- Inattentive Engagements: The New Problematics of Sound and Music
Consider this partly an autoethnography of my intellectual past, present, and near future. Consider it an account of my participant observation of my own scholarly trajectory. Consider it an offer of one possible history, position, tendency.1
I grew up in a family of musicians, people whose talents intimidated me, they were so good. As a young adult, I had many ideas about what to study and started and stopped my undergraduate education multiple times, with periods of activism as punctuation, before landing in media studies. I thought I would be a music and theater journalist.
But in the early 1980s, in a required course taught by Patricia Clough, I was blown away by feminist psychoanalytic film theory. It seemed to offer a good—and not condescending—explanation of why we act against our own historic self-interest. What I couldn’t understand was why it was so resolutely visual. So I began to write essays for film courses on film music. This turned into the motivation to go to graduate school, and, like an impressive lineup of film scholars before me (even though I did not know it)—Tania Modleski, Dana Polan, Rey Chow, Sarah Kozloff—I went to Stanford’s Program in Modern Thought and Literature; I needed an interdisciplinary program because I wanted to combine serious film study and musicology to think about these questions.
My 1993 Ph.D. thesis ultimately became Hearing Film, which considers the different paths of identification commonly offered by compiled and composed scores.2 Hearing Film put me in distinguished company with a small group of scholars who had written monographs about film music that are informed by contemporary theories of culture.3 Since then, a number of important works have been published, such as Annette Davison’s Hollywood Theories, Non-Hollywood Practice,4 and particularly anthologies such as Soundtrack Available, Music and Cinema, Popular Music and Film, Pop Fiction, and European Film Music.5 Where once I saw only a few scholars, now I see a recognizable and interdisciplinary field of scholarship, with institutional apparatuses such as journals and conferences.6
In our journal, Music, Sound, and the Moving Image, coeditor Ian Gardiner and I, with editorial assistants Tim McNelis and Elena Boschi, spend a lot of time talking about how to keep the spread of disciplines lively in the journal. The question of disciplinarity has been of great interest to me, and I have always been intrigued that the founders of film music studies, one could argue (and I would), all call film studies home.7 But I have never seen a job for a film music—or a film sound—scholar advertised, and of all the important centers of film scholarship, [End Page 118] only the University of Wisconsin–Madison has a film music scholar (Jeff Smith), and only the University of Iowa can boast a film sound scholar (Rick Altman). As far as I know, all the other scholars in the field are at smaller universities, or in departments other than film studies.
When I began a job search in 2004, I regularly read the advertisements for posts in film or media studies departments, and I did not think I could answer a single one of them. But I received three offers from music departments—outside the United States, mind you, because most music departments in the United States are still quite disciplinarily conservative—even though I do not have a degree in music and I consider media studies my home field. I certainly do not feel out of place in music, and especially not in the School of Music at Liverpool, which houses the Institute of Popular Music, whose staff is as interdisciplinary as one could possibly hope for. But I’m very concerned that the perspectives and insights of film and media studies not be lost or set aside in the growing field of music, sound, and moving image studies—while the scholarship in musicology on film music is strong and exciting, it asks and answers genuinely different questions than film or media studies might generate.
Moreover, the field of sound, music, and moving...