Research seminars

David Ireland: Conceptual (in)congruence in Marvin Hamisch’s score for "The Informant!"

Event details

Speaker: Dave Ireland (University of Leeds) 

Date: 4 April 2019

Time: 5.15 - 6.30pm.  

Venue: Lecture Room A, Alison House, 12 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9DF


Incongruent music that lacks shared properties with the images and narrative can influence audience perception, response, and interpretation of filmic meaning. (In)congruence can be identified on multiple levels of the film-music relationship and has become a frequently used cinematic technique. An increasingly common iteration can be found in what I have termed conceptual incongruence - the recurrent, intentional use of seemingly incongruent music throughout a film, an approach that often emphasises compositional or directorial strategy. The placement of such music across a film challenges stereotypical assumptions that incongruent combinations are unexpected pairings that rely on shocking the audience. However, whilst the recurrent presentation of such devices likely creates familiarity, these film-music relationships may still violate expectations and draw attention to the cinematic construction, influence perception, and challenge or nuance interpretation of the narrative.

This talk will consider Marvin Hamlisch’s sustained foregrounded score for Steven Soderbergh’s "The Informant!" as an example of conceptually incongruent film music. Moments of close structural and semantic alignment will be discussed against the independent and emotionally distinct qualities that the music often presents. The complexities of the narrative and titular character, and the way that Hamlisch’s music complements and confounds these, will be demonstrated through filmic analysis and discussion of the results of empirical audience reception tests. Combined, these sources of information present a nuanced picture, which reflects the complexity of judgements of audiovisual (in)congruence and highlights the benefits of identifying different types of film-music relationship (such as conceptual incongruence). Considering the audience’s perceptual processes alongside close filmic analysis will model the benefits of interdisciplinary approaches that facilitate more holistic exploration of these rich film texts and the range of subjective responses and interpretations that they invite.


David Ireland is a lecturer in music psychology at the School of Music at the University of Leeds, UK. His research addresses the role of music in the perception of meaning in, and emotional response to, film. David is particularly interested in the idea of incongruent film music, which displays a lack of shared properties with concurrent filmic images and narrative, and the ways in which approaches from music psychology and film music studies can help to understand such moments. David is the author of Identifying and Interpreting Incongruent Film Music (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and has also published on the incongruent soundtrack in The Soundtrack and Music and the Moving Image journals.


Apr 04 2019 -

David Ireland: Conceptual (in)congruence in Marvin Hamisch’s score for "The Informant!"

David Ireland explores how film music that is at odds with the images or narrative affects our perception and interpretation of meaning in films.

Lecture Room A
Alison House
12 Nicolson Square