Integrating Domains: The Role of the Visual in Multimedia Analysis

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The musical and visual domains of many multimedia compositions are often tightly integrated. However, in many cases, the analyses of such works only provide a cursory discussion of the non-musical domains, often ignoring a large part of the work’s Gestalt. Indeed, the visual domain often plays as equally an important role as the music. In addition, many of these works are intentionally ambiguous, allowing for several different interpretations that a music-only analysis may overlook.

This lecture outlines an analytical model (the Model for Interpreting Musical Multimedia) that allows for the visual domain to serve an equal role in the analysis of the work. The model, which is a variation of a metaphorical cross-domain map, allows each domain to be considered separately before being compared and interpreted. To demonstrate the model, a scene from the Philip Glass and Godfrey Reggio film Naqoyqatsi is discussed in terms of both its music and video components. Many of the features found in the music (including self-similar, multivalent structures and a reference to a chiasmus form) are also present in the video, and when these are combined with the narrative of Naqoyqatsi (a Hopi-language word meaning “Life as War”), a rich and varied interpretation of the scene is uncovered.

Presentation Type: Lecture
Recording Date: April 12, 2013
Recording Location: University of Texas, Arlington
Duration: 31 minutes, 25 seconds

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Last modified on Thursday, 27/09/2018

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Sean Atkinson

Sean Atkinson is an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Texas, Arlington, where he teaches courses in post-tonal music theory, music history, and music semiotics. His research interests include music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, opera analysis, and the analysis of recent compositions involving multimedia. He has given numerous presentations on these topics at regional, national, and international conferences. Articles on these topics can be found in Music Theory Online and the Indiana Theory Review.


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