Useful media studies words

13 01 2008

My aim here is to create a list of all the useful terminology used in media studies, with definitions.  These are the sort of words that really ought to be used in media exams.

  • aberrant reading – the interpretation of a text in a manner different from the way its author intended it to be decoded.   For example, people who think that Severus Snape from Harry Potter is cool and desirable, rather than cruel and bullying.
  • alternative – outside or on the edge of the mainstream.  Independant film and music are examples of alternative media.
  • agenda setting – the practice among news organisations of frequently selecting certain topics for publishing in order to influence the views of their audience.
  • anchorage – additional information designed to “anchor” the text to one specific reason, reducing polysemy and, consequently, reducing the risk of aberrant readings.  For example, if you put a caption on a photo, people will interpret the photo in a way that relates to that caption.
  • angle – the viewpoint from which a story is told.  May relate to the interests of the target audience, or simply the ideologies of the author.  For example, different newspapers may tell the same stories from either a left wing or right wing angle.
  • antagonist – the opposition to a hero.  Usually, the antagonist is a character, probably a villain, but they may also be a force of nature or an abstract concept.  The antagonist is the force that disrupts the equilibrium of the narrative.
  • archetype – a type, which most other examples of that type may be seen to be facets of.  For example, the heroic archetype may be seen in Gilgamesh, Perseus, Beowolf, Superman, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Neo, and many more characters.  Archetypes are easily recognised, much like stereotypes.
  • art film – an independant film that targets a well-educated niche audience.  Art films are typically not shown in mainstream cinemas, and may feature little known actors.  They are also typically low budget.  Art films are known to tackle controversial themes ignored by the mainstream film industry, and to challenge traditional cinematic form, for example, through use of surrealism and non-sequiturs.
  • audience – the people who read a media text; traditionally the consumers of media.  When you create a work, you usually target at a specific audience.
  • audience reception theory – a theory as to how audiences recieve media.  Examples include the hypodermic needle model, the two step flow model and the uses and gratifications model.
  • binary opposition – the construction of a text around opposing values, such as good and evil, or Star Wars‘ Jedi and Sith.
  • broadcasting – the transmission of texts to an audience using TV or the radio.  Broadcasting is sometimes contrasted with narrowcasting, in which case it means transmitting specifically to a large mass audience.
  • broadsheet – the largest newspaper format.  Broadsheets are widely perceived as more reliable than tabloid papers, adopting a more serious tone.  An example would be The Sunday Times.  Some papers are still considered to be broadsheets because they have retained the tone of a broadsheet but have changed paper sizes, for example, The Guardian.
  • caption – writing that describes the contents of a picture.  Captions may be used to provide anchorage.
  • celebrity – a famous person whom many people know, commonly called a “star”.  Celebrities include actors, presenters, singers, musicians, models, sporting personalities, writers, directors, producers, royalty or political figures and businesspeople.  Celebrities are symbols in that they have their own connotations – for example, Elton John is commonly associated with music, big glasses, homosexuality, songwriting, Princess Diana’s funeral, glam rock, etc.  Nowadays, plenty of people can become celebrities of sorts due to their online exploits, for example, Neil Cicierega a.k.a. Lemon Demon, singer/songwriter and creator of Potter Puppet Pals.  Notably, actress Jessica Lee Rose’s career was launched by her starring in web series lonelygirl15.  Meanwhile, participants in reality TV shows can gain minor celebrity status pretty much overnight.
  • censorship – the removal of information from a media text, on the basis that that information is undesirable.  For example, governments have been known to censor information which may be a threat to national security, or television companies may censor footage for reasons of decency.  Protestors like Mary Whitehouse and Jack Thompson are known for requesting the censorship of sex and violence from media texts.
  • chauvinism – the promotion of one concept over another.  Examples include nationalism and male chauvinism.
  • chiaroscuro – lighting with a high contrast between light and dark.  May be used to emphasise or draw attention to certain aspects of the text, or simply create a desired atmosphere.
  • chromakey – filming against a blue or green backdrop, then replacing all blue or green footage in that film with an alternative background.  Examples: weather reporters often use this to make it look like they are standing in front of a map.  Employed frequently in fantasy and science fiction films to create improbable settings.
