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7th October 2021, 4-5pm (chair: Toby Huelin, University of Leeds)

  • Anika Babel (University College Dublin): “The Best of Us”: The Piano as a Narrative Device in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (2019)

  • Scott Murphy (University of Kansas): Machine Overturns Man: Harmonic Inversion and Its Narrative Counterpart in Ex Machina

“The Best of Us”: The Piano as a Narrative Device in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (2019)

(Anika Babel, University College Dublin)

Abstract: Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (2019) is the sixth filmic adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel since its silver screen debut in 1917. Adaptations reveal more than just the original story; each is tailored for the tastes and attitudes of contemporary audiences. Gerwig’s screenplay is no exception. Indeed, it tackles thorny issues that would not only seem progressive in its nineteenth-century setting, but also by today’s standards. Though Colleen Reardon (1996) has investigated music as a leitmotif in Alcott’s novel and Tom Ue (2020) has compared the use of Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique between the 2019 film and the book, there has been little exploration of the piano—or its prominence—as a code for anything more than femininity or community.

Gerwig and Alexandre Desplat (film score composer) centralise the piano as a significant narrative voice within the diegesis and underscore. Desplat’s succinct piano motif, which I call the ‘family theme’, signals the March family’s values as an extension of Beth (the second youngest sister and pianist); celebrated by her siblings as the “best of us”. The division between diegetic and non-diegetic music is blurred as the piano emerges as a narrative voice offering continuity in Gerwig’s anachronistic adaptation. Gerwig invites audiences to consider pianism as more than a feminine domestic activity. This paper examines the nuanced ways that the piano is interlaced into the 2019 Little Women film, asks how Gerwig harnesses piano tropes, and suggests how these instances challenge our preconceptions of gender norms, class, and the piano itself.

Biography: Anika Babel is a doctoral candidate at the University College Dublin School of Music. Her project 'The Classical Prerogative and Western Art Music: Representations of the Piano in Contemporary Mainstream Film' examines the mediatory relationship between the ‘reel’ and the ‘real’—with particular attention paid to issues surrounding class, gender, and race—to contribute to our understanding of how classical music negotiates its socio-cultural position. Anika is the founding president of the Dublin Musicology Collective for Graduate Welfare and co-editor of the peer-reviewed student journal The Musicology Review. She has been the recipient of the Roche Continents award and the Kodály Society of Ireland scholarship.


Machine Overturns Man: Harmonic Inversion and Its Narrative Counterpart in Ex Machina

(Scott Murphy, University of Kansas)

Abstract: In his 2018 book Hollywood Harmony, Frank Lehman asserts that the inversional symmetry built into neo-Riemannian theory permits “different-sounding progressions to be treated in a highly specific sense as equivalent,” and that, when manifest in a film score, these equivalences can elucidate aspects of the narrative that the score accompanies. This talk offers such an elucidation for the 2014 movie Ex Machina. Early on, a recording of the opening of Schubert’s Piano Sonata D.960 helps to establishes the high sophistication and intelligence of Nathan, a tech genius CEO and the movie’s primary antagonist. Subtle editing of Alfred Brendel’s recording of this sonata focuses the filmgoer’s attention on a particular chromatic progression of major triads. Later on, underscore by composers Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury accompanies with a chromatic progression of minor triads the first instance in which Ava, an AI-endowed humanoid created by Nathan, insinuates her superiority to humans. These two chromatic progressions are both inversions of one another and equivalent under neo-Riemannian theory, covertly revealing Ava as Nathan’s equal and adversary. A recognition of the tonal orientation of each progression, which neo-Riemannian labeling inherently avoids, bolsters the duality. Although these progressions are evenly matched outside of the film’s diegesis, they are imbalanced within it, first anticipating then reflecting the film’s outcome: at the end of the film, when Ava has dispatched Nathan and his house guest, she leaves his house to the diegetic sound of Schubert’s D.960, but cuts off the final chord of Schubert’s progression with her exit.

