts back to HAL and the machine ambiance returns as we see him read the lips of Bowman and Poole.  This might be Kubrick reinforcing the notion that 2001 is a “visual” experience.  

The most talked about use of sound of this scenario, and the film entirely, is Kubrick’s decision to have outer space in complete silence.  Most people know that sound cannot travel through a vacuum, however most films that take place in space tend to have sounds anyway usually to enhance the action on screen.  Kubrick’s approach is to enhance the action on screen as well but cutting out the sound entirely and creating a realistic experience for the audience.   The first indication of this complete silence is Poole’s trip outside the ship and HAL’s attack on him.  We know, without even being shown, that HAL took over pod and cut off Poole’s air hose; literally cutting off his life.  One second the hissing and breathing is heard, the next is nothing but silence and an image of Poole swirling through space, therefore something obviously must be wrong if the sound of breathing suddenly ceases.  Kubrick respects his audience and knows they can probably figure it out and ends up creating a great dramatic scenario in doing so.

Eventually Bowman goes out after him, however something is different in his case as well.  The breathing and hissing has been so dominant that we take notice when someone goes out into space.  Bowman doesn’t have this and it’s understood that, in a rush, he’s forgot his helmet.  The audience, who in a sense is rushing with Bowman to out and get Poole, also tend to overlook this at first but by listening to the audio they would know right away.  

    The silence returns in each shot in space as the pod rushes towards Poole’s lifeless body.  Inside the pod, however, we hear what the pod sounds like for the first time in the film because of Bowman’s absent-mindedness about his helmet.  Back in Discovery, Kubrick thrusts HAL’s eye onto the screen with the ambient noises of the ship returning.  This will be another time where we are caught off guard by a sudden sound, this time a “Computer Malfunction” which sudden appears on the screen after the shot of HAL’s eye and is accompanies with a very high beeping alarm.  Like the rise of early man and the screech of the monolith on the moon, Kubrick wants to make sure we see another major point in the film: HAL turns against his crew (technology turns against its creator).   HAL goes on to terminate the lives of the hibernating survey team as we hear a more rapid beeping occur along with “Life Functions Critical” appearing on the screen.  We also see the life signs of the men deteriorate and eventually “Life Functions Terminated” appear on the screen in complete silence.   Instead of giving an expected “flatline” sound indicating they’ve died, Kubrick instead gives us complete silence with only the sounds of Discovery to be heard.

    As Bowman returns, he discovers the problem with HAL and is forced to take drastic action to get back into the ship without the luxury of a space helmet to have the essential oxygen to survive in space.  The scene shows Bowman maneuvering his pod to the emergency air lock of the ship so he can use the explosive bolts on the pod’s door to project himself into the air lock.  Having this is complete silence not only keeps in continuity with the other silent shots in space but also adds a great deal of tension to the scene.  The use of silence is much like the use of music, due to lack of sound and dialogue we are forced to watch the scene intently.  We know Bowman is holding his breath, we can’t hear him breathe, and when he finally hits the lever in the airlock to allow the rush of air, a sense of relief follows for both Bowman and us, the audience, as well.  It then dissolves into a more systematic sound of breathing and a shot of Bowman now having a space helmet and getting ready to extract revenge on HAL.

Despite HAL’s attempts to speak with him, Bowman is steady in his breathing and in the way we walks through the ship towards HAL’s central core.  Also, Bowman’s breathing and the hissing noise of the air flow is the only sound in the scene, the ambient noises of Discovery is absent and will continue to be as Bowman “kills” HAL.  As the scene of HAL’s “death” continues, Bowman’s breathing fluctuates slightly as he dismantles HAL.   Perhaps he is feeling something while doing this which would definitely lead credence to the notion that HAL is treated like a person despite being an object.  Suddenly, a message from Heywood Floyd appears to inform Bowman about the mission.  Sound is very subtle here, when Bowman first hears Floyd, he isn’t sure where it’s coming from and you hear him hold his breath as though he’s caught off guard.  Floyd tells him the events and why the Jupiter Mission occurred as Bowman’s breathing returns slowly as he takes it all in.  It then fades to black.

    After the HAL events, we’re now into the final part of the film labeled “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite.”  It begins with shots of Jupiter and its moons as well as Discovery and a floating monolith.  Again, Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna returns to indicate a foreign presence and will continue until after the travel of Bowman through the stargate.  After some gorgeous shots of Jupiter, we see a pod exit Discovery and is caught up into a flight through space and time.

