Music and the body in multimodal semiotics

Music and the body in multimodal semiotics

posted 27 Jan 2014 08:37 by Simon McKerrell

I’m presenting some new ideas about this topic at Newcastle University on the 26th February if anyone is around and interested!

all the best,
Abstract: Music is many things, but it is most definitely not a language. It is however, quite often experienced as powerful non-verbal communication that offers us heightened, intense and deeply felt meanings in our lives. As such, it is fundamental to any understanding of social semiotics, and therefore to the multimodal understanding of meaning construction in today’s increasingly multimedia societies. Musicological aesthetics has been a niche pursuit for decades, but recently, the convergence of neuro-cognitive science with pragmatist philosophy has led to a reconsideration of the role of embodied meaning in language and art (Shusterman 2012; Johnson 2007). In this paper I aim to outline some ideas that might begin to enhance homologous and binary multimodal analysis with a theoretical framework that begins from within the body, dependent upon the somatic bedrock of meaning to provide a basis for the analysis of music and sound within multimedia texts. Thus music is not referential, it is constitutive; fast music does not represent excitement, it induces it within us. Drawing upon Johnson’s (2007) framework of musical movement, I will argue that when we hear music and make meaning, we do so somatically within the body, by enacting several broad, unnuanced feelings, which are simultaneously semiotically nuanced by our own individual cultural experience. The prize is a much firmer intellectual and visceral foundation for multimodal analysis that relies upon our cultured bodies and insists on a shared set of basic immanent embodied meanings. In this way, I hope to move towards a more analytically robust theorization of music and multimodality which allows for the sorts of powerful and thickly semiotic sonic texts we experience today.
Johnson, Mark. 2007. The Meaning of the Body, Aesthetics of Human Understanding (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press)
Shusterman, Richard. 2012. Thinking through the body, essays in somaesthetics (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press)

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