- Reflections on Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference, Seattle 2019
Sound and music again had excellent representation on the programme at this year’s annual meeting of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) – an immense conference, with roughly 420 panels. SCMS has an official Sound and Music Studies Scholarly Interest Group (SIG), which identified thirty-one panels and thirty individual papers related to sound and/or music, far too many for a single person to cover. Consequently, we have assembled five attendees (Katherine Quanz, Brooke McCorkle, Eric Dienstfrey, Joan Titus, and James Buhler) to report briefly on their experiences at the conference. An appendix lists all panels and individual papers identified by the SIG or mentioned in our correspondents’ reports.
Katherine Quanz – Sound and Music SIG Co-Chair, NEH Audio Preservation Grant Project Coordinator, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin
The Sound and Music Studies SIG sent out daily communications to help members of the SIG navigate the extensive programme. Sound and music papers were generally well attended, with lively and diverse discussions. At the annual SIG meeting, the board celebrated Darshana Mini’s and Morgan Harper’s papers, which won the Claudia Gorbman Graduate Student Writing Award and an honourable mention, respectively. Mini’s revised paper appears in this issue of the journal (13.1). The SIG thanked Landon Palmer and Laurel Westrup for their service as the 2018 judges. Palmer and Westrup provided each student with in-depth feedback, and students, both at the meeting and over email, expressed their gratitude for these valuable comments. Additionally, Casey Long and Harry Burson presented their list of publications in the field of sound and music media, which will be officially released to SIG members in mid-April. Finally, [End Page 59] the SIG hosted a well-attended joint happy hour with the Classical Hollywood Cinema, War and Media, and Libraries and Archives SIGs.
In the ‘Transmedia Sonic Experiences’ panel (Panel C9), the presenters explored how media technologies can shape the ways soundtracks are produced and how we listen. Morgan Harper considered the history of white noise, how we learn to interact with it, and how these sounds have became a tool to mask various types of distractions so that we can focus or relax. Next, Landon Morrison drew upon archived computer scores to gain a deeper understanding of composers’ processes when creating new works with digital interfaces. Carlo Cenciarelli rounded out the panel by examining the use of headphones and voiceover in films. Cenciarelli argued that the combination of acoustic cocooning by headphones and voiceover narration has become a stylistic trope that cues audiences to the characters’ ‘inner-speech’.
With respect to some individual papers I heard, Anna Nekola (Panel N11) examined the use of world music in the television show, Omnibus (1952–1961). Drawing on archival documents from the Ford Foundation, Nekola demonstrated that the show’s producers selected musical acts to bolster diplomatic relationships between the United States and strategically important foreign countries like Japan and Yugoslavia. In so doing, Nekola deftly argued that Omnibus’s musical and dramatic performances helped the American government build relationships with former political adversaries.
Michael Slowik (Panel F13) presented research in his paper ‘“That’s a Very Pretty Speech”: The Equation of Sound Films with Truth in the Late 1920s’ on how fan magazines depicted sound technologies during the transition to talking pictures. He observed that fan magazines reported that sound reproduction technology would uncover deception and expose untalented actors. Slowik noted that such discourse was written at the behest of studios. He then demonstrated how sound’s relationship to truthfulness became a narrative trope across several early talking pictures, including Sunny Side Up (1929) and Coquette (1929).
In relation to music, Brooke McCorkle (Panel J14) explored how director David Lynch repurposed Angelo Badalamenti’s music when creating the soundtrack for Twin Peaks: The Return (2017). McCorkle analysed the subtle changes in instrumentation and pacing that made the familiar opening credit theme, ‘Falling’, familiar, yet different from the original series. Similarly, she demonstrated how Lynch’s use of ‘The World Spins’ invited audiences to...