Session|séance 9.2. Aesthetic Innovations.

Session|séance 9.2. Aesthetic Innovations.
Room 11-463. Chair: Tom Van Seters

Friday|vendredi 25 May|mai 2018. 2:00 - 3:00PM


9.2.1. Musical Sublimity: The Subjective Turn in Christian Friedrich Michaelis

Morteza Abedinifard, University of Alberta 

The sublime, as it was conceived in the 18th and 19th centuries, was associated with states of astonishment and horror: moods or modes of feeling that threaten stable subjectivity. For Sulzer, the sublime as “the highest thing” in art “works on us with hammer-blows; it seizes us and irresistibly overwhelms us.” In Burke’s view, sublime arts “overpower the soul, suspend its actions and fill it with terror.” Although this general understanding of the sublime is shared among all thinkers of the era, Christian Friedrich Michaelis’s contribution to the history of musical sublime is essential. Influenced by the Kantian formulation of the concept, he underlines the distinction between the “objectively sublime” and “pathetically sublime,” the former involving a musical reconstruction of sublime nature, whereas the latter being a musical “portrayal of our own nature.” This differentiation seems to be highly important when we consider how Michaelis elaborates on the ways in which musical sublime disrupts the wholeness of the listener’s apprehension and is, hence, “based on the idea of infinity or immeasurability.” Emphasizing this distinction, my presentation will explore the new accent that Michaelis put on the subjective aspect of the sublime and will study its influence on the succeeding romantic writers, who associate music with the notions of “infinity” and “ineffability.” I will argue that Michaelis’s Kantian shift in the notion of sublimity (a shift towards subjectivity: “our own nature”) had a crucial impact on the romantic understanding of music. 


9.2.2. Music as Temporal Disruption in Assassin’s Creed

Stephanie Lind, Queen’s University 

In the Assassin’s Creed game series, the protagonist is connected to a device in a research lab which allows them to virtually travel back in time. The player is reminded of the strain caused by this machine through a variety of musical effects and visual distortions. While historical music styles are used to suggest the time period and geographic setting of the game (such as Gregorian chant in the original Assassin’s Creed game, set in Jerusalem during the Crusades), these historical snippets are subsumed within electronic music featuring digitally-altered sounds, rapid rhythmic pulses, and abrupt transitions from loud to soft (see Assassin’s Creed 1, “Acre Underworld”, The resultant blend creates a disconnect for the player: a bleeding-over of ancient with modern.

This paper will argue that disruptions, created through rhythm, tonality, and digital instrumentation, invoke a sense of aural discomfort in the player which mimics the protagonist’s physical distress. Methodologically, melodic contour, mode, and interval will be examined to establish authenticity: does this music resemble actual historical styles, or is it merely a pastiche based on player expectation? Karen Collins’ and Zach Whelan’s research on player immersion, especially that “sound is always an embodied, multimodal experience” (Collins 40), as well as James Paul Gee’s notion that three identities occur during gameplay – the player, character, and projective identity – will provide a framework for discussing the physical effect of sound on the player. The outcome will establish a variety of ways in which musical disruption mimics aspects of the game narrative.

Selected Bibliography

Collins, Karen. 2013. Playing with Sound: A Theory of Interacting with Sound and Music in Video Games. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Gee, James Paul. 2004. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave MacMillan.

Summers, Tim. 2012. “Epic texturing in the first-person shooter: The aesthetics of video game music.” The Soundtrack 5: 2, 131–151, doi: 10.1386/ st.5.2.131_1.

Winters, Ben. 2008. “Corporeality, musical heartbeats, and cinematic emotion.” Music, Sound, and the Moving Image 2: 1, 3–25. 

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