  • Cinéma Vérité – an influential, French documentary movement from the 1960s which aimed to capture “truth” by provoking interviewees.
  • clip – a short piece of footage.
  • close up – a shot which provides a very close view of a character or object.  Handy for showing expressions, or allowing the audience to read onscreen writing.
  • code – a sign which must be decoded to create meaning.  Codes can be very obvious or hidden, and can be created by camera techniques, visual images, spoken words, connotations of signs, etc.  Decoding a text in a manner that differs from the manner the producer of that text intended it to be decoded produces an aberrant reading.
  • conglomerate – a large media organisation with worldwide influence and interest in broad areas, consisting of many smaller organisations.  EMI Group and Time Warner are examples of conglomerates.
  • connotation – meaning created through association.  For example, fig leaves have connotations of modesty, horns have connotations of demons and the colour red has connotations of passion and rage.
  • consumer – the audience recieving a media text.  Traditionally distinct from producers, new media have allowed many consumers to become producers.  This is known as participatory culture.
  • convention – the usual way to do something.  This may be to do with form (songs being around 3 minutes long, paintings being rectangular) or stock elements (gore is a convention of the horror genre, the “meet cute” is a convention of the romantic comedy genre).  Producers of media texts often have to tread a line between keeping to conventions in order to make a work identifiable and accesible, and defying conventions in search of originality.
  • convergence – the combination of several media technologies into one medium.  For example, current mobile ‘phones can do all sorts of things beside simply telephoning people – they can send texts, or play music, or take photographs, etc.  The ultimate example is probably the Internet – practically every form of traditional media has an online equivalent.
  • cult following – a niche audience that, whilst relatively small, is exceptionally loyal towards a text.  Cult works are often science fiction or fantasy.  Twin Peaks and The Prisoner are examples of texts attracting a cult following.
  • cut – the most basic type of transition between shots.  A cut is where one shot ends, and another usually begins.  More complex types of cuts include fades and dissolves, which may be used to indicate scene changes.
  • demographic – audiences categorised by specific features, such as working class females or 5-7 year old American children.
  • denotation – the simplest way to create meaning.  For example, if I were to paint a picture of a tree, it would denote a tree.
  • diegesis – the (fictional) universe of a work of fiction.  Much of what happens on screen in a movie or TV show is diegetic.  Non-diegetic elements are those that characters won’t be aware of, such as the logo or the soundtrack.  For comparison, diegetic music is music that the characters acknowledge, whilst non-diegetic music will be completely ignored and not made by anything onscreen.  Some films will play around with this – for example, music that is playing in the background in one scene, and then gets played on the radio in the next scene.
  • Direct Cinema – an American documentary style from the late 1950s.  Mainly filmed using handheld cameras, Direct Cinema aimed to objectively capture events without the intrusion of the documentary makers themselves.
  • discourse – an argument presented in a way that prevents other ideas from being brought into the argument.  What one discourse might refer to as cruelly imprisoning people, another might refer to as bringing criminals to justice  For example, an article about “chavs” and “yobbos” would not be likely to argue that the people it describes are unfairly persecuted victims of the British class system.
  • dolly – a device for moving a camera along on wheels.    Used for tracking shots.
  • equilibrium – stability within a story.  Over the course of the narrative, equilibrium is disrupted, and restored by the end of the story.  For example, in The Legend of Zelda, equilibrium is disrupted when the princess is kidnapped, and returns to normal once she has been rescued.
  • establishing shot – a shot shown at the the start of a scene to establish the location.  This is often a wide angled shot, so as to reveal as much of the location as possible.  Interior scenes may be established by an exterior shot.  Additionally, establishing shots may include famous landmarks to make their location recognisable.  For example, a movie set in Paris might show an establishing shot of the Eiffel Tower.
  • format – the form which a text conforms to.  A standalone movie is a vastly different format from a television serial, for example.
  • gatekeeper – anyone within an organisation who decides what items will be published.  Usually used to describe journalism, but it technically applies to other industries too, such as the music industry.
  • genre – a category which media texts are divided into.  This is useful when trying to reach a specific audience, but can be quite awkward when people attempt to shoehorn a text into a genre it doesn’t fit.  Examples would be science fiction, hip hop music, Western, and documentary programme.
