Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

Beyond Figures of the Audience

Towards a Cultural Understanding of the Film Music Audience

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2016), 10, (1), 25–51.

Abstract

Readers of this journal have witnessed the proliferation of work in the field of film music studies over recent years. With this expansion has come a variety of ways of understanding the relationship between music and film, but no similar investigation of the relationship between audiences and soundtracks. Nevertheless, figures of the film music audience frequently emerge in much analysis of the function of popular music in film soundtracks. Jeff Smith’s and Anahid Kassabian’s models of film music perception and comprehension are the two most detailed accounts (1998 and 2001, respectively). Since publication well over a decade ago, their frameworks have been widely cited but rarely interrogated. Both models hinge on the idea that ‘knowing’ music can determine an audience member’s response (to both music and film). This article critiques Smith’s and Kassabian’s theories: my exploratory audience research suggests that audiences’ modes of relating to film soundtracks are much more complex than simply ‘knowing’ or ‘not knowing’ the music (Anderson, 2011; 2012). A fuller understanding of the role of popular music in film for audiences needs to take into account tastes, vernacular categorisations, senses of identity, and memory (both related to the self, and to the text at hand).

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Anderson, Lauren