Ratay Prospectus


I am proposing to write a chamber opera. The story will be based loosely on the Orpheus and/or Faust legend, and will be more clearly defined through my qualifying exam preparations. The opera may use multiple languages, but will certainly utilize ideas and methods of speech setting as learned from my study of Janáček. Also, I hope to utilize compositional techniques of Birtwistle; specifically his idea of seeing (or hearing) the same thing through a different viewpoint.   


My dissertation essay will focus on the method of conception and realization of my operatic composition. Topics to be addressed will include compositional techniques and processes, use of speech setting and a discussion of how the operatic story is shaped by the research done on the subject material, and my own critical theory reading of the legends.

In beginning to look at these myths, I found three authors to be particularly compelling and relevant. 

First in Chaos, Territory and Art, Grosz’s overall assertion is that art is an overabundance; it is what is left over after surviving and thriving is done. The idea of excess or overabundance is particularly prevalent in the Faust legend, as Faust is continually engaging in an overabundance of everything. The deal Faust has made with Mephistopheles is that if ever he says that he is satisfied with a particular moment, that he has reached the pinnacle of perfection and wishes to live in this one moment forever, then he is lost. Here Mephistopheles is offering him the whole of the plane of composition, but never all at once. Faust experiences it, frames it and reterritorializes it repeatedly. This is a case of overabundance at it’s maximum. I connect this to the Orpheus legend because Orpheus as the most talented musician ever is presented with an extraordinary ability to create music through the territorializing of chaos in the plane of composition. Both he and Faust suffer and are brought to their downfall by this overabundance. They are both fables in which there is too much beauty, too much art, too much music, and it cannot help or save either of them; in fact it leads directly to their downfall. 

John Dewey’s chapter on “Having an Experience” from Art as Experience articulates well what is a main goal for me in my music. Dewey says, “The experience itself has a satisfying emotional quality, because it possesses internal integration and fulfillment reached through ordered and organized movement” (39-40). Music should be an experience, and the music I most enjoy carries the listener along and creates the experience with little effort on the part of the listener. Every composer creates this experience differently, but what Dewey is getting at in the quote above, is that the composer must create this experience through the means of deliberate, organized and integrated material. I hope to learn and use techniques employed by Birtwistle, Janáček, and other composers in order to have the tools at my disposal for creating an experience through my composition. 

Finally, I see this composition as being constructed around the repetition of a traumatic event, the death of his beloved, in the life of the main character. In chapter 5 of Hal Foster’s “Return of the Real,” he discusses modern art, especially Andy Warhol, that utilizes repeated traumatic images, such as a car crash, in order to both desensitize and hyper-sensitize the audience simultaneously (132). It creates a rupture through which the Lacanian Real can show through. Foster uses the word punctum to describe this tear or hole, allowing the Real to be pointed at, created by the repetition of a trauma. In order to achieve this repetition, I hope to use techniques learned from Birtwistle and Janáček. The latter’s approach to speech setting in relation to dramatic timing, and the use of speech melodies are techniques I hope to use in my composition. Harrison Birtwistle talks about his own music in terms of it being the same thing seen (or heard) from different angles. This musical approach correlates well with the sort of Warhol-ian repetition I would like to create in my composition. 


Here are the three areas I propose for my exam topics.

  1. A theoretical analysis of The Minotaur by Harrison Birtwistle. This will include background study with regards to his compositional processes and development. 
  2. A historical/cultural study of the music of Leoš Janáček focusing on the development of his “speech music” style, the influence of the Czech language on his operatic compositional style, and use of different types of speech setting as a dramatic tool. Beyond Janáček, my studies will also include study of the Czech language and current literature (specifically poetry) that could be used as musical or dramatic material. 
  3. An overview of operatic depictions of both the Faust and Orpheus legends in the 20th/21st century from a standpoint of critical theory using structuralist and post-structuralist ideas. The focus will be on the similarity of the two legends; the decent into hell and a deal with the lord of the underworld, and the relationship with their loved one.


Dewey, John. Art as Experience. New York: Perigree Books, 1934.

Foster, Hal. The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century. Cambridge, London: MIT Press, 1996.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth. New York: Columbia, 2008.


Prospectus Draft 1 - Helen Park

Thesis Prospectus Draft 1 09 May 2011

             To engage in artistic practice is at its very core to engage in a process of becoming. I situate this understanding of becoming in social, historical, political, and spiritual contexts, which can then be further situated within the individual subject and collective publics. My work strives to activate a dynamic engagement between artistic and social practice, mapping new terrain for individual and collective becoming within the social interstices of civic, cross-cultural, and global urban spaces. I also look to critical discourse and theories and how ideas may become manifest in the very real materiality of our everyday and lived experiences as well as in the things we produce and the relationships we create. Knowledge and its production can also be bound up in processes of becoming, creating new overlays, nodes, points of contact and encounter between artistic practices, experience, and the self in relation to the world. In the striving for coherence and unity across theory and praxis, I understand art and knowledge production as articulations – or iterations – of relationships between the individual and collective that are always in-the-making, indeterminate, and holding the potential to become and create something new in the world.

            To investigate these spaces of inquiry I specifically choose to work with conceptual subjects that are born from a particular question or problem within the social or public sphere, such as deliberative or agonistic democracy, polyphonous voice, and human rights. I am also concerned with the making of particular under- or misrepresented subjectivities, and have worked with communities or individuals whose representations and participation in the public sphere are often sorely lacking. This project is not just a philosophical exploration or utopian experiment. From a decidedly pragmatist position, it emerges from the world of materiality and is bound up in webs social relations, public discourses, and histories. At the very root is the desire to open new spaces for collective imaginations of what is possible for us through our shared humanity and becoming-together.