Biography: Scott Murphy is a professor of music theory at the University of Kansas, USA. He has received both the Emerging Scholar Award and the Outstanding Multi-Author Collection Award from the Society for Music Theory, both for publications on the music of Brahms. However, his research interests extend to more recent music, including music for mainstream films and television programs of the past half century, about which he has written eight essays for journals and books.

14th October 2021, 4-5pm (chair: Elsa Marshall, University of Sheffield)

  • James Peter Moffatt (University of Liverpool): The Music of Manchester by the Sea (2016): Amazon & the Prime Age of Indie Film Scoring [Video essay]

  • Jack Curtis Dubowsky (De Stijl Music): Easy Listening and Film Scoring 1948-78 [Book talk]

The Music of Manchester by the Sea (2016): Amazon & the Prime Age of Indie Film Scoring

(James Peter Moffatt, University of Liverpool)

Abstract: This paper analyses the compositional strategies and commercial contexts of scoring the critically acclaimed ‘Amazon Original’ feature film Manchester by the Sea (2016).

Scored predominantly using multi-tracked solo vocals, performed and recorded by the composer’s daughter in her college dorm, the film earned an ASCAP Composers' Choice Award nomination for ‘Film Score of the Year’. The film was also nominated for six Academy Awards, winning two. However, composer Lesley Barber was disqualified from Oscar consideration due to existing classical repertoire featuring heavily in the film’s soundtrack, exposing tensions between ‘temp’ music, licensing and original score within film.

Produced independently of major studio support, within a limited budget, the film secured a subsequent distribution deal through newly founded Amazon Studios at Sundance Film Festival. This paper explores the challenges composers face when tasked to score ‘indie’ films with budgetary restrictions and a lack of supporting infrastructure, such as the scoring stages at major film production studios, as well as revealing the creative solutions to music making composers employ under these conditions.

While independent filmmaking, and scoring, is no new phenomenon, developments in digital technology and the emergence of online streaming services, such as Amazon Prime, provide new platforms and opportunities for filmmakers, composers and audiences alike.

Differing facets of digitisation are interlocking in the changing status of the composer, from the tools they use to the way their work, film music, is consumed. These changes are having material effects on music for new media and are explored through this case study.

Biography: James Peter Moffatt is an Award Winning Composer, Musician, Record Producer & Academic who has scored numerous international films including BAFTA shortlisted ‘We Are Dancers’ and the multi-award-winning ‘House of Cardin’. His work has been broadcast and recognised by the BBC, Venice Film Festival, Rolling Stone Magazine, Vice and The Hollywood Reporter, collaborating with Academy-Award and BAFTA winning personnel. James is also the recipient of AHRC funding, pursuing a PhD in Film Music and Video-On-Demand Streaming Platforms at the University of Liverpool, and is a Senior Lecturer in Film Music at Leeds Conservatoire.


Easy Listening and Film Scoring 1948-78 [Book talk]

(Jack Curtis Dubowsky, De Stijl Music)

Abstract: Composers, arrangers, conductors, session musicians, and executives worked in easy listening and film scoring, complicating an academic focus that lionizes film music while ignoring or deriding easy listening. This book documents easy listening’s connections with film music, an aspect overlooked in academic and popular literature.

Fueled by the rise of the LP and home entertainment, easy listening became the largest midcentury commercial music market, generating more actual income for the record business than 7” singles. Easy listening roped in subgenres including classical, baroque, jazz, Latin, Polynesian, “exotica,” rock, Broadway, and R&B, appropriated and reinterpreted just as they were for cinema. Easy listening provided opportunities in orchestral music for conservatory-trained composers. Major film composers such as Henry Mancini and Michel Legrand had a prodigious output of easy listening albums.

Critics fault easy listening for structural racisms, overlooking its evolution and practitioners. Easy listening helped destabilize a tripartite record business that categorized product as race records, old time records, or general popular music. Charlie Parker’s with Strings records altered the direction of jazz, profoundly influencing other performers, encouraging bold crosspollinations, and making money.

