The Avid Listener: Music and Media

31 posts categorized "Music and Media"

March 14, 2016

The Power of Sound: The 2016 Presidential Campaign

Justin Patch (Vassar College)

The modern political campaign is an emotional and sensory affair. It is not rational or reasonable, nor is it concerned with presenting best policies and practices for governance, fostering the greatest good for all, or sensibly managing the world’s largest economy. Instead, campaigns appeal to pathos, optimism, nationalism, and fear. They use stereotype and caricature, level unverifiable accusations, present policies and platitudes devoid of possibility, and deal in clichés and sound bites. Campaign ads stimulate emotions and provoke strong (partisan and intra-party) reactions rather than laying the groundwork for deliberative debates on policy, process, purpose, or vision. The modern campaign, as the founders of democracy in the New and Old Worlds feared, is an appeal to humanity’s basest instincts: fear, hatred, paranoiacompetition, and hope. The power and profundity of sound make it an essential but dangerous element of political campaigns. 

Continue reading "The Power of Sound: The 2016 Presidential Campaign" »

March 7, 2016

From Ziggy to Blackstar: David Bowie’s Musical Masks

Katherine Reed (Utah Valley University)


In a segment from D.A. Pennebaker’s concert film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, David Bowie shows the experimental fashion and performance style with which he would be linked for the rest of his career.


Perhaps the most memorable images of David Bowie feature the flaming red mullet and custom Kansai Yamamoto wardrobe of this final Ziggy Stardust concert. In a 2002 interview with Terry Gross, though, Bowie bristles at the suggestion that his career consisted of a parade of dresses and makeup: “That was for eighteen months, actually . . . which out of a career of nearly forty years is not very long.” He isn’t wrong about that, but the image of Bowie as a glammed-up chameleon persists in the days after his death. As the man himself said in March 2004, “I’ve always felt bemused at being called the chameleon of rock. Doesn't a chameleon exert tremendous energy to become indistinguishable from its environment?” Bowie, of course, rarely fit into his environment. Countless memorials and think pieces since his death on January 10, 2016 pay homage to the performer’s groundbreaking gender bending and sartorial reinvention. What many forget, though, is that these masks weren’t just physical—Bowie reinvented himself musically, picking up new styles and idioms as it suited him.

Continue reading "From Ziggy to Blackstar: David Bowie’s Musical Masks" »

February 29, 2016

Listening to Beethoven in and through The King’s Speech

Jonathan Godsall (Worcestershire, UK)

It is common for filmmakers to use pre-existing music, both within the stories of their films and as part of the narration of those stories (that is, both diegetically and non-diegetically). We can study these uses not only for what the music brings to the film, but also for what it takes away. A filmmaker’s use of pre-existing music is an interpretation of that music, which is then relayed to us, the film’s audience. Films can therefore influence how we listen to and think about music that might have already been very familiar.

Continue reading "Listening to Beethoven in and through The King’s Speech" »

February 16, 2016

Coca-Cola Goes to the Opera: Lillian Nordica’s Celebrity Endorsements

Kristen M. Turner (North Carolina State University)

In 2013, Taylor Swift debuted a commercial for Diet Coke. The ad is a collage of shots that alternate between Swift composing her hit, “22,” and different fans in a series of mundane locations singing the tune. We hear Swift’s music, not as it appears on the radio, but as a union of her image and creativity, and the voices of regular Americans. A can of Diet Coke is always by Swift’s side, and the commercial ends with her walking on stage to perform the song. The message of the ad is clear—Diet Coke is hip, young, and inspires its users (like Swift) but is still perfect for regular folks who can only dream of a life similar to that led by the beautiful and youthful pop star.

Continue reading "Coca-Cola Goes to the Opera: Lillian Nordica’s Celebrity Endorsements" »

February 1, 2016

Music and Social Change on Downton Abbey

Carrie Allen Tipton (Houston, TX)

The first episode of the hyper-popular BBC series Downton Abbey used the 1912 sinking of the Titanic as shorthand for the aristocratic Crawley family’s sudden and jarring transition, not only into a new epoch of its own dynasty, but from the waning and comfortable Edwardian era into a strange and destabilizing phase of world history. Now, as the show enters its sixth and final season (extending into the late 1920s), Downton’s inhabitants muddle clumsily through changing gender roles, shifting economic landscapes, volatile global politics, and seismic shifts in England’s essentially medieval class system, which is crumbling at last. In compressing such an expansive story into so few seasons, the show relies heavily on music to highlight the central tension between inevitable social change and the corresponding reluctance of the British aristocracy to adjust. Roughly speaking, the show’s diegetic music emphasizes the forward impetus of historical change, while the non-diegetic music looks wistfully back in time. The result is a Janus-faced soundtrack to accompany what creator and writer Sir Julian Fellowes has described as a Janus-faced storyline, gazing into the past and future at the same time.

Continue reading "Music and Social Change on Downton Abbey" »

Dedicated to the idea that music criticism can be literate and fun to read, The Avid Listener fosters weekly discussions between scholars and novices alike.

Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

Norton Music

A History of Western Music

J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca

The Enjoyment of Music

Kristine Forney, Andrew Dell’Antonio, and Joseph Machlis