            As we begin to foster new imaginaries, we must also consider history. Gilles Deleuze in conversation with Antonio Negri once stated, “History isn’t experimental, it’s just the set of more or less negative preconditions that make it possible to experiment with something beyond history…Becoming isn’t part of history; history amounts only the set of preconditions, however recent, that one leaves behind in order to ‘become,’ that is, to create something new” (170-171). I partially disagree with Deleuze in that I understand history to be an act of authorship and open to the many flaws or potentialities that authorship and its attendant interpretation(s) entail. The authoring of history is a social and political one, giving legitimacy to certain experiences, meanings, and subjectivities while delegitimizing or destabilizing others. What is often the case – and when history then becomes “negative preconditions,” is that in the process of authorship what is accepted as official history, usually crafted by a regime in power, becomes codified as historical truth, creating the conditions that perpetuate hegemonic determinations of reality and orders of knowledge that serve the interests of some at the expense of others.

            What I am interested in, or what I try to activate within my artistic work, is how to find and create new historical narratives via testimony, personal narrative, and collective memory, generating new sets of preconditions for a becoming to activate within discourse and practice as well as within social and public spaces. In working with video, audio, objects, and architectural space, I utilize the mechanisms of time-based media, video projection, and semiotics to ask the audience, viewer, or participant to rethink historical and socio-cultural assumptions that, when allowed to go unchecked, so often lead to inaccurate assumptions about the Other, xenophobia, or intolerance at the individual level, and to the imbalance of power and erasure of critical subjectivities at the institutional level. An artist I greatly admire Krzysztof Wodiczko, whose public projections and social prosthetic devices are designed with and for the silenced or underrepresented individuals of our societies, has framed the issue of history as such, “The history of a nation or city, like every synchronic narrative, collaborates with the history of catastrophe by celebrating the lineage of ‘our’ progressive and victorious traditions. To avoid future catastrophes, daily disclosure of the often-hidden destructiveness of the present must be linked to critical recollections of past disasters. This sort of critical approach to history has been – and continues to be – an intuitive and interruptive survival practice of every immigrant” (4). From here I argue that this critical approach to history is elemental to create the conditions for new kinds of subjectivities and personhoods to become. “The difference between minorities and majorities isn’t their size. A minority may be bigger than a majority. What defines the majority is a model you have to conform to…A minority, on the other hand, has no model, it’s a becoming, a process” (Deleuze, 173).

            To illustrate how I have proposed addressing some of these issues I will briefly discuss past projects, and apropos to the discussion of ‘becoming’ discuss how I hope to proceed. In the mid 2000’s I worked with a group of high school students in the neighborhood of Bushwick in Brooklyn, New York as an afterschool video arts teacher. These students were considered “at-risk”, and lived in a neighborhood that was called “underserved.” They were first and second generation children of immigrants from Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Trinidad, Panama, and Jamaica. They went to public school where they were shuffled through high-level security checks before they could reach their first class in the morning and often complained of police harassment on the streets when they went home. In their neighborhood were bodegas (delis), Chinese restaurants, McDonald’s, dollar stores, and high levels of crime. My time with the students was often spent listening to their stories and allowing them to talk about the problems they faced in school and in their neighborhood.

            At the time I was thinking a lot about public space and democracy, who is allowed into these spaces and who is denied access, representation, and recognition. I was also thinking of the significance of place and locality in informing a sense of self, community, and belonging and how these things are never static but always in negotiation between difference spaces of location and experience in the public and private spheres. These students were part of a group of people who were continually denied access to the spaces of democratic iteration and representation, either because of economic class or the status of their parents as undocumented migrants, and always because they were youth. As a conceptual mechanism, I began working with maps (also inspired by the Situationists’ dérive and psychogeographies), and asked the students to draw personal maps of the neighborhood, giving precedence to sites and locations that were of particular emotional significance, and without concern for scale or fidelity to the actual geography of the neighborhood. With a video camera we walked along the paths they had drawn on their maps, tracing their particular trajectories of place and of self. Interviews I conducted with them regarding the self in relation to place, community, and belonging were used in creating the soundtrack for these videomaps. In the end, a series of short videomap projects were created, each located in the same neighborhood, yet articulating vastly different experiences of self in relation to place, community, and belonging.

            A current work-in-progress installation entitled “Welcome” is the second of a series of projects exploring issues of migration and rights. A multi-channel sound installation plays back personal testimonies of refugees illustrating their plight in leaving their home countries and their struggles as guests and aliens in their host countries. A large video projection of the word “Welcome” remains static on a wall of the gallery space. As viewers enter the space they are given “Certificates of Temporary Sojourn” which is a mock document using the Third Article from Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace that states “The Law of World Citizenship Shall Be Limited to Conditions of Universal Hospitality” (7). Kant argues that hospitality is “not a question of philanthropy but of right,” and that, “Hospitality means the right of a stranger not to be treated as an enemy when he arrives in the land of another. One may refuse to receive him when this can be done without causing his destruction…” He further argues that temporary sojourn is a right that one can demand, but that being a “permanent visitor” is not. This article of Kant’s treatise resonates in contemporary international law, as it has been absorbed and amended into the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees as the principle of ‘non-refoulement’ (Benhabib, 35).

            In choosing an excerpt from this particular article for the making of the certificates (which were designed after the U.S.’s Certificate of Citizenship), I want to call upon the tension between the notion of universal human rights and those rights that are granted by a sovereign nation-state, as well as tensions between what is considered a moral obligation and an ethical directive (Benhabib, 16). To whom do we grant permission to stay as a visitor in our land and under what conditions? How do we reconcile moral obligation and universal human rights with the self-determinacy of the sovereign nation-state? If we can imagine a kind of world citizenship, what language do we have to protect the rights of such status? And what does it mean that the foreigner (refugee, asylum seeker, guest worker, or adventurer) would need a document that protects his/her rights to hospitality? This project is meant to point to the questions and issues of boundaries – territorial, legal, moral, and ethical, just as much as it points to the boundaries – and limitations – of our current understandings and usages of language in regards to how we treat the foreigner, or Other, in our midst.     

