The History and Semiotics of Early Electronic Advertising Music

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Starting in the late 1950s, the advertising world rapidly became a fertile arena for experimentation in the realm of electronic music. Composers explored new forms, such as the sound logo; new technology, such as the Moog synthesizer; and new semiotic relationships between music, words, images and concepts, including attempts to forge subliminal associations between sounds and brand names. Yet the composers responsible for these innovations have largely been ignored by scholars of both music and advertising. This dissertation is a step toward filling that gap. The first part consists of a literature review and a history of the repertoire, focusing on the groundbreaking work of Raymond Scott and Eric Siday, the do-it-yourself experimentation of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and the refinements that Suzanne Ciani brought to the genre starting in the late 1970s. The second part analyzes common tropes in electronic advertising music, including fanfare-like melodies, telegraph and teletype rhythms, sonic representations of carbonation, and the use of noisy filter sweeps in makeup commercials. In Chapter 3, drawing on Anahid Kassabian’s work on the role of “ubiquitous musics” in identity formation, I argue that advertising music played an important role in creating the idea of the Space Age. And in Chapter 4, I propose some modifications to Philip Tagg and Bob Clarida’s classification of musical signs, and then combine their approach with Kassabian’s theory to create a detailed cultural, historical and semiotic analysis of Siday’s logo for American Express.

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  • 02/02/2018
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