Meaning and Interpretation of Music in Cinema by David Neumeyer (review)
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Meaning and Interpretation of Music in Cinema. By David Neumeyer with contributions by James Buhler. pp. xv + 319. Music, Film and Media. (Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2015. $36. ISBN ISBN 978-0-253-01649-2.)

In the last twenty years, the volume of literature on film music has greatly increased. This area of scholarship owes a lot to David Neumeyer for his insightful studies on the relationship between the visual and the aural components of cinema. He has been crucial for the stabilizing and expanding of the new domain of film musicology, not only as a dynamic equilibrium between film and music studies but also as an autonomous field of research and interpretation. It is not an exaggeration to state that most of his earlier contributions can be found on the shelf of practically anyone in the academy who has seriously considered film music.

Meaning and Interpretation of Music in Cinemabrings to mind the challenging work of the leading film theorist and historian David Bordwell, namely Making Meaning: Inference and Rhetoric in the Interpretation of Cinema(Cambridge, Mass., 1991). In fact, the former could be considered a generic analogy to the latter, regarding, on the one hand, cinema as a totality and, on the other, music as an ingredient of the audiovisual cinematic milieu. In this way, Neumeyer introduces an eloquent and all-inclusive film music theory that focuses on the spectator's mental activities (revealed through systematic analysis) in constructing and enhancing meanings through music and sound in cinema. As he states in the preface (p. x), in line with the suggestions of other theoreticians (such as Rick Altman's 'integrated sound track'), this approach takes into account diverse cognitive procedures, modes of operation, and interpretations that give prominence to the overall acoustic environment of the film, especially '[t]he distinction between music forfilm (understood semiautonomously) and music infilm (understood as an element of the sound track)'.

The book is divided into three generalçyet quite independentçparts, labelled 'Music and Interpretation', 'Music in the Mix: Casablanca', and 'Topics and Tropes: Two Preludes by Bach'. The second part was written with Neumeyer's colleague James Buhler, another expert in film-music analysis. The volume began as a collection of earlier essays by (or co-written by) Neumeyer, but was subsequently expanded to include fresh ideas on previous enquiries and broaden the study of filmic [End Page 673]soundscape. The main aim of the bookç motivated by Michel Chion's notice on cinema's 'vococentrism' (the precedence of the voice over other acoustic elements)çis that the assessment of film music should take into account not only the music track but also the entire aural ambience (p. xii). The methodological and ontological reflection on the typical audiovisual perception during the cinematic experience turns out to be a significant addition to scrutiny of the linkage between music and film.

Neumeyer begins the first chapter ('Music in the Vococentric Cinema') with an explanation of the book's title and presents the volume's central argument, i.e. that the filmic sound track is both integrated and vococentric. In other words, it is the auditory aspect of film's double nature: it prioritizes the human voice over music and sound effects. In addition, interest in filmic sound (during both the creation and the study of film) has almost always been located in interpersonal dialogue. This should be regarded as a key point in film-music analysis, and it is expounded through a discussion of selected scenes from To Have and Have Not(1944).

In the second chapter, Neumeyer elucidates several methods for analysing and interpreting the relationship between sound, music, and the moving image. He combines narratological and musicological schemes, emphasizing their visual and aural codes. Building on Chion's four stages of analysis and interpretation ( Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen, ed. and trans. Claudia Gorbman (New York, 1994)), Neumeyer considers particular patterns of analysis, namely 'itemizing', 'characterizing', 'locating sync points', and 'comparing sound and image'. He then organizes an assortment of methodological topics derived from the work of other film-music scholars, establishing a set of 'five binaries': 'clarity/fidelity', 'foreground/background', 'diegetic...


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