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Miscellaneous Panel

Saturday, January 16, 1:00pm
Geiringer Hall
Lily Wong, chair

Lily Wong, Liz Przybylski, Megan Kaes,
                and Tyler Cassidy-Heacock

Miscellaneous Panel: Lily Wong (chair), Liz Przybylski, Megan Kaes, and Tyler Cassidy-Heacock

"Music, Memory, and the Multivalence of Subjectivity in Of challenge and of love"

Megan Kaes, Music Theory
Yale University

In his 1994 song cycle Of challenge and of love, Elliott Carter sets five provocative texts by John Hollander that confront issues of feminine subjectivity. A segmentation analysis of "Am Klavier," the cycle's third song, demonstrates that Carter manipulates the all-trichord hexachord to establish the soprano as a musical counterpart to the feminine speaker of the poetry. Through his distribution of these pitch materials between the piano and voice, Carter produces a musical model of the speaker's subjectivity in relation to a male other that comments on and expands upon Hollander's poetry. "Am Klavier," in conjunction with the rest of the cycle, presents the subjectivity of the poems' feminine speaker as multivalent, engaging gender theory by problematizing her individuality and simultaneously drawing attention to issues of "multiple perspective" fundamental to Carter's aesthetic.

This study uses Laura Mulvey's conception of "the gaze" from gender and film theory to draw a connection between the cycle's depictions of gender and Carter's "time screen" metaphor. By applying the gaze to Carter's musical treatment of subjectivity in this song cycle, this paper demonstrates how "multiple perspective" manifests itself musically. The analysis suggests that the female speaker's multivalent subjectivity embodies the listener's own multi-layered experience of time as Carter presents it aurally. Consequently, Of challenge and of love functions as a meta-composition wherein the poem's speaker—refigured as the soprano—performatively embodies the time screen, making Carter's aesthetic "visible" to the listener.

"Two Texts, Two Facts"

Tyler Cassidy-Heacock, Musicology
Eastman School of Music

Barthes suggests that the extraordinary in song lies in the chasm between word and music, in their irrevocable separateness. But parallel developments in music semiology and poetic semiotics seem to imply universes of meaning and structure that, if they do not conjoin, at least grow close enough to touch. Elements of Jean-Jacques Nattiez's tripartional theory of musical analysis and Jonathan Culler's structuralist poetics provide tools for probing into the complex network of meaning in Harrison Birtwistle's 1988 Four Songs of Autumn. An astonishingly concise work for soprano and string quartet, this piece has received correspondingly little scholarly attention. It is, however, both a microcosm of Birtwistle's compositional interests and a proving ground for the simultaneous function of separate systems of signification. Parallel analyses of the poetry and music illuminate interactions that draw text close to musical content, while allowing space for the two to work as separate layers of meaning.

In the world of Four Songs, text motives dovetail as neatly as do musical ones, while leadership within the ensemble passes from voice to voice. Static tonal areas are paired with hesitant, halting phrasing, in a sound-landscape that seems to shift underfoot. The imagistic text, assembled from English translations of early Japanese poetry, is by turns hushed through fragmentation and high pitches and illuminated by vivid melodic gestures in both the vocal and instrumental lines. Ultimately, these songs are sung by all five performers, and are perhaps as much about strings and vocal folds as they are about geese and autumn mists. Semiotic musical analysis has lavished little attention on vocal music thus far, but my analysis of Four Songs of Autumn suggests that the application of semiotic tactics can ultimately highlight and celebrate the multiplicity inherent in texted vocal music.

"Screaming Poetry: Text Painting and Transference in Punk Music"

Liz Przybylski, Musicology
Northwestern University

Since punk band Fugazi began performing "Suggestion" in 1988, the piece has elicited a depth of emotional reactions from audiences and reviewers. At the invitation of lead singer Ian MacKaye, members of the crowd have joined him on stage to recount, sometimes tearfully, personal experiences of sexual violence given catharsis through the medium of this song. Others who stay in the throng become part of the performance by responding physically and chorally. The screaming social message of this song lies not just in Fugazi's legendary musical power but in the song's unusual lyrics and the way the band sets them to music. Remarkable for its central character and narrative shifts, the written text of "Suggestion" allows the band to use strategic changes in vocal production, instrumental color, and amplification to portray its thematic content. Highlighting difference, the musicians also create discord between textual and rhythmic language to further emphasize the song's political point.

While punk scholarship often focuses on social interactions, little attention has been paid to individual pieces themselves as works of literature or to the musical craft involved in depicting the larger themes of these compositions as sung stories. The social phenomenon of the song "Suggestion" involves more than a punk band's bold decision to sing about a rampant and unpleasant problem in this subculture; its unprecedented power is derived from subtle artistic choices not often associated with the punk genre. By conceptualizing the sung lyrics as participatory text, my analysis bridges previous work in subcultural theory with literary theory, drawing particularly on Monique Wittig's mediation of theory and writing. I argue that in public performance, Fugazi's "Suggestion" becomes a vehicle for identification and transference between audience and band that solidifies the work's major themes.

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