The Gothic Track Assignment (HUM220/HUM303)

I haven’t worked out how to post a youtube video to ilearn forum yet. I’ll need to look into that on Monday. In the meantime here’s a model for what I’m now calling the Gothic Track assignment. The idea is that everyone posts and everyone evaluates. We’ll talk in class next week about the practicalities associated with all this.

“A Forest”

This track from The Cure’s 1980 album Seventeen Seconds is easily one of the band’s most famous songs. Its popularity may have something to do with with simplicity of the lyrics and the spareness of instrumentation, which allow room for an audience to use its imagination. At the lower end of the song the bass and keyboards maintain a dark, reverberating tone, which contrasts with Robert Smith’s vocals and jangly guitar. The overall effect– the atmosphere of the track– is mysterious, compulsive, and, apparently, doomed. In the final moments of the song the bass evokes the heartbeat of someone alone and vulnerable. Abandoned by the other instruments, the bass line ends in a small burst of faster notes. Then silence.

The lyrics resonate so powerfully because they seem to be drawn from the vocabulary of fairy tales and ghost stories. Their very generality– the absence of peculiar or notable details– is what gives them psychological force:

I hear her voice
Calling my name
The sound is deep
In the dark
I hear her voice
And start to run
Into the trees
Into the trees

Note the basic elements of these two stanzas. Two characters (I, her); “objects” that correspond to them (name, voice); a setting (the trees that make up the forest); the actions of calling and running; and, finally, two descriptive terms, adjectives that seem to meld: deep and dark.

The speaker of the song has either been summoned or frightened away, we can intuit. Either way, s/he has been impelled into action. The image of a figure running through a dark forest is such a core part of our cultural commons– our shared repertoire of images, situations, characters, etc.– that it seems almost impossible not to fall into further speculation about its meaning. Is the one who calls out the speaker’s name a dead lover? Is she calling out a warning or an enticement? Such uncertainties beg us to fill in the gaps imaginatively, though, crucially, we do so under the influence of the dark musical qualities of the track.

Finally, the video itself– which seems to have been made by a fan– provides a visual counterpart to the lyrical and musical content, giving form to the setting. This element of the track seems somewhat superfluous. The space represented is fairly generic– virtually stock footage. So while it seems appropriate enough and might add a bit to the overall tone, the visual channel isn’t, strictly speaking, necessary. Probably this video taken from a performance in Munich in 1984 would be more useful to analyze. But that’s something we can do in class.

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