  • genre fiction – fiction written within a specific genre.  Often disparaged by literary critics, although perhaps injustly, since it is arguable that even the best literature will fit the conventions of some genre or other.  Dracula, The Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice have all been termed genre fiction.  Genre fiction is an important aspect of popular culture.
  • globalisation – the way that global media results in world wide cultures becoming more and more similar to one another.
  • hegemony – the practice among powerful groups of dominating the media, asserting their ideology and dissuading audiences from other ideologies, through use of propaganda.
  • high culture – the culture associated with the upper classes, which is purportedly superior to popular culture.  High culture is associated with traditional media forms such as newspapers (where we have the contrast between high culture – broadsheets, and popular culture – tabloids), music (high culture – classical music, and popular culture – pop music) and books (high culture – classic literature, popular culture – the sort of books you can buy in airports).  Good luck finding a high culture video game, though.  It should be noted that high culture is not the same thing as cult popularity, even though fans of cult shows might call Star Trek: The Original Series or the original Doctor Who “classics”.
  • high key, low contrast lighting – lighting that has little contrast between dark and light areas, and tends to be brightly lit.  High key, low contrast lighting is normally used to create a cheerful, upbeat mood, as in old sitcoms.
  • hypodermic syringe model – an audience theory which holds that when an audience views a media text, they will act in a manner that is directly influenced by it.  For example, according to this theory, watching a film about being nice to people might cause the viewer to do an act of kindness in imitation of that film.  Likewise, listening to a radio broadcast about aliens might cause the listener to panic about the threat of alien invasion.  This theory has been criticised because it assumes that audiences will passively consume whatever text is thrown at them, without possibility of (e.g.) switching off the television, or even disliking the programme.
  • ideology – the values or beliefs which the producers of a text hold.  These are often very obvious in the text – for example, C.S. Lewis’ Christianity in The Chronicles of Narnia, or Russell T. Davies’ condoning of homosexuality in the revived Doctor Who.  An ideology can be held by an individual, a group or a society.  Reading a text which conflicts with one’s own ideology can provoke an aberrant reading, or even outright dislike of a text.
  • inoculation model – a specific variant of the hypodermic syringe model which suggests that if audiences are exposed to a media text for long enough they get used to it and it ceases to have any effect upon them.  For example, according to this model, an audience that has watched a significant number of violent films will become desensitised to violence and fail to be shocked by the concept.  Further more, the theory argues that the desensitised viewers will then happily accept real life violent acts as normal.
  • interactivity – the ability of two things or people to respond to one another.  There are two ways in which new media can incorporate interactivity: a person can interact with a technology (such as a video game) or with another person using that technology (such as email).
  • intertextuality – the way multiple texts draw upon one another to create meaning.  For example, shows like Dawson’s Creek have their own associated websites, and the Matrix series has all those spin-off games and stuff.
  • juxtaposition – the placement of two or more utterly distinct concepts in direct proximity to one another.  When done deliberately, juxtaposition is a valid tool used to create effect.  For example, Pink Floyd’s The Wall juxtaposes uplifting melodies with bleak or angry lyrics to conjure up a tone of insanity.  When accidental, however, juxtaposition can be jarring and off putting for audiences.  For example, showing a cheery comedy film followed by a bleak documentary would not be likely to impress audiences.
  • low key lighting – lighting that features many shadows to create a chiaroscuro mise en scène.  Common in film noir. 
  • mass media – media targeting a mass audience, the largest possible audience there is.  It is questionable whether the term serves any useful function nowadays, given that television shows mainly target niche audiences and even personal blogs now have the potential to be viewed by a very large number of individuals.
  • media imperialism – the strong influence exerted by Western media upon developing countries, which may result in the Westernisation of those countries.  This is what the term “globalisation” usually describes.
  • media studies – repeat after me: the study of “who said what to whom, through which channel and to what effect.”  A Google search tells me that this is actually a paraphrasing of a Harold Lasswell quotation referring to communications, but it sums up media studies.