            It is from this point that I wish to proceed in my investigations of artistic practice as becoming. In Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, Félix Guattari argued for the necessary social nature of artistic production, and that within its very essence, artistic practice is a process of becoming, a critical “reinvention of the subject itself” (79). He wrote, “What is at stake here is the finality of the ensemble of human activities. Beyond material and political demands, what emerges is an aspiration for individual and collective reappropriation of the production of subjectivity…. that the world can be rebuilt from other Universes of value and that other existential Territories should be constructed toward this end” (81). It is within the realm of art as social practice and in the creation of a critical visionary aesthetic that is grounded within the materiality of human activity while reaching toward new geographies of relations that I produce my work. To investigate the possibilities of “other existential Territories” and “other Universes of value” is precisely the aim of my greater artistic project, which together with a critical historical vision, a pragmatist belief in the world, and a hunch that new imaginaries for individual and collective subjectivities are possible, seeks to continually engage others in the dynamic emergence of new social relations.





Benhabib, Seyla. The Rights of Others. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Deleuze, Gilles. Negotiations. Trans. Martin Joughin. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Gauttari, Felix. “Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm.” Participation. Ed. Claire Bishop. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006.

Kant, Immanuel. Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. Mount Holyoke College. Web. April 2011.

Wodiczko, Krzysztof. Critical Vehicles. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.




This is an Excerpt, and a Draft. Sudhu


    I want to tinker. I want to cobble together bits into “functional” machines. I want to create “living machines”. I’m not exactly sure where my motivation springs from, and it’s hard to describe exactly what I mean by “living machines”. I’ll attempt to do so here as well as address the questions of the purpose of such a project, the “meaning”, and dig into my own motivations and inspirations that brought me to the point of wanting to create machines that do nothing useful.
    I consider these machines art, in the most meaningful sense. Elizabeth Grosz asserts that art serves to create “frames” that slow chaos down to facilitate the extraction of meaning (by humans). According to Grosz, nature (space, time and materiality) enables the productive explosion of the arts, provoked by the forces of the earth (chaos, material and organic indeterminacy). The forces of living bodies (not exclusively human) exert energy. Energy creates networks, fields, territories that, temporarily and provisionally, slow down chaos enough to extract from it something not so much useful as intensifying, a performance, a refrain, an organization of color or movement that eventually, transformed, enables and induces art. Simultaneously, this art is also the frame which serves to retard chaos for data extraction:

The emergence of the ‘frame’ is the condition of all the arts and is the particular contribution of architecture to the taming of the virtual, the territorialization of the uncontrollable forces of the earth. It is the frame that constitutes painting and cinema just as readily as architecture; it is the architectural force of framing that liberates the qualities of objects or events that come to constitute the substance, the matter, of the art-work. The frame is what establishes territory out of the chaos that is the earth (Grosz 11).

The frame separates. It cuts into a milieu or space. This cutting links it to the constitution of the plane of composition, to the provisional ordering of chaos through the laying down of a grid or order that entraps chaotic shards, chaodid states, to arrest or slow them into a space and a time, a structure and a form where they can affect and be affected by bodies (Grosz 13).

In conclusion: “Art proper, in other words, emerges when sensation can detach itself and gain an autonomy from its creator and its perceiver, when something of the chaos from which it is drawn can breathe and have a life of its own.” (Grosz 7)

New Heading (or not?)
According to Deleuze (according to Grosz p. 1): Art does not produce concepts. Art produces sensations (intensities) as its mode of addressing problems. Sensations link to concepts. Concepts are the object of philosophical production, the mode of addressing problems. Thus art and philosophy may address the same incitements to creation, both seek to innovate and invent. In the spirit of invention and innovation, I’m working on a new philosophy inspired by mechanical art and the concept of machines.

The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines MECHANICAL as: of or relating to manual operations, done as if by machine: seemingly uninfluenced by the mind or emotions: automatic, caused by, resulting from, or relating to a process that involves a purely physical as opposed to a chemical or biological change or process. By this definition the chance compositions of John Cage can be seen as mechanical art, though it is the compositions themselves and not the performances of these works that is mechanical. In recent study of Cage’s work it has become clear to me that the ideal performer of many of Cage’s works would be a machine, capable of following instructions exactly and making truly unbiased choices in the realization of indeterminate works. Without any cultural, social, or emotional bias a machine is capable of interpreting an indeterminate work with a purity and exactitude impossible for a human. Humans are frought with emotions, projected subjective “meaning” and inconsistency. Machines are not.

    While psychoanalytic theory, and philosophy in general, has taken much of the art world, and the rest of the world, by storm I feel more comfortable with Cage’s acknowledgement of his own ignorance /insignificance, and the ultimate state of human unknowingness. In this light Cage states/recalls that chance operations took the place of psychoanalysis for him in the late 1940’s, as a means of escaping from a “troubled state brought on by concern for why one would write music at this time in society. Then it became clear that the function of art is not to communicate one’s personal ideas or feelings but rather to imitate nature in her manner of operation.” (I have nothing to say and I am saying it)
     My concept of our [human] meaninglessness comes from the idea that our universe is operating on a vast timescale, eons beyond our capacity of understanding and is made up of an infinitude of infinitesimal parts, also far beyond our capacity, at the current time, of understanding. On some level, machines are an expression of total hopelessness. If nothing we do matters in the least, why not create stand-ins to do our meaningless tasks for us? Perhaps these machines are an expression of the pointlessness of art. Perhaps they are an expression of the joy of creating: the process.
Why did Mozart create chance music? Why did Bach, Clara and Robert Schumann, hide their names in their compositions? These are little human puzzles, not useful in any practical sense, but meaningful to us. While Grosz asserts that art, and philosophy, are forces to change the world, her humanist viewpoint disregards what I consider an essential fact: the world does not need humans, our perceptions and viewpoints, our changes and influences. This dire perspective is, rather than depressing, quite inspiring. We have no important function to fulfill, nothing depends on us and thusly our time can be spent enjoying our meaningless lives, anything but meaningless to us.
     Cage puts it well in I Have Nothing to Say and I’m Saying It, “Our intention is to affirm this life. Not to bring order out of chaos not to suggest improvements on creation but simply to wake up to the very life we’re living which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and one’s desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.”

