“Let Down and Hanging Around”: Time and Sound Quality in Radiohead’s Discourse of Disillusionment

Gabriella Torres


Citizens of industrialized, capitalist societies inhabit cultural spaces that are saturated with sound, and of the sounds that compose our daily soundscapes (Schafer, 1977) –buzzing refrigerators, honking horns, humming laptops– none perhaps is as pervasive as music. Perhaps it is precisely because of music’s ubiquitousness in modern living that it has become an area of increasing interest in social semiotics with its capacity to serve as a tool for understanding the connections between music, the soundscape and ideology in our society (Tagg, 1990, 1994; Tagg & Collins, 2001). This paper sets out to explore what a social semiotic approach to music can reveal in terms of not only how pieces of music may make meaning but also in terms of the discourses we have for understanding these meanings and the wider cultural practices that inform them. Using a framework established by van Leeuwen (1999), the author will examine how the musical elements of timing and sound quality work together in three Radiohead songs to create meaning potentials. The writer will then consider the possible broader discourses connoted by these meanings before concluding with a reflection on the usefulness of van Leeuwen’s framework in conducting a social semiotic analysis of music.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5296/jsss.v2i2.7161


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