Tina Wen
Prof. Eidsheim/ Marissa Ochsner Mus Hist 12W
February 19, 2018


Music as a Propelling Engine for Creativity

As the chorus descends along with the musical notes, the castle made of geometric shapes collapses while two little triangles, as the main characters of the narrative, cascade down the screen and continue their endless wandering quest. Such a synchronized interaction between the visual and the auditory is made possible within the realm of music video, a hybrid between music and moving image. We hear the musical quality inherited within the moving shapes while observing the visual energy contained in the music. Through providing active feedback to the musicians, artists play an indispensable role in creating music videos, which reflects the idea of musicking proposed by scholar Christopher Small. Defying the traditional definition of music as an object to be treasured within the world of the elites, Small provides an alternative perspective which sees music as a social activity that involves the participation of all individuals from different realms. Therefore, Small's ideas encourage the collaboration between musicians and artists, as well as the innovative product of music art. Through analyzing an interview with music video artist Sean Pecknold who draws his inspirations from music and family members, we learn how artists engage in musicking activities and better examine the effect of music to generate fresh creativity.

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Section 1

Traditionally people relate music to the concept of objects or musical works that are independent of their social contexts and situations. The emphasis of Western classical music over other genres of music makes it the exclusive sacred subject to be appreciated in the academic environment, leaving a conversational vacuum in other fields of musical performance. However, every musical experience should be unique and meaningful as there are endless possibilities given the space, time, and the participants of the performance. In the prelude ofMusickin, Christopher Small introduces the concept of musicking as a social activity that focuses on music’s distinctive meanings on all participants. Especially with the advancement of technology in modern society, people can access music digitally in almost any scenario, resulting in more combinations of musical interactions and social meanings. While scholars have long investigated upon the technical aspects of Classical Music, we should also, by referring to Small’s idea of musicking, blaze a trail for the more innovative forms of musical activities to be discussed in the academic context and examine their effects on all participating individuals.

Christopher Small observes that the word “music” is conventionally used as an object or musical work rather than the act of engaging in musical activities. Music is often associated with classical Western music and based on the belief that such music is privileged over other forms of music, which are usually categorized as ethnomusicology. The emphasis on music as an object distances the listeners from the composers and performers, preventing them from providing feedback to the music creators since they are only considered as the recipients of the musical information. Meanwhile, the impact and importance of other innovative, non-classic forms of music, such as pop music, electronic music, or internet-based music, are left unexplored, since

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Wen 3 we rarely observe these genres of music being actively discussed and researched in an academic

environment. Therefore, in the traditional perspective regarding the nature and meanings of music, the created musical objects are usually valued more than the action of musicking.

Instead of considering music as an object, scholars should explore the effect of music as an activity taken by human beings in specific social contexts. Small articulates that “the fundamental nature and meaning of music lie not in objects, not in musical works at all, but in action, in what people do” (Small 8). By taking account of each individual’s contribution and interactions with others, we can better understand the function and meaning of music to each participant and, in a broader context, in people’s life. Advancing into the specific functions of music, in “Music As a Technology of the Self”, Tia DeNora has conducted ethnographic research which points out that “music is appropriated by individuals as a resource for the ongoing constitution of themselves and their social psychological, physiological and emotional states” (DeNora 47). In other words, people can actively use music as a powerful piece of technology to change or enhance their moods, daily activities, or even self-identities. Hence, despite the historical convention of objectifying music’s nature, the intrinsic value of music is instead an ongoing activity that has personal and social impact on individual participants, which would then result in a complex and diverse variety of musical interactions among human beings.

