The musicality of the visual music film

Mollaghan, Aimée (2011) The musicality of the visual music film. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis explores the concept and expression of musicality in the absolute visual music film, in which visual presentations are given musical attributes such as rhythmical form, structure and harmony. The role of music has, in general, been neglected when analysing visual music textually and if discussed it has been examined predominantly from the academic vantage points of art and avant-garde film theory. To adequately scrutinise these texts I consider it essential to look at them not only in terms of their existence as moving pictures but also to give equal weight to their aural aspect and to consider them in terms of specifically musical parameters. This thesis therefore seeks to redress previous imbalances by undertaking a close analysis of the expressly musical qualities of these texts. Drawing on the seemingly disparate areas of film theory, art history, music theory and philosophy, it takes an interdisciplinary approach to investigating the measurable influence that wider contextual, philosophical and historical developments and debates in these areas bore on the aesthetics of specific visual music films.
By drawing on the analogy of the absolute in music to demonstrate how musical concepts can function across the disciplinary boundaries of music and film, the first half of this thesis illustrates how musical ideas can be applied both formally and conceptually to the moving image in order to elucidate the musical characteristics of the text. Using the notion of the absolute as a conceptual framework allows for a thorough overview of changing trends and aesthetics in music, film and art and the visual music film. The centrality of notions of the absolute to visual music is demonstrated through close analysis of films by Viking Eggeling, Hans Richter, Walter Ruttmann, Norman McLaren, James Whitney and Jordan Belson.
The second part of this thesis concentrates less on the philosophical vestiges carried over from musical thought to the visual music film, instead focusing on the variety of techniques and technological developments that evolved in tandem with the visual music film, each simultaneously exerting an influence on one another. It explores the effect that colour processing had on not only the visual but the overall audiovisual structure of the visual music film through a textual analysis of Kreise (1933) by Oskar Fischinger. It also investigates how particular styles of musical composition dictated the development of specific technical processes such as painting directly onto the celluloid strip, in order to capture the syncopated and frenetic musicality of jazz music. The case studies here are Begone Dull Care (1949) by Norman McLaren and A Colour Box (1935) by Len Lye. Further to this, it examines how the technical processes of animated sound emerged in the search for a greater correlation between the visual and sound tracks of the visual music film through close analysis of Synchromy (1971) by Norman McLaren and the optical sound films of Guy Sherwin.
Finally, this thesis marries the inquiry into technological innovation of its second half with the historical, aesthetic and philosophical concerns of earlier chapters by considering the work of visual music pioneer John Whitney. Focusing on his digitally produced visual music films, the thesis explores Whitney’s enduring concern with the unification of sound and image through the shared foundation of mathematical harmony.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Theatre Film and TV Studies
Supervisor's Name: Garwood, Dr. Ian
Date of Award: 2011
Depositing User: Elaine Ballantyne
Unique ID: glathesis:2011-3205
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 17 Feb 2012
Last Modified: 11 Oct 2016 13:08

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