     The project will be a development, in stages, of an expandable platform, a system that moves (dare I say progresses?) through the states of Schippling’s taxonomy of living machines from Static to Cognitive.

Works cited:

Cage, John. Silence. Middletown, Conn., Wesleyan University Press, 1961.

Cassirer, Ernst. The individual and the cosmos in Renaissance philosophy. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1963. 199. Print.

Dewey, John. “The Live Creature” Art as Experience.  New York: Pedigree, 1980. Reprint from 1934.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth. New York: Columbia, 2008.

I have nothing to say and I am saying it. Dir. Allan Miller. 1990. Videocassette. Home Vision, 1990.

Schippling, Michael. Ich Bin Un Bricoleur. Web. 28 April, 2011.


Dissertation Prospectus Draft Sacolick

Sounds of Ritual: Musical Characterizations, Music in Ritual, and Ritual in Music.

Dissertation Prospectus by Robin Sacolick

Three kinds of relationships between music and ritual appear through analysis of selected examples of three genres of music. Examples of classical music such as Hale Smith’s Ritual and Incantations, Maria de Baratta’s Nahualismo, and Ricardo Castillo’s Xibalba, programmatically characterize ritual. Examples of religious or spiritual music such as Mira bhajans, Yaqui Matachines music, and any high mass music, function in ritual as an essential element—ritual as music. Analyzed examples of vernacular music, such as Ray Davies’ “Waterloo Sunset”, Hunter/Garcia’s “Althea”, and Demi Lovato’s  “Me, Myself and Time”,  would not specifically purport to engage ritual, but nevertheless embody its elements—music as ritual. Backed by critical theory and science, ritual and music come to be seen as at times indistinguishable, yet more than ever indispensible.

Ritual, as it will signify herein, consists of a set of sequenced actions that are performed repeatedly at varying intervals in order to produce some sort of outcome, or transformation.  The transformation may be intended as symbolic or real.  It may involve a state of the body, a state of emotions or mind, status within a community, or a state of soul.  Examples of ritual as thus defined could include a wedding, a bedtime routine, Hindu kirtan, practicing a musical instrument, jogging, Shabbat service, and getting an academic degree. On the surface, the rituals associated with formal religions are perhaps easiest to associate with music: the wedding march, Vedic chant, Hebrew chant. As Julia Kristeva observes, “The various means of purifying the abject…make up the history of religions, and end up with that catharsis par excellence called art, both on the far and near side of religion. Seen from that standpoint, the artistic experience, which is rooted in the abject it utters and by the same token purifies, appears as the essential component of religiosity” (243). While most of the above examples of rituals do involve purification of body, mind, status or soul, transformations intended by rituals are not limited to purification. Neither are the artistic experiences of ritual to which Kristeva refers limited to music, nor the music of ritual limited to religious situations or even to music as commonly conceived. 

For example, the sequence of actions performed repeatedly at varying intervals in ritual suggests that ritual in itself takes place according to parameters of rhythm and form, parameters that are associated with music. The start of a ritual may take place according to a yearly, monthly, weekly, or daily rhythm.  The performance of the ritual follows a rhythmic form of periods of action and inaction.  These recall drama critical theorist Victor Turner’s identification of sequential phases that many dramas, much music, and many rituals involve as they build intensity followed by release (21-32).  These phases occur in a sequenced order: crisis of body, emotion or identity; entry into liminal space wherein prior notions of self are loosened through more or less rigorous ordeals; dialog with the self in soliloquy; establishment of communitas with others sharing a similar transformation; and successful emergence in a new state of purification, social identity, social or spiritual union, etc.  Such rituals thus embody forces of rhythm and form.   

These forces are important agents in ritual’s efficacy. Alphonso Lingis writes “Every purposive movement, when it catches on, loses sight of its telos and continues as a periodicity with a force that is not the force of the will launching it and launching it once again and then again” (30). He implies that repeated rhythmic activity functions as a lever or gear to empower greater physical and psychological endurance than would normally exist, that may even dissolve normal concepts of time.  This may explain some of the particular potencies of rituals involving performance of rhythmic ostinati. Moreover, periodicities of ritual reside not only in the ostinati of some ritual music, but also in the meta-rhythms of ritual enactment and re-enactment.   Musical traditions that emphasize periodicities are explored further in Tenzer (CITE).

With regard to rhythmic efficacy, John Dewey describes a process not unlike Turner’s:

In a world like ours, every living creature that attains sensibility welcomes order with a response of harmonious feeling…For only when an organism shares in the ordered relations of its environment does it secure the stability essential to living.  And when the participation comes after a phase of disruption and conflict, it bears within itself the germs of a consummation akin to the esthetic…The rhythm of loss of integration with environment and recovery of union not only persists in man but becomes conscious with him; its conditions are material out of which he forms purposes.  Emotion is the conscious sign of a break, actual or impending.  The discord is the occasion that induces reflection (14).  

Thus, even before art or ritual is intended, its phases occur naturally as crisis signaling breaking of old definitions of self in relation to environment, and reflection or soliloquy to derive new definitions within the liminal space, which are presumably followed by various possible resolutions. Indeed, Dewey continues,

Desire for restoration of the union converts mere emotion into interest in objects and conditions of realization of harmony…Since the artist cares in a peculiar way for the phase of experience in which union is achieved, he does not shun moments of resistance and tension (14).

According to this view, ritual and art are conceivably inevitable productions of sentient beings living within chaos, productions that bear important similarities of attributes and functions.  Elizabeth Grosz takes this further, writing that “Philosophy, like art and like science (and, this author adds, music and ritual), draws on and over chaos.  The chaotic indeterminacy of the real, its impulses to ceaseless variation, give rise to the creation of networks, planes, zones of cohesion, which do not map this chaos so much as draw strength, force, material from it for a provisional and open-ended cohesion, temporary modes of ordering, slowing filtering” (8). 