  • mise en scène – pretty much everything you see on screen.  It includes properties, costumes, lighting, actors, and just about everything else really.  For example, if you wanted to make a Western film, your mise en scène would include a dry setting, with wooden stores and saloons and revolvers and wide brimmed stetson hats.
  • moral panic – put simply, a lot of fuss.  Something (rock ‘n’ roll, communism, gun crime, etc.) is perceived to be a threat to today’s society.  Consequently, the significance of the problem is blown out of proportion by the media, which provokes widespread hysteria.  Sometimes, governments pass legislation to to cope with the supposed problem.  The Video Recording Act (1984) was a reaction to the moral panic over “video nasties”, for example.
  • narrative – story, pretty much.  A narrative typically starts with stable equilibrium, which is then disrupted.  The narrative ends when the equilibrium is returned to.  Narratives are common in books, plays, TV shows and films, and may also be present in music videos, albums and video games, and many other media.
  • narrowcasting – the targeting of a broadcast to a specific “narrow” audience – in other words, a niche or target audience.  Channel 4 has demonstrated the value of aiming programmes at small, wealthy audiences as opposed to mass audiences.  More recently, a number of channels have sprung up to cater specifically to certain narrow audiences (e.g. the Sci-Fi channel and Cartoon Network), although these are becoming steadily more broad in their audiences.
  • new media – new media.  What it sounds like.  It’s actually quite a vague term, but it tends to be media which includes elements of convergence, digital technology and interactivity, as opposed to the traditional media.  New media include websites, video games and mobile phones, in contrast with old media like television and newspapers.
  • niche – a small specific target audience.  Finding a niche audience that is not currently catered for and targeting a text at it can result in success.
  • pan – a basic camera movement.  The camera turns left or right on a horizontal axis.
  • participatory culture – the culture where audiences are directly involved in the production of media, rather than simply consuming it passively.
  • podcast – a web media file that is syndicated over the Internet.  Basically the online equivalent to radio, although podcasts have a variety of other uses.  Video podcasts also exist.
  • point of view shot – a shot that shows the audience the scene from the perspective of a character.  For example, Jaws features several moments the audience can see from the shark’s viewpoint.
  • polysemy – the way that all images may be interpreted in a variety of different ways.  By extension, this can apply to other forms of text.  The more anchorage a text is given, the less open it is to polysemy.
  • popular culture – the culture of the people.  Popular culture is sometimes considered “low culture” in contrast with high culture, which looks down upon it, despite the two being obviously linked.  Popular culture consists mainly of concepts that enter the consciousness of the majority of people, spread by the media.  MTV, The Da Vinci Code and Xbox games are all examples of pop cultural concepts.
  • postmodernism – a broad cultural movement that sprung up as a reaction against modernism.  Postmodernist works are typically characterised by their frequent referencing of earlier works and their playing around with the conventions of their genre.  Pulp Fiction is an example of a postmodern work.
  • preferred reading – the way in which the creator of a text intends it to be read.  Any other reading is an aberrant reading.
  • producer – the creator of a media text.  As the Internet becomes popular, the line between producers and consumers is becoming steadily more blurred.
  • production values – the quality of a production – sets, script, properties, acting and all.  Generally speaking, the bigger the budget, the higher the production values.
  • propaganda – a text that aims to alter the ideology of its audience, turning it into something resembling the ideology of the creator of that text, who is known as the propagandist.  Propaganda is common in war time.  Well known examples would be the posters distributed during the First and Second World Wars which depicted characters like Uncle Sam and John Bull asking for help and kids saying, “What did you do in the Great War, daddy?”
  • property – commonly abbreviated to props, these are items that are used on stage or screen.  For example, an egg, a sword or a book.
  • protagonist – the main character of a work of fiction, also called the hero.  Commonly the character the audience is expected to sympathise with, the protagonist is opposed by the antagonist.  Protagonists are normally some sort of heroic archetype; when this is not the case, the protagonist is called an anti-hero.
  • PVR – a personal video recorder.  PVRs record television digitally, allowing audiences to watch programmes timeshifted.  Sky+ is an example.
  • representation – the depiction of something in a media text.  The way in which people or concepts are represented in a text will normally reflect the views of the author of that text.
