The Velvet Light Trap 51 (2003) 73-91
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Panel Discussion on Film Sound/Film Music:
Jim Buhler, Anahid Kassabian, David Neumeyer, and Robynn Stilwell
This panel discussion took place in "real time" in an on-line chat room devised especially for this event. Participants were then asked to offer their closing thoughts on the topics discussed as well as on the means of communication. The on-line chat room approach was used by the editors in order to capture some of the conversational aspects often lost in academic interviews.
[WELCOME] Welcome to the VLT Chat!
The History of Film Sound Research
Kyle: Hello, all. Thanks for participating in this somewhat experimental roundtable mode. I'm Kyle Barnett, the guy with the questions for you. First question: Why has the study of film music developed as it has, in fits and starts? Why the increased interest now?
David: Some quick thoughts to start the conversation. Film music studies was slow to develop because writing about film music was mostly in the hands of practical musicians (Erdmann and Becce, Sabanaev, London, Eisler, Manvell and Huntley, Bazelon, etc.—through On the Track [Karlin and Wright]). Increased scholarly interest started (slowly) after sound design integrated the sound track in the 1970s.
Sarah: Can you describe that integration, David?
David: I was thinking of Walter Murch's "invention" of sound design. Historically, that is. Michel Chion complains about classical sound tracks as being nothing but speech and that everlasting music.
Robynn: I think part of the reason it developed in fits and starts is the isolation in which people have generally started to work. This is also seen in the way that everyone seems to have to start afresh when speaking about it. As to why now, I think people are more interested in interdisciplinary topics, and musicologists are also starting to get back to the idea of meaning.
Jim: . . . and the realization that music helps sell films, especially blockbusters.
Anahid: To follow on Jim's and David's points, maybe it's also the increased importance of sound design in blockbusters.
Jim: David and Robynn seem to be making a similar point. Much of the isolation has to do with the institutional structure of film music both in the studio and in the academy.
Musicology versus Film Studies:
Conflict in Ideologies and Positions on Meaning Making
Kyle: Let's talk about disciplinary problems. It seems that any discussion of film music has to interact with a number of different traditions, which don't talk well with one another.
Sarah: Robynn, can you describe the field of musicology and how it's methodologically changed over time?
Robynn: The field of musicology began largely out of German positivism and the "ideal" of absolute music, so there's the initial resistance to musical "meaning" [End Page 73] in the way film scholars usually engage with it. It has only been within my "lifetime" as a scholar (I got to grad school in the late 1980s) that such discussions have started to come back in. In fact, there was still a lot of resistance.
Anahid: From the point of view of musicology, I think the openings have been coming from canon critiques. And from the other direction, film theory got so caught up with vision as the basis for engagement.
Jim: Well, yes, vision remains primary still, I think. Look at Chion, who despite everything still seems to grant the image track an autonomy not granted the sound track. "There is no sound track" doesn't seem to carry the corollary that there is no image track. Yet for me, sound tracks alone are generally more narratively coherent than image tracks.
Robynn: Yes, in a nutshell, you had musicologists who didn't want to deal with meaning (narrative, dramatic, whatever), while film studies is largely "deaf"?
Jim: Surely, film scholars are sensitive to issues of film sound—more sensitive in many respects than film...