CC 300 DX - Music at the Movies: Listening to a Visual Art

3 Credits
Professor Steiner
MWF 11:30 am-12:20pm
Cross-listed with MUS 390DX.
Fulfills humanities fine arts requirement.

"Motion pictures" were born silent. But from the earliest public viewings they were accompanied by live improvised music. In the late 1920s, the technology had advanced to produce synchronized sound, making the first “talkies” possible. Since that time, music has been an integral part of the film art. Indeed, moments of silence now carry particular semantic weight. Despite music's ubiquity, the visual narrative in film still trumps the audio—even in the order of production. After all, when did you ever say you went to hear a movie?

In this course we will assess the role of music in film from the early days of synchronized sound to the present. How do the “diegetic” (part of the narrative action), “non-diegetic” (underscoring), “meta-diegetic” (exceeding the bounds of narrative action) and “acousmatic” (lacking a source) modes of film sound help us understand the narrative? When does music complement or contradict the visual narrative? How does music of different styles and provenance contribute to the meaning of a film? We will study music composed for films (original scores) as well as pre-existent music (such as popular and classical music). We will also read film-sound theories by scholar Claudia Gorbman, composer Michel Chion and philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Each week will be devoted to a film, including King Kong, Of Mice and Men, Psycho, Singing in the Rain, 2001 A Space Odyssey, The Lord of the Rings and The Artist. In addition to regular critical response papers, the final project will be a critique of a film of your choice in which you analyze the function of music and its historical context. The goal is to help all of us, musicians and non-musicians alike, attend to the audio semantics of the film and learn to articulate and critique our listening experience.