    In the stargate, it is difficult to separate Ligeti’s Requiem from sound effects.  In his book, Michael Chion comments on this:
    “...the dense and diffuse music of Ligeti’s Requiem returns.  This is mixed in with rumblings that could well be a motor - thus a sound in the void.  But of course, all notions of realism or unrealism become irrelevant.”

    This concept of real and unreal carries over to when Bowman arrives in the odd hotel room.  Hear, strange voices and sounds are heard that can be compared to the strange voices and sounds of Ligeti’s Requiem.  It is in this final scene where sound plays its most important role in 2001 because it is sound that will push the story forward.

    As the Requiem begins to fade, corresponding with the appearance and disappearance of the space pod in the illuminated room, we have Bowman in his spacesuit.  Like before, we can hear his breathing through the suit, which will fluctuate as the scene progresses.  Bowman hears something, a strange sound of whispering and thumping noises that cannot be fully defined (much like the scene itself).  He heads into the bathroom to take a look around where he hears something else; the scraping of silverware like a person eating.  Here his breathing in his suit fluctuates, you can tell he’s nervous as he turns around to see someone sitting at a table.  The man at the table senses something as well and puts down his silverware, at this point the breathing of Bowman stops.  When first watching the film, it can be assumed he is merely holding his breath and hoping the man won’t notice him.  Only until the man gets up, looks around and sees nothing do we start to grasp what just happened: the Bowman in the suit is no longer present.   

    Eventually the man, who ends up being an older Bowman, returns to his meal.  His footsteps echo in the room, similar to the echoing of footsteps on the spacestation, and he sits to readjust himself back to eating.  At this point, Kubrick, for the final time, draws our attention to the screen with a sharp noise of breaking glass when Bowman knocks off his wine glass to the floor.  Therefore, if Kubrick wants us to take notice of this event with such a sharp noise, it also must represent something purposeful.  This, along with other symbolic analysis, will be discussed shortly.

    As the shattering glass draws our attention, so too does it draw Bowman’s.  He reaches to pick up the shards only again to have his attention diverted by a sound, this time heavy breathing.  Only this time it isn’t heavy breathing of a space suit, it is that of an elderly man, again Bowman, gasping his final breaths.  Like earlier in the scene, the breathing stops off-screen; Bowman isn’t in the picture.  In fact, the first indication of the dying Bowman’s ceasing of gasps is in the single shot of the monolith at the foot of his bed - a bit like the single shot of Bowman at the dinner table when the stopping of the space-suit breathing that occurred earlier.  In both cases, it can be concluded that something has happened even though it hasn’t been shown on screen.  His heavy breathing is the last sound we hear before Strauss “Thus Spake Zarathustra” returns as the Star Child appears and returns to Earth.

The basic outline of 2001’s use of sound is finished, we discussed the major points on what sounds are used and where, the ambiance of the different portions and how Kubrick catches our attention with sudden loud sounds.  Now we should look out on what certain sounds might indicate or signify.  2001: A Space Odyssey is full of theories that have been considered since its release in 1968 and taking a new approach to sound to analyze it probably isn’t anything new.  But, as Einstein said, “It is the theory that decides what we can observe.”  If Kubrick takes the time to put meaning and significance in the visuals and the narrative, he surely must also have meanings into the third trait of filmmaking: the sound.

    As mentioned earlier, Kubrick occasionally makes us notice the screen and certain story elements through a sharp and sudden sound effect:  the leopard attacking the man-ape, the man-apes yelling at each other, the monolith’s piercing screech, HAL’s malfunction scene and the breaking glass all coincide with major points of the story; the weakness of early man, the discovery of tools, the transmission to Jupiter from the monolith, HAL’s loss of control (or sanity), and the breaking of the glass in a surreal and unearthly part of the picture.  I believe that these were all conscience decisions by Kubrick to point out the major points of the film.  Man was weak, man found tools, the monolith’s transmission to Jupiter sets the stage for the rest of the film as to “why” they must be there as well as indicate an alien (not necessarily extraterrestrial) presence, Man losing control of his tools and the destruction of Bowman’s body, who represents the human race’s physicality to ascend to a higher existence as a Star Child.  

