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Reviewed by:
  • Music, Meaning and Media
  • Alexander Binns (bio)
Erkki Pekkilä, David Neumeyer and Richard Littlefield, eds., Music, Meaning and Media (Helsinki: International Semiotics Institute, 2006), x + 246pp.

Meaning has long been a favoured topic for those investigating the function of music in mixed-media settings. However, such investigation has at times verged on the positivist, categorising and formalist. At other times, it leans towards the generalised and overly expansive. Instead, using a variety of theoretical approaches to suit similarly varied sets of contexts can promote a more sensitive understanding of the function and effect of music. The volume Music, Meaning and Media, edited by Pekkilä, Neumeyer and Littlefield, attempts to respond in just such a dynamic and sensitive way to the varying fields of musical deployment that it examines. The book’s broad focus falls on various formulations of mass media, with a particular concentration on electronic production. Many such essay compilations begin as conferences – and this one is no exception – and tend to bring together not only new sets of focuses on the topics under discussion, but also some concentration on niche areas. Music, Meaning and Media incorporates this diversity by casting its net widely under the umbrella of musical mediation – which, the editors claim, has been understudied within musicology.

The book is divided into four broad areas – ‘Music in Narrative Film’, ‘Music and TV’, ‘Music Technology’, and ‘Migration and Mediation of Music’ – and contains a total of 16 contributions. For the purpose of this review, therefore, and because of the small amount of space and relatively large number of essays, I shall structure this commentary according to the broader categories. As can be expected, ‘Music in Narrative Film’ deals with how music is deployed in cinema as a way of controlling and constructing meaning. The book launches with David Neumeyer and Laura Neumeyer’s chapter entitled ‘On motion and stasis: Photography, “moving pictures”, music’, which proposes a theory of film music that focuses on the suitability or ‘fit’ between music and film. Their recourse to Barthes, and more specifically to his theory of photography and the image in Camera Lucida, is very insightful. The authors attempt to theorise film music according to how such a theory deals with the act of listening in film and how this is inexorably linked to visual and aural [End Page 149] dimensions. This is long overdue, and seeks truly to wed the analysis of music in film to its other constituent elements. Moreover, they suggest that there exists a much more fundamental connection between image and sound – or in film, between what we see and the ‘appropriateness’ of the music that attends it.

This first section of the book then moves on to James Deaville’s contribution, ‘The topos of “evil medieval” in American horror film music’. ‘Evil medieval’ is a term loosely conceived to convey the use of forms of Gregorian chant as an invocation of the sinister, but also as an evocation of a nebulous medieval time or sensibility. This chapter opens up a fascinating area of study – one that surely deserves further work.

Erkki Pekkilä’s work on Aki Kaurismäki brings the soundtracks of an important and greatly understudied director into a critical context. ‘Music in Aki Kaurismäki’s film The Match Factory Girl’ discusses how the film deals deftly with social issues in Finland and popular culture, and how the use of mainly diegetic music contributes a similar sense of these social archetypes and, crucially, how these archetypes feel. Much work has emerged on the effects of popular music on film spectators, but the author avoids much discussion of this material, instead lamenting a lack of studies. Whilst this chapter remains rich and valuable, one wonders whether it might have been further enriched by recourse to a greater set of cultural theories, since behind the chapter’s implication (that music is strongly embedded within local cultures and thus contains within it the ‘structures’ of those cultures) lies just such a set of, on occasion, unaddressed questions.

The second section, ‘Music and TV’, rightly confronts television as a territory that occupies much less space in academic study. Ronald Rodman’s chapter, ‘Style and ascription in American...


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pp. 149-153
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