Honestly, I wrote the book proposal to bulk out a job application. And in the end, I didn’t get the job but I did write the book.
Its case studies are drawn from examples I’d used in public lectures at the National Jazz Archive and The British Music Experience. Len Lye, Gjon Mili, Jazz 625; all of these were under-researched and, through their formal qualities and expressive techniques, seemed to challenge existing critical conceptions of the relationship between jazz and the moving image. So far, so good – but what I needed was my own theoretical construct that could not only coherently bind my case studies together but also be of use to future scholars writing in the field.
I found my inspiration in the work of Ajay Heble. In the following extract from the introduction to my book, I try to show how critical constructions about music-making might be adapted to take in music’s relationship with culture.
Ajay Heble has argued that ‘landing on the wrong note […] can be a politically and culturally salient act for oppressed groups seeking alternative models of knowledge production and identity formation’.[i] Similarly, I will argue that film and television can produce ‘wrong notes’, disruptions of tone or spatial coherence that challenge our understanding of what jazz can be in the wider world. ‘If anything,’ writes Heble, ‘improvisation teaches us by example that identity is a dialogic construction (rather than something deep within us), that the self is always a subject-in-process’.[ii] I am not suggesting that film and television’s dissonant images are in any way improvised (to do so would fundamentally misrepresent their distinct production processes); however, it is my contention that, even within discrete texts, the relationship between sound and image is similarly a ‘subject-in-process’. On screen, jazz is in constant dialogic exchange with its framing medium, be that film or television, so that the emphases placed on jazz, of tone and cultural positioning, are ever in flux.
[i] Heble, Ajay, Landing on the Wrong Note: Jazz, dissonance and critical practice (New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 20.
[ii] Heble, Landing on the Wrong Note, p. 95.
One of the purposes of this blog is to take up the proposition of my book and extend discussion of ‘the dissonant image’ beyond its case studies. Let’s see if that works.