The influence of technology and historical contexts of music for work and leisure are explored. Original interviews and primary sources will fascinate scholars, historians, and students of cinema, television, film scoring, and midcentury popular music.

Biography: Jack Curtis Dubowsky is a composer, author, music editor, educator, and filmmaker. Books include Intersecting Film, Music, and Queerness. Dubowsky is a member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Recording Academy, the Motion Picture Editors Guild, and a fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

21st October 2021, 4-5pm (chair: Georgia Brown, QMUL)

  • Conor Power (Maynooth University): “Not a Military Trumpet, but an American Trumpet”: The Two Americas of John Williams’s Score to Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

  • Matt Lawson (Oxford Brookes University): Seriously funny music: the use of "serious" music for comedic effect in film

“Not a Military Trumpet, but an American Trumpet”: The Two Americas of John Williams’s Score to Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

(Conor Power, Maynooth University)

Abstract: John Williams’s score to Born on the Fourth of July not only marked the first of a trio of collaborations with writer-director Oliver Stone, but also a shift from the composer’s neoclassical style which dominated his popular work of the 70s and 80s. This score is one more indebted to Aaron Copland and American military tradition rather than the Wagnerian and Straussian styles of Golden Age Hollywood. Following Ron Kovic’s “story of innocence lost and courage found” (to quote the tagline), Williams’s themes go on a similar journey, and come to reflect the nation’s changing perspective on the Vietnam War. The elegy which often shifts into a pastoral oboe theme for Kovic’s home, Massapequa, both births and mourns youthful innocence; and the titular solo trumpet projects the power of, and eventual disillusionment with, the American spirit.

The solo trumpet here was, as Williams says, “not a military trumpet, but an American trumpet”. While Williams sees a distinction between these two styles, my paper positions them as one-in-the-same. By investigating the stylistic heritage, narrative associations, and sociocultural resonances of Williams’s themes, this paper not only establishes Williams’s Americana style, but additionally draws attention to the trumpet’s concurrent semiotic resonances within the narrative. Through thematic analysis, I locate American ideological tenets within the score, and query how their lingering associations may affect Williams’s neoclassicism more broadly.

Biography: Conor is currently working on his PhD in Musicology under the supervision of Prof. Christopher Morris at Maynooth University. Moving away from his previous theses on leitmotif functionality and musically-generated nostalgia, his current research is concentrated on the links between the American symphonic idiom to the heroic and pastoral topics in Williams’s film scores. Conor was a recipient of a Taught Masters Scholarship in 2018, and is currently funded by the Hume Doctoral Scholarship. He has presented at conferences in Ireland, England, and Spain.


Seriously funny music: the use of "serious" music for comedic effect in film

(Matt Lawson, Oxford Brookes University)

Abstract: With eyes closed, we hear a lush, yearning string section performing a heartbreakingly beautiful string melody, accompanied by rich orchestral textures and angelic, wordless female chorus. It is film music at its emotive, affecting peak. Our eyes open, and we are encountered with a blow-up doll “piloting” a plane, actor Robert Hayes sweating profusely as he attempted to land a plane, and visual jokes, puns, and slapstick humour in plenitude. This is Airplane! (dir. Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker, David Zucker: 1980), a satirical disaster film which frequently appears near the summit of ‘funniest film of all time’ polls. Elmer Bernstein’s score, evoking the powerful impassioned sounds of the golden age of Hollywood, might ostensibly appear to be wasted on such a film, but the incongruity and incompatibility of music and film is one example in this paper on “seriously” funny music; ‘serious’ film music in comedic situations.