After understanding the inherent nature of music, more research questions could be conducted in the scholarly world. According to the traditional views on “music”, research questions should revolve around the technical analysis and the historical influence of the musical works by the outstanding musicians. Such questions explored include the form of the music, its influence on other compositions, and the background of the achieved musicians. The ultimate

Wen 4 purpose of such questions is to determine the quality of a piece of music. On the other hand,

Small believes music research should not exclusively focus on elite masterpieces but also explore the effect of music as a social activity that involves interaction of all participants. Every music performance would generate particular meaning to different parties given specific space, time, and people. The latter way of thinking of music triggers more questions such as how and why to understand ourselves and our relationships to other individuals with whom we share the music at a specific situation. In other words, by contemplating the nature and social meanings of musicking, we can observe a more holistic picture of music and examine the musical influence on a broader scope.

Through investigating the two different views on music elaborated in Small’s usickin, one comes to understand that musical meaning not only lies in musical works but, in a broader context, reside in musical activities in which all participants interact with one another to generate social influence. Whereas the traditionalists have objectified music and segregated it from its social contexts, which prevented any communications and interactions among the participants, the modern scholars should undertake the mission of contemplating the social meanings of music to all participants while paying attention to newly emerging forms of musical activities. In that case, the world could accept and appreciate a more diverse variety of musical activities so that a more holistic musical experience would be enjoyed by all human beings.

Section 2

Scholars have discussed and justified the effects of music in affecting and enhancing people’s everyday life. Previously, Small advocates music as a process of engaging in social

Wen 5 interactions rather than an object exclusive to the elites (Small 2). Building on Small’s concept,

DeNora in her article “Music As a Technology of the Self” pecifically illustrates music as adjusting agents for life tempos and reflections of personal growth (DeNora 47). While music has significant impacts on multiple facets of life, this paper focuses on the mutual influence between music and art in a digital modern society. With the technological change of the contemporary world, the music industry has also extensively evolved. Music Video, a notable product of collaboration between modern expressions of music and art, manages to enhance the overall sensation of an art piece and promote its publicity in both visual and musical domains. Through examining the musicking experience of an independent music video artist, Sean Pecknold, we can explore how visual artists actively respond to musicians in terms of their own visual languages. As a result, we can better understand the power of music in stimulating fresh creativity, recording life trajectory, and forming a community of shared stories.

As a self adjusting technology throughout different periods of life, music provides critical inspirations for imaginative interpretations and creative feedback. Scholar Carol Shuttleworth Vernallis articulates and analyzes the nature of music video as a hybrid of music and image. Vernallis explains that “a consideration of both the music and the image can produce readings which teach us about a constantly changing set of image-music relations” (Vernallis 3). In other words, music video allows artists to interact with music using both visual and auditory senses, which results in different interpretations given specific combination of music and images. Therefore, music video artists are able to, in a groundbreaking fashion, interpret the music work and create time-based movies that coexist in harmony and synchronization with music. In this way, music is playing an unprecedented role of providing inspirations for artists, who now can

Wen 6 apply both traditional and technologically advanced methods to create a diverse range of

possibilities of artistic expressions. The interviewee Sean, an independent music video artist, conveys the intricate, powerful role that music has played in his life by recounting the events of childhood inspiration, family influence, and a visually creative career closely tied to music. As Sean communicates that music extensively inspires his creative works and serves as a rhythmic agent in his life, he confirms the theme that music generates a new wave of interpretations and artistic creations. Through the share of experience and personal story of the interviewee, we learn that people actively engage with music to adjust the tempos of life as well as to generate new ideas and inspirations.

Ethnographic research is a traditional and effective method to collect primary resources with precious, substantial facts to determine the impact of a specific theme or case study. According to the study by merson, Fretz, and Shaw on the nature of ethnographic research, he researchers, called ethnographers, are able to temporarily immerse themselves in the life of their research subjects through major methods such as “participant-observation and interviewing” (merson et al. ). The methodology is especially effective in my research since it allows me to see through the perspective of a music video artist who cherishes the role of music in his career and life. Furthermore, for my experience and strong interest in media art, I share certain insights that allow me to relate to the thought process of the interviewee, thus better understanding the nature of the case study. To be more specific, I hold a passion of creating animated films and analyzing the correlation between sound qualities and visual representations. Thus, my personal interest encourages me to contact Sean, whose unique works of exploring such interrelations between music and digital media have extensively inspired me. Being an ethnographer, my job is

Wen 7 to invite Sean to share his experience and stories that would allow outsiders to understand his

musical interaction and creative process. To effectively carry out the interview, I need to record field notes to help me contextualize the situation.

