“Vertigo’s Musical Gaze: Neo-Riemannian Symmetries and Spirals”

4 December 2017, 17:30 - 18:30
Cambridge campus

Abstract picture of mans head with musical notes

Speaker: Dr Kenneth Smith (University of Liverpool)

Abstract: Laura Mulvey (1975) used Lacanian theory as a 'political weapon', crystallising her concept of the 'male gaze' through which viewers disempower women by making them on-screen fantasy objects. The article misconstrues Lacan's concept of 'the gaze', whose power emanates from the object itself meaning that we might invert Mulvey's reading of Hitchcock's Vertigo to suggest that Scottie (James Stewart) is himself objectified by the mystique of the 'object' he watches and follows – Madeline (Kim Novak). For we spectators, the screen’s gaze can reduce us to objects too. Rather than watching the film, we can feel the film(maker) watching us.

This extends to Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack, famously influenced by the yearning of Wagner’s Tristan. Developing David Schwarz's (2006) musical 'gaze' , in which the mysteriously repeated pedal-points of Schubert songs gaze at us, I analyse the score’s frequent emphasis on the pitch D. The pitch is sometimes crudely repeated in alluring, yet sinister, bare octaves as Scottie follows Madeline. But at key moments in the film the pitch becomes a sophisticated tool that draws us into the film in unique ways. Hermann’s score chimes with developments in neo-Riemannian theory, particularly in the hexatonic 'poles' that Cohn shows to be agents of the Freudian 'uncanny' (2004). Other symmetrical pitch constellations further form an obsessional musical 'gaze', begging the question of whether we are listening to the music, or the music is listening to us.

Kenneth Smith is a Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Liverpool.

Kenneth has worked at Liverpool since 2011 after holding posts at Keele and Durham (where he completed his PhD in 2009). His first book, 'Skryabin, Philosophy and the Music of Desire' was published early in 2013, and he has published essays in major international journals on Alexander Skryabin, Karol Szymanowski, Charles Ives and Alexander von Zemlinsky. In addition to his interest in Western art-music from the turn of the twentieth century, Kenneth specializes in music theory and Lacanian studies.

Event Details

4 December 2017, 17:30 - 18:30
Cambridge campus
Jerome Booth Music Therapy Centre. Young Street

No booking is required for this event.