Thursday, September 10, 2009

Beginning a new series here - SOUNDS

I thought that I would attempt to post at least as often as my students, and I'll really try to do this. I may not be able to do this all the time, but I'll try. I thought, if I'm going to try to force myself to do all of this writing, then I should write about something worthwhile. Therefore, I will try to document moments in the music that I listen to that seem to be flashes of pleasure, something which philosopher/semiotician Roland Barthes would suggest is involved in what he calls "cruising."

So you know what I mean, I can try to provide a small sample of the song to which I'm referring.

I think I can identify a kind of “break” that Barthes might talk about, that brings pleasure as I "cruise" a "text," which, in this case, is Bob Dylan's song, "Tangled Up in Blue." At around 32-33 seconds (7-8 seconds in the clip below), just when Bob sings “rain,” his voice ascends in pitch and it kind of squeaks (not the right descriptive, but whatever). This is a moment of breaking, a fragmenting of the voice, and it’s a kind of moment that surprised me. In my “cruising,” I experienced this “turning” which caught me (and continues to catch me). The same feeling now happens for me while he continues singing. Every time he enters this part of the song (the chorus?), I am “flooded” with pleasure. Now, I suppose my language is too flowery, but hopefully you get what I mean.

From an email with Michael J. Gilmour:
Around the time he was writing the album, Dylan was studying with painter Norman Raeben. According to this book, "Raeben brought Dylan to a more fruitful understanding of time, enabling him to view narrative not in such strictly linear terms, but to telescope past, present, and future together to attain a more powerful, unified focus on the matter at hand. ... [in "Tangled Up in Blue"] temporality, location, and viewpoint shift back and forth from verse to verse, rather in the manner of montaged jump cuts in a movie ... allowing him to reveal underlying truths about the song's characters while letting them remain shadowy, secretive figures" (Andy Gill). Not related to "cruising" but a fun observation just the same.
Oh, but it is related to Barthes' "cruising." Barthes talks about cruising being “related to the catch of sentences, citations, turns of phrase, fragments.” This last part, fragments, would seemingly correspond to the “montaged jump cuts” that Gill identifies. I wonder if, also, the text (the song) is put forth like a film, to be “spied-upon,” as Barthes would say.

Also, I read more into “turns of phrase” than simply “a manner of expression,” but rather a kind of contour, either in terms of vocal phrasing or even melodic contour.

Funny how even the quote from Gill seems to talk about desire, as well as this idea of enigma. The enigma of the narrative captures the listener, I think, and Dylan’s voice, I would argue, is part of this.

For more on Barthes' notion of "cruising," see Barthes, Roland. “Twenty Key Words for Roland Barthes.” The Grain of the Voice: Interviews 1962-1980. Translated by Linda Coverdale. New York: Hill and Wang, 1985. 230-231.

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