CfA: Music for New Frontiers: Re-Locating the Sounds of the Western (Mariana Whitmer & Kendra Leonard)
“Music for New Frontiers: Re-Locating the Sounds of the Western”
Editors: Mariana Whitmer & Kendra Leonard
Deadline: January 10, 2015
We all know the sound of the “classic” movie Western, and what it signifies: a sense of the bravura and heroics associated with the genre illustrated through clean-cut good guys and shifty-eyed bad guys, a rustic landscape, showdowns and brawls. In a 2014 television commercial for Nissan, two men display their car keys with a knowing look: who will win this horserace? In another, two women don cowboy hats to compete for a pair of fashionable shoes on display between them. Similarly, a commercial for the weedkiller “Roundup” features narration in a rhythmic patter reminiscent of the song “Ringo,” while a chorus of men sing in the background and we hear a single crack of a whip, evoking the classic scores of Dmitri Tiomkin. All of these commercials feature a stylized music that we recognize from classic Westerns: open chords, simple harmonies, long melodies reminiscent of folk tunes, and the changes to those sounds brought about by the “Spaghetti” Westerns of the 1960s: percussion mimicking the sounds of the mythological American West with its jingling spurs, bird calls, and galloping hooves. Advertising companies know that we will respond positively (whether male or female) to the music that transports us to another time (and place?) when we stood up to competition, whether another person or a weed.
Westerns, and their scores, full of iconic motifs, timbres, and harmonies, have always helped us to interpret our past and our present, deal with political and social issues, and delineate the moral behavior of the various bad guys and good guys of the periods depicted. Whether in print, on the stage, or on the screen, the genre is unique and thus inspires a particularly unique soundtrack. This soundtrack changed when the Western was transplanted to Italy, but music for the Western by both American and non-American composers has endured and has been interpreted to new environments for a variety of reasons.
So what happens when that soundtrack is transposed to other settings? Recent films, anime, television shows, stage productions, and video games, including Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 Django Unchained, 2013’s The Lone Ranger, anime’s* GunXSword*, the 2012 Doctor Who episode “A Town Called Mercy,” and the recent Half-Life spinoff Fistful of Frags have embraced the Western aesthetic in their settings, costuming, plots, and music. While some of these productions use the American “old west” as audiences know it from Gunsmoke *and *High Noon, more of them explore locations and scenarios far from these traditional renderings. Even Bruce Springsteen has used the main title theme from *The Magnificent Seven *as his intro music at live shows, positioning him as essentially American.
This collection seeks to locate and relocate the Western and its soundtrack in recent media. Possible topics include music and the intersections of works that both reference the traditional Western and stand apart from it:
- Westerns set outside of the United States, including Japan, Australia, and Osterns from the Soviet bloc
- Space or Supernatural Westerns
- Video games
- TV shows and series in non-Western settings
- Operas (aside from “La Fanciulla del West”)
- Popular musics, including sampling and mashups
- Radio programs
- Shakespeare and classical literature
- Stage productions, including both plays and musicals
- Other non-Western literature
…In other words, places where you wouldn’t normally expect to hear “Western” music, but where it is used nonetheless as a recognizable musical signifier.
Please submit abstracts of 500 words by January 10, 2015 in .doc(x), .rtf. or .odt form to both Mariana Whitmer (email@example.com) and Kendra Preston Leonard (firstname.lastname@example.org). For accepted abstracts, full essays of 5,000-8,000 words will be due September 1, 2015.