Grosz addresses the arts as Deleuzian planes of composition, which order chaos for the purpose of ordering, and thus intensifying, experiences and sensations.  The same might be said of ritual.

Scientific support for this view of artistic and ritual production comes in part from John Bipsham’s findings on rhythm. He implies that rhythm, and human entrainment with rhythm, frames chaos in such a way as to enable purposive action and interaction:

In general terms, rhythmic behaviors…pervade all human social interactions; regularities combined with social knowledge provide a mutually manifest framework for interaction…One way of looking at this is to postulate that interpersonal entrainment is the key rhythmic feature in human interactions…from (a) loose, subconscious use of pulse as a framework for interpersonal/turn-taking interactions (eg.Cutler, 1994; see Clayton, Sager & Will, 2004)…to (b) strict adherence to pulse (groove) in group behavior and synchronicity of output where participants…desire to maintain a degree of temporal stability and group-coordination…Production and/or entrainment to a musical pulse…provide a mechanism to affect and regulate levels of physiological arousal (129).

In addition, Bipsham notes that beyond rhythm, music itself functions in group ceremonies such as those of rites and religion in order to achieve behavioral coherency (130). This leads to observations on “music’s ubiquity and efficacy in encounters with the numinous…Cross explains that music, like religious ideas, is distinguished from everyday beliefs by its paradoxicality and relevance, by its broad applicability and ambiguity” (130).  Relevance, broad applicability, paradox and ambiguity, are vague concepts to apply universally to music and religion, concepts that are open to multiple interpretations.  Nevertheless, it may be that such concepts are processed similarly in the brain whether encountered within music or within ritual, thereby enhancing efficacies of either by combining the two.  Further neuroscientific research on this will be examined within.  However, the main business of this dissertation is identification of the phases of ritual as advanced by the social sciences in examples from various genres of music, thus demonstrating three meta-relationships between music and ritual.

If the value of art and ritual in the human experience are such as Dewey and Grosz imply, the unintentional presence of ritual phases in vernacular music is of special interest to those who eschew religion and traditional high art. “The arts which today have most vitality for the average person are things he does not take to be arts…when, because of their remoteness, the objects acknowledged by the cultivated to be works of fine art seem anemic to the mass of people, esthetic hunger is likely to seek (things he does not take to be arts)” (Dewey 4).

Here is a graph of some of the musical examples to be considered according to the three kinds of music’s engagement with ritual. 


Music Characterizing Ritual

Hale Smith Ritual and Incantations

Maria de Baratta Nahualismo

Ricardo Castillo Xibalba

Ritual as Music                                                                                  Music as Ritual

Lovato: Me, Myself and Time (abject in liminal space;emergence)      Mira Bhajan

Ray Davies: Waterloo Sunset (v. Lingis, ritual catharsis)                   Yaqui Matachines

Hunter/Garcia: Althea  (lover as alter-ego; ritual process)                 High Mass                                                                              

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of the many musical examples and ritual traditions that exist. Supporting and clarifying references will be made to Stravinsky, Strauss, Chavez, Hendrix, Hynde, and Hildegarde, Sufism, Shamanism and Santeria, among others. Moreover, the scope of this dissertation may not allow exhaustive analysis of each of the primarily identified works or of works that might exemplify other relationships between music and ritual.  Nevertheless, the identified list will serve to suggest that delineations between types of music’s engagement with ritual is perhaps no more important than the ritual functions and attributes shared by all the examples.   

Works Cited and Preliminary Bibliography

Bipsham, John. “Rhythm in Music: What is it? Who has it? And Why?” Music Perception 24.2 (December 2006): 125-134.

Clayton, Martin, Rebecca Sager, and Udo Will.  “In Time with the Music - The Concept of Entrainment and its Significance for Ethnomusicology.” ESEM (2005): 3-75.

Contreras, Sheila MarieBlood Lines: Myth, Indigenism and Chicana/o Literature. Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2008.

Dewey, John. “The Live Creature.”  Art as Experience.  New York: Pedigree, 1980. Reprint from 1934.

Dolar, Mladen. “I Shall Be with You on Your Wedding-Night:  Lacan and the Uncanny.” Rendering the Real—A Special Issue 58 (1998).

Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” Writings on Art and Literature. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997. Reprint from 1919.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth. New York: Columbia, 2008.

Kondo, Dorrine. About Face: Performing Race in Fashion and Theater. London: Routledge, 1997.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Lingis, Alphonso. Dangerous Emotions. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California, 2000.

Morris, Rosalind, et al.  In the Place of Origins: Modernity and Its Mediums in Northern Thailand. Duke University Press Books, 2000.

Mukta, Parita. Upholding the Common Life: The Community of Mirabai. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Nandy, Ashis. 1994. “History’s Forgotten Doubles.” History and Theory 34:2. (1994).

Russel y Rodriguez, Mónica. “Accounting for MeXicana Feminisms.” American Ethnologist 35.2 (2008): 308-20.

Sandoval, Chela. Oppositional Consciousness in the Postmodern World: U.S. Third World Feminism, Semiotics, and the Methodology of the Oppressed.  Santa Cruz: UCSC Dissertation, 1993.

Tavin, Kevin M. and David Anderson.  “Teaching (Popular) Visual Culture: Deconstructing Disney in the Elementary Art Classroom.” Art Education 56.3 (2003): 21-4 and 33-5.

Tedlock, Barbara. Time and the Highland Maya. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992.

Tenzer, Michael. Analytical Studies in World Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Turner, Victor. “Images and Reflections: Ritual, Drama, Carnival, Film and Spectacle in Cultural Performance.” The Anthropology of Performance. New York: PAJ Publications. (1987): 21-32.