  • semiology – the study of signs and the way in which they create meaning.  A sign which may outwardly be merely a symbol is frequently given meaning beyond its outward appearence.  Words are symbols too – so the word “cow” has the obvious meaning of a domesticated bovine, but it also has additional connotations.  These connotations will differ depending on the views and experiences of the individual, so that where one person sees a dog to have the connotations of cuteness, loyalty and intelligence, another person will perceive it to have connotations of aggression and stupidity.
  • serial – a media text which is released in episodes or installments, which, when experienced in order, tell one ongoing narrative, rather than being standalone stories in their own right.  Eastenders, Ugly Betty, Cardcaptor Sakura and Heroes are all examples of serials, as were Charles Dickens’ novels when they were first published.
  • series – a media text which is released in episodes or installments, each of which tells its own self-contained narrative.  Continuity may be maintained, or it may be ignored completely.  The Simpsons, RecessMonty Python’s Flying Circus and The Twilight Zone are all examples of series.
  • stereotype – a prejudicial assumption about what a type will resemble.  Stereotypes are not necessarily negative – for example, perceptions of the French as being great lovers, blacks as being cool and women as being more efficient and competent than men.  However, even positive stereotypes can be perceived as offensive by some people.  Like archetypes, stereotypes are used often by writers to create an easily recognisable character.
  • subgenre – a genre within a genre.  For example, Spider-Man may be broadly defined as an action movie, but it is more specifically an example of the superhero fantasy genre.
  • synergy – the use of one product to make another more successful.  Like the film?  Buy the toothpaste!  Common in large franchises such as Doctor Who, The Simpsons and Harry Potter.
  • tabloid – a half sized newspaper.  Tabloids are often much less serious than broadsheets, known for printing speculation and rumours about celebrities and television shows, and highly melodramatic crime stories.  The Sun is a famous example of a tabloid.
  • target audience – the audience which a specific work or product is aimed at.  For example, Doctor Who is pitched towards a UK family audience, whilst its spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures is aimed at a target audience of children.
  • text – an item of media that can be “read”.  In a media studies context, this does not apply solely to written words.  Books, photographs, films and television shows are all “texts”.
  • tilt – A basic camera movement.  Moving the camera up or down on a vertical axis.
  • timeshifting – recording a programme using a PVR and watching it at a later time.  Naturally, this makes advertising companies worried, since it means audiences may skip advertisements.
  • tracking shot – a shot where the camera moves horizontally.  Although basic, this can be difficult to pull off neatly, so a dolly may be used.
  • two step flow model – an audience theory which suggests that initially only a small portion of an audience will be directly affected by a text, but then a wider group of people will act in imitation of that portion.  According to this theory, for example, if a mass audience watches an advertisement for can openers, a small number of opinion leaders will buy them.  Gradually, more individuals will decide that, on second thoughts, they want one too, in imitation of those leaders.
  • uses and gratifications model – an audience theory which suggests that, rather than absorbing all media, audiences will seek out and respond to texts that meet their needs.  For example, an individual who is curious about shark fishing in the 18th Century might search for a website that is about shark fishing in the 18th Century, or a individual who wants to fit in with all his teenage emo friends might listen to Senses Fail.
  • viral marketing – advertising that relies on word-of-mouth to spread the news of a product, commonly using the Internet.  Examples include Cloverfield, Snakes on a Plane, and any arc word or phrase in a TV show such as Lost or Heroes.
  • voyeurism – deriving pleasure from watching someone who doesn’t know you’re watching.  Not necessarily for perverted reasons, although it often is.  Reality shows such as Big Brother rely on this, and it’s a major feature of many works of fiction, particularly those where we are shown details of the characters lives.
  • wiki – a collaborative website which users can easily edit.  Wikipedia and TV Tropes Wiki are both examples of wikis.  Wikis are a good example of participatory culture in action.
  • zoom – a rapid movement from a distant shot to a close up.  May be achieved through use of a zoom lens or digital zoom.  A slow zoom can be an alternative to a tracking shot, although it is not difficult to spot the difference between the two.  Often used to draw the audiences attention to a particular object on screen.
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“Should’ve been in Guitar Hero” songs

