The semiotic analysis part of this assignment allows students to develop their understanding of musical communication (how and why who says what to whom) on the basis of an in-depth description of individual pieces of music.
Presentation and submission
Each student on this module presents work as follows:
DurationOnly in exceptional cases should the duration of the chosen piece exceed five minutes. If a very short piece is chosen, you should either select a similarly short second piece to analyse by way of comparison or else carry out a proportionately more rigorous analysis and produce a more detailed graphic presentation.
Other tipsThe piece you choose may be in any musical style, with or without lyrics in any language, accompanied or unaccompanied by visuals, etc.
You should be interested enough in the music you choose and its communicative aspects to withstand hearing it hundreds of times. The piece should provide you with more than 'purely musical' interest, so that you have a chance of contextualising it in a meaningful fashion.
Since you are expected to make a time grid of events in your analysis object, it will save you a lot of time if the piece you choose is recorded on a sound carrier whose hardware or software includes a real time counter (e.g. CD, MiniDisc, MP3).
In order to obtain some level of empirical intersubjectivity in your work, you will play your piece to seminar participants who, in their turn, will be expected to provide you with paramusical associations and interobjective comparison material ('IOCM' for explanations, see reading).
prepare your presentation at these sessions by recording separately those
parts of your piece to which you need to draw participant attention.You
should also use feedback sessions to make note of associations that participants
may provide both to paramusical phenomena (PMFCs) and to other music (IOCM).
For explanation of terms, see Introduction
to the Semiotics of Music.
One of the great difficulties in talking or writing about music is knowing which words to use when referring to its various sounds in such a way that whoever you are addressing will know what you mean. Of course, some style labels may be useful to the extent that terms like 'European classical music' or 'blues' may give your audience a general idea of the types of sound you are referring to. However, the idea will be no more than that — general — and any further precision of style nomenclature — such as 'rococo' or 'Memphis blues' — is less likely to be understood by as many people. Even then, a style name does not allow you to pinpoint particular sounds within that one style, let alone within one piece of music.
Of course, musicians have developed a whole range of terms denoting particularities of musical sound. Unfortunately, there are two problems with this store of words: one is that there are as many sets of vocabulary referring to musical structure in the world as there are different musical styles, the other that a lot of musician talk about music is incomprehensible to the majority of people in the culture they cohabit.
Similar problems of incomprehensibility unfortunately apply to significant amounts of musicological discourse, especially in the typically European regions of pitch specification, i.e. in connection with harmony, counterpoint, tonal vocabulary and metre. However, expressions qualifying contour, volume, timbre, space, speed, attack, etc. can be used by anyone with a command of their mother tongue, as indeed can several more specialist yet fully understandable terms like 'polymetric', 'polyrhythmic', 'polyphonic', 'monophonic', 'heterophonic', 'legato', 'staccato', 'pizzicato', 'glissando', 'crescendo', 'diminuendo', 'drone', 'pedal point', 'pentatonic', 'anacrusis', 'distortion', 'phasing', 'panning', etc., etc. Such terms will be explained during the course of sessions 1-3. Similarly, many instrumental sounds and vocal types can be easily and correctly identified by anyone with reasonable hearing and a modicum of experience in listening to music in the relevant style. Nevertheless, the majority of musical sounds to which you will need to refer are cannot be satisfactorily denoted, even if armed with this small arsenal of terms just mentioned. This remaining difficulty can be successfully circumnavigated in two ways that need to be employed in conjunction with each other: (i) aesthesic denotation; (ii) unequivocal chronometric placement in a recorded series of sound events.
By aesthesic denotation is meant verbal denotation of certain perceived qualities connoting the sound to be identified. Such an expression may be based on interobjective comparison — for example, 'the Bach arpeggio', 'the gamelan final gong sound', 'the Hey Jude chord sequence' — or on the analysis object's own paramusical fields of association, i.e. on connotations to the particular sound provided by your respondents, including yourself — for example 'steamy', 'croaking', 'witch-like', 'bubbles', 'sunrise'. (For more details, see 'interobjective comparison' and 'paramusical fields of association' in other handouts.) However, although this type of exercise allows you to refer concisely to particular sounds in your analysis piece, such reference will not be unequivocal because other sounds resembling, say, Bach arpeggios, gamelan gongs, the Hey Jude chord sequence, or sounds possibly qualifiable as 'steamy', 'croaking', 'witch-like', 'bubbles', 'sunrise' etc. will almost certainly exist in many other pieces, probably in a slightly different sonic guise to that occurring in your piece. For this reason, unequivocal chronometric placement is essential.
chronometric placement in a recorded series of sound events is meant
the start and end points of the sound you wish to identify in relation
to the start of the complete piece. Unfortunately for this assignment
(though fortunately for music in general), music usually consists of several
different sounds (or aspects of the same sound) occurring at the same
time. Therefore, in order to make the chronometric placement unequivocal,
it is often necessary to qualify the sound you wish to identify in relation
to other concurrent sounds (e.g. 'the kick drum figure at 1:33', 'the
screeching synth sound at 0:21', 'at the word 'love' in the third 'I love
you' of verse 2'). Of course, this necessary step in the identification
of a particular sound presupposes that you have noted how far into the
piece such (and other) events actually occur. To this end, it is essential
that your work includes a graphic score of events in your piece.
If you wish, you may try and transcribe your analysis piece in the form of musical notation. However, this often arduous task is by no means necessary in this assignment. If you do opt to transcribe part or whole of your piece, please remember that notational skills are not a prerequisite on this module and that your presentation may therefire be incomprehensible to some participants.
The graphic presentation should include the following parallel lines: (i) time grid; (ii) formal grid; (iii) paramusical events (if applicable); (iv) grid of musematic occurrence (see handout 'Introductory Notes'). This graphic score should ideally be proportionally chronometric so that equal durations occupy equal amounts of horizontal space.
Time gridA time grid consists of a horizontal line along which you mark the timing of significant musical events throughout the piece (e.g. 0:44 = 44 seconds into the piece, 3:01 = 3 minutes and 1 second into the piece). Obviously, you will save a lot of time if the piece you choose is recorded on a sound carrier whose hardware or software includes a real time counter (e.g. CD, MiniDisc, MP3 players).
[Optional: you may, if you wish and if appropriate, also supply the score with a metric grid, i.e. with bar lines and eventual changes of metre].
Formal gridThe formal grid indicates where, in relation to the time grid, the various sections of the piece start and end, e.g. 'intro', 'verse 1', 'chorus 2', 'interlude 3', etc.
Paramusical gridThe paramusical grid contains such events as lyrics, description (or drawings) of visuals.
Grid of musematic occurrenceThis grid should contain as many parallel horizontal lines as you identify separately meaningful sounds in your piece. The start and end point of each museme should be clearly visible from your presentation.
Before your final presentation, you will be asked to photocopy your graphic score for the other seminar participants.
ensure that your score is headed with your name and the name of the piece.
Number all sheets and write on one side only of each page. You are obviously
advised to make your first attempts at graphic presentation using pencil
and a rubber. However, before photocopying please ensure that your graphic
score is in clear, sharp, black and white, not in colour and not in pencil
Other important points