We will be holding a conference at Easter and are in the process of finalising details, which will be officially announced here next week. To mark the occasion, and to whet the appetite of any newcomers, we include a copy of the RMA Newsletter Report of our 2012 Study Day below.
Ludomusicology: Game Music Research – Approaches and Aesthetics
The Ludomusicology Research Group’s inaugural Study Day took place on 16 April 2012 at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, and was generously supported by the RMA, alongside Oxford, Cambridge, and Bristol Universities. It was the first UK music symposium dedicated to the musicological study of video-game music. One of the principal aims of the group is to ensure that ludomusicology develops into a research strength in the UK, which, as Anahid Kassabian pointed out in her keynote address, is uniquely well-placed for audio-visual studies. Nevertheless, this goal entails becoming an international ‘hub’ through which future events and projects can take-off, and the cosmopolitan list of delegates (from no fewer than six countries) will surely help to achieve this.
There was a palpable sense of irony when Kassabian held up a faint A4 print-out as her only slide to one of the most tech-savvy congregations of musicologists gathered this year. The image was a Venn diagram, placing ‘Ludomusicology’ at the centre of a map of the increasingly overlapping disciplines of musicology, drawing attention to recent debates about the validity and usefulness of such boundaries. Indeed, several of the papers presented were interdisciplinary to some degree, reflecting the inherent makeup of audio-visual studies. (The fashionable crossover between musicology and cognitive psychology, for example, is particularly relevant to ludomusicologists, as Petra van Henten’s paper demonstrated.)
The parallels Kassabian drew with the academy’s reluctant adoption of film music in the 1980s were especially edifying for those completing doctorates on video-game music. The special closeness of these two fields was evident in the majority of the papers discussed, James Barnaby’s not least, but so too were issues that separate them, such as interactivity. While there was little time spent on addressing reasons why ludomusicology may not yet have received the attention it deserves, the quality and breadth of the papers presented was evidence enough of its future. Much of this work, for example the papers by Tim Summers and Isabella van Elferen, addressed the need to develop theory and nomenclature pertinent to video-game music’s uniqueness. It was particularly gratifying to gain insight from practicing composers and audio engineers into the industry’s pragmatic perspective: composer Stephen Baysted presented on aesthetic choices whilst Nimrod Productions, an audio production company, explored the conflict between artistic and commercial interests. The foundational dialogue established will certainly prove invaluable.
For all the technological aspects and financial pressures of this rapidly developing field, it is thinking about music that remains at its core. The stand-out paper of the day, Roger Moseley’s ‘Ludomusicality from Mozart to Miyamoto’, was also an apt reminder of this, applying the ‘ludic’ (aspects of ‘play’) retrospectively on musicology’s key texts (such as Mozart’s keyboard concertos) in a move reminiscent of Caroline Abbate’s seminal ‘Drastic or Gnostic?’ The vocabulary provided by ludomusicology can thereby be employed to investigate notions of musical ‘play’ across history. This was a fruitful and provocative place to draw to a close, demonstrating the unique and significant perspective ludomusicology has to offer on the critical debates of musicology and other related fields.
Mark Sweeney is a College Lecturer at St Catherine’s, Oxford, and his doctoral research is focused on issues related to non-linear structures in video-game music.
You can find out more about the Ludomusicology Research Group at http://www.ludomusicology.org
To be published in the RMA Newsletter, October 2012.