Seeing Music

Authored by: Richard Leppert

The Routledge Companion to Music and Visual Culture

Print publication date:  September  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415629256
eBook ISBN: 9780203629987
Adobe ISBN: 9781135956462


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Precisely because musical sound is abstract, intangible, and ethereal—lost as soon as it is gained—the visual experience of its production is crucial to both musicians and audience alike for locating and communicating the place of music within society and culture. That is, the slippage between the physical activity to produce musical sound and the abstract nature of that which is produced creates a semiotic uncertainty that is ultimately “resolved” to a significant degree via the agency of human sight; in brief, music's visual-performative aspect is central to its meanings. All of this is obvious enough when witnessing live performance, and no matter the music: classical (orchestral, chamber, solo instrumental, lieder, opera), jazz ensemble, rock and pop bands, etc. It's equally obvious when the performance is shunted to the video screens at arena concerts or the product of a music video. The point is this: performers gesture; they do so, of course, simply in order to make musical sound. But musicians likewise gesture in order to make meaning, to visually inflect the sounds they produce. That is, musicians' gestures commonly exceed the physical movements necessary to produce the wanted sounds.

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