10 11 2007

I don’t own any Guitar Hero games, but I was very impressed by Guitar Hero III at Music Live.  I’ve examined a list of the songs used on the soundtracks, and it’s no wonder Guitar Hero II won the 1xtra Soundtrack of the Year award at the Golden Joysticks – Nirvana, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Thin Lizzy, Rage Against the Machine…

But looking at the lists more closely, there are some fairly conspicuous omissions.  So I decided to create a list of all the songs that, IMHO, should have been in a Guitar Hero game, but, alas, weren’t.  In alphabetical order (cause I’m neat like that):

“Aces High” by Iron Maiden

“All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix

“Alla Turca” by Mozart (arranged for guitar, obviously)

“Anyone Can Play Guitar” by Radiohead

“Black Night” by Deep Purple

“Constant Motion” by Dream Theater

“Dani California” by Red Hot Chili Peppers

“Death on Two Legs” by Queen

“English Civil War” by the Clash

“Eruption” by Van Halen

“Fireball” by Deep Purple

“Geek U.S.A.” by the Smashing Pumpkins

“Helter Skelter” by the Beatles

“Hey You” by Pink Floyd

“Highway Star” by Deep Purple

“Holiday” by Green Day

“One Hot Minute” by Red Hot Chili Peppers

“One Step Closer” by Linkin Park

“Master of Puppets” by Metallica

“Paranoid Android” by Radiohead

“Pinball Wizard” by the Who

“Red” by King Crimson

“Revolution” by the Beatles

“Rumble” by Link Wray and his Ray Men

“Sk8r Boi” by Avril Lavigne

“Slam” by Pendulum

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

“Song 2” by Blur

“Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin

“The Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy

“Tie Your Mother Down” by Queen

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by the Beatles

“Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin

“You Give Love a Bad Name” by Bon Jovi

“Zero” by the Smashing Pumpkins

Some of those are famous songs that really obviously should have been in the games, whilst others are personal favourites of mine.  My brother, when he saw this list, suggested “Canon Rock” by JerryC as a song that should have been used.  I agree, that would be quite awesome.

What would be even more awesome would be if someone from Activision saw this list and thought, “now there’s an idea…”  Hey, I can dream.





Why is classical music so unpopular?

6 10 2007

It’s been a while since I’ve written a decent length rant about something, so it seems to me that the time is ripe to post a look into classical music and why in the eyes of so many people it’s so, for want of a better word, lousy.

Now let me first clarify a couple of points.  Firstly, when I use the term classical music here, I’m using it very loosely.  As a genre description, “classical music” is probably one of the most vague (second only to “world”, which seems to refer to all music, folk or modern, that is written in a language that isn’t western European in origin).  Its use is fairly nonsensical, since describing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Philip Glass and Henry Purcell as belonging to the same genre would be like saying that the Beatles, Public Enemy and Michael Jackson all belong to the same genre.  I’m sure any music teacher would point out to me that I’m actually wrong, and that the term “classical music” refers specifically to a style of music that was produced mainly by the European upper classes in the mid-to-late 18th and early 19th centuries, but most of us don’t make that distinction.  There are other blanket terms in use such as “art music” and “erudite music”, but both of those seem to imply that the music they describe is somehow more sophisticated than other styles, a view which I disagree with completely.

Secondly, I would like to point out that I am by no means an expert on classical music, and that I’m more comfortable listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers than Beethoven.  I enjoy (some) classical music, certainly, but it’s just not my usual choice of listening.  I’m perhaps out of my depth completely here, but I am generally a lover of music of all descriptions, so I think I know what I’m talking about.

So let’s get straight to the point – classical music is not popular.  It is not remotely trendy.  I know people who think it’s more normal for me to listen to a Mozart piece being butchered by an enthusiastic electric guitarist than to listen to the original piano version.

I can imagine it would not be too hard for someone with a passable vocal ability, a pretty/handsome face and Pop Idol credentials to start singing traditional folk music and make it popular with 13 year old school girls, but classical music?  Not a chance.  Classical music seems to exude a kind of stuffiness that makes it incapable of breaking through to a mainstream audience.  True, the occasional rocker will take a Mozart song and transform it into a virtuoso guitar piece, and it’s not unheard of for a techno composer to take the most recognisable part of a famous Grieg or Beethoven tune, play it on a synth and loop it over a beat, but even then the songs don’t tend to have any chart success.

This is not to say that the classical community hasn’t made some attempts to attract a broader audience.  Often these attempts take the form of getting a well known writer of popular music to compose something for an orchestra, but these tend to fall flat for two reasons: (a) just because they’re good at one style of music doesn’t necessarily mean they’re suited to another (can you imagine Sir Harrison Birtwistle trying his hand at freestyle rap?) and (b) just because you listen to a pop musician doesn’t mean you’re interested in hearing that musician’s attempt at opera or ballet.

