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View Full Version : Close Encounters: tones and signs


Jean Gray
01-11-2008, 10:37 PM
There may not be any answer other than "because Spielberg decided it would be that way," but I thought I'd ask.

Early on, when François Truffaut and friends go to India, the people are chanting in a way that sounds something like:

da DAAA, da DAA-ay

Then after Truffaut plays the chanting back at a meeting, he changes the sequence to sound more like the familiar

da DA da da DAA

and makes what look like ASL signs for each tone.

Was there a reason for changing the tone pattern and cadence? and are the signs supposed to mean something in particular?

Jean Gray
01-11-2008, 10:39 PM
Ugh, okay, my attempt to convey the tones looks remarkably stupid, but I hope some people are familiar enough with the movie to get what I mean.

Shawn1767
01-11-2008, 11:18 PM
Actually, I always thought that the hand signs were visual representations of the tones. The notes change I think because the meaning changes. It's like breaking down words into individual sounds and rescrambling them to mean something different. So, you get a basic tonal vocabulary and then arrange them in different ways, couple it with hand signs and you can supposedly communicate with an alien race. So, lets say the people in india were given a five tone "vocabulary." Then you take that vocabulary and recombine to mean new things.

Anyway...that was my take on it. Then at the end, once they've decoded the tonal vocabulary, the computer can take over and communicate more quickly with the alien ship.

But yeah... that's more or less how I always saw it.

(and I still own my Close Encounters lunchbox from when I was in 5th grade).

Drum God
01-12-2008, 01:05 AM
The tones are, in solfege, RE-MI-DO-DO(8ve bassa)-SO.

The hand gestures are Curwen/Glover hand signs (http://classicsforkids.com/teachers/training/handsigns.asp). They are common in teaching young children music, especially by teachers using the Kodaly or Orff methods. My elementary music teacher, an Orff devotee, taught them to us when I was a kid. I don't use it in my teaching, but I have known many high school and middle school choir teachers that use them.

gotpasswords
01-12-2008, 01:08 AM
Been a long time since I've seen that scene at the conference, but I thought he (probably briefly) explained how they went from "Ah yah, ah yah hey" to "Doo Do Dooo Do Dooooo"

Zebra
01-12-2008, 12:08 PM
When Truffaut gets to the India site, they are already doing the 'tones' and repeating it over and over. You just come in the middle of the cycle.

KneadToKnow
01-12-2008, 07:54 PM
The tones are, in solfege, RE-MI-DO-DO(8ve bassa)-SO.

The hand gestures are Curwen/Glover hand signs (http://classicsforkids.com/teachers/training/handsigns.asp). They are common in teaching young children music, especially by teachers using the Kodaly or Orff methods. My elementary music teacher, an Orff devotee, taught them to us when I was a kid. I don't use it in my teaching, but I have known many high school and middle school choir teachers that use them.
I'm not disputing you on facts, but on textual analysis: they are referred to explicitly as Kodaly hand signs in the film.
When Truffaut gets to the India site, they are already doing the 'tones' and repeating it over and over. You just come in the middle of the cycle.
I concur.

Drum God
01-12-2008, 08:57 PM
I'm not disputing you on facts, but on textual analysis: they are referred to explicitly as Kodaly hand signs in the film.



I did not remember the reference in the film, though I do remember the scene. Since I was in elementary school when the movie came out, I recognized the hand signs immediately.

I found the linked page by searching on Kodaly hand signs. In my un-edited post, I called them Kodaly hand signs, but I figured that someone would point out that the linked page calls them Curwen/Glover hand signs. [sigh] Sometimes, you just can't win. :p

KneadToKnow
01-12-2008, 09:01 PM
Sometimes, you just can't win. :p
I'm hip. ;)

Meeko
01-12-2008, 11:33 PM
Was there a reason for changing the tone pattern and cadence? and are the signs supposed to mean something in particular?


To work in the obvious nod to Jaws?

Equipoise
01-13-2008, 01:00 AM
They are common in teaching young children musicThat's one of the most bizarre things I've ever heard. Teaching children music via hand signs. That's as alien to me as particle physics.

I always thought that hand signal/music and lights/computer-taking-over bit in Close Encounters was just a bunch of movie mumbo jumbo, hooey to just come up with some mumbo jumbo-y way to communicate with the aliens.

