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Economy and Cultural Form

A decade ago, the customizable ringtone was ubiquitous. Almost any crowd of cell phone owners could produce a carillon of tinkly, beeping, synthy, musicalized ringer signals. Ringtones quickly became a multi-billion-dollar global industry and almost as quickly faded away. In The Ringtone Dialectic, Sumanth Gopinath charts the rise and fall of the ringtone economy and assesses its effect on cultural production.

Gopinath describes the technical and economic structure of the ringtone industry, considering the transformation of ringtones from monophonic, single-line synthesizer files to polyphonic MIDI files to digital sound files and the concomitant change in the nature of capital and rent accumulation within the industry. He discusses sociocultural practices that seemed to wane as a result of these shifts, including ringtone labor, certain forms of musical notation and representation, and the creation of musical and artistic works quoting ringtones. Gopinath examines “declines,” “reversals,” and “revivals” of cultural forms associated with the ringtone and its changes, including the Crazy Frog fad, the use of ringtones in political movements (as in the Philippine “Gloriagate” scandal), the ringtone’s narrative function in film and television (including its striking use in the films of the Chinese director Jia Zhangke), and the ringtone’s relation to pop music (including possible race and class aspects of ringtone consumption). Finally, Gopinath considers the attempt to rebrand ringtones as “mobile music” and the emergence of cloud computing.

A Mysterious Relationship

This book explores the relationships between language, music, and the brain by pursuing four key themes and the crosstalk among them: song and dance as a bridge between music and language; multiple levels of structure from brain to behavior to culture; the semantics of internal and external worlds and the role of emotion; and the evolution and development of language. The book offers specially commissioned expositions of current research accessible both to experts across disciplines and to non-experts. These chapters provide the background for reports by groups of specialists that chart current controversies and future directions of research on each theme.

The book looks beyond mere auditory experience, probing the embodiment that links speech to gesture and music to dance. The study of the brains of monkeys and songbirds illuminates hypotheses on the evolution of brain mechanisms that support music and language, while the study of infants calibrates the developmental timetable of their capacities. The result is a unique book that will interest any reader seeking to learn more about language or music and will appeal especially to readers intrigued by the relationships of language and music with each other and with the brain.

Contributors: Francisco Aboitiz, Michael A. Arbib, Annabel J. Cohen, Ian Cross, Peter Ford Dominey, W. Tecumseh Fitch, Leonardo Fogassi, Jonathan Fritz, Thomas Fritz, Peter Hagoort, John Halle, Henkjan Honing, Atsushi Iriki, Petr Janata, Erich Jarvis, Stefan Koelsch, Gina Kuperberg, D. Robert Ladd, Fred Lerdahl, Stephen C. Levinson, Jerome Lewis, Katja Liebal, Jônatas Manzolli, Bjorn Merker, Lawrence M. Parsons, Aniruddh D. Patel, Isabelle Peretz, David Poeppel, Josef P. Rauschecker, Nikki Rickard, Klaus Scherer, Gottfried Schlaug, Uwe Seifert, Mark Steedman, Dietrich Stout, Francesca Stregapede, Sharon Thompson-Schill, Laurel Trainor, Sandra E. Trehub, Paul Verschure

A Theory of Interacting with Sound and Music in Video Games

In Playing with Sound, Karen Collins examines video game sound from the player’s perspective. She explores the many ways that players interact with a game’s sonic aspects—which include not only music but also sound effects, ambient sound, dialogue, and interface sounds—both within and outside of the game. She investigates the ways that meaning is found, embodied, created, evoked, hacked, remixed, negotiated, and renegotiated by players in the space of interactive sound in games.

Drawing on disciplines that range from film studies and philosophy to psychology and computer science, Collins develops a theory of interactive sound experience that distinguishes between interacting with sound and simply listening without interacting. Her conceptual approach combines practice theory (which focuses on productive and consumptive practices around media) and embodied cognition (which holds that our understanding of the world is shaped by our physical interaction with it).

Collins investigates the multimodal experience of sound, image, and touch in games; the role of interactive sound in creating an emotional experience through immersion and identification with the game character; the ways in which sound acts as a mediator for a variety of performative activities; and embodied interactions with sound beyond the game, including machinima, chip-tunes, circuit bending, and other practices that use elements from games in sonic performances.

