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5-1
Sights of Contention:
Negotiating Culture Through Music and Visual Media

James Deaville (McMaster University), Organizer
Caryl Flinn (University of Toronto), Chair

 

The study of the intersections between music and the film media is one of the most rapidly expanding areas of scholarly inquiry in music at the present, profitably engaging specialists in such diverse fields as American music, popular music, ethnomusicology, gender studies in music, and historical musicology, as well as film studies. The present session represents the first effort to bring together serious, disciplinary work about film and television music in one interdisciplinary event. It is the intention of the organizer and participants that the session will foster dialogue between disciplines and inspire further work in this culturally crucial area of study.
Considering its importance in our culture, music for film and television reflects many of the struggles society is undergoing in this "millennial" age. In many ways, it serves as the site at which cultural values, especially those surrounding such issues of identity as gender and race, have been contested. Each of the six speakers, representing a different constituent society, will address how film/television music negotiates a specific cultural issue as seen from the perspective of his/her discipline. That as a result of these studies, marginalized musical voices find expression bespeaks the power of the configuration of musical and visual media to engage in significant cultural work, whether to confirm or to question dominant cultural constructions.
The overall framework of the session is standard 20-minute presentations, yet adequate time will be allotted after each paper for a free-ranging discussion among participants and audience members. Caryl Flinn will provide a brief introduction to the session, and then introduce each speaker-she will also serve as an informal respondent to the papers. Each of the presentations will be enlivened by frequent recourse to visual and audio examples from film and television.

 

"Zippergate": Music, Television and the American Moral Dilemma

James Deaville (McMaster University)

The musical stingers used at the beginning of ongoing network news items about major crises, such as the "Gulf War" or the "Crisis in Kosovo," rely upon conventions of signification within film and television music, whereby the briefest of musical topoi are supposed to establish a correspondence with the signified (e.g. militant musical gestures for warfare). However, the coverage of the impeachment proceedings for President Clinton disrupted this semiotic system: what type of music would be appropriate as emblem for the crisis over Clinton? Stately, presidential music? Romantic music? Study of the networks' choices reveals how the constantly changing and ultimately unsatisfying stingers for "Zippergate" musically envoiced the underlying American moral dilemma that Clinton's troubles unleashed (or unveiled).

 

Visible Cries of Desire:
The Schubert Soundtrack in Jane Campion's Portrait of a Lady

Lawrence Kramer (Fordham University)

Campion's film version of Henry James's novel uses segments of Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" Quartet in ways that break down the classic distinction between diegetic and nondiegetic music. The quartet music becomes a virtual doppelgänger for the heroine, Isabel Archer, articulating her desires in terms she cannot imagine. This anachronistic device forms part of a system of distinct historical strata through which Campion examines the social definition of feminine desire in the late twentieth century by reflecting back on, and back from, its origins in the nineteenth. Basic to this technique is the revisionary image of Schubert constructed in the 1990s around themes of tormented sexuality and social marginality. The film's soundtrack becomes both the medium of Campion's critique and a vehicle for articulating new types of relationship between visuality, desire, and the film image based on the breakdown of a unitary concept of character.

 

"A Process of Advocacy":
Racial Representations on MuchMusic (Canada) and MTV (U.S.)

Karen Pegley (York University)

It is indisputable that since MTV's premiere as a venue for (primarily) white rock acts, the station - albeit sometimes reluctantly - has expanded its range of musical genres and racial representations. MuchMusic, Canada's foremost music television station, goes even further to demonstrate multicultural diversity, showcasing a variety of languages, a wide range of musical genres, and several "world music" video shows. When each station is examined vis-à-vis video programming and rotation schedules, however, they exhibit unique, carefully controlled, nationally-inflected relationships between dominant and marginalized musical traditions. In this paper I explore how multiculturalism appears to be "celebrated" on MuchMusic and MTV while representations are negotiated such that ethnocentric norms and values, which pervade North American cultural media, are never contested.

 

"Beethoven's Shadow in Soviet Film"

Mark Slobin (SEM, Wesleyan)

The paper uses examples from Soviet film of the 1930s-1950s to show how classical music functions within a socialist realist discourse with nationalist overtones as a subtext or counternarrative to the more predominant thematics of the films of the period, and concludes with brief parallel examples from other non-Hollywood cinema systems, principally Yiddish film.

 

American "Topoi" in American Film Music

Michael Saffle (Virginia Tech)

Topoi are musical "places": collections of melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and vocal-instrumental gestures associated with particular attitudes, activities, classes of people, and nations. Everyone knows the Turkish topos, the Spanish topos, the "Oriental" topos, and so on. What, however, of the American topos? Attempts-some of them artistically successful, some ludicrous and even offensive-have been made to "locate" or "define" America musically in terms of Polish, Jewish, Latin-American, Afro-American, popular, Germanic, Amerindian, and (of long standing, but recently revived - and with a vengeance!) Scottish-Irish references. This presentation will attempt to map American topoi in film music from the days of silent films to Pleasantville, Titanic, and American Beauty.

 

We Aren't in Kansas Anymore:
Non-Western Sounds in the Film Scores of Mychael Danna

Simon Wood (York University)

Since his 1987 feature debut in Atom Egoyan's Family Viewing, Canadian film composer Mychael Danna has consistently incorporated his interest in Middle Eastern and South Asian music with electronics and minimalist techniques to create music which Egoyan describes as: "transcendent, otherworldly, yet rooted in the very real emotions that define a community." This paper examines sections of several of Danna's scores, including his work for Ang Lee's The Ice Storm (1997), Egoyan's Exotica (1994) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997), in an investigation of how his consistent use of non-Western sounds and influences code the clearly western components of the various films, and how this style differs from conventional film scoring practice.

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