Musical Meaning as Embodied Meaning: The Case of Horror Film Music


The film sound theorist K. J. Donnelly's essay 'Demonic possession: horror film music' (2005) famously remarks that some horror film music attempts at a 'direct engagement with the physical' in that they trigger bodily effects 'bypassed culture's learned structures'. Donnelly notes that his 'direct-access thesis' of (horror) film music is subject to challenge from the 'culturalist' view of film music, which contends that musical meaning is a mere matter of convention, and thus it is via learning the conventional meaning that film viewers come to be emotionally affected by the music and sound. This culturalist view of film music is supported by a position on musical meaning favoured by many philosophers 'the cognitivist theory of music and emotion defended by Peter Kivy. It argues that musical meaning is grasped primarily via intellectually or cognitively processing the music's formal properties and/or the properties' conventional meaning. In this paper, I defend Donnelly's 'direct access thesis'. I first examine the extent to which knowledge of music and musical conventions are required for music appreciation, in the course of which Kivy's cognitivist theory will be confronted. Then I put forward the view that musical meaning is primarily embodied, and show its merits over the culturalist and the cognitivist one. I wish to show how reflecting on horror film music provides interesting objections to a long-standing philosophical position of musical meaning, and enhance understanding of musical meaning.

Author Information
Lorraine Ka Chung Yeung, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong

Paper Information
Conference: ACERP2016
Stream: Philosophy - Philosophy and the Arts

This paper is part of the ACERP2016 Conference Proceedings (View)
Full Paper
View / Download the full paper in a new tab/window

Comments & Feedback

Place a comment using your LinkedIn profile


Share on activity feed

Powered by WP LinkPress

Share this Research

Posted by James Alexander Gordon