Research seminars

James Wierzbicki: Sound Effect / Sound Affect: ‘Meaningful’ Noise in the Cinema

Event details

Speaker: James Wierzbicki (University of Sydney) 

Time: 2.00 - 4.00pm.  Please note the early start time for this seminar.

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


Every sound has meaning, but some sounds seem more meaningful than others. In the real world, the separation of significant sound from inconsequential background noise is always done—consciously or not— by us. In the fictional world of narrative cinema, the separation is typically done by the filmmakers.

This lecture explores artificial sounds that, in the context of cinema, are interpreted by audiences as real as well as sounds that in the cinema somehow seem much more than real. It deals, too, with sonic symbolism and with sonic double entendres. But the lecture’s primary focus is ‘special’ sound of the sort that has figured into cinema since the advent of three-dimensional Dolby stereo and which is used not just for effect but for potent affect. 


James Wierzbicki is an Associate Professor of musicology at the University of Sydney. Before taking up this post he taught in the United States at the University of Michigan and the University of California-Irvine, and for more than twenty years he served as chief classical music critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other large American newspapers. Along with exploring questions of modernity and the postmodern, his research focuses on twentieth-century music in general and film music in particular. His articles have appeared in Beethoven Forum, Music and the Moving Image, Opera Quarterly, Perspectives of New Music, the Journal of the American Musicological Society, and Musical Quarterly; his books include a monograph on the electronic score for the 1956 film Forbidden Planet (Scarecrow Press, 2005), Film Music: A History (Routledge, 2009), and Elliott Carter(University of Illinois Press, 2011). Wierzbicki’s most recent book—Music in the Age of Anxiety: American Music in The Fifties (University of Illinois Press, 2016)— is a study of the full range of American music in post-war era, regarded through such societal ‘filters’ as post-war technology, the Arms Race, the Red Scare, race relations, and sexual politics.

Nov 22 2018 -

James Wierzbicki: Sound Effect / Sound Affect: ‘Meaningful’ Noise in the Cinema

In this special seminar, held in conjunction with the postgraduate course Music on Screen, James Wierzbicki asks how filmmakers use modern cinematic technology to create new sorts of meaningful sound.

Lecture Room A
Alison House
12 Nicolson Square