Simon Zagorski-Thomas

Sex On Fire: A Case Study of how Different Forms of Graphic Representation Can Influence Analysis

Any graphic representation of music is necessarily schematic in that it represents certain features more fully than others and therefore encourages the user to focus on those features. When using any representational system for analytical purposes (rather than as instructions for performance) it therefore makes sense to think about how this schematic nature might influence our understanding. Using an analysis of the Kings of Leon’s 2008 track Sex On Fire as a case study, this paper will explore how particular forms of graphic representation can help with particular forms of analytical understanding.
Traditional music notation, by restricting itself to a discrete twelve tone representation of pitch and a notional rhythmic grid, provides a schematic representation that focuses the attention on features that are usually the least interesting aspects of recorded popular music: the tonal basis and structure of the melody and harmony. Aspects of micro-timing, intonation, pitch variations, vocal and instrumental spectromorphology and spatial or dynamic processing in the recording process are either subordinate or ignored completely. The graphic representations that were used in the Sex On Fire analysis included a hand drawn ‘graphic score’ and a range of computer images generated from the digital audio file of the recording displaying amplitude and frequency content in different ways.
This presentation will explore how these images were used in conjunction with a theoretical framework combining the ecological approach to perception, embodied cognition and the social construction of technology to facilitate the analysis. It will also examine how this case study provides ideas that can be expanded into broader principles about how schematic forms of representation encourage particular avenues of thought. These involve the multi-modal nature of perception and the schematic nature of knowledge representation within the brain.