Nicholas Cook, Analysing musical multimedia, Oxford University Press, 1998. The book develops a musicilogy-based approach to analysing multimedia, which the author then applies to a Madonna video, a section of Fantasia and an operatic sequence from Godard’s film, Aria. Starting from the experience of synaesthesia, the author concludes that, although the phenomenon provides some hints about what multimedia is, it is more important in providing an illuminating model of what multimedia is not. In subsequent chapters a more general model of multimedia—one based on several different kinds of relationships—is illustrated using commercials, album cover art, and film sequences. In this model meaning is constructed; it is emergent, contextual, performative. Cook draws on critical film and music theory as well as empirical research in making his arguments. The ideas in this work are expansive regarding the ways in which narrative, visuals and music can interact to create meaning. The book should help readers think concretely about the many possibilities that come into play when music meets with other media. And it provides a framework for making sense of what happens when they do.

Nicholas Cook, Music: A very short introduction, Oxford University Press, 1998. How is it that music acts as an agent of meaning? Why is it that when we listen to music, we seem to “leave the world of people and things and enter one of thought and feeling (p. 1)”? Some of the ideas Cook explores while answering those questions include how our images of great composers align with historical analyses of how Mozart and Beethoven actually worked, how notation has limited and defined musical expression, the role of roles in the orchestra, as well as the roles that the academy and gender play in our appreciation of music.

Steven R. Holtzman, Digital mantras: The languages of abstract and virtual worlds, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994. The range of response to this book has one of the highest variances I have ever seen. Some read it as the most important synthesis of technology and culture in recent years; others as an individualistic narrative of vaguely related “topics of interest.” I was caught up in it as a book of appreciations. It contains appreciations of the history of western music, of development of language, of Schoenberg, Kandinsky, Boulez, Chomsky, and more. It places generative grammars in a context for those to whom they are new. It surveys some of the most interesting developments in digital art and music, and it does not shrink from examining such large issues as the sources of a digital aesthetic, the meaning of beauty, or where deep structure might be found. While I was not always comfortable that Holzman’s take on these things was right or even useful, reading his thoughts sent me to related works that were.

Ana Sacerdote de Guthmann, “Kinteic art: Animation of color for cinema film,” in Frank J. Malina [ed.], Kinetic art, Theory and practice, New York: Dover Publication, 1974, 8-10. An approach to animation is described. The starting point is what the author refers to as a basic chromatic unit or syllable. This consists of a sequence of geometric compositions whose shapes, positions, and color shades are varied. A film consisting of three parts is described. In the course of describing the film’s sequences the author notes that:

  • the more one subdivides the area the richer one can make the experience of watching transitions from one shade to another
  • the fact that one part of the composition changes while another portion  remains static adds interest to the experience
  • a shape in motion, changing both in size and shade, can produce striking  effects, though careful control of duration is required
  • sequences should be of different lengths

The author makes suggestions about other things that could be attempted.

Gene Youngblood, Expanded cinema, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1970. In this detailed examination, Youngblood captured more than how cinema was changing in the 60s. The book is a kaleidoscope of ideas relating synaestheia, post-modernism, cybernetics, ecological awareness, and aesthetics to film, television, holography, and other emerging entertainment environments. Much of the narrative remains fresh. There are substantial sections on the work of Jordan Belson, the Whitneys, Stan VanDerBeek, and others. As history, it does more than capture the details of its time; its style and flavor make it an artifact of that time as well. And, the introduction by Bucky Fuller is speculative even by Fuller standards.