Thesis Prospectus - Jolie Ruelle

Choice is a stop-motion animation short exploring human relationships with fear and anxiety. In this animation the viewer watches the main character and its response to an abstract feared element. Through the use of a metaphorical structure (a Polaroid camera as her perception, a file cabinet as her memory, a fear gauge tracking her emotional state, and a “respond” button embodying her choice of action) the character mechanically and externally processes reactions which typically happen in one’s thinking patterns. Over the course of the story one watches as the character becomes more and more entangled in a viscous cycle which seems only to feed on itself. When, however, she is introduced by a second character to the concepts of exposure and habituation the viewer witnesses how this thinking pattern shifts. The metaphorical elements have the same relationships to each other yet the cycle is broken. 

Choice is animated using a combination of puppet stop motion, object animation, and compositing techniques. The main character is made from a ball and socket armature with a magnetic tie-down system. The body is built out of foam and fabric, while the hands and head are molded out of polymer clay. The hands are animated using the replacement technique, a collection of gestures which can be swapped from one frame to the next. The face has photographs of the artist’s eyes composited directly onto the character to create a dynamic range of emotion. The set consist of both fabricated props, and found objects, completing the character’s world.

Part One: The Use of Objects

To understand puppet and object animation one must first understand how it differentiates from 2D drawn animation. 2D animators work in the freedom of complete fabrication. They render objects or characters, yet the world they create exists nowhere but in the illusion of the animation itself. Suzanne Buchan observes that when viewing 2D animation, “we understand them through spatial and cultural clues and can imagine what the referents represent through the suggestions made by images” (21). These clues, as well as previous knowledge of animation, lead to our perception of space, emotion, and movement. The viewer is immersed in a completely fabricated world, referring to but unlike the one we live in.

In contrast to 2D animation, the illusions of puppet or object animations are often created using recognizable materials and objects. The animation is enacted in an actual physical space. “Although the events we see on screen did not occur, the objects do exist. Puppet animation thus represents a different ‘world’ for the spectator, something between ‘world’ created with the animation technique and ‘the world’ in its use of real objects and not representational drawings” (Buchan, 21). Puppet animation is neither a complete mirror to a lived reality (as is the case of live action film) nor complete fabrication as is 2D animation. The animator uses objects we know, that have meaning, yet is able to give them new meaning by bringing them to life. Richard Weihe describes the effect: “When viewing the film the different positions of the puppet merge and reproduce a fluid movement. This is when we describe animation as breathing life or movement into dead matter, creating illusions of a ‘soul’ by means of a technique somewhere between photography and film that exploits a specific mode of perception” (42). Elizabeth Grosz makes a similar observation when she states that “Art enables matter to become expressive, to not just satisfy but also to intensify - to resonate and become more than itself” (4). 

In a scene from the Quay brothers’ Street of Crocodiles (1986) the viewer witnesses a single screw as it twists itself out of a wooden window sill. This action seems to inspire other screws, which then twirl and free themselves from various structures throughout the scene. The Quay brothers use typical unaltered household screws, yet through the nature of their motion they are filled with character and life. Previous understandings of the object are quickly brought into play. The scene provokes empathy towards the screws in their yearning for freedom, yet questions what will happen to the structures they leave behind, now unsupported and unattached. This fusion of the everyday (they are actual and recognizable objects) and the fabricated (inanimate as animate) allows for the Quay brothers to pull from previously established meanings, and give them new importance in the fanciful world they create through motion. 

In Dimensions Of Dialogue Pt:1 (1982) Jan Svankmajers also uses our previous understandings of everyday objects to establish meaning. The animation begins as two characters approach center screen, one made of food and one made of metal tools. The character made of metal tools devours the one made of food. Once finished the character made of tools precedes and meets a character made of office supplies. The office supplies devour the tools. The animation continues to examine the relationship between these three characters. As Wendy Jackson commented, “one could almost make a dictionary of objects as symbols in Svankmajer’s films, something akin to Freaud’s Interpretation of Dreams” (as cited in Weihe, 47). Svankmajer’s objects arerecognizable and familiar, and the viewer’s knowledge of these tools, foods, and office supplies is the key to unlocking their content. Furthermore, the animation of these objects suggests a dreamlike experience in which one builds off lived-world interpretations to create alternative meanings.

In Choice, the viewer encounters a similar use of familiar objects. The main character has a Polaroid camera inside her head and a “respond” button and fear meter embedded on her arm. When the character is presented with a feared stimulus the fear meter goes up and the respond button begins to blink. When the character presses the “respond” button (wanting to rid itself of the feeling of fear) a Polaroid camera springs from the character’s head and documents the feared stimulus. This relationship illustrates how when one responds to fear the presence of danger is confirmed, leading to fear and avoidance of the element in the future. While current emotional reactions to feared stimuli may be beyond one’s control (as illustrated by the fear meter), the choices made in response to these emotions define how the event is processed. “The cognitive skills of humans have not been developed in opposition to their emotions and their bodies; on the contrary they have been developed to carry out the preferences of the body mind totality” (Grodal, 5). In Edna B Foa and Michel J Kozak’s conception of the processing of fear, “Fear is represented in memory structures that serve as blueprints for fear behavior” (21). In Choice the knowledge of a Polaroid camera as providing an instant form of documentation, coupled with the illusion of it having “life”, allows for a powerful metaphorical structure. Through its very motion and the relationship of this motion to other objects the camera gains importance, asking the viewer to consider its role more carefully.

Grosz adds to this concept, suggesting that this “soul” created through animation carries qualities beyond the intentions of the animator, that art “emerges when sensation can detach itself and gain autonomy from its creator and its perceiver, when something of the chaos from which it is drawn can breathe and have a life of its own” (7). When animating objects, order is defined through differences in frames, but much of what takes place on screen, and even the nature of those differences are defined by the objects themselves. An object has its own gravity, balance, and behavior. The animator merely acts as a guide, putting forth order through the establishment of motion, while discovering and capturing the nature of the materials themselves. 