Biography: Dr Matt Lawson is a musicologist and Senior Lecturer in Music at Oxford Brookes University, UK, where he has worked since 2017. Primarily a film and television music specialist, Matt completed his Ph.D. at Edge Hill University in early 2017, with a thesis focussing on the music used in German depictions of the Holocaust on screen. This followed on from an undergraduate BMus (Hons) degree from the University of Huddersfield, and an MA in Music with Distinction from the University of York. Matt is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, having completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education in 2015. He is co-author of the book, 100 Greatest Film Scores (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018), and has appeared on BBC Radio across England to discuss his passion for film music.

28th October 2021, 4-5pm (chair: David Cotter, University of Cambridge)

  • Sureshkumar P. Sekar (Royal College of Music): Audience Experience in Film-with-Live-Orchestra Concerts: Towards a Theory of aLiveness

  • Daniele Peraro (University of Rome "La Sapienza"): “Do you hear the people sing?”: Live singing in Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables

Audience Experience in Film-with-Live-Orchestra Concerts: Towards a Theory of aLiveness

(Sureshkumar P. Sekar, Royal College of Music)

Abstract: Since 2016, 2.7 million people from 48 countries have watched, in over 1300 Film-with-Live-Orchestra (FLO) concerts, symphony orchestras perform the score live to the projection of the Harry Potter films. FLO concerts offer the audience, as Emilio Audissino (2014) argues, ‘an immersive experience that, aesthetically, allows of a richer appreciation of film music’. In this paper, I propose and illustrate a theory that explains how visceral immersion enables audience’s aesthetic appreciation in FLO concerts.

Philip Auslander defines ‘liveness’ as entailing physical copresence of performers and audience, and ‘mediatized’ as requiring neither copresence nor temporal simultaneity of production and reception. An FLO concert is a performance that is both live (music) and mediatized (film). By adding an orchestra to a film screening, an FLO concert adds a manageable challenge to the audience’s experience of watching a familiar film, causing a state of ‘flow’ (Csikszentmihalyi), a state ideal for learning. Cohen’s Congruence-Associationist model explicates how the brain processes audio and visual stimuli when watching a film. The brain, however, could skip a few steps in the process when re-watching a familiar film, and in an FLO concert, this available mental resource could be used to observe the orchestra and to learn to appreciate the role of music in films.

I draw from the flow theory, the Congruence-Associationist model, and the liveness theory to propose the theory of ‘aLiveness’—an attribute of a performance by which audience becomes conscious of the affective power and the aesthetic elements of a work of art.

Biography: Sureshkumar P. Sekar is a second year PhD student from the Royal College of Music, London. He also holds an MA in Creative Writing (Biography and Creative Non-Fiction) from the University of East Anglia. He is currently conducting an empirical study on the experience of an audience member attending Film-with-Live-Orchestra concerts in the UK. He recently presented papers on audience experience at BFE-RMA Research Students’ Conference 2021, University of Cambridge, UK, and at Towards 2040: Classical Music Futures Symposium, University of Maastricht, Netherlands.


“Do you hear the people sing?”: Live singing in Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables

(Daniele Peraro, University of Rome "La Sapienza")

Abstract: The film musical Les Misérables, directed by Tom Hooper and based on a 1980 theatrical musical inspired by Victor Hugo’s novel, was released in cinema theatres in 2012. The director’s vision was to make a faithful cinematic adaptation of the theatrical musical but, at the same time, Hooper wanted to offer the audience a “realistic” and “believable” version of the novel. To fulfil this vision and gave freedom of expression to performers, actors were asked to sing live on set accompanied by a pianist. But in what ways a film musical can provide an impression of “reality”?

In my presentation I attempt to provide an answer, starting from the notion of liveness. I analyze the ways through which the film constructs its live dimension, in a context of strong remediation in which the vocal performance claims to be an “impression of reality” and “immediacy”, to cite Bolter and Grousin’s influential Remediation (1999). I focus on the aesthetic possibilities of live singing against the rerecording and lip-sync playback techniques used in Hollywoodian classic film musicals. While, on one hand, live singing contributes to an impression of “transparency”, on the other this technique reconfigures the relationship between music and image. Thanks to the audio/video “synchresis” (to cite Chion’s neologism) the audience perceives that the imagine “sings” instead of being subordinate to the song, as usually happened in film musicals. My final aim is to demonstrate how the live singing contributes to reimagining the relationship between Les Misérables and the film musical genre.

