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La comunicazione multimediale e la musica

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  • Autore Garbuglia Andrea
  • Codice ISBN (print) 978-88-6056-091-9
  • Numero pagine 244
  • Formato 14,5x20,5
  • Anno 2008
  • Editore © 2008 eum edizioni università di Macerata
  • Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
MSMI Music, Sound, and the Moving Image
Eum Redazione

MSMI 3:2 Autumn 09
review by Emanuele D'Onofrio
pp. 243-248

How does the young Mozart, attending a performance of Gregorio Allegri's Miserere in the Sistine Chapel in 1770 resemble a reader of Ken Parker, the popular Italian comic hook? Is it legitimate to adopt the same methods of interpretation for an illustrated score sheet from the late nineteenth century as for a sacred miniature from the Early Middle Ages? Perhaps such diverse cultural phenomena (and experiences) can be interpreted as different texts sharing the same world of communication, namely, our multimedia-informed environment. This is the theoretical territory to which Andrea Garbuglia's La comunicazione multimediale e la musica belongs. This book attempts to create and test a methodology principally drawn from music analysis and combine it with strategies and practices borrowed from disciplines such as semiotics and cognitive sciences, suited to investigate different forms of artistic expression and communication in multimedia. Indeed, Garbuglia's aim is twofold. Firstly, he aims to verify the interpretative potential of this 'contaminated' method in the study of music texts, which clearly communicate through interwoven 'media'. It is the intention of the author, whilst unveiling and working on the relationships between different components of music texts, to highlight aspects of their expressive qualities that escape conventional music analysis. Secondly, he attempts to prove this 'contaminated' method as a suitable technique for interpreting other cultural texts (some including, some not including, music), utterances and acts of speech that shape our world. In other words, this method could set the basis for a new hermeneutics of human communication.
In his book Garbuglia brings together a number of essays, mostly previously and individually published, which all share at their core a common theme: the convergence of music and multimedia communication. The composite structure of this research complements both its interdisciplinary character and the variety of case studies it presents. The first two chapters establish both terminological and theoretical coordinates and the typology that the remainder of the book then puts into practice through the analysis of cultural works, freely gathered from sacred and popular arts. Only the last of these works that Garbuglia examines, a tenth-century miniature of St Gregory the Great, does not include a musical element. In this last chapter, which has specifically been written as a conclusion, the author reads the text's visual elements 'musically’, citing as an example a curtain separating St Gregory while he utters divinely-inspired words and the scrivener that puts these on paper. By assigning to the curtain the function of a 'screen', similar to the effect of darkness in a concert hall, Garbuglia removes the visual stimuli and detaches the word from its physical origin, stressing the 'aural' character implicit in this image. Drawing on this consideration, he suggests on the very last page that it is in the 'oral' dimension that the multimedia nature of human communication can be accessed and studied.
Garbuglia does not mention that his reflections on dematerialisation of media echo previous theories of multi-modality formulated since the 1980s by, amongst others, Michael A. K. Halliday. By shifting from the 'medium' to the 'mode', these theories shift our attention from the material source (the written page or the record) to multiple modes of communication. These include speech and gesture not only as part of the spoken language, but as part of 'contextual' phenomena, among which are the physical spaces in which our discursive actions are played out. However, despite the author's efforts to produce an organic structure, the lack of a proper conclusion disappoints, failing to link sufficiently the many and intriguing trails, and the detailed pieces of analysis that the book offers. In this sense, the last chapter fails as a conclusion, since it does not adequately explain the movement between the specific case he considers and the broader argument to which this whole approach seems to aspire.
Another area that the book's composite structure makes problematic concerns the consistency of the terminology. This compilation of chapters, originally written at different times and conceived to prove various arguments, occasionally results in terminological inconsistencies that might be confusing for the reader. For example, in the first chapter Garbuglia convincingly argues that the term 'multimedia' (and medium) - which highlights the semiotic diversity between the different elements of a work and, therefore, the primacy of the syntactic level over the semantic - would be better replaced by 'multi-textuality' (and text). This change in terminology allows Garbuglia to embrace the 'semiotic-textological' approach in the following chapters. Unfortunately from the second chapter on, once the author has established his typology based on the (ideal) polarity between static and dynamic media, this seemingly significant distinction between 'media' and 'text' is forgotten, and the two terms become almost interchangeable. A possible reason for this is that, by the author's own admission, his first chapter in the book was actually written last.