Part Two: Animation Audiences

The role of the spectator in object animation makes it an ideal setting for demonstrating psychological content which requires a strong empathetic connection from its viewers. Richard Weihe explains that this role is active one,“Animation employs the spectator’s imagination. The craftsmanship of the animator does not produce any complete illusion of life, while it is up to the spectator to complete the visual impressions and conceive of the animated figure as a living being displaying human traits” (42). The animator is reliant on the imagination of the viewer to complete the illusion. Buchan refers to this relationship aone of denial, pointing out that “Methods and techniques used to create animation permanently rupture the ‘world’ it creates because the impossibility of what we see draws attention to the fact of its illusion” (26). In this way object animation is akin to a world of make believe; the viewer is playing along for imagination’s sake. It is, however, the creation of this active viewer animator relationship that allows for content to be understood on a personal level. In Choice, the more the viewer integrates their own interpretations of fear with the metaphorical structures put forth by the animation, the more the piece resonates. It is the very awareness of illusion that calls for the viewer to play their part. 

In looking at the ways in which humans respond to feared stimuli, it is hard to ignore the distinction between rational and irrational fear. While both produce the same symptoms of emotion, we tend to refer to the former as being more grounded than the later. Choice takes the behaviorist approach, treating both as merely triggers of  responses and behaviors, rather than justifying one fear over another. An encounter with a feared stimulus is seen as an event and the particular content of that event inconsequential. Choice instead aims to examine perceptions of feared stimuli and the cognitive processing of fear and anxiety. As stop-motion animation is a combination of the everyday and the fabricated, dependent on the viewer to complete what they know to be an illusion, the process of viewing requires that the viewer let go of their concern with what belongs to a lived reality or an imagined one. It is this freedom, inherent to its form, that allows Choice to move beyond the content of the feared stimuli themselves, and instead take a closer look at the ways in which one chooses to process them. Torben Grodal elaborates on this concept when discussing animation audiences, 

Important for the mode of perception is an evaluation of whether the seen or heard has its source in, or represents, an exterior hypothetical or real world or an interior mental world… If the perceived is constructed as belonging to an exterior world it cues the mental stimulation of an enactive world; whereas, if the perceived is constructed as belonging to a mental world, it cues a purely perceptual -cognitive, proximal experience. (158)

As object animation is a merging of the “exterior” and the “mental” worlds, there is an ease in translating psychological processes which are influenced by both interior perceptions and exterior actions. Furthermore, by belonging partially to an “enactive” world, ones expectations of the familiar are altered, making room for the mental shifts necessary to fully perceive this type of content.


Part Three: Facial Expressions

 In the effort to establish a relation of empathy with the viewer, aninators must attend carefully to the treatment of their character’s facial expressions. In recent years formal systems for decoding expressions used in other fields, have been appropriated by animators wanting to convey emotions more effectively (Buchanan, 75). These methods present opportunities in communicating types of expressions unseen in animated films previously. Though these explorations have just begun, the results suggest that animators using such techniques will have success in communicating a more complex range of emotions to their audiences. 

In the study of facial expressions there are two main types under which most expressions can be defined. Deliberate facial expressions are those that one processes consciously, while spontaneous facial expressions are those which unconsciously emerge. “The facial expression commonly referred to as ‘the smile’ in fact is not a singular category of facial behavior” (Frank, Ekman and Wallace, 217). In animation characters tend to demonstrate yet a third type of facial expression referred to as the symbolic or artistic facial expression (Buchanan, 2009). 

In What is a Sign Charles Peirce discusses the three categories in which all signs can be defined, “Firstly, there are likenesses, or icons; which serve to convey ideas of the things they represent simply by imitating them. Secondly, there are indications, or indices; which show something about things, on account of their being physically connected with them… Thirdly, there are symbols, or general signs, which have become associated with their meanings by usage” (par. 3).  The u-shaped smile found frequently in animation falls in the third category, a symbol. The upward curvature of the line originated from the likeness of a smile, but now bears little physical resemblance to an actual smile. Peirce describes this process of emerging symbols, stating that “Symbols grow. They come into being by development out of other signs, particularly from likenesses or from mixed signs partaking of the nature of likenesses and symbols” (par. 8). The development of symbolic facial expressions has allowed for a simplicity that animators have relied on in conveying the emotions of their characters.

One drawback, however, of using symbolic facial expressions in animation is the inability to define specific types of expressions beyond the obvious. Pierce describes this limitation, “A symbol, as we have seen, cannot indicate any particular thing; it denotes a kind of thing” (par. 8). This is clearly the case of the symbolic smile. One can not distinguish from the symbol whether a smile is deliberate or spontaneous.  If the character is smiling out of politeness, instead referring to a deliberate facial expression, it is left to the environment (indications) not the expression itself to reveal this. In this way the symbol is only completely legible in its relationship to the surrounding signs which further define it. 

Another drawback of using symbolic expressions,  is that symbols rely on referential knowledge to deliver meaning,  “The symbol is connected with its object by virtue of the idea of the symbol-using mind, without which no such connection would exist” (Peirce, par. 7). Buchan speculates that the use of symbolic expressions in animation may not be as universally understood as one might expect, “Symbolic expression informs us of the emotional state of the character through our referential knowledge, generated by previous viewings of animated productions” (79 ). While symbolic facial expressions allow for a simplicity that many animators rely on, the exploration of the use of deliberate and spontaneous expressions offers animators an entirely new set of tools.

Many believe that spontaneous facial expressions generate empathetic emotional responses more effectively than deliberate ones (Buchanan, 78). We are more likely to identify with a character who displays pure reactive expressions, than one that poses emotions appropriate to the environment. Our ability to distinguish instantly and unconsciously between these types of expressions has become a means for survival. As Charles Darwin noted in his study of the perception of photographs in which people smile, “almost everyone recognized that the one represented a true, and the other a false smile; but I have found it very difficult to decide in what the whole amount of difference consists. It has often struck me as a curious fact that so many shades of expression are instantly recognized without any conscious process of analysis on our part” (359). We are immediately aware of whether someone is smiling for the camera, or out of pure enjoyment, and more likely to connect to the later. Our ability to distinguish between the two is instantaneous, even if we are unable to consciously pinpoint what the distinguishing factors are. Viewers are more likely to relate to a character that appears to be conveying genuine emotion, feeling that their responses are free of calculation.