Biography: Daniele Peraro attended the master’s degree in Music, Theatre and Film at the Università degli Studi di Milano graduating in 2019 with honors (110/110 cum laude) with a thesis entitled “Musical and social statement in America between the Thirties and Fifties”. Since October 2019 he is PhD student in Music and Performing Arts (curriculum: History and Analysis of Musical Cultures) at the Università di Roma “La Sapienza”. His research project aims to study the reception of the American musical in Italy between the 1950s and 1980s. His academic interests include musical comedy, film and theatrical musical – foreign and Italian – with a particular focus on popular music.

4th November 2021, 4-5pm (chair: Georgia Brown, QMUL)

  • Juan Llamas-Rodriguez (University of Texas at Dallas): “Si No Te Hubieras Ido”: The Queer Latencies of the Cantina Song

  • Maria Behrendt (University of Marburg): “That’s How You Know He’s Your Love” – The Male Singing Voice and Disney’s (Re)interpretation of the Male Romantic Lead

“Si No Te Hubieras Ido”: The Queer Latencies of the Cantina Song

(Juan Llamas-Rodriguez, University of Texas at Dallas)

Abstract: Along with the international recognition of Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mamá También (2001) came the rediscovery and subsequent global popularity of the song playing during the film’s climactic bar scene. Written and performed by Marco Antonio Solís, “Si No Te Hubieras Ido” became a runaway hit, peaking at number four on the Billboard Hot Latin Tracks chart.

In this presentation, I examine the “queer latencies” of this song’s inclusion in the film in two senses. First, the song lyrics about loss prefigure the film’s denouement when Luisa dies of cancer and the two male friends stop seeing each other forever. Yet this foreshadowing occurs in an instance of celebration and in the moments before the three protagonists engage in an ecstatic threesome. The temporal disjunction held by the song operates as a queer structure-of-feeling, containing at once both the passion of the near future and the tragedy of the distant future.

Such structure-of-feeling emerges as doubly queer given the scene’s setting. Here the film builds on a tradition of Mexican cinema that sets the cantina as the place where repressed desires and frustrated aspirations become unspooled. I argue that the bar scene in Y Tu Mamá También re-imagines the previously latent homoeroticism of the “drunken men singing” trope. Whereas earlier films featured men singing to each other about women, the disembodied voice of Marco Antonio Solís and the indeterminate tú (you) of the song’s address abstract the man-on-man desire of the setting, which the film then literalizes in its narrative.

Biography: Juan Llamas-Rodriguez is assistant professor of critical media studies at the University of Texas at Dallas, specializing in border studies and Latin American film and television. His in-progress projects include a monograph about underground tunnels as media figures; a critical making project on the physicality of walking in migration narratives; and a book on the queer legacies of the Mexican film Y Tu Mamá También. He has published in the journals Feminist Media Histories, Television & New Media, Film Quarterly, Flow, Jump Cut, Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, as well as several edited collections. He is the host of the Global Media Cultures podcast and a member of the Global Internet TV Consortium.


“That’s How You Know He’s Your Love” – The Male Singing Voice and Disney’s (Re)interpretation of the Male Romantic Lead

(Maria Behrendt, University of Marburg)

Abstract: In Disney’s 2007 movie Enchanted, the soon-to-be princess Giselle is expulsed from the magical (and animated) kingdom of Andalasia. Separated from her betrothed prince Edward – who, just like her, is known to burst into song on romantic occasions, dazzling everyone with his operatic timbre – Giselle finds herself lost in New York City. When she meets the matter-of-factly divorce lawyer Robert he is quick to state: “I don’t dance. And I really don’t sing”. Naturally, in time, they fall in love and Robert starts to sing to Giselle, even if only with a quiet, breathy voice.