Musical Experiments, Experimental Sounds, 1840-1910

In the middle of the nineteenth century, German and Austrian concertgoers began to hear new rhythms and harmonies as non-Western musical ensembles began to make their way to European cities and classical music introduced new compositional trends. At the same time, leading physicists, physiologists, and psychologists were preoccupied with understanding the sensory perception of sound from a psychophysical perspective, seeking a direct and measurable relationship between physical stimulation and physical sensation. These scientists incorporated specific sounds into their experiments--the musical sounds listened to by upper middle class, liberal Germans and Austrians. In The Psychophysical Ear, Alexandra Hui examines this formative historical moment, when the worlds of natural science and music coalesced around the psychophysics of sound sensation, and new musical aesthetics were interwoven with new conceptions of sound and hearing.

Hui, a historian and a classically trained musician, describes the network of scientists, musicians, music critics, musicologists, and composers involved in this redefinition of listening. She identifies a source of tension for the psychophysicists: the seeming irreconcilability between the idealist, universalizing goals of their science and the increasingly undeniable historical and cultural contingency of musical aesthetics. The convergence of the respective projects of the psychophysical study of sound sensation and the aesthetics of music was, however, fleeting. By the beginning of the twentieth century, with the professionalization of such fields as experimental psychology and ethnomusicology and the proliferation of new and different kinds of music, the aesthetic dimension of psychophysics began to disappear.

Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear

Sound can be deployed to produce discomfort, express a threat, or create an ambience of fear or dread--to produce a bad vibe. Sonic weapons of this sort include the “psychoacoustic correction” aimed at Panama strongman Manuel Noriega by the U.S. Army and at the Branch Davidians in Waco by the FBI, sonic booms (or “sound bombs”) over the Gaza Strip, and high-frequency rat repellants used against teenagers in malls. At the same time, artists and musicians generate intense frequencies in the search for new aesthetic experiences and new ways of mobilizing bodies in rhythm. In Sonic Warfare, Steve Goodman explores these uses of acoustic force and how they affect populations.

Traversing philosophy, science, fiction, aesthetics, and popular culture, he maps a (dis)continuum of vibrational force, encompassing police and military research into acoustic means of crowd control, the corporate deployment of sonic branding, and the intense sonic encounters of sound art and music culture.

Goodman concludes with speculations on the not yet heard--the concept of unsound, which relates to both the peripheries of auditory perception and the unactualized nexus of rhythms and frequencies within audible bandwidths

Meaning, Ontology, and Emotion

How human musical experience emerges from the audition of organized tones is a riddle of long standing. In The Musical Representation, Charles Nussbaum offers a philosophical naturalist's solution. Nussbaum founds his naturalistic theory of musical representation on the collusion between the physics of sound and the organization of the human mind-brain. He argues that important varieties of experience afforded by Western tonal art music since 1650 arise through the feeling of tone, the sense of movement in musical space, cognition, emotional arousal, and the engagement, by way of specific emotional responses, of deeply rooted human ideals.

Construing the art music of the modern West as representational, as a symbolic system that carries extramusical content, Nussbaum attempts to make normative principles of musical representation explicit and bring them into reflective equilibrium with the intuitions of competent listeners. The human mind-brain, writes Nussbaum, is a living record of its evolutionary history; relatively recent cognitive acquisitions derive from older representational functions of which we are hardly aware. Consideration of musical art can help bring to light the more ancient cognitive functions that underlie modern human cognition.

Edited by Julia Robinson

John Cage (1912–1992) defined a radical practice of composition that changed the course of modern music and shaped a new conceptual horizon for postwar art. Famous for his use of chance and “silence” in musical works, a pioneer in electronic music and the nonstandard use of instruments, Cage was one of the most influential composers of the last century. This volume traces a trajectory of writings on the artist, from the earliest critical reactions to the scholarship of today. If the first writing on Cage in the American context, often written by close associates with Cage’s involvement, seemed lacking in critical distance, younger scholars--a generation removed--have recently begun to approach the legacy from a new perspective, with more developed theoretical frameworks and greater skepticism. This book captures that evolution.

