October 24, 2007

Music as Representation? a couple of random thoughts

Mitchell says "Many of these theories take music, (which for obvious reasons, is hard to describe in representational terms) as the paradigm for all the arts" (p. 17) and Hall says "Even music is a 'language" with complex relations between different sounds and chords, though it is a very special case since it can't easily be used to reference actual things or objects in the world" (p. 19) raises a couple of thoughts...as far as sounds go, in the movie Blow Out with John Travolta, where he is a sound guy for movies, he is ultimately after the perfect sounding "scream," and ends up using sadly his girlfriend, who gets murdered....yes her scream is authentic but is it because it was his girlfriend? what is being represented here?

and what about the many generations that appear at concerts - van halen, bruce springsteen...and the cultures that intermingle with that parents bringing kids...what are the parents saying that the music represents to them?


brett said...

hmm, well, to start with, i think what Mitchell and Hall are referring to music that isn't representing anything - classical music here is probably the exemplar, though certainly electronic music, jazz, and any kind of style of 'jamming' - these styles of music have no CONTENT; music is PURE FORM, through the arrangement of elements within temporal sequence, tension is built, rhythm builds expectations, appetite is created, and within the musical piece either they are satisfied or not in various degrees - the building and resolving of tension within a temporal arrangement of non-signifying elements - Burke wrote about this in his book COUNTERSTATEMENT, in his chapter on psychology and form, and perhaps if i can get ahold of a copy soon, i may be able to characterize Burke's approach to music better. I don't know about why Hall characterized music as a language, though. My inclination is to assume that language must involve representation.

A sound designer for a movie in many ways is choosing sound for representation - a sound represents a scream, that is an indexical sign given off from a character, signifying his or her internal (or external) state. In a movie, a sound is chosen for its representativeness - does it help convey, or enhance what is represented visually on the screen.

Rock concerts are interesting to me, for the fact that pop music involves WORDS, and words (always?) have a represntative quality to them. Words refer. This is a step away from the kind of music i was trying to characterize previously.

Q: Is language characterized by relationship to representation? May there be language without representation?

brett said...

ok, here's some Burke on form:

"Form is the creation of an appetite in the mind of the auditor, and the adequate satisfying of that appetite. This satisfaction - so complicated is the human mechanism - at times involves a temporary set of frustrations, but in the end these frustrations prove to be simply a more involved kind of satisfaction, and furthermore serve to make the satisfaction of fulfilment more intense" (p. 31).

in terms of music:

"Here form cannot atrophy. Every dissonant chord cries for its resolution, and whether the musician resolves or refuses to resolve this dissonance into the chord which the body cries for, he is dealing with human appetites" (p. 34).

and a bit more, to try to tie this back to the discussion of representation:

"Music, then, fitted less than any other art for imparting information (and by information, I believe he may include representation), deals minutely in frustrations and fulfilments...(p. 36)"

Through A Retina Darkly said...

I think it is easy to get confused in an example like this. Here we have a narrative film which is representational in a number of senses. But there are still some interesting things to say about this example.

Caveat preemptor: I haven't seen this film. But based on your description, the scream of the girlfriend getting murdered is recorded by the sound man. If he uses that sound in a film, is it a representation? Yes. The scream of a woman being murdered is used to stand in for the corresponding screen-scream of an actor who is pretending to be murdered. The only way it wouldn't be representational is if the girlfriend being murdered corresponds to the sound produced. But here, we would also be seeing/hearing this on film, which represents--it stands in and depicts the events, re-presences them for us.... What a tangle!

BTW: besides the actual dialogue recorded between actors on camera, every other sound you hear in a film is created, manufactured usually in a studio. And all the sound is heavily altered in post-production.