In Choice, one’s empathetic connection to the character is critical. Expressions of fear are automatically generated, therefore the character’s facial expressions must be perceived as spontaneous. In consideration of this, the decision was made not to use symbolic facial expressions with their inability to distinguish between spontaneous and deliberate reactions. Instead, photographs of real human eyes were composited directly onto the puppet suggesting a wider range of emotion. This in itself, however, was not a complete solution. Expressions of fear which were simply acted out and composited on the character would still be interpreted as deliberate, consciously made by the actor.

A technique used commonly in film, attempting to make subconscious expressions, is the use of Method Acting. Method Acting requires that the actor remember and relive real life events where they previously felt the emotions they are trying to demonstrate. By re-imagining these events they are able to produce spontaneous expressions, unconscious of their facial movements. Mark Walsh, animator of the character Dory from Finding Nemo used method acting to create the emotions of his character. He would attempt to relive events in his life which produced similar emotions to those of the scene. He then recorded himself reading the script, to use as reference footage (Buchanan, 80). Mark Caro of the Chicago Tribune noted the success of Dori when writing, “ You connect to these sea creatures as you rarely do with humans in big-screen adventures” (as cited in Buchanan, 80).

With the same goal of creating spontaneous facial expressions, Choice employs a slightly different use of Method Acting. Photographs are taken while reliving events with the necessary emotions, but they are not used as reference. Instead the eyes from these photographs are cutout and composited directly onto the face of the animated character. The level of emotion that can be read from real human eyes is striking. While compositing each frame is labor intensive, the use of this method emphasizes the importance of establishing a strong empathetic viewer connection. 

There is an interesting parallel that is formed between the process of animating Choice, and the narrative content of the piece itself. The piece demonstrates how running away from a feared element and the thought of fear itself only increases one’s aversion to it. As Freud noted, “If some of our thoughts, feelings are unacceptable to us, we want to disown them but only at the cost of disowning valuable parts of ourselves… Your ability to cope with the world becomes less and less” (cited in Foa and Kozak 1986, p. 20). It isn’t until the character changes the pattern of its reaction to fear that it is able to break this cycle. The viewer watches as the character builds up a catalog of documented feared moments. These moments continuously serve as proofs of danger, enabling future avoidance patterns. The character has a file cabinet in its stomach storing each Polaroid photograph. The photographs are presented each time a feared stimulus is re-encountered. This cycle continues until the character demonstrates exposure and habituation techniques. It reaches into its file cabinet, and one at a time hangs each Polaroid on the wall and watches it. Though the character’s fear meter rises it chooses to continue to face each photograph.

The process of animating Choice enacts the same proposed solutions that the piece suggests. An actor in search of a spontaneous fear expression must pull from a “catalog” of remembered feared stimuli, an obvious form of exposure. They must relive the moment of fear to acquire the necessary footage of the expression. Throughout the process they will most likely, perhaps inadvertently, habituate to the feared element and be left to search their catalog for more feared items. In doing this the actor, as is the main character of Choice, is reversing the dynamic of their relationship to fear. In this case, since the actor is also the animator this process forces a unique bond between the creator and its character.



In looking at the theories and techniques which underlie the making of Choice, it is important to remember how animation brings a different voice to this dialogue. Assessments made in the disciplines of the psychological and behavioral sciences have an entirely different set of strengths than those put forth by this piece. It seems however, that because of its nature, this content translates naturally into the world of object and puppet animation. The use of ordinary objects establishes the metaphorical structure which is the heart of the piece. Similar to the dancing screws in Street of Crocodiles, previous understandings of the objects act as a base for the viewer to build off in discovering their new meanings as objects in motion. In this way the piece becomes a map creating relationships and visualizing concepts which may otherwise be hard to grasp. The triggering of both an exterior hypothetical and an internal mental world removes distinctions as to whether something is based in a lived reality or not, critical to this content. The viewer is lead into what they know to be an illusion, causing their role to be an active one. They complete the illusion with their own experiences personalizing the content. The use of real human eyes and method acting allows for the viewer to feel empathy towards the characters condition, bypassing any existing stigma one might carry. It is in all these ways that Choice is able to bring a unique voice to this conversation, highlighting that perhaps this content is best realized when approached from both an analytical and a personal understanding.


Work Cited:

Buchan, Suzanne “The Animated Spectator: Watching the Quay Brothers Worlds” Animated Worlds. Ed. Buchan, Suzanne Eastleigh, UK: John Libbey Publishing, 2006. 15-39. 

Buchanan, Andrew (2009) “Facial Expressions for Empathetic Communication of Emotion in Animated Characters.” Animation Studies Volume 42. Ed. Dobson, Nichola, Velencia, CA: Society for Animation Studies.

Darwin, Charles The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company. 1872.

Foa, E. B. and Kozak, M. J. “Emotional Processing of Fear: Exposure to Corrective Information” Psychological Bulletin, 99, (1997): 20-35.

Frank, Mark, Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen “Behavioral Markers and Recognizability of the Smile of Enjoyment.” What the Face Reveals. Eds. Ekman, Paul & Rosenburg, Erika, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. 1997. 217-239

Grodal, Torben Moving Pictures. A New Theory of Film Genres, Feelings and Cognition. Oxford, UK: Oxford Clarendon Press, 1997. 

Grosz, Elizabeth. Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth. New York: Columbia, 2008. 

Mitry, Jean  The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.

Peirce, Charles  “What is a Sign?” Peirce Edition Project  Ed. A. Burks, C. Harthshorne and P. Weiss. Cambridge: Belknap/Harvard. Web. 11. May 2011 <

Weihe, Richard “The Strings of the Marionette.” Animated Worlds Ed. Buchan, Suzanne Eastleigh, UK: John Libbey Publishing, 2006. 39-49.