sotonDH small grants: Virtually Reconstructing Musical Numbers

The musical is an under theorised genre in Film Studies. It is arguably the most complex of all the archetypal genres, reflecting as it does on the nature of the cinema going experience itself. Its reflexive nature is in part a result of its structure which varies from other genres in its focus on simultaneity and comparison rather than causal relationships and progression. The musical thus has an inherently different and interesting representation of time and space, nowhere more obviously than in the musical numbers themselves. Musical numbers are the essential element of the musical, and it is in this space, rather than traditionally in the narrative, that its core values, ideologies and readings are expressed.

The dominant analysis in Film Studies often follows a narrative or semiotic line. This project is part of a larger undertaking to position and promote abstract (free from narrative concern) spatial analysis as a productive mode of examining films. By freeing spatial analysis from narrative, the dominant readings prevalent in the discipline can no longer be relied upon, thus opening the findings to new interpretations. The importance of space in musical numbers makes the genre the ideal site for the promotion of this form of analysis.

This project, which is in conjunction with Matt Harrison (Archaeology), seeks to virtually reconstruct set musical numbers from a corpus of musical films. The numbers’ set designs are compiled together from the series of different shots that make up the sequence: by watching and re-watching a sense of the over-arching space of the number can be achieved. Once the mise-en-scène (arrangement of the scenery) has been constructed the movements of the characters and camera can be tracked and animated in time with the musical number.

The animated virtual reconstructions of the musical numbers will enable various different spatial relationships to be examined. By having a static point of view we will for the first time be able to track the camera’s movements and relationship both with the set design and the characters within the diegesis (world of the film). There are many different spatial levels to a musical number and the virtual reconstructions will enable information to be collected on almost all of them.

Once the virtual reconstructions have been made, the music of the scene will be able to be scored alongside the animation, thus demonstrating the audio-visual relationship as thoroughly as possible. This project appears to be the first of its kind in Film Studies and will undoubtedly take theorising in a new direction which will hopefully yield original information.

This project feeds into Beth Carroll’s PhD thesis on the ‘Representation of Space in Song Sequences’ with the virtual reconstructions for this project being created by Matt Harrison.