Analysis of Sound Dramaturgy Iranian of feature film — ‘ Ye Habe Ghand ‘

“Ye Habe Ghand”, literally translated to ‘A cube of Sugar’ is a wonderful Iranian feature film directed by Seyyed Reza Mir-Karimi. The film premiered in 2011 and was also nominated for the Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars in 2012. The story revolves around two main plots — the main one being the marriage of the youngest daughter of the family, Passandideh with a groom that is studying in a western country; and the other being a plot about her brother-in-law and his infamous reputation. The timeline of the film occurs over two days. Moreover, the entire film is shot in the interior of the big ancestral house of this family. The house has a large garden, some windows that overlook the outside streets, a large kitchen, many small rooms and outdoor sitting areas.

In the very beginning of the film, I immediately noticed the use of many J-cuts that basically establish the melancholic emptiness of the house, to begin with. We hear the stopping of car engines in one J-cut, followed by a jump cut audio-visual of the interior of the house as the protagonist goes to open the door for her relatives who have arrived in those cars. It is a very smart way to highlight certain things about the exterior of the house (which is rarely seen on camera, just heard throughout the film). Another such instance is when the ladies of the house are cooking in the kitchen and there is a celebration happening in one of the neighboring houses. We can hear celebratory chants and music, as the women look out the window. This background sound that never appeared on screen, still gives so much depth to the conversation that follows about the marriage that is about to happen in their own house.

The entire film centers around the fact that there are many visiting people in this house. Overlapping dialogues and actions emanate this feeling of the systematic chaos of a house that is about to have a big wedding. I cannot help but wonder how most of these dialogues were recorded on set. I am sure that it took the cast and crew many rehearsals to be able to get live dialogues and place the microphones in correct places. I also feel that the blocking style and pace of the sequences that had many overlapping dialogues must have been rehearsed like it would have been in stage theatre. Each dialogue had to be timed so that the next is not lost. Credit to the sound recorder, mixer and boom operator for pulling that off to perfection.

Also, it’s important to point out that many of these dialogue sequences are accompanied with onscreen actions, like that of washing dishes or hanging clothes out to dry or preparing utensils. For such scenes, most of the action sounds were probably recorded in post as Foley sounds, since the live sound mixer and recorder would be focusing on capturing the dialogues on set. The authenticity of the Foley sounds is so accurate that it seems they were recorded using the same items in the same space using field microphones, as opposed to being recorded in a studio.

I noticed that many exaggerated sounds or Hyper-real SFX were used to highlight certain sounds that are important for the audience notice. Aside from this, I really loved the use of background SFX of sounds that were supposedly coming from the surroundings of the house. For example, the sound of a fruit seller out on the street, or a chicken pecking in the garden. The sound design and surround stereo balancing of these effects was also done really well. Sounds from the left of the screen, were panned to the left in the stereo mix, which obviously gives the viewer a much more immersive experience.

All scenes during the day, have background SFX of birds chirping, bees buzzing, children playing, bicycle bells, splashing water etc., to signify that it is daytime. These sounds were mainly coming from the large garden of the house that also had a pool. However, during the night scenes, these sounds are replaced with night insect calls like the sound of crickets in the same garden. It shows how the aural sound elements of this home garden define the feeling of time and space in the entire film.

As the story progresses the next morning, the home that is celebrating a marriage suddenly becomes a house of mourning as one of the senior old men of the house (the uncle of the bride) chokes on a cube of sugar and expires. The mood of the film changes drastically. Costumes become less colorful, celebratory chants turn into weeping tears, and a marriage turns into a funeral. In context of the change in sound, there is a lot less background sound chatter after this happens. There is a certain feeling of stillness in the garden and emptiness in the surroundings of the home which is directly reflected in the subtle change in sound design. A funeral scene follows, where the ironic contrast of moods in the same kitchen as the start of the film can be noticed. Earlier, when the chatter was about the marriage, the frequent sounds of kitchen utensils and cooking actions was greater and the speed was also faster since the characters were excited. However, in this scene though the ladies are still cooking, the same sound effects are slow and draggy to reflect the mood of the characters after a death in the family.

The original music score —

The original soundtrack and music of the film was composed by Mohammad Reza Aligholi. It is a short three-minute orchestral piece that can be heard in the film over three slow-motion montage sequences, and once in the credits in the end.

The start of melody is beautifully arranged in a Lydian minor harmony to suggest a melancholic premonition of things to come, but a faint playful and anticipatory feeling as well. The second section of the melody then goes on modulate into a major key with subtle accidental tension notes placed to make it spicy. For me, this entire melody perfectly describes the irony in the film, that a small thing like a cube of sugar can bring all celebrations to a close.

The first time we hear the piece, it is in its most raw orchestral form. The montage perfectly goes with the mood swings of the melody; mixed with sounds of laughing ladies, children splashing in the pool and visuals of the main protagonist trying to pluck an apple while daydreaming on a swing.

As the celebrations continue, the house is greeted with an old lady singing tribal celebratory chants and playing an Iranian Daf percussion instrument. Here is where the second montage starts with the same music. However, this time the orchestra are accompanied by the same Iranian Daf percussion and celebratory chants, also in a slightly faster tempo as last time. This suggests that the mood of celebration is growing in the house. It is interesting to note that this also sheds so much light on the Iranian culture of ancient Daf playing tribes that have been in Iran for centuries and are known to be synonymous with celebration or joy.

The third time we hear the music, is a montage right after the death, as it is being announced to the whole society in the form of a prayer. The visuals follow a young girl of the house as she explores the whole house and the mourning in each side of it. This time around the music starts with an ostinato on a bell like instrument in a different time signature. When the familiar melody starts over this ostinato, it is quite disorienting and morose. This time the string orchestra player playing the piece have definitely made their notes longer and much more expressive. This time, the slight action sounds that were present in earlier montages was not there and the music was the only connecting link between the visuals and the feelings related to them. It suggests the careful planning that might have gone down while the music was being recorded in the studio, after careful artistic discussions with the director and music composer.

I would also like to point out the interesting use of local music throughout the film. Whether it be music playing in a radio or the prayer singing in the mosque nearby. There were instances when ethe characters broke into celebratory song and dance. But after the mood changes, the characters sing sad funeral tunes, much in contrast to before.

After this music sequence and towards the end of the film, as the funeral processions take over the exterior garden scenes is swamped with background sounds of religious prayers, hymns and crowds chanting funeral slogans, as the characters try their best to keep the chaos in check. Scenes from inside the house at this time have dead silence in the background as the characters mourn, while other scenes in different rooms have different levels of background sounds of the same chanting.m This short sequence hints at the geometry and location of each room of the house in relation with the garden, using sound as the tool to do so.

To conclude, I would like to say that this film is a treat to the aural and visual senses of any viewer. Writing this analysis has given me grounds to appreciate this film on a whole new level and in terms of sound and music — it is very simplistic, yet detailed to perfection.

A musician, sound professional and composer.

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