[Smt-talk] Narrative/analysis (was theory of film music)

Phillip Dineen murraydineen at uottawa.ca
Thu Jul 10 16:02:59 PDT 2014

Michael and Nicolas. Sorry Michael, Michael Kline just happened to walk by as I was typing earlier. If offered the choice of structuralisms, I'll take a continental please, a double if Frankfurt is still on the Continent (actually a double double at this hour of the day). I'll define structuralism by taking the structuralist stance that a definition really doesn't solve matters, but merely acknowledges the problem formally. (I think that's what the graph of linked signifier/signified clamshells means in Saussure: the sign just acknowledges the inherent problem of definition formally).

So, to return to the ever patient Bob and his question about a theory of film music, all the signs in a Continental structuralist theory of film music would be continually reaching out for more signs with which to signify. They would do so in a particularly filmic way, as opposed to a Continental structuralist theory of Lieder, which would do so in a Liederly way.

Getting off the Continent, I like what Peter Caws has to say about structuralism (Structuralism: The Art of the Intelligible, 1988). It's dependent upon a closed system, as a set of entities related such that the state of each element determines or is determined by the state of some other element or elements, and every element is connected to every other by exactly this kind of determination, that is to say "the system has no isolated elements," and to add to Caws, the system doesn't behave in weird and unpredictable ways. (Sound familiar, music theorists?) A filmic structuralism would sport a system filled with mutually determining elements, and presumably those would be conditioned by some common term that linked them all as filmic and musically theoretical.

Such a system can have a function if the functional element contributes to some process or to some end that the system undergoes or effects. "A system as a whole has a function only if it is an element in a more-inclusive system, that is, only if it affects something other than itself." Functionalism, it follows, concerns itself with the role of an element within some more-inclusive system (and not with the system per se, which is the business of structuralism). (To me, this sounds like what a lot of analysts do.) Thus a theory of functionalist theory of film music might concern itself with only comparable elements that share a common function in film music. Some folks will want to get off here.

A structuralist's structure, then, would be "a set of relations [relations in italics] among entities that form the elements of a system." (To me, this sounds like what a lot of theorists concern themselves with, without actually calling it structuralism.)

Functionalism, then, "defines the elements of a system in terms of the specific parts they play in it...."[Caws, 13] Structuralism is thus "the structure of functions," the "interplay of the ensemble of functions."

Again, not to lose Bob, if a theory of film music were a system, it might be defined by the specific parts at play in a necessarily filmic music or in music seen from some filmic perspective (applied to our old friend the montage, for example). Film would be the structural conditioner or enabler here; film would allow a new theory of musical structure to arise, different from a theory of musical structure applied to Lieder. Presumably there would be new structural elements or old structural elements (third lines, or V-I progressions) applied in new structural ways.

Perhaps as theorists we could use a little of the anthropologist's distinction between structure and function. Exchange occurs in many societies. As Caws says, I believe circa p. 26, "it turns out that almost anything will do -- gifts, language, money [Harley's]-- as a medium of exchange." A functionalist can describe the exchange in detail, but can't account for what should be gifts in one society, money in another. That's the business of a structuralist.

And that's why I invoked structuralism in response to patient Bob's query. As good functionalists, we might just move elements from one system [Lieder] into another [Film music]: as long as they work, whatever. But a good structuralist would concern themselves with why some elements work in Wagner but not in Hitchcock, or how they work differently in both.

I'm certain I've tried Bob's patience with this lengthy answer. Back to the Continent. And the double double, hopefully the first of many.


Murray Dineen
University of Ottawa
From: Smt-talk [smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org] on behalf of MICHAEL KLEIN [mklein01 at temple.edu]
Sent: 10 July 2014 14:51
To: Smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Narrative/analysis (was theory of film music)

Dear Colleagues,

Replying to just a few ideas in this thread:

There has been mention that we cannot speak of musical narrative until we define the word "narrative." Good luck with that.
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