Tag Archives: Semiotics

Ballet and sauvagerie

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A semiotics of sex roles in French society was played out in 18th- and 19th-century ballet by projecting it onto imaginary Native American societies.

In the 18th century, sauvage culture became a canvas for the projection of utopian sentiment with subtle social texturing, allowing the expression of fantasies of less restrictive sexual roles; in the 19th century, sauvagerie became grotesque and increasingly unrefined, shifting the emphasis from cultural to racial difference and affirming the status quo.

This according to “Sauvages, sex roles, and semiotics: Representations of Native Americans in the French ballet, 1736–1837” by Joellen A. Meglen (Dance chronicle XXIII/2 [2000] pp. 87–132; XXIII/3 [2000] pp. 275–320).

Above and below, Rameau’s Les Indes galantes (1735).

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Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities, Dance

Jimmie Rodgers and semiotics

Jimmie Rodgers’s recordings present nearly all of the yodel types used by hillbilly singers, including nonsense-syllable strands, breaking voice registers while singing words, and brief falsetto grace-note descents into his natural voice. His yodels contain influences from both African American (falsetto upward leap at the end of words) and European (word-breaking) traditions.

Home tropes evoke themes of home, family, regret, return, or nostalgia; subdominant tropes represent carefree cheerfulness; blues tropes conjure masculine braggadocio themes.

Rodgers applies grace notes according to the pathos of the lyrics, and his hummed or moaned yodels are toned down for mainstream appeal. He was a carrier of tradition—his yodels connect to ragtime and blues, as well as to nineteenth-century European yodels, song types, and decorative devices.

This according to “Jimmie Rodgers and the semiosis of the hillbilly yodel” by Timothy Wise (The musical quarterly XCIII/1 [spring 2010] pp. 6–44).

Above, Rodgers with his 1930 Model A Ford in Kerrville, Texas. Below, the Yodeling Brakeman offers a semiotic exegesis on the letter T.

Related article: Romy Lowdermilk redux

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Filed under Performance practice, Popular music

Ringtones redux

Cell phone ringtones have been the subject of scholarly investigation for at least a decade; approaches to them have ranged from the practical to the postmodern.

The earliest academic study that we know of is “On the ringtones of cell phones (携帯電話着信メロディーについて)” in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of Japan (社団法人日本音響学会) LVII/11 (2001), pp. 725–728. Legal aspects were explored the following year in “Die Lizenzierungspraxis der GEMA bei Ruftonmelodien: Rechteeinräumung und Rechtefluß” by Jürgen Becker in Recht im Wandel seines sozialen und technologischen Umfeldes: Festschrift für Manfred Rehbinder (München: C.H. Beck, 2002, pp. 187–198).

Then the cultural theorists began to take note. The stage was set by discussions of aspects of postmodernism and colonialism in “The semiotics of cell-phone ring tones” by Erkki Pekkilä in Musical semiotics revisited (Helsinki: International Semiotics Institute, 2003, pp. 110–120). Recent cultural analyses have included “The musical madeleine: Communication, performance, and identity in musical ringtones” by Imar de Vries (Popular music and society XXXIII/1 [February 2010], pp. 61–74) and “What does answering the phone mean? A sociology of the phone ring and musical ringtones” by Christian Licoppe (scheduled for future publication in Cultural Sociology).

Above, heeding the summons of a ringtone in Bangladesh.

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Reception, Science