Lack of musical refinement hits Sinhala cinema- Tharupathi Munasinghe | Sunday Observer

Lack of musical refinement hits Sinhala cinema- Tharupathi Munasinghe

4 October, 2020


Tharupathi Munsinghe 

Senior Lecturer Drama & Theatre and Image Arts Unit
Department of Fine Arts
University of Kelaniya
Sri Lanka

Occupation: Sound Designer, Composer


‘BUNKA’ Cultural award in 2014, Best Music Director award for Isuru Yogaya at State Tele Festival 2007, Best Music Director for Arundathi at State Drama Festival 2000, Best Music Director for Arundathi at National Youth Festival 1999, Best Music Director (Merit Award) for a short play at State Drama Festival 1998, Best Music Director (Merit Award) for a short play at National Youth Festival 1996


1. Trends in music of Sinhala drama

2. Discourse on Sounds

3. Sound Studies: With Special Reference to Sri Lankan Sonic Experience

4. Sounds from the Past: An audio artwork developed from memories of Sri Lankan emigrants in contemporary Melbourne

5. A Sinhala translation of Harold Pinter’s Party time

6. Evolution of music in Sinhala

Films as a Sound Designer:

Ice Cream 2017 (Feature Film) directed by Pradeep Dharmadasa

Get Ready 2012 (Short film) directed by Gayani Gisanthika

Television series, Music Composer:

Thirty two tele dramas including Sakvalihini, Sakisanda Eliyes, Viya Sidura, Rathi Virathi, Abuddassa Kale, Anthima Navathena, Isuru Yogaya, Kumarayek Evith Giya, Rathriya Wee, Anguru Sittham, etc.

Films, Music Composer:

Five films including The Invisible Moon (2018), Wala Patala (2007), Machan - as a Music Collaborator (2007), Sikuru Hathe (2006), Dedunu Wessa (2005)

Stage plays, Music Director:

Maha Supina (2017), Rasin Deviyo (Australia - 2010), Horu Samaga Heluwen (2006), Walas Pawla (2005), Yasodera (2005), Hayena (2005), Miss Yulie (2004), Swarnamali (2001), Asani Walaheka (2001), Arundathi (2000)

Shaabdhika Cinamawa (Sound in Cinema), a scholarly book in Sinhala by Tharupathi Munasinghe, a sound designer, composer and senior lecturer, Department of Fine Arts, University of Kelaniya, will be launched at 3.00 pm on October 7 at Mahaweli Centre, Colombo 7. Prof. Ariyarathne Athugala, Jackson Anthony and Bhupathi Nalin Wickramage will address the event. The Sunday Observer met Tharupathi Munasinghe to discuss his book, his views on sound in cinema and Sinhala music.


Q: The book deals with sound in cinema. Why did you choose this theme for the book?

A: Many people have conducted research on Sinhala cinema, but research on sound in cinema and Sinhala books on sound in cinema is rare. It is not surprising because one should have a good knowledge of music to write on the subject. This is why I embarked on writing this book.

Q: You have stated in the book that though there is 360 degree sound-range in our back ground, we use or hear only 180 degrees sound-range?

A: We don’t have the habit of listening to the sound of the environment. We are so busy that we don’t hear it. But if we focus our ears to the environment, we can hear that range of sound from our surrounding. In the book, I tried to show how we can make use of the 360 degree sound-range for cinema.

Q: What is Dolby Atmos that you describe in the book?

A: It is one of the most powerful audio technologies that allow you to experience multi-dimensional sound with incredible clarity. It expands on surround sound systems by adding height channels allowing sounds to be interpreted as three-dimensional objects. Academy award winning film, ‘Gravity’ is one of the best films that this sound technology was used. When we see that film, we can hear sounds above us too. One of the challenges that sound designers face is how to make use of this height sounds or vertical sounds. Hence, I discuss this Dolby Atmos sound technology in the book.

Q: Is there any film hall in Sri Lanka that the Dolby Atmos sound technology is used?

A: There is a film hall which used this technology. But it doesn’t matter, because it is a high cost sound technology. The problem is we are not aware that there is 360 degree sound range and that we could make use of that sound range even without that technology for films. Through this book, I wanted to show that there are other sounds in our surrounding that we could use, and for that, we should change our mindset on film music.

Q: Silence is also a sound?

A: It is important to make out that silence is also a sound and that the moment silence breaks is important. There are many scholarly books written on this. Some of them have been written on how to produce sound for films as a creative work and some have been written on how to perceive sound as a psychoanalytical element.

Psychoanalysts said that there are auditory perceptions and visual perceptions in sound. But our film makers care about only the visual perception in sound, and do not aware of the auditory perceptions in it. Because of this, I dedicated the first chapter of the book for listening. There, I describe two types of listening, one is listening from our ears, and other is listening from our mind. I have cited discussions of Plato’s Symposium to elaborate mind-listening.