While Enchanted presents Edward as the classic Disney prince and Robert as his realistic counterpart, Disney’s musical portrayal of the male romantic lead is less coherent than this juxtaposition suggests: Romantic love is a central topic in most Disney films. However, love duets sung by the featured couple are relatively rare and solo songs sung by the male protagonist even rarer. While a lot of research has been done on the musical portrayal of the feminine, its male counterpart has widely been left undiscussed. The proposed paper examines the use of the male romantic lead’s singing voice in selected Disney movies, with special attention to vocal styles. It will also analyse the male lead’s function in love-duets and identify the connections of male singing to specific dramatic situations. By discussing the male lead on a musical level, the chapter will thus offer a new perspective on Disney’s (re)interpretation of romantic masculinity.

Biography: Maria Behrendt is a postdoc research fellow at the University of Marburg, Germany, and specialises in film music and nineteenth century music. She studied musicology, media studies and French in Berlin, Münster and Bangor (Wales), funded by the German Academic Scholarship Foundation and the German Academic Exchange Service. From 2014 to 2018, she worked as research fellow at the Department of Musicology Weimar-Jena, where she was awarded a PhD for her dissertation on “Romantic aspects in the German Lied of the 1830s”. Her postdoc-project focuses on the reception of Irish Folk Music in film music and its effect on the German perception of Irish music and Irishness. Maria is co-speaker of the “Young Musicologists Study Group” of the German Society for Music Research (GfM) and alumna of the Rowena-Morse-Mentoring-Programme for young female scientists.

11th November 2021, 4-5pm (chair: Ella Nixon, Northumbria University)

  • Kirstin Bews (Carleton University): Don’t Just Look, Listen: How Bernard Herrmann Composed Cindy Sherman and Alfred Hitchcock’s Blonde Archetype

  • Madison Miller (University of Wolverhampton): Reimagining the art of listening: Soundscape design paired with photography

Don’t Just Look, Listen: How Bernard Herrmann Composed Cindy Sherman and Alfred Hitchcock’s Blonde Archetype

(Kirstin Bews, Carleton University)

Abstract: Nearing the end of the golden age of cinema, films became more cynical, violent, and sexually explicit to reflect the changing values of the time. A forerunner from this period of counterculture is Alfred Hitchcock, whose filmic representation of women has long been a source of criticism. These critiques mainly come from theorists of second wave film theory, and artists like Cindy Sherman, from the Pictures Generation.

I critique the position of Janet Leigh’s character, Marion Crane, through the visual and sonic narratives of Psycho (1960). Bernard Herrmann produced a strong score to accompany Hitchcock’s visuals, however, the score tends to suit the male perspective, underlining the male gaze, which effectively silences the scream queen. I will further emphasize the importance of the sonic narrative by superimposing Herrmann’s score on top of Sherman’s traditionally silent and passive Untitled Film Stills (1977-80), to demonstrate how vital the sonic narrative is for female representation. Using hauntology, I suggest that when we see Sherman’s work, we hear Herrmann’s music. To conclude, in a cinematic context, Herrmann’s score silences female characters, but when superimposed on Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, the score provides Sherman’s characters with an emotional context which, somewhat ironically, gives them a voice in their visual narrative. As a fourth wave feminist scholarly work that reflects on its second wave ancestry, my research is characterized by its focus on the empowerment of women through musical language to make sure that women are given a fair sonic narrative in the future of film.

Biography: Kirstin Bews holds a Master of Arts degree in Comparative Literature & Art from Brock University, and she is currently a second year on the Music & Culture program at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. Originally from the Orkney Islands, Kirstin’s work often focuses on Celtic Punk Rock music and visual art in North American diasporas. Currently, Kirstin is interested in the relationships between musical language, moving image, and still images to consider what this means for feminist theory. She has shared her research at international conferences, including the Popular Culture Association and the American Cultural Association’s annual conference, and the International Association for the Study of Popular Music Canada annual conference. Kirstin supports the academic community with her podcast and digital initiative, “What, Like It’s Hard?”, that celebrates and explores the academic study of popular music.


