Meaning and Interpretation of Music in Cinema

Meaning and Interpretation of Music in Cinema

Meaning and Interpretation of Music in Cinema

Meaning and Interpretation of Music in Cinema


By exploring the relationship between music and the moving image in film narrative, David Neumeyer shows that film music is not conceptually separate from sound or dialogue, but that all three are manipulated and continually interact in the larger acoustical world of the sound track. In a medium in which the image has traditionally trumped sound, Neumeyer turns our attention to the voice as the mechanism through which narrative (dialog, speech) and sound (sound effects, music) come together. Complemented by music examples, illustrations, and contributions by James Buhler, Meaning and Interpretation of Music in Cinema is the capstone of Neumeyer's 25-year project in the analysis and interpretation of music in film.


This book continues along a path I started down more than two decades ago: a synthesis of the methods and priorities of film studies and music studies. That is hardly a novelty in the present day, I am pleased to report, as the literature of film music studies continues to grow in both quantity and quality. Technological advances have certainly contributed enormously to these gains—over the past decade, the visual has become ever more a routine part of daily activity and has moved ever more firmly to the forefront of cultural attention—but progress has also come with the inevitable shifts of focus and priority that accompany generational change.

Readers who know my earlier work—a significant portion of it written in coauthorship with James Buhler—will expect to find that the text-object for study is the sound track, not the music track within it. That expectation will certainly be fulfilled here, but this volume is distinguished from my previous publications in that I posit a framework based on the priority of speech (dialogue) and then explore its implications for the analysis and interpretation of music in film. the voice is the place where film studies and (film) music studies meet: the voice— having its source in an agent—guarantees the priority of the image and narrative at the same time that it forces attention to sound and the image/sound dialectic basic to the cinema.


The book’s seven chapters are gathered in three parts. the first of these is titled “Meaning and Interpretation” and moves about among issues and questions for film music analysis and film style in relation to sound. Chapter 1 lays out the ideological and methodological ground. the study of narrative sound film concerns itself with the two components of the film (sound and image) and their interplay with narrative; music is one component of the sound track. I argue that the sound track has a “natural” hierarchy in which speech has priority. “Natural” is in scare quotes here because I accept its status a priori without adding any specific cognitive or evolutionary arguments. At the same time, the mise-en-bande (integrated or multiplane sound track; Altman 2000, 341), with its complex and historically contingent interplay of music, dialogue, ambient sound, effects, and silences, can be interpreted as a kind of musical composition, and aural analysis can then be brought to bear on the sound track as a whole, its relation to the im-

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