Semiology and Performance Analysis

Here is a slideshare of a musicicology lecture I  recently gave on semiology and performance analysis. All the the listening examples are available via Spotify.

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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6 Responses to Semiology and Performance Analysis

  1. Luke says:

    Ive gathered from reading ‘introductory notes to the semiotics of music’ that Tagg is looking for a way to explain musical work without using musical theory, If I am wrong about this then what I’m going to say next won’t make any sense.
    However, I like this approach. To understand what music is about I dont think you really need to look at the musical theory side of a song/album etc. Because although people have made cases for what a minor 3rd interval means, or what certain keys mean (that kind of thing), I dont think its really thought about as much when composing/writing music as say, certain timbres or dynamics and how these are used to represent feeling as emotions. But then again saying this is kind of contradictory, as this part of Taggs parameters of musical expression, does involves analysing melody, harmony etc from a theoretical point of view.

    I like the idea of ‘sonic anapheles’ in music, but I dont think it can be narrowed down to something as specific as “motorbike noises” to me that falls under sound effects. But the idea that certain noises, or i think playing techniques/sound modelling/tones can represent certain messages or even genres/times in music history.

    I think the examples given are too specific, I think when you listen to music you have to take everything into account but how it works together, you can’t single out aspects and then say this represents this and that represents that, because I think youll end up with a lot of contradiction in the analysis. (kind of like what Ive just done)

    Im still struggling to get my head around some of these ideas.


  2. carza says:

    Thanks Luke. Remember though, sonic anaphones are not sound effects. They are musical timbres that sound like motorbikes etc.


  3. Rene Temple says:

    I agree with Luke in saying it is a ‘nice concept’; Tagg’s idea of analysing music without looking too deeply into the musical theory (like we often tend to). I also think that musicians don’t always compose with the idea that the intervals they use and melodies/harmonies they compose are supposed to reflect a feeling or tell a story so to speak etc etc. (I don’t think that this is always at the forefront of the composers mind) In this instance, I could see a problem for analysis when using the model on pg 5. In specifics, I imagine there might be a problem when trying to interpret the true meaning of a song or what a particular part of the composition means by using “Signification, sign typology”.Is this a problem in semiotics? I could be wrong as like Luke, I am struggling to understand fully some ideas in Tagg’s paper. I’m not sure if I’ve fully grasped the concept.
    Perhaps composers do use particular intervals and melodies/harmonies in their compositions because the sound of them (not the theory behind it) DOES represent a ‘preset’ standard that (when it was established) meant, or stood for a particular theme or meaning etc. I (think) this is what Tagg is maybe getting at on pg 7 in his examples? And if this is the case, then surely, we can use semiotics to analyse the meaning of music quite easily, but we’d need to figure out the ‘preset’ meaning beforehand?
    The idea of kinetic anaphones is quite interested (like the other anaphones) but I agree most with this one I think. I can appreciate that some music does sound like the movements etc of the people they are related to (like the sweeping sounds of stringed instruments in a romantic dance for eg), although I think this possibly mostly happens in film music. And I think that film music is composed specifically to do this in certain instances.
    Again, I am unsure if this is exactly what Tagg is meaning although generally, I can appreciate these methods of analysis, and I could see that on many occasions they could very well work. But in a few, they may not apply what so ever. So, is it an affective method? (Providing I am understanding his paper correctly of course.)


  4. rob says:

    yeah, i like the idea of sonic and kinetic anaphones, but the use of tactile and other compositional anaphones seems less necesary. This is because Tagg describes several of the latter as overlapping, e.g. sonic anaphones are also kinetic, kinetic anaphones are also tactile. I know they all mean different things but at the same time they are the same??

    ‘If, as we have suggested, music is related to something other than itself, how do such
    relationships work?’
    I also like the idea of idetifying signs/signal, and how they are interpereted. However the only problem I find is that it is subjective. Surely as a researcher you can only identify possible signals and how they COULD be interpereted.
    I also like the idea of focusing on what the music ‘communicates’ ,rather than the reseasons the original artist composed the piece. It seems more important and relevant to focus on how it communicates to society in general rather than one person. I actually now think that signals and indicators are a much more useful way of analysing a piece now.


  5. simon babb says:

    i think what luke says about effects being used as ‘sonic anapheles’ has some weight, as certain effects like chorus for example can give the impression of water or white noise filters as wind etc. and these can all give the same meaning to different listers?

    also using terminology to explain emotions in music instead of just notation is very helpful but without knowing the intended message from the artist and even when you do know, its all subjective and relates to how your feeling at the time and many other things. i suppose thats what makes music great.

    i found the abba analysis in the lecture brilliant and was suprised with how many comparisons were found. i also thought it was vey intersting that the little motifs conjured up that spanish sounds that are all taken in and processed subliminally.
    or for example the strings conveyed the english country side.
    i have heard this song a probably a hundred times and never made any previous connection?? now its all i can hear


  6. Jack Butler says:

    What Simon said about the meaning and message in music coming from the artist i thought was really interesting. I also agree that whatever the intended message is, is sort of irrelevant anyway because it is perceived completely differently by different people.
    The communication models that Tagg used i found really useful in understanding the concept, especially the possible connotative spheres one.

    I don’t think there is ever one specific true meaning in music, not even in the way the composer thinks about the piece themselves because when people are given (musical) signs, different people perceive them in different ways, Tagg says this is through the medium of either semiosis or codal interference.

    Tagg says “there are always solid reasons why messages don’t get across” which i don’t agree with. I don’t think these ‘reasons’ exist, because i don’t think these ‘messages’ or ‘meanings’ necessarily exist. If the meaning in music is completely subjective, and down to the listener’s own perception, then perhaps there is no true meaning in music at all?

    Also, i really liked the practical view of how the music may not be able to communicate itself to the listener sometimes because of tangible things, such as a venue’s size, PA system or acoustics. It’s easy to relate to and it carries 100% honest, obvious truth.


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