I choose Sean Pecknold, a music video artist prominent for his works for indie folk band Fleet Foxes, as my interviewee because I appreciate how he builds visually creative stories and messages that are extensively inspired by the sound qualities and specific aesthetics of a piece of music. Last year, I had the opportunity to intern at Sean and his partner Adi Goodrich's studio and helped them with some short animated projections for the band's live performance. One thing worth noticing about the case of Sean is that he is also the older brother of the lead singer of Fleet Foxes, Robin Pecknold. Growing up as brothers and sharing certain memories, Sean, while maintaining the qualities and ethics of a professional artist, would connect to the music of Fleet Foxes at a more personal level compared to, supposedly, other commercial artists. In this way, Sean would be an excellent case to explore the share of musical influence among close family members. Therefore, I contacted Sean and interviewed him through Skype on a Saturday afternoon. I attentively listened to him illustrating the role of music in his creative career and life in general, finding many of his words to be inspiring and relatable.

During the interview, Sean and Adi were attending an art event at Santa Monica. While carrying out a small talk about recent life, they soon relocated themselves to their car to have a quieter environment for conversation. I was glad and excited to be able to hear from Sean and Adi again. Sometimes I was so engaged with the talk that I could not control my breath very well, ending up frequently stuttering on my words. Sean, on the other hand, was very calm and took his time to thoroughly explain his thoughts of and experience with music. Although I

Wen 8 previously interned for the couple, it was actually the first time for me to officially inquire Sean

about the details of his creative projects and experiences that are extensively inspired by music of family influence.

In developing his story, Sean builds an episodic narration that expresses how music can stimulate creativity, record the trajectory of life, and provide inspirations shared among family members. By exemplifying one of the earliest animated music video “White Winter Hymnal”, Sean demonstrates the power of music to trigger creative, philosophical contemplations, which artists can incorporate into their art and storytelling. Sean interpretes the memorable repeating music loop as a physical rotating time wheel, which is turned by the puppet characters — the band members as old men — to rewind to their youth period. However, once the main character lets go of the wheel, time, without mercy, quickly elapses and all characters are old again. Inspired by the original looping part of music, Sean has created a visual metaphor to convey the philosophical message that human beings are powerless against time. Hence, the artist conceives a philosophical narrative based on the interpretations of the harmonies and rhythms.

Besides the major impact of music on the artist's inspiration and creative feed, music has, in fact, played different roles during the lifetime of the narrator as he compares his perspectives of music during teenage and adult periods. Sean states that he does not "inhale music as much as he used to", but instead focusing on music of longer history such as classical music and jazz. Once a teenager, Sean used to be fond of 90s hip hop. Nevertheless, he sees the hip hop nowadays, despite of the improvement in sound qualities with advancement in technology, has become too digital and clean, hence losing its rich texture compared to the past. Hence, music

Wen 9 serves as a referencing meter that allows Sean to compare and keep track of his experience and

the change of aesthetics over time.
While conveying a sense of nostalgia through comparison of present and past, Sean

reflects on how music strengthens an artist community through share of influence with family members. To Sean, his current family is an artist-based family — his brother is a musician and his romantic partner is a set designer while him being a music video artist. Often time, their paths would intersect in both creative careers and general life. Since childhood, Sean has been sharing musical memories from classic movies and musicals with his younger brother Robin through VHS tapes brought back by their father. And now with his life partner Adi, the couple often recalls the good old times by sharing music they used to listen to when they were younger. Such an family influence would mutually influence each family member, as the artist couple often shares music and art insights with their musician younger brother while developing mutual comprehension and consensus. For example, one of the Fleet Foxes song “Blue Ridge Mountain” was written by Robin to his older brother Sean, which suggests that the musician is also able to receive inspiration from family members. Sean and his partner, on the other hand, dedicate their passion and energy to portray the band members and bring out the essence of their music through visual media. Therefore, music may contribute to the harmony and unification of an artist community through shared themes, aesthetics, and ideals.

