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Music Matters lecture & AMMI colloquium - ARVED ASHBY (Ohio State University): "The Recent Importance of Sound Design over Film Scoring"

When:Tu 12-10-2021 18:00 - 20:00

The Second Music Matters event of the Fall Series will be a collaboration with Arts, Media, and Moving Images.


Present-day music for film and TV often involves what moviegoers would call noise and sonic gestures rather than “music.” This shift shows the rise of sound design, defined as the construction of sonic-cinematic spaces through amplification, sound effects, and electroacoustic assemblies. So when did sounds (as opposed to themes, transitions, chords, and other aspects of classical Hollywood scoring) become expressive and narratively meaningful in movies? Cinematic sound design was born in the 1970s as "New Hollywood" filmmakers took advantage of new audio technologies. The rise of artificial synthesis, for instance in Vangelis’s synth soundtrack for Blade Runner (1982), allowed new sonic possibilities.

After a brief summational history, this paper will examine sound design in two recent major-studio releases: Arrival (2016) and The Revenant (2015), the first “scored” by Jóhann Jóhannsson, and the second by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto. In judging the second of these, the AMPAS drew a newly strict differentiation between score and sound design. Precluded from soundtrack status for the 2016 Oscars, Noto and Sakamoto stated in response that “every sound is important, not just the melodic ones,” and said they wished to “respect the sounds of nature” in the movie and decided accordingly that “the music shouldn’t be too narrative.” Ultimately, these recent descriptions help us in fleshing out the concept of sound design itself.

About the speaker

Dr. Ashby is a Professor and the Area Head of Musicology at The Ohio State University. His work focuses on 20th- and 21st-century art music within broader contexts of cultural history, critical theory, post-Marxist aesthetics, and media and communications. Ashby received the prestigious Alfred Einstein Award from the American Musicological Society for an article on Berg's methodological connections with his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg. Further investigating highly individual composers who developed love-hate relationships with modernism, he has also published articles on Frank Zappa and Benjamin Britten, and designed and edited the collection The Pleasure of Modernist Music: Listening, Meaning, Intention, Ideology (2004). He is the author of Absolute Music, Mechanical Reproduction (2010), and Popular Music and the Post-Music-Video Auteur (2013). Ashby’s current research focus is related to subjects that are at the same time broader and more narrow: a book about music discourse that focuses on the productive incongruencies between music and language (Music for Words, Words for Music), and an extended study of the epistemic reasons for "difference" in Gustav Mahler's music (Mahler, Anti-Philology).  


Please register to attend this guest lecture.