    Early in the film, Kubrick wishes to express the ascent of man by showing two major points being the weakness of early man and the ascent itself.  The attack by the leopard is significant.  In previous scenes all that are shown of man-apes is they eat vegetation and live alongside tapirs, their weakness and vulnerability hasn’t been established yet.  The leopard roaring across the screen and the man-ape yelling in agony allows us to grasp how infant-like they are.  Throwing in a drastic change in sound catches the audience off guard and at the same time makes them take notice of this important factor that Kubrick wants to express.  In other words, he’s making sure you pay attention as all of his sounds like this will do.  This weakness is also signified in the first fight of the waterhole where one group of man-apes scare off another group.  The loud yells and growls and grunts truly show how primitive and adolescent our ancestors are.  Later in this portion of the film, Kubrick again draws in our attention suddenly.  Unlike the first fight at the waterhole, where we see a build up between the two parties and expect a fight to occur, this second one occurs very suddenly through a direct cut in the middle of the yelling and fighting.  Again we’re taken into the scene and Kubrick demands our attention for man is about to take a major step in evolution.  Moonwatcher’s group now has discovered tools and inflicts it’s superiority over the other group.  We know the discovery of tools and the way they are used is a major event and theme in the narrative because now the weakness that was shown earlier is a thing of the past.

    The next major point of the story involves the monolith on the moon.  Floyd approaches and our ears are rattled with an intense, high-pitched screech.   Floyd and the others with him wince at the sound, as do we.  This use of a sudden noise is Kubrick expressing the turning point of the film and connecting the different parts.  Viewers will see this as the second monolith, automatically making a connection with the previous Dawn of Man sequence, while the screech connects the present to the future where Floyd will explain later that it was a transmission.  This part of the film is important in relating to the past and at the same time pushing the story forward.  We’re left with questions regarding both.  “What is the monolith?” and “What was that loud noise?”  The transmission is what sets the rest of the story in motion, similar to the way the man-ape’s discovery of tools also set things in motion for the future.

    The “Computer Malfunction” tells us not only that HAL has malfunctioned, but that humans have lost control of something they’ve created.  This is the fourth major point of the film expressed through Kubrick’s attention-getting use of sound.  Man has been dependent on his tools since the Dawn of Man.  But now these tools are no longer in their control and their dependence instead becomes an hindrance.  What is man without his tools?  He is what he was before Moonwatcher picked up the bone, an impudent child.  Mankind’s place in the universe, in the grand scheme of things, is trivia

l and slight.  Kubrick loves this idea in 2001 and by taking away man’s tools, he sets up the final act of his film.
    Finally we come to the last major sound effect in the film, which takes place at the very end in the alien-hotel (for lack of a better word).  As the aged Bowman sits back down to finish his meal, he knocks off a wine glass.  Unlike the past sound effects where Kubrick wants us to notice, this sound effect and the act itself is more metaphorical than direct, much like the entire final scenes.

    When a person hears something break, it is assumed that something is destroyed.  The breaking glass symbolizes the destruction of Bowman’s physical body.  The wine, however, is still there.  The breaking of the glass is the body, the wine still existing is the spirit.  Bowman’s essence is untouched even though his body has deteriorated.  The breaking of the physical body is what Kubrick wants us to realize.  He could just have easily have had Bowman turn his head and see the even-older Bowman lying in the bed, instead he chose again to use a sharp, breaking noise to have him do it but at the same time grab the viewer’s attention. 

    Stanley Kurbrick knows he has a fairly quiet and mundane film as far as sound is concerned.  His emphasis, after all, was to make it a visual experience.  So in the process of having a quiet film, implementing sudden loud shifts of audio makes them that much more noticeable.  If they’re that much more noticeable, then they must be significant enough for Kubrick to insert them and break from the hushed standard set in the film.

