Music 286R Listening, Creativity, and Imagination

Sonic Referentiality and Temporality in Netflix’s Dark (2017)

            On November 4th, 2019, a young boy goes missing in the fictional town of Winden. His disappearance sparks a series of events that begins to unravel the intricacies and mysteries of four families. Netflix’s German-language science-fiction thriller Dark (2017-2020) follows teenager Jonas Kahnwald and others as they grapple with current events and what those events reveal about their lives.[1] The search for the young boy, whose name is Mikkel Nielsen, leads many of the characters through a wormhole located deep in the local cave system. Rather than moving through space, however, characters move through time as they pass through the wormhole; this physical location connects the year 1986 to the years 1953 and 2019, which are 33 years into the past and the future respectively.
            In this paper, I consider the sound design and musical score for Dark as they relate to the show’s interest in referentiality and temporality. After a brief introduction to the four families and some of the key plot points of season one, I examine diegetic sound, hybrid sound (where what’s heard is both diegetic and nondiegetic), and nondiegetic music through a series of case studies. I explore diegetic sound through the Winden Caves, where mysterious noises early in the season act as a form of acousmêtre and other sound functions in unusual ways. Hybrid sound is considered for the role it plays in montage; Dark utilizes the monologue as the unifying aural element of montage sequences, where the narrator is diegetic in some shots included in the montage but not others. Finally, I analyze two nondiegetic cues that recur throughout the first season in terms of how they represent elements of the show’s themes before briefly considering temporality and referentiality in Dark on a larger scale.
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[1] This paper will include by necessity some spoilers for the first season of Dark. I have omitted many aspects of the plot that are not immediately relevant to the passages discussed in detail in order to minimize the number of spoilers.

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