Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Who Heard What . . .

David Owen, Annals of Culture, The Soundtrack of Your Life. I liked this fairly well, well, I liked page 69. While I didn't really think that it explained "How Muzak makes you buy" it suggested various things I liked to think about. I rushed through the history of Muzak, but paused at,

"Until the late nineteenth century, people ususally had little access to music unless they made the music themselves, and even in the nineteen-twenties, when Wired Radio began, most people's lives were still tuneless much of the time." (69)

Tuneless? Maybe, maybe not. And researching this is tough, too, right?

After the description of his movie music experiment (which seems a little naive to me, I mean, he said he was a sound engineer), Collis says,

"Suddenly, I understood that the emotional content of a movie is driven largely by your ears. Your eyes can tell you what's going on in a scene, but its hard to feel through your eyes." (69)

Interesting, and problably true given certain movies at certain times. But this particular mapping of sensory experience and affect seems very culturally specific. This piece might have worked better if Owen were studying the prescene of music in the experience of the bourgeois family in the US . . . who might not have had much experience of public music and sound of the 19th century (but then again) and who might or might not be historically related to the shoppers at Abercrombie and Fitch. Or if he'd emphasized the historical association of music and consumption.

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Blogger mzn said...

That part about feeling through your ears is a badly made point. Emotion expressions and experiences are a multi-channel phenomenon. Reading silently can be powerfully emotional in a way that doesn't really require an appeal to the eyes or the ears. Silent movies can be moving without accompaniment. And in movies generally, we experience emotion as a result of many cues, some visual, some aural, and some that are neither (such as responding to a narrative situation that isn't conveyed in a way that makes what we see or hear particulary important for our response, e.g., silent offscreen violence).

But sound is also really important.

12:16 PM  
Blogger zp said...

Yeah, that's pretty much what I thought.

Sound as affective seems like a commonplace that maybe applies to a small range of Hollywood film, or a particular film aesthetic, but counter-arguments, like yours, abound. I love silent offscreen violence. It's, like, my favorite kind. I think it's really interesting how arguments about multi-sensory cinema return to arguments about narrative . . .

And it just occured to me (I was just returning the post to add a PS, but then I found your comment) that the old "it appeals to the emotions" charge is/was so often leveled at images at other historical moments. Duh. Icon taboos, etc.

Oddly enough, I just heard Rick Altman give a talk - the basic structure was debunking myths about silent film sound (including the mood music melody thing), but some of the principles held for other types of film sound. Anyway, my advisor is always saying you've got to read Rick Altman, and so I did but he left me cold. In print.

Until I heard this talk and then I was thinking a mile a minute and making all kinds of exciting connections and I have to say, I think he's better live. He used voices in his talk. Like, fake stagey accents to read the texts he was using that described silent film sound. Fucking hilarious. So go figure.

12:51 PM  
Blogger the chocolate lady said...

Hi, I'm a bit late, but this reminds me of a passage in Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, in which Bellamy's hosts (from the future world of 1976) explain a music sharing system in which groups of musicians at different locations play (all day and all night? It seemed so), and listeners make telephone connections to the groups of their choice to hear the music they choose when they so choose. I was very impressed with this passage, the only part of the book I remember clearly 25 years after reading it. I mean, he was pretty close, even without predicting recording, broadcasting, or pledge drives.

Bellamy thinks this an enormous improvement over having no recourse but the wretched musicianship of one's own friends and family.

3:27 PM  
Blogger zp said...

"the wretched musicianship of one's own family" i think bellamy must have meant mine - by all historical accounts, enthusiastic tuneless noisemakers . . . a legacy that has endured well into the 20th C . . .

8:03 AM  
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9:19 AM  

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