There are numerous things that can be taken from the ambient sounds as well as the intrusive sounds.  It can be assumed that in a sense, HAL is alive.  We are reminded of people being alive by the sound of air.  HAL’s life sign is the sound of Discovery, as mentioned earlier as always around as HAL is around and always constant in nearly every shot within the ship.  This could reinforce the notion that HAL and Discovery are one entity.  If this is the case, then is it safe to assume that HAL, in some form, is “living?”  Upon first release, critics pointed out that HAL was seemingly the most “human” of all the characters and some people feel sorrow for his death.  In fact, when discussing HAL both in analysis terms and within the film itself, people tend to address HAL as “him” rather than “it.”  If HAL was an “it” the ambient sounds of Discovery are simple mechanical sounds of a hollow spaceship.  But as a “him” these sounds must in turn be altered as well and can be considered  a representation of his life, just as Bowman and Poole have their representations through the sound of air and of breathing in their spacesuits.  This is where the idea of HAL being the mind and Discovery being body enters.  Bowman destroys HAL’s mind but not his body.  People can still live even though they can be considered “dead” or “brain dead” as a better term.  Bowman could be putting HAL into a comatose state rather than actually kill him.  To kill him, you would also have to destroy his body, Discovery.  HAL reinforces this by saying “my mind is going” repeatedly.  Either way, the HAL people know no longer exists once Bowman destroys his mind, just as a person in a coma is far from the person that once lived.

    There’s only a few times the sounds of the ship, almost like a pulse, isn’t  the dominant sound.  One mentioned earlier is when Bowman and Poole go to have their private conversation in the space pod.  They flip some switches and suddenly the ambient sounds of Discovery are gone, indicating that HAL’s presence is also gone.  Another is when Bowman reenters Discovery through the airlock.  Here, Bowman overtakes HAL in both sound and in the story.  You no longer hear HAL’s life sign of Discovery’s ambiance, Bowman’s breathing becomes dominant over HAL, similar to when the monolith becomes dominant over those who come near it - represented by the Requiem music drowning out any other sound.  When the astronauts are in their space suits, the sounds of their breathing indicate that they are free from Discovery and independent of it.  Both when Poole and Bowman go outside the ship, their breathing indicates this - they don‘t need to rely on Discovery and therefore don’t need to rely on HAL.  In this final showdown between HAL and Bowman, it becomes that much more important.  

    This is also the case when HAL kills the hibernating survey team.  As we’re shown through loud alarms that the computer (HAL) is malfunctioning and life functions are critical, it then quickly goes to complete silence.  HAL, being represented by the ambient sounds of Discovery, overtakes them much like Bowman’s breathing overtakes HAL later on.  We hear the more dominant “being,” almost like a survival of the fittest ideology similar to the Dawn of Man sequence, who wins out, represented through this use of sound.

    Other ambient sounds can also tell us something.  In the early sequence, we have ape-men living in an earthly and natural environment.  We hear the sounds of the land, the insects, wind and birds all indicating, not just a primitive place, but a natural one.  This is man’s natural habitat.  Later on, this changes to the artificial habitat of mechanical and air-flow sounds.  In other words, we create our own natural habitat rather than the one provided for us on Earth.  Artificiality is a major point in the film represented through our dependence on technology such as spaceships, moonbases and HAL himself.  We created these to replace the natural place and thus rely on them to go beyond it.

      The sound of 2001: A Space Odyssey is indeed as complex as the story we’re told or the images Kubrick shows us.  Like those other two facets of film, Kubrick wants us to use our heads to interpret and understand his masterpiece across different levels.    There is no sound accompanying the visuals as it would in most other films, the visuals are what Kubrick wanted to make a statement with.  Instead, 2001 forces the viewer to “listen.”  It‘s not forced, the sound eases into the world in which it takes place and the lack of sound forces you to search for it and try and make something of it.  This focus of attention to sound is something audiences tend to overlook.  Many viewers think the film is “too quiet” and “boring” but the difference is that they aren’t being told anything and they don’t want to listen.  2001 is alive with sound.  

    While the music is more often analyzed, it really doesn’t contribute to the depth that the sound does.  Other than “Lux Aeterna,” the music is used more as a transitional piece between scenes than possibly mean something, which is the case of the use of sound, from the direct effects, to complete silence to the constant ambiances.  His use of ambient noises is more than just to have background sounds, it also plays a role in the story and is structured parallel to the narrative as would the intrusive sounds that Kubrick decided to implement in an otherwise subdued motion picture.  Take that away, and 2001 would lose some of its auditory significance.  2001: A Space Odyssey is one of those rare films that can be analyzed and interpreted on so many different levels across so many different forms in visual, audio and narrative experiences.

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Works Cited

Chion, Michel.  Kubrick’s Cinema Odyssey.  London: British Film Institute, 2001.
2001: A Space Odyssey, Dir. Stanley Kubrick. 1968. DVD  Warner Home Video, 2001.
Bizony, Piers.  2001 Filming the Future.  Britain:  Aurum Press, 2000