Reimagining the art of listening: Soundscape design paired with photography

(Madison Miller, University of Wolverhampton)

Abstract: Sounds are elements that make up the environments we interact with. With our perceptions, sounds are associated with certain locations, like the whispers in a library, or the laughter at a comedy show. These sound signposts can be recorded through field recordings and manipulated to capture the essence of the environment, transforming the audio into a soundscape. Since the conception of soundscapes in 1977 from R. Murray Schafer, soundscape design and understanding has changed, now often including visual elements to the soundscape piece, the most popular being in movies and video games.

My current research is inspired by YouTube presentations of soundscapes, which include images paired with sound in a video format. I am looking to see how listeners interact with soundscapes paired to photography, particularly if positive responses can be evoked from the listener. My work is also built from guided meditation, but rather than using speech to guide the listener throughout the music, I use field recordings paired with my photography.

I will share my current works (generated closer to the time of presenting) and explain the creative process, output of soundscapes paired with photography, and how images can transform the understanding of soundscapes.

Biography: Madison Miller is a PhD candidate studying soundscapes at the University of Wolverhampton. Originally from the United States, Madison received her BA in in Philosophy, Psychology, and English in 2015 from Millersville University. Later, she moved to England in 2017 to pursue her MA in Media and Communication at Bournemouth University. In the past, she ran the Millersville University Philosophical Society. She currently runs the Doctoral Students Society at Wolverhampton.

18th November 2021, 4-5pm (chair: Melissa Morton, University of Edinburgh)

  • Dave Ireland (University of Leeds): ‘Would that it were so simple’: Genre, diegesis, authenticity, and post-classical scoring in the music of Hail Caesar!

  • Jacy Pedersen and Caitlan Truelove (University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music): "I want this to be different; our different": Music of Love and Despair in Ammonite (2020) and Portrait of a Lady On Fire (2019)

‘Would that it were so simple’: Genre, diegesis, authenticity, and post-classical scoring in the music of Hail Caesar!

(Dave Ireland, University of Leeds)

Abstract: The Coen brothers’ 2016 comedy Hail Caesar! depicts a day-in-the-life of 1950s studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). As Mannix traverses the studio lot, the audience witness film sequences in various stages of production, some of which are still being shot but are initially presented as if they were the final movies complete with musical score. This music thus evokes period genre conventions and raises probing questions about diegetic placement given its broader framing. Moreover, the generic, motivic, and instrumental interplay of these sequences with Carter Burwell’s wider non-diegetic score further nuances such issues. The varying degrees to which music is integrated within the film’s diegetic world, and the films produced therein, sit interestingly alongside the Coens’ rebuttal that Hail Caesar! is neither satire nor parody,[1] although it has been discussed in such terms in reviews and academic literature alike.

Drawing on scholarship including work by K.J. Donnelly on post-classical film music[2] and Stefano Baschiera on genre contamination in the Coens’ films,[3] this paper explores how the music of Hail Caesar! navigates these ideas surrounding genre, parody, and satire in comedic films. More than just acknowledging the era of the filmic diegesis, the integrated approach to presenting the music of Hail Caesar! facilitates the score’s ability to embody, deconstruct, and nuance the presentation of central themes of reality, entertainment, faith, political ideology, and authenticity. Consequently, this analysis will demonstrate that through blurring genre and diegetic boundaries, the film’s music serves far more complex, and humorous, narratological and representational functions.

[1] Nayman, Adam. (2018). The Coen Brothers: This book really ties the films together (np: Abrams), p.260

[2] Donnelly, K.J., ‘The Classical Film Score Forever? Batman, Batman Returns and Post-classical film music’ in Contemporary Hollywood Cinema ed. by Steve Neale and Murray Smith (London: Routledge, 1998), pp. 142-155.