There was actually something to it?? Get outta here! No shit?

Sage Rat
01-13-2008, 01:17 AM
I always thought that hand signal/music and lights/computer-taking-over bit in Close Encounters was just a bunch of movie mumbo jumbo, hooey to just come up with some mumbo jumbo-y way to communicate with the aliens.
It's still mumbo-jumbo hooey, no worry. It's just mumbo-jumbo with a consistent internal logic.

Equipoise
01-13-2008, 01:18 AM
Btw, I love that movie. I saw it when it was first released, drove 80 miles (round-trip) to see it on the biggest screen possible. I became obsessed with the movie, and it got me obsessed with astronomy, and obsessed with UFOs (which I don't believe in now, but I did then, big time) and I even went to a fascinating lecture given by Dr. J. Allen Hynek (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Allen_Hynek) (who has a wonderful, non-speaking cameo in the movie) and talked to him afterwards. Now, I would be all "oh yeah, right, sure" but then I was total sucker, and he was a sucker-magnet. What a fascinating, charismatic man he was!

Edit to add, thanks Sage Rat!

Boyo Jim
01-13-2008, 01:53 AM
To work in the obvious nod to Jaws?

I SO misread this at first and thought you were claiming an obvious nod to Jews. :smack:

friedo
01-13-2008, 02:09 AM
That's one of the most bizarre things I've ever heard. Teaching children music via hand signs. That's as alien to me as particle physics.


It makes things easier when you have to conduct a choir of many small children who have not learned to read music (or who don't want to.) They watch you for the hand signs and (attempt to) sing the notes. It makes sense when you see it, I promise.

Drum God
01-13-2008, 06:59 PM
That's one of the most bizarre things I've ever heard. Teaching children music via hand signs. That's as alien to me as particle physics.

I always thought that hand signal/music and lights/computer-taking-over bit in Close Encounters was just a bunch of movie mumbo jumbo, hooey to just come up with some mumbo jumbo-y way to communicate with the aliens.

There was actually something to it?? Get outta here! No shit?

The idea is to link knowledge and/or skills. With the hand signs, you've got the aural tones, the visual looking at the hand signs, and the kinesthetic of forming the hand signs yourself. It can actually be very effective when used by a skilled teacher. Many music teachers use American Sign Language when teaching for much the same reason. Elementary music education is more than simply teaching kids to sing or play an instrument. It is a whole-body experience involving voice, instruments, movement, visual cues, language, and other techniques.

Peter Morris
01-13-2008, 08:22 PM
Early on, when François Truffaut and friends go to India, the people are chanting in a way that sounds something like:

da DAAA, da DAA-ay

Then after Truffaut plays the chanting back at a meeting, he changes the sequence to sound more like the familiar

da DA da da DAA

Was there a reason for changing the tone pattern and cadence?

The way I always thought was that the Indians are repeating the sequence over and over, and we come in at the middle of a repetition. So, we hear the second half first, and the first half second. If we came in at the beginning, they would sound like :

da DAA-ay, da DAAA,
da DAA-ay, da DAAA,
da DAA-ay, da DAAA ...

Of course, I could be wrong, as the entire film seemed like incomprehensible nonsense to me.

Baldwin
01-13-2008, 09:26 PM
Christ, what a stupid movie. Effective, though; that scene combining the musical tones, colored lights and hand signs has stuck with me these thirty years.

Jean Gray
01-14-2008, 07:07 AM
Thanks all for the informative replies. Hearing the chanting start "in the middle" changes my perception of the melody just enough that it's hard for me to mentally adjust it to line up with the tones played on synthesizer (and aren't the notes still a little off??), but I understand what you're saying.

Hypno-Toad
01-14-2008, 08:00 AM
A couple of our Indian interns gave me a little inside info when we saw that scene. The chanters are saying the verb "to arrive" in two different tenses in that chant. So they're saying, "Arrival. Has Arrived." over and over. Then the leader climbs up on the hill and asks, "Where did these sounds come from? TELL ME NOW!"

I gleaned this info from the 20-minute rant about how "Everybody-thinks-we're-a-third-world-nation-but-we-aren't-we-have-a-space-program-for-Pete's-sake."

