Music and multimodal translation

Minors, Helen Julia (2021) Music and multimodal translation. In: Martin de Leon, Celia and Marcelo Wirnitzer, Gisela, (eds.) En más de un sentido : Multimodalidad y construcción e interpretatión. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria : Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. pp. 165-184. (Collection Tibón, (3)) ISBN 9788490424131


This article sets out the new field of music and translation, surveying the interaction and intersectionality within and between these disciplines. In an increasingly globalized, digitized world, the role of multimodal translation (Kress 2010) in meaning construction is becoming increasingly significant. With the increase in music consumed via digital streaming as well as in music tourism (Minors and Desblache 2020), this article proposes the need and benefit of considering and applying the recent ‘translational turn’ (Backmann-Meddick, 2009) within the context of music. I question how this translational turn has impacted music. Music and translation has become a new field (Susam-Sarajeva 2008; Minors 2013, 2016, 2019; Desblache 2019), growing out of translation studies and into the interpretation of musical performance and intercultural musical practices. But what role does translation have to play within the context of music? How might translation offer a new way of interpreting musical practice, musical performance, and musical meaning? Since the cultural turn and rise of current musicology, which explores the cultural context and meaning of music from the 1980s, musicology has been increasingly concerned with music’s active role within socio-cultural contexts. As a cultural musicologist, I seek to explore the benefits, challenges and changes the more recent translational turn has and will have. To establish context, I challenge certain myths regarding music and translation, including the oft cited idea that music is a universal language (Cooke 1959), the suggestion that music does not need translation, and the idea that music speaks (Albright 2009). If and when there is a transfer of content, style, or sense between, across and through different audio-visual media, the transfer process requires further critical assessment. To do this, I will propose a framework to facilitate the exploration of music and translation. There are a range of musical texts to consider, which incorporates not only the musical score and the live performance, but recordings in various formats, programme notes, video footage, libretti, and more. Music is necessarily multimodal, not only in its own audio and visual production, but due to the many art forms with which music usually collaborates, such as dance, film and song. The transfer of sense, and meaning, must therefore be considered in a collaborative context. How might a new understanding of translation and music inform our readings of music? To answer these questions regarding the role of translation with music, a diverse range of select examples are taken to illustrate specific cases where translation, as a framework, supports the interpretation of the music. It is deliberately diverse, spanning genres and styles, to ensure that the point is made, that such an approach is not limited to a particular type of music, but it relevant to music in its broadest sense. The following are select areas of discussion: music and word setting (across genres); narrative music-dance works; and music in narrative film. These broad topics enable a framework of translation and music to be applied to select examples to illustrate how translation and music have come together to inform new readings and to foster new understandings or both fields. It ensures therefore to illustrate the interaction of different modalities and the projection of meaning from more than one mode.

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