The texts include discussions of Cage’s work in the context of the New Music scene in Germany in the 1950s; Yvonne Rainer’s essay looking back on Cage and New York experimentalism of the 1960s; a complex and original mapping of Cage’s place in a wider avant-garde genealogy that includes Le Corbusier and Moholy-Nagy; a musicologist’s account of Cage’s process of defining and formalizing his concept of indeterminacy; and an analysis of Cage’s project that considers his strategies of self-representation as key to his unique impact on modern and postmodern art.

In Operatic Afterlives, Michal Grover-Friedlander examines the implications of opera’s founding myth—the story of Orpheus and Eurydice: Orpheus’s attempt to revive the dead Eurydice with the power of singing. Grover-Friedlander examines instances in which opera portrays an existence beyond death, a revival of the dead, or a simultaneous presence of life and death. These portrayals—in operas by Puccini and other composers and performances by Maria Callas-are made possible, she argues, by the unique treatment of voice in the operas in question: the occurrence of a breach in which singing itself takes on an afterlife in the face of the singer’s death. This may arise from the multiplication of singing voices inhabiting the same body, from disembodied singing, from the merging of singing voices, from the disconnection of voice and character. The instances developed in the book take on added significance as they describe a reconfiguration of operatic singing itself.

Singing reigns over text, musical language, and dramatic characterization. The notion of the afterlife of singing reveals the singularity of the voice in opera, and how much it differs categorically from any other elaboration of the voice. Grover-Friedlander’s examples reflect on the meanings of the operatic voice as well as on our sense of its resonating, unending, and haunting presence.

Traditionally, opera kills its protagonists, but Grover-Friedlander argues that opera at times also represents the ways that the voice, singing, or song acquire their own forms of aliveness and indestructibility. Operatic Afterlives shows the ultimate power that opera grants to singing: the reversal of death.

Edited by Caleb Kelly

The "sonic turn" in recent art reflects a wider cultural awareness that sight no longer dominates our perception or understanding of contemporary reality. The background buzz of myriad mechanically reproduced sounds increasingly mediates our lives. Tuning into this incessant auditory stimulus, some of our most influential artists have investigated the corporeal, cultural, and political resonance of sound.

In tandem with recent experimental music and technology, art has opened up to hitherto excluded dimensions of noise, silence, and the act of listening. Artists working with sound have engaged in new forms of aesthetic encounter with the city and nature, the everyday and cultural otherness, technological effects and psychological states.

New perspectives on sound have generated a wave of scholarship in musicology, cultural studies, and the social sciences. But the equally important rise of sound in the arts since 1960 has so far been sparsely documented. This volume is the first sourcebook to provide, through original critical writings and artists’ statements, a genealogy of sonic pathways into the arts, philosophical reflections on the meanings of noise and silence, dialogues between art and music, investigations of the role of listening and acoustic space, and a comprehensive survey of sound works by international artists from the avant-garde era to the present.

In Music and Probability, David Temperley explores issues in music perception and cognition from a probabilistic perspective. The application of probabilistic ideas to music has been pursued only sporadically over the past four decades, but the time is ripe, Temperley argues, for a reconsideration of how probabilities shape music perception and even music itself. Recent advances in the application of probability theory to other domains of cognitive modeling, coupled with new evidence and theoretical insights about the working of the musical mind, have laid the groundwork for more fruitful investigations. Temperley proposes computational models for two basic cognitive processes, the perception of key and the perception of meter, using techniques of Bayesian probabilistic modeling. Drawing on his own research and surveying recent work by others, Temperley explores a range of further issues in music and probability, including transcription, phrase perception, pattern perception, harmony, improvisation, and musical styles.

Music and Probability—the first full-length book to explore the application of probabilistic techniques to musical issues—includes a concise survey of probability theory, with simple examples and a discussion of its application in other domains. Temperley relies most heavily on a Bayesian approach, which not only allows him to model the perception of meter and tonality but also sheds light on such perceptual processes as error detection, expectation, and pitch identification. Bayesian techniques also provide insights into such subtle and advanced issues as musical ambiguity, tension, and "grammaticality," and lead to interesting and novel predictions about compositional practice and differences between musical styles.

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