I have also heard of attempts being made to encourage young people to like classical music by making the concert as similar to a rock concert as possible, including modern instruments and influences, and allowing the audience to chat and dance about.  I’m really not convinced that this is the way forward; hilarious as it would be to see the viola players get bottled, something tells me that the sort of people who like those kinds of concerts aren’t the sort who are prepared to pay money to listen to what is still, essentially, classical music, what ever pretences it might be making.

The thing is, the problem is clearly not that the music itself is rubbish; it isn’t, and in actual fact some classical composers and musicians, such as Franz Liszt and Niccolò Paganini, were superstars in their day, similar to today’s pop musicians.  The Three Tenors notwithstanding, this doesn’t seem to happen anymore.

Perhaps the problem is not with the music itself but with the people who play it and listen to it.  I’m not saying all the people who listen to it are problem, just the community who see classical as the only worthwhile music around and all other music as pants.  This, I feel, is the core issue.  For too long, devotees of classical music have taken the view that there is no point in attempting to appeal to a wider audience because the public at large are uncultured plebs who can’t handle music of the complexity and calibre that the western classical tradition is built upon.  This elitist attitude is pure snobbery, of course, and I’ve never met someone who can provide a good reason why classical music is so much better than any other music – apparently, it just is.

The pop audience consequently believes (perhaps only subconsciously) what it has been told for centuries – that classical music can only be appreciated by listeners with “refined” tastes.  In the early 20th century, this gave rise to the notion that it is the music of “high” culture, to be contrasted with “low” music such as blues, rock and jazz (suspiciously, most of the styles that were disparaged in this way seem to have been African-American in origin, perhaps hinting at a more sinister form of snobbery in the classical community of the day).  This, in turn, has given rise to the misconception that all classical music is deeply serious stuff, written with highly serious intentions, and fit only for play at serious occasions.

Some classical music, it has to be said, is deeply serious, such as the music composed for religious worship and state occasions.  On the other hand, some of it is very much entertaining, even fun, such as countless ballroom dances and comic opera songs (one of Mozart’s lesser known pieces, K. 231, is a song entitled “Leck mich im Arsch”, which is the German idiom equivalent to “kiss my ass”.  You can’t honestly claim he was being serious when he wrote that!).

Classical music is not necessarily stuffy or dull, but this is a perception that has existed for many years, and the classical community at large does not seem to be doing anything to alter that perception.  This being the case, it is no wonder that the music has virtually no mainstream appeal.

I’m off to listen to Bach, or possibly Linkin Park – with so much great music around, sometimes it’s difficult to choose.





Music video musings

2 09 2007

Well, I’ve analysed two music videos that both used rather minimalist approaches, both with fixed cameras, one consisting of mainly actual performance and the other of nothing but acting.  Of course, most videos aren’t so basic, and many combine elements of performance with other scenes.  Of the videos I’ve watched, most have been live action, although it’s clear that animated videos aren’t unheard of.

Not entirely dissimilar to the music video is a movie full of songs.  You know, like a musical or rock opera.  For a recent rock example, there was the Tenacious D comedy Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, but these things go way back and have their roots in stage musicals.

One other thing I’ve noticed is that some genres seem to produce far more music videos than others.  The majority of videos are rock and pop, whilst, for example, jazz and folk videos are rare.  Classical videos are virtually unheard of (if one doesn’t count Disney’s Fantasia movies).

Music videos also seem to be more heavily associated to heavily commercial bands, presumably because they’re a good sales opportunity.  Which is not to say there aren’t plenty of bands who make decent music videos as art for art’s sake, just that the general idea seems to be to make money.  Which makes sense, given that that’s what drives industry.

As a side note, was I the only one who felt sorry for the redheaded Lavigne with the glasses in the “Girlfriend” music video?  I mean, maybe it’s just my nerd persona asserting itself, but I sympathised with her a lot more than with the black-haired rocker Lavigne, who struck me as a complete cow.  I guess that’s what we would describe in media studies as an “aberrant reading”.  Oh well.

I’ll be getting some more analyses up on here shortly, so keep checking back here.