Songs for hands: Analyzing Interactions of Sign Language and Music

Autor: 
MALER, Anabel

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Descripción: 

Song signing has long played an important role in Deaf cultures around the world. Recently, sign-language song translations have crossed over from the Deaf to the hearing world; entire communities of Deaf, hearing, and hard-of-hearing song signers now flourish on YouTube. The resulting videos form multimedia events featuring music, English, American Sign Language (ASL), gestures, pantomime, and even costumes.

Artistic song signing presents music analysts with a unique challenge. This paper asks how sign language, gestures, sung words, and music interact to shape our understanding of a given song. Using Stephen Torrence’s video interpretation of the song “Fireflies” by Owl City and other supporting examples, I show how the song signer can represent musical features by altering existing signs or creating new ones. More specifically, I reveal how Torrence represents pitch, timbre, and phrasing through sign alteration and manipulation of the signing space. Additional examples demonstrate multiple methods for articulating phrases in signed songs. The analysis draws on scholarship from ASL literary research, popular music analysis, and studies of music and gesture.

Editorial: 
Music Theory Online, nº 13, Vol. 1 (2013)

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