Scoundrel Swanswater
01-14-2008, 10:32 AM
I just wanted to add that I absolutely love this movie (I just bought it on Blu-Ray).
It is a sign of the times that movies with such an optomistic feel could still be made.
I don't think this movie could be made today.

Zebra
01-14-2008, 11:02 AM
Are you kidding?

At the time this movie came out the cinema was much more full of downer endings than today. In fact, it's hard to make a movie today that does not have a happy ending.

Scoundrel Swanswater
01-14-2008, 11:09 AM
No, I am not kidding.
Most movies nowadays do have happy endings, but the feeling of hope in this movie is something I haven't seen in movies since.
And just because they did make some very depressing movies during that period they apparently still had hopes for the future.
I don't see that a whole lot anymore.

Liberal
01-14-2008, 11:37 AM
It came out the same year Star Wars did, and it was a much better film.

BTW:

I thought the OP did a good job coding the tones. :)

jsc1953
01-14-2008, 11:49 AM
Thanks all for the informative replies. Hearing the chanting start "in the middle" changes my perception of the melody just enough that it's hard for me to mentally adjust it to line up with the tones played on synthesizer (and aren't the notes still a little off??), but I understand what you're saying.

One more "ditto" on the Indian version of the chant....if the "standard" version is 1 2 3 4 5 (rest)....1 2 3 4 5 (rest), the Indians were chanting 4 5 1 2 3 (rest)...4 5 1 2 3

I never understood the point of the hand signs. (For one thing, I don't understand the point of hand sign equivalent of musical tones, but that's not important now). Truffaut plays the notes....does the hand signs...and his audience stands up & cheers? Am I missing something?

Zebra
01-14-2008, 12:12 PM
No, I am not kidding.
Most movies nowadays do have happy endings, but the feeling of hope in this movie is something I haven't seen in movies since.
And just because they did make some very depressing movies during that period they apparently still had hopes for the future.
I don't see that a whole lot anymore.


Most people see CE3K and Star Wars as a huge turning point in American cinema. A turning towards happy/hopeful films and away from depressing ones.

More movies are being release now by Hollywood and their wholly owned 'independent' studios. In that mix, the majority are happy endings.

Besides, what is hopeful about CE3K. The alien visitation knowledge is completly covered up by the government. Roy is never coming back and the aliens themselves may never be coming back. Heck the 5 tones may mean "We want one to eat". They give back the people they've abducted and now they would just like one for a nice stew.

I've always viewed the film to be about the journey of an artist. He has this (artistic) vision and he must see that vision realized. At the expense of everything else, job, family, personal safety, he must see it through. He must commit 100% to doing it and leave behind anyone who hold back.

vibrotronica
01-14-2008, 12:37 PM
I just bought the 30th anniversary edition DVD, and I highly recommend it. The new cut is great, and the restoration looks fantastic.

Liberal
01-14-2008, 01:07 PM
Thing is, its effects were so good that they still look great even now. What is involved in the restoration?

Peter Morris
01-14-2008, 01:12 PM
I once read a review of the movie by Isaac Asimov. He hated it. Anyone else read it?

MovieMogul
01-14-2008, 01:13 PM
The 30th Anniversary edition (unowned by me) has the 3 different versions of the film: the original '77 release, the '79 Special Edition, and a recent director's cut that's longer than either (but which I think AMC has been airing recently, since a scene I never, ever saw before popped up when I was channel-surfing recently).

MovieMogul
01-14-2008, 01:16 PM
I once read a review of the movie by Isaac Asimov. He hated it. Anyone else read it?I don't think he ever wrote a review, but I did find this (http://americanindian.net/asimov.html) online:SWA Magazine: Recently, there have been several science fiction movies and television programs that have appeared. What are your opinions on Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and Close Encounters of the Third Kind?

Asimov: Well, I liked Star Wars. I thought Battlestar Galactica was such a close imitation of Star Wars, emphasizing the less attractive portions, that I was a little impatient with it. And as for Close Encounters, I'm afraid I detested that. It was too noisy and parts of it were just silly.

Liberal
01-14-2008, 01:21 PM
Too noisy? Bizarre. It's like the Austrian Emperor's criticism of Mozart: "too many notes". :D

Peter Morris
01-14-2008, 01:48 PM
No, that wasn't it. It was a longer article where he discussed the plot, the acting and the special effect.

(That's effect singular. He made a point of not using the plural)

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