Making Music Mean : On Functions of, and Knowledge about, Narrative Music in Multimedia

University dissertation from Luleå : Luleå tekniska universitet

Abstract: Narrative media music - music used for narrative purposes in multimedia such as film and computer games - is often, especially for young people, the largest source of daily musical experience. This PhD thesis is based on three articles, in different ways exploring functions of, and knowledge about, narrative media music. The overarching research question of the thesis is: ‘How can meaning-making functions of narrative media music be described - and how are attitudes, awareness and knowledge about such functions expressed through the different modes of musical sound and speech?' The first article discusses how the musical underscore in narrative media achieves meaning in multimodal interplay with the visuals and other available modes of representation. Three short film scenes are examined from the perspectives of ideational, interpersonal and textual meanings. Even if music in such situations usually does not attain a high degree of conscious salience, it is clear that it often contributes meaning that is essential for the understanding of the overall narrative. It is concluded that what we (think we) see is often to a large degree determined by what we hear. The second article presents the first part of a study, where 23 young participants (12-13 years old), using a software tool, were given the task of adapting musical expression to make it ‘fit as well as possible' different visual scenes shown on a computer screen. They also answered a questionnaire, asking about their musical training and media habits. Numerical data from the trial sessions, representing differences in musical expression, were analyzed statistically. The results indicated a strong degree of in-group conformity and consensus, indicating knowledge of culturally available functions and conventions of narrative media music. The third article describes the second part of the study. Each participant was interviewed in a stimulated recall situation where they commented and reflected on their own musical expressions of their completed trials. From the analysis of the interviews, examining the verbal expression of ideational, interpersonal and textual meanings, five different types of statements could be discerned: the Unclear, Intuitive, Associative, Analytical and Transformative types. These statements were also seen as reflecting various aspects of Swanwick's (1994) concepts of intuitive and analytical knowledge. Combining the verbal statements with how each participant musically had demonstrated conformity or non-conformity to narrative conventions, contributed to a fuller and more nuanced account of their expressed musical knowledge. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the learning opportunities offered by narrative multimedia in the escalating media society and of its implications for formal music education.

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