Music as Media


John Hajda (visiting Asst. Professor, Music),
Howie Giles (Professor, Communication),

Statement of Purpose

What we know is based on what we ask and how we ask it. This is certainly true for music, which has been studied from a vast breadth and depth of perspectives. Many of these perspectives are expressed as metaphors that cross disciplinary boundaries and methodologies, such as music symbolic form (semiotics/music theory) or music as culture (anthropology/ethnomusicology). We conceive of music as media – means of effecting or conveying a message from producer (composer, performer) to receiver (listener) – and as mass media – means of communication (as music in radio, film, television or advertising) that is designed to reach “the people”. Our interests span traditional and contemporary musical styles as they are manifest at UCSB and in our community, such as hip hop, jazz, country, Western classical, gospel, mariachi and Middle Eastern music. We also consider the role of music in multimedia performing arts such as opera, Polynesian dance, salsa, musical theater, etc.

A musical work, or a multimedia work that contains music, has significance at individual and collective social, cultural, and political levels. Individually, humans create, perform, and listen to music for multiple affective and cognitive functions. On the collective level, music embodies transactive cultural processes; in other words, music affects our processing of social events and social events, in turn, affect our interpretation of associated music.

Our conception of music positions us to study music from an interdisciplinary model that bridges so-called “gaps” between the humanities and the sciences. Although our approach as individual researchers has mainly been quantitative and scientific, we are methodologically and ideologically eclectic. We are interested in discursive analyses of how people talk about music and their musical experiences, preferences, and evaluations.

While there are journals in both psychology and communication that specialize in music, on the whole music is peripheral in both disciplines. In a similar way, psychological and communication sciences perspectives are peripheral in musicological research. Our desire is to elevate this type of interdisciplinary research to the mainstream of all three fields. Members of our group have research contacts in a host of Pacific Rim countries in North America, Australia and New Zealand, and east, south, and southeast Asia. Therefore, we embrace and engage a plethora of questions. A sampling of these questions is provided below to reflect the flavor of the diversity of our interests, and these include, but are not restricted to:
• Strategies for music listening
• Identity
• Meaning and Persuasion

There is a body of extant research in anthropological, musicological, psychological and sociological literature that deals with these issues on a compartmentalized basis. Our goal is to synthesize these approaches to gain a more holistic understanding of relationships and processes in music as media.


David Hamilton (Professor, Psychology)
Robin Nabi (Asst. Professor, Communication)
Caja Thimm (visiting Professor, University of Bonn, Communication and Media Studies)

Upcoming Activities, 2005-06

John Hajda has proposed a fall symposium to the IHC for the Interdisciplinary Study of Music, Music/Multi-Media and Meaning. We see this fall series as a way to “kick-start” this Research Focus Group.

We wish to embark on a program of collegial, collaborative research. While those who wish to benefit on a personal, professional level are certainly welcome to participate, our primary focus is to produce research that could not, due to its complexity and multidisciplinarity, be the output of a single researcher. It is one thing to bring together people who are doing related research; it is quite another to bring people together in order to create research. We believe that the humanities would benefit from the approach, which is common in the sciences.

While the focus of our group is collaborative research, we foresee opportunities to bring in outside speakers.

Invited Speakers:
Professor Timothy Taylor (UCLA)
Professor Anno Mungen (University of Bonn, Musicology/Communication and Media Studies)