Research Colloquium: Music in Norman McLaren’s abstract films

Research Colloquium: Music in Norman McLaren’s abstract films

Dots, Loops and Squeaks. Music, Sound and Humour in Abstract Films by Norman McLaren

Lecture Theatre 1, School of Music

The speaker is Guido Heldt (University of Bristol)

Norman McLaren (1914-1987) is a seminal figure in the history of abstract film, but he is also, and rather unusually, one in whose work humour frequently figures. That makes him an obvious test case for the question how abstract film can use the intersection of music, sound and images to create humorous incongruities and surprises with a minimum of material – the equivalent of psychological experiments testing minimal requirements for creating humorous effects and amused reactions.

The paper will explore the films from two angles: One is the status of the concept of abstraction in these films, and how they play with the borderline between abstraction and representation. The other is McLaren’s use of different kinds of sound and music – synthetic sounds created graphically on cards or the film strip, music specifically written for a film, or pre-existing music around which a film is structured – and their different implications for humour in films that are among the most charming ever committed to celluloid.

Guido Heldt studied musicology at the University of Münster/Germany, King’s College London, and Oxford, and gained his PhD in 1997 at Münster with a thesis on English tone poems. He worked at the Musicology Department of the Free University Berlin (1997-2003), the History Department of Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo/Ontario (2003), and since 2004 at the Department of Music, University of Bristol. Most of his recent work has been on film and TV music (a monograph on film music and narratology, 2013; articles on many different film and TV music topics). He is currently working on music in film comedy.