In La comunicazione multimediale e la musica the analysis of music prompts a dilemma for the author as well as then providing a potential solution, since the analytical methodologies he employs can also be used in the study of other forms of communication. It is by engaging with the complex nature of music that Garbuglia can introduce the definition of multimedia and problematise it. More overtly than other forms of art, music epitomises multimedia communication, as various media theories mentioned in the book indicate (for instance, Ernest Hess-Lüttlich's categorisation of approaches in the defining of media). Music texts not only interweave instrumental and verbal sections, but they also incorporate further components that the different semiotic approaches described in the book can be used to individuate. For instance, through the 'structural approach' we can distinguish between the iconic (the images) and the symbolic modalities (the notes) using an illustrated score sheet, while the 'model' that divides between dependent (variable) and independent (invariable) media shows that in recordings the instrumentation timbre and the interpretation belong to the former, and the syntactic relation among notes belongs to the latter. Musical texts, therefore, can be described as fields of relations between multiple agents that we could further define as 'media' or, if in reference to 'multi-textuality', as 'texts'.
Although by no means original, the notion of 'multi-textuality' (already familiar to formalists such as Roman Jakobson) allows Garbuglia to describe cultural objects as macrostructures in constant motion. These are open to components that are dialectically related. Above all, however, he reaffirms the crucial function of the receiver as the main communicative agent. Embracing the well-known tradition that follows the tracks outlined by Roland Barthes and Umberto Eco, Garbuglia considers the receiver/reader as the ultimate 'editor' of multimedia text. It is the reader's responsibility to select from within the phenomenal reality the media that might contribute to any specific act of communication. Going back to the early example, it is the young Mozart who, as a listener, was able to construct the meaningful combination of the Sistine Chapel's frescos and the performance of Allegri's Miserere - prohibited by the Vatican from being performed in any other location - thereby creating the ultimate multimedia object of his own reception.
In order to avoid the arguments of 'relativism', Garbuglia chooses to examine the figure of the 'receiver' in the context of models derived from cognitive sciences. One of these models explains the construction of sense as an interrelation between time (the subject, with its knowledge and other variables) and structure (the object, determined by fixed relations). Yet, since the definition of 'time' already implies an interrelation of agents among which is the subject (and the conditions of his perception of the object), Garbuglia prefers to replace it with 'existential situation'. Throughout the book, however, the function of the receiver as the protagonist of the interpretative act, and even the constructor of these models, remains undisputed. This argument is reaffirmed by Michael A. Arbib and Mary B. Hesse's 'schema' theory. Here the 'self' appears as an holistic system where many schema ('units of representations' of the world) interact, so that the subject remains the dominant figure in determining which schema prevail in the perception and interpretation of the phenomenal reality, even if during our life their application becomes often automatic.
The models that allow us to explain and categorise the modalities of the construction of sense have been labelled typologies. As Garbuglia acutely notes, typologies are tools that bring into question ideological issues, since they describe the way we organise reality together with its objects and its communicative acts; in other words, through them we build the world we inhabit. The typology the Italian researcher uses here is one that classifies media according to their relation with time, or in other words, their degree of dynamism. In his definition of 'static media' he includes both media that are not destined lo be converted into processes (for instance, sculptures and paintings), and media that tend towards some degree of dynamism such as comic books and music scores (although these two types of media suggest the presence of two further sub-classes). Among the 'dynamic' media are those that are 'necessarily dynamic' (such as music performances), although these may or may not be based on a score, and those that are 'not necessarily dynamic' (for instance films, since they can be reduced to a series of still pictures).