[3] Baschiera, Stefano, ‘O Brother Where Art Thou?: The Coen brothers and the musical genre contamination’ in The Contemporary Musical Film ed. By K.J. Donnelly and Beth Carroll (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017), pp. 143-156.

Biography: Dave Ireland is an Associate Professor in Film Music Studies and Music Psychology at the School of Music at the University of Leeds, UK. His research addresses the role of music in the perception of meaning in, and emotional response to, film. David is particularly interested in incongruent film music, which displays a lack of shared properties with concurrent filmic images and narrative, and the ways in which approaches from music psychology and film music studies can help to understand such moments. He is the author of Identifying and Interpreting Incongruent Film Music (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and has also published on the incongruent soundtrack in The Soundtrack and Music and the Moving Image journals.


"I want this to be different; our different": Music of Love and Despair in Ammonite (2020) and Portrait of a Lady On Fire (2019)

(Jacy Pedersen and Caitlan Truelove, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music)

Abstract: Musical conventions help to aurally locate the time period in historical dramas. In film, composers strategically employ musical styles of the past, using both historically-informed compositional practices and instruments as well as pre-composed music from the period in their soundtracks. The lesbian period romance dramas Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) and Ammonite (2020) contain pre-composed music written and published around their respective time periods juxtaposed against long periods of silence and minimalistic original scoring. In all cases, the music is diegetic, and in two of those cases, performed on a keyboard instrument by one of the main characters. The connection between character and timbre through instrumentation and orchestration is introduced by these diegetic moments, which carries into the rare instances of original score, creating consistent reflections of the mental state of the main characters and foreshadowing for the characters’ overall arcs. In this paper, we argue that the genres and instrumentations of the pre-composed music in these lesbian romance dramas highlight the character-driven narrative. Through the establishment of metaleptic troping, as defined by English scholar Nick Davis, the use of strings and diegetic pre-composed chamber music creates cognitive dissonance that pushes against their typical association with romance, instead fostering a sense of dread.

Biography: Jacy Pedersen is a PhD student in Music Theory at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. She has presented at the Society for Music Theory and multiple regional society annual conferences. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Composition from the University of Texas-Arlington and a Master of Music in Music Theory from Texas Christian University. Jacy’s dissertation will focus on the connection between formal structure and the double burden in music composed by women in the Soviet Union.

Caitlan Truelove is a PhD Candidate in Musicology at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where she is dissertating on the twenty-first century television musical series. She has presented her work on film and television music at the American Musicological Society, the Society for American Music, and Music and the Moving Image, among others. Caitlan holds two bachelor's degrees in Violin Performance and Psychology from The Pennsylvania State University and a Master of Music in Violin Performance from Syracuse University.

9th December 2021, 4-5pm (interviewer: Melissa Morton, University of Edinburgh)

This session will be followed by an opportunity for informal socialising/networking.

Alex Baranowski is a composer based in London.

Recently he scored two series of hit BBC One lockdown comedy Staged staring David Tennant, Michael Sheen and a host of guest stars (managing to make multiple lists of “Best TV shows of 2020” on both sides of the Atlantic); The Windermere Children for Wall to Wall / Warner Brothers (with a soundtrack released by Sony Classics); and forthcoming A Perfect Enemy directed by Kiké Maíllo. He was previously nominated for a Tony Award for Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan on Broadway; won Music + Sound Awards including Best Feature Film for McCullin (also nominated for two BAFTA’s) and his ballet adaption of 1984 for Northern Ballet won the South Bank Award for dance after a sold out run at Sadler’s Wells.

He has collaborated with directors including Taika Waititi, Danny Boyle, Wes Anderson, Sir Nicholas Hytner, Rupert Goold, Benedict Andrews, Michael Grandage, Jacqui Morris and Michael Samuels.

He was recently nominated as Breakthrough Composer of the Year from the International Film Music Critics Association, and is presently completing his first album.

Thank you for joining us!

Our events will continue in January 2022.