British experimental filmmaker Guy Sherwin produced a number of what he called “optical sound films” in the 1970s while a member of the London Film-Makers’ Co-op. Sherwin explored synthetic sound via myriad cameraless techniques, altering the shape of the filmstrip, bleaching or developing the celluloid, and turning representational imagery into sound. For his Phase Loop (1971), Sherwin fashioned the titular twelve-second loop by punching a hole into black film every twenty-four frames, allowing a brilliant circle of light to burst through every second during projection. He also scratched a horizontal line into the optical soundtrack every twenty-six seconds. The resulting piece has twelve visual flashes and eleven audible blips. The sound and image fall in and out of sync with each other as the film loop plays. Sherwin described the film as “a microcosm of film’s temporal experience: synchronization and its loss, repetition, reflection, syncopation, anticipation, resolution.”
For his five-minute Newsprint (1972), he affixed newspaper clippings directly onto the celluloid, placing the same pieces twenty-six frames further down on the optical soundtrack so that the sound and image would sync upon projection. The words move too quickly to be read in full, but their journey through shutter gate and projector mirrors an individual’s experience of scanning text quickly for comprehension. Newsprint also anticipates the increasing rapidity of information dissemination, a flow so voluminous and brisk that it overwhelms comprehensive understanding.
Sherwin’s films of the mid-seventies left behind his cameraless experiments in favor of obtaining synthetic sound from photographed imagery. These “sounds made with a camera” works include Railings (1977), in which Sherwin ran his camera along iron railings. He used the resulting imagery as the basis for the film’s soundtrack. That same year, he did the same in Musical Stairs, filming the steps leading to the London Film-Makers’ Co-op. As before, the image becomes the soundtrack. The reduced images of the stairs became the horizontal lines comprising the film’s soundtrack. By tiling his camera up and down to capture varying numbers of the concrete steps, he could produce a variety of tones–eleven in all. The more stairs in the frame, the higher the pitch becomes on the soundtrack. By varying the film’s exposure, he could also adjust the volume, so that as the image darkened, the sound became louder.