As a thorough researcher, Garbuglia is well aware of the limitations all typologies carry. Indeed he uses his own model as a working hypothesis, as an operative tool open to the challenges that its applications bring forth. All the media, in practical terms, share some kind of relationship with time - even a sculpture 'performs' during the time the observer takes to walk around it - and tend toward becoming 'processes'. This is also evidently the case for the 'multi-textual' objects Garbuglia brings to the attention of the reader. In all but one example the musical text is interwoven with others. This happens in the baroque motet (combining music with words), in the illustrated score sheet (which uses images to accompany a music score), in the comic book story (where a music score appears above the cartoon), and in a film sequence (where film music plays a major part). Each analysis is preceded by historical information on the subject, or work of art, an introduction that effectively intrigues and encourages the reader to engage with the complexities of the analysis that follows. Garbuglia relies largely on Jànos S. Petofi's 'semiotic-textological' approach to break down each musical text into units and classify these according to their extension. From the analysis of the units' internal composition and structure, Garbuglia proceeds to examine their syntactic and semantic relations within the music text as a whole, labelling this as their 'architectonic structure'. By repeating the same procedure for the verbal and visual texts of every artwork, it becomes possible to create the conditions for a study of any cultural act of communication based on the syntactic and semantic (dialectic) relations between the 'architectonic structure' of each of its texts.
This method proves useful, revealing and accessible to all readers with some notion of music theory, and the book should be credited for this. However, once the use of this method is grasped it also enables the reader to discover perplexities in some of the analyses; for instance, the discussion on the comic book story. Here the music score that appears on the top of each cartoon, linking them for a number of pages, is meant to signify the music the characters hear, as the action is happening in a theatre. Garbuglia attempts here to establish syntactic and semantic relations between the structures of the written music, especially in its repetitions, and the visual text. The aim is to demonstrate analogies and discordances between the two texts, especially in the patterns' progression and in the rhythm of the editing. However intriguing this idea is, we should question the reader's ability, or interest, in interpreting a (sometimes loosely drawn) score. Indeed the parallel between comics and films, Garbuglia suggests, raises more relevant questions than he chooses to discuss. While all viewers of a film actually listen to and engage with its music to some extent, a simple (and poor) drawing of a score on a comic book will be inaccessible to many, its 'signified' remaining limited to the pure graphic representation of music. The notion of 'music competence' formulated by Anahid Kassabian, according to which every film viewer, on the basis of their own personal experience of films and film music, is sufficiently informed to engage with the music they hear, cannot necessarily apply to how a reader might respond to music notation drawn on a comic.
This book succeeds in indicating a new challenge to the established hierarchies between 'noble' and 'popular' arts. This has great significance in the context of Italian academia which, despite the battle started by Umberto Eco in the early 1960s with his Apocalittici e integrati, is still influenced by traditional disciplinary barriers. Garbuglia not only demonstrates that comics can be as rich a semiotic object as classical music, but by treating different media with the same analytical methodology he also reaffirms their equal value as agents of expression. Unfortunately, there are some pages where the author fails to disentangle himself from those same hierarchies. For instance, when discussing one of Francois Girard's Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993), he maintains the conventional dichotomy between diegetic (sounds) and extra-diegetic (music, which here is one of J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations performed by Gould). This distinction in film music has been questioned recently as a form of hierarchical bias stating the primacy of the visual element over the musical, which is denied an active contribution to the construction of the diegesis. Indeed, the employment of this conventional distinction conflicts with the otherwise insightful analysis of this short, which proves that music - particularly through its repetitions and cadences that, in combination with the visual sequence, convey emotional and dramatic elements - participates equally in the construction of the meaning.
Overall, La comunicazione multimediale e la musica is a stimulating and enjoyable piece of research. It provides an intelligent blend of scientific and more discursive and descriptive sections, enriched by the use of concrete and multifarious examples. This feature makes the book perhaps less interesting for specialists - musicologists, linguists or cognitive scientists - than for a reader with interests in all these fields. Although this work's interdisciplinary nature is undisputedly its strongest quality, it might cause the experts of the different areas under consideration to feel that some questions are not dealt with in sufficient depth or with only a limited range of references. For example, when discussing the emotional quality of music there is hardly any mention of scholars (such as Simon Frith) who have investigated this subject. However, the value of this research should be recognised, despite these weaknesses. Perhaps it is precisely because of them that it offers an honest and fresh contribution, particularly for Italian academia, opening enthralling and productive avenues in the dialogue between disciplines, a great meeting on the territory of multimedia.