Relevant academic research often ocuses on he commercial effect of music videos. Scholar lanzmann tates that the incorporation of visual arts into the music industry helps promote the sales and broaden the publicity of music (lanzmann 0). Given the specifics provided by artist Sean Pecknold during the interview, his music videos certainly serve the

Wen 10 purpose of promoting Fleet Foxes’ music through engaging digital motions and animations.

Furthermore, Sean creates the music films out of artistic urge and in response to the inspirations he receives from the music by his brother and the band members. Therefore, through interacting with the band’s music imaginatively and practically in the form of music videos, Sean has been actively engaging in the musicking activities advocated by Small as well. On top of that, Sean uses music to keep track of his change in aesthetics and behaviours in life, reflecting DeNora's standpoint of music as technology of self adjustment.

In the previous discussions, Sean specifically elaborates on the creative process of his music video works, the way he applies music to record the trajectory of his aesthetics and experience in life, and his share of influence and inspiration among family members. Building on the scholarly content that musicians and artists can benefit commercially through mutual collaboration, the case study of Sean demonstrates that artists can utilise music as creative inspirations as well as adjusting agents for shared memories within the artist community, thus elevating the role that music plays in his lifetime.

Section 3

While Small and DeNora have built the theoretical assumptions of musicking and music as technology of self, the case study of music video artist Sean Pecknold not only embraces these existing theories, but also fleshes out the specific roles music plays in people's life. Moreover, Sean's case is unique in the scholarly field as it takes an artist’s perspective to examine music as a stimulus for creativity that awakes the artistic spirit within the listeners. The following research and analysis of Sean’s interview will further illustrate music as an agent of creativity and

Wen 11 transportive memory and exemplify how music may have direct impact on creativity in terms of

conceiving music videos as well as indirect contribution by forming an environment that is favorable for the sprouting of new ideas.

Music has direct impact on stimulating artistic expression and creativity. The scholarly world of visual music animation conventionally sees video art as an innovative expression of music by granting the art with musical traits. In the third chapter of the dissertation “Music, Image, Gesture” by James S. Tobias, the author explores the effect of visual rendition of music and emphasize the trait of musicality. The hybrid so-called “visual music” is “one way in which artists have constrained the depiction of our existence in the world to a purely musical appearance” (Tobias 112). Hence, inspired by the original music, music visual artists are able to conceive personal interpretations and grant musicality to the art videos they are creating.

To illustrate music’s influence on his creative works, the interviewee Sean highlights the longest and most intensive animated music video he has dedicated to — “Shrine: An Argument”. Throughout the creative process, Sean grows a unique and powerful attachment to the song as he has captured sound details “that no one else has heard" by paying attention to “every little part over and over again”. By actively engaging with the nature of sound at a almost unconscious level, Sean interprets the song through his own perspective and visual languages, which he then translates through means of stop-motion animation. Sean explains that he would think “physically about how to make a visual story fit the music” by imagining how the sound would look like in characters and motion (Sean). In this way, the artist is constantly searching for the dynamic relationship between music and visuals in terms of movements and motion. By grasping such essence from the auditory qualities of music, Sean is able to physically interact with music

Wen 12 and grant musicality to the animated objects. As a result, Sean’s process of creating a music

video illustrates the direct impact of music on creativity.
On the other hand, music indirectly contributes to the creation of art by cultivating an

environment with shared memories and adjusted life tempos. Through evoking memories and emotions that the artists have experienced and shared with other members of the community, music helps form a consensus upon inspirations and aesthetics within the group. Sean describes music as a “transportive memory” or “trigger”, which allows him to access memories and emotions in the past, especially those shared with close family members. In Sean’s case, certain music would evoke memories of scenarios during which he shared specific insights of music with his younger brother and art partners. Such a common feed of music and memories would construct a community mentality of shared aesthetics and inspirations. Musical memories shared within the family would often become great sources of inspiration as they encourage open, positive communications among family members, which is crucial to the generation of creativity.