Then I discuss salient components in Psychoanalysis with regard to listening. There, we find an experimental music composer Michel Chion who talks about acousmatic sounds or unseen sounds which is heard without an originating cause being seen. Acoumatic sounds are perceived by our mind, not by our eyes. Michel Chion discusses a special sound technique, Masking method and Forced marriage. By reviewing the scene before the last scene of Nostalgia, a film by Andre Tarkovsky, one critic clarifies this sound technique and says there are sound layers in a sound track of a film and that one can block one sound layer and highlight another. In fact, Tarkovsky also did the same in his film. He let us hear a sound track that he wanted us to hear while blocking the other.

There are two parts in this book. One describes the theoretical aspect, while the other shows the practical aspect. By and large, I wanted to say that the sound in cinema is something we should reconsider and that there are many sound categories we can use.

Q: You are dealing with sound designing in your musical procession. What are the components in it?

A: There are five components in it: dialogue, music, sound effects, foley and atmospheric sounds. A sound artiste should know how to produce these five sound elements as a whole in an effective way.

Q: Could you elaborate on foley?

A: Foley is a background sound. When one walks, we could hear the sound of footsteps, which is foley. In Western films, there is a foley artiste who mixes foley music to the film. In Sinhala films, we can identify a person known as Podi Mahatthaya who worked as a foley artiste. He created footstep sounds of Gamini Fonseka in many films in which Gamini acted.

Q: Is this book based on your post graduate degree?

A: Yes. I did my Master’s degree at Melbourne University, Australia. This knowledge is what I explored in that academic practice. But this is not the thesis of the degree. Knowledge opened when I was pursuing the subject matters. Ninety five percent of the book has been translated from other books. This is actually a glimpse on the sound in cinema from the perspective of a musician. There are other writers who wrote on this subject to some extent, such as M.D. Mahindapala, but they did not write it from the perspective of a musician.

Q: Though your knowledge is new to Sinhala cinema, it may not be new to Sinhala theatre as there was research on the music of the Sinhala stylistic drama?

A: At a time, some efforts for a theatrical music were taken, especially in the works of Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra, Dayananda Gunawardhane and Bandula Jayawardhane. When we see Sarachchandra’s stylistic dramas, such as Wessanthara and Pemato Jayati Soko, we can identify the kind of research he had conducted on theatrical music. There is a reason for him to produce that sort of musical dramas. It is that he had a great knowledge of and talent in music. He went to Tagore’s Shantiniketan in India too to study music. Bandula Jayawardhane and Dayananda Gunawardhane also had a good of knowledge of music.

Q: You said that the knowledge the book contains is new to the Sinhala audience?

A: Yes. This knowledge is mainly associated with Western music and Western films. I tried to analyse it as a sound designer and musician. The thing I want to highlight is not the origin of it, but to what extent we can use it. Many Sinhala film directors and musicians were not aware of the depth or seriousness of sound in cinema. Apart from a few films, such as Nidhanaya, Bambaru Awith and Pawuru Walalu, we cannot identify a conscious effort in the field. However, explorations and discussions on sound in cinema go back to the 1950’s in the West.

One reason for the downfall of Sinhala cinema is the ignorance of this knowledge in our film makers. Great film makers, such as Tarkovsky, Satyajith Ray, Alfred Hitchkok and Roman Polonsky were music lovers. We constantly recall Satyajith Ray’s film music, but he rarely used oriental music in his films. The most important fact is that all those directors were not musicians, but good listeners. Without refined listening, they couldn’t have created those musical effects in their films.

When we listen to music in Pianist, a film by Polonsky, we can figure out how much musical knowledge Polonsky would have had. When the protagonist of the film touches the piano, he could hear the sounds of the chords. Every sound category has a particular feeling or expression and Polonsky understood it. In that film, the protagonist is not just playing the piano, but producing feelings and images. He could do that because of his knowledge of music. The weakness in Sinhala cinema derives mainly from the lack of listening of our film makers and their musicians.

Q: How about Maestro Premasiri Kemadasa?

A: He had done a great job in music. He is one of a few musicians in Sri Lanka, who understood that a musical instrument has a role to play. Because of that, when he created music, he orchestrated musical instruments and evoked the maximum expressions or feelings out of them. But most of our musicians had no idea about the role of a musical instrument.

Q: You say that Western music has been theorised strictly in the book?

A: Yes. It has been highly theorised. No one can produce music by mixing pieces from different musical traditions carelessly. For instance, Beethoven’s music can’t be used for current issues without acquiring a good knowledge of his music, because each sound chord of him expresses a particular feeling. Actually, there are guidelines in Western music. One cannot create something out of it without following rules.

(Pix by Saliya Rupasinghe)