In terms of indirect influence on creativity, music also acts as an ubiquitous timer, almost parallel of a metronome to a instrumentalist, for Sean to adjust the tempo of his life. Sean illustrates that he intends to be more musical in life in general as he believes that "you can find music in anything that you are doing". In other words, the artist would like to apply the rhythms of music to the tempos of his daily activities. In the studio, Sean and Adi would often put on music, either when focusing on individual tasks or working in group activities. Besides making the animated visuals sound like "amazing Jazz drum solo", Sean pays close attention to “how orchestrating the crew” and “how people move around and just how the slope of the day can be musical” (Sean). Broadly speaking, the tempo of music can be also applied to manage the

Wen 13 participating crew in a timely manner, and even to the trajectory of a day or a period of time. As

the participants synchronize their movements to the rhythms of the music and utilises music as an effective agent to adjust the tempo of daily activities, they are cultivating a favorable environment for the seeds of ideas to sprout and grow.

While Sean’s musicking experience as a music video artist coincides with Small’s and DeNora’s theories of music as adjusting agents in people’s life, Sean’s case proves to be unique as it specifically examines how music triggers and generates art and creativity. Through analysing Sean’s interaction with music and creating environment, we learn that music might directly lead to the burst of creativity as the artist actively engages with music and grants musicality to the moving images during the creation of music videos. Meanwhile, music may indirectly contribute to the creation of art by shaping a positive environment with shared aesthetics and experience between the artists and the musicians, as well as with adjusted life tempos that help synchronize the movements of all participants.


Through the ethnographic research of an independent music video artist, Sean Pecknold, who provides visual feedback and interpretations to music, we learn the extensive impact of music to generate new waves of creativity and to adjust the tempos of activities in life. By experimenting with the musicality residing in art creation and life, the artist has demonstrated the intrinsic interaction between music and visuals and how they can be extracted or perceived in one another. Furthermore, the ethnographic materials of Sean’s interview contributes to the existing scholarly world as it explores the effect of music as a propelling engine to generate ideas

Wen 14 and creativity through the lenses of an artist. Exploring the unconventional forms of artistic

expression in a modern context, the artist embraces Small’s idea of musicking as well as DeNora’s theory of music as a technology of the self, as he voyages on a creative, rhythmic journey upon the turbulence of music with a family of shared influence and ideals.

Work Cited

DeNora, Tia. “Music as a technology of self.” usic in Everyday Life. Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Emerson, Robert M., Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda I. Shaw. “Fieldnotes in Ethnographic Research.” riting Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Glanzmann, Cassandra N. “Capitalizing on Creativity and Commercialization: Art and Music Collaboration and Crossover.” Master, Sotheby's Institute of Art, 2014.ProQues, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1728065267?accountid=14512.

Pecknold, Sean. Personal Interview. 27 January 2018.

Small, Christopher. usicking: The Meaning of Performing and Listening. onnecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1998.

Tobias, James S. “Music, Image, Gesture: The Graphical Score and the Visual Representation of Music in Cinema and Digital Media”. PhD diss. University of Southern California, 2001. roQues, https://search.proquest.com/docview/ 250992291?accountid=14512.

Vernallis, Carol S. “The Aesthetics of Music Video: The Relation of Music and Image.” PhD diss. University of California, San Diego, 1994. roQues, https://search. proquest.com/docview/304097074?accountid=14512.

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