Blood, Text and Fears
Reading Around Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Nb. Comments and responses are placed below this text. Last updated 2003.03.31

The first international Buffy conference, 'Blood, Text and Fears: Reading Around Buffy the Vampire Slayer', took place at University of East Anglia, Norwich on the weekend of 19-20 October 2002, attended by some 160 people. The conference aimed both to situate 'Buffy' and 'Angel' within critical discourse and to provide a focus for the Buffy scholarship that has recently proliferated in a variety of disciplines ranging from television studies to translation to law. That the conference included two sessions (a total of four papers) dedicated to music testifies to the fact that its importance in the shows has by no means gone unnoticed.

The first panel, on Saturday evening, comprised 'Singing their hearts out: performance, sincerity and musical diegesis in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel' by Janet Halfyard (Birmingham Conservatoire) and 'Sound, Silence, Score and Song in Buffy the Vampire Slayer' by Vanessa Knights (University of Newcastle). Halfyard looked at which of the shows' characters could sing and which could not, drawing principally on the karaoke bar Caritas on 'Angel' as well as on 'Once More, With Feeling', and argued for an inverse relationship between musicality (by which she meant the ability to sing) and sincerity. Knights explored the narrative function of music on 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', supplying a voiceover to clips from 'Tabula Rasa' and 'Hush' in order to investigate the use of texted popular music and musical underscore respectively. Academically, this session was a little disappointing - to the more intelligent members of the audience at any rate - and unfortunately both speakers were forced to admit to fundamental errors in their papers during the ensuing discussion. Knights's paper in particular lacked scholarly foundation and (aside to one glaring, yet unacknowledged, "borrowing") primary background research. Mostly, she merely made observations - which in most cases were already embarrassingly obvious to everybody present - without stating their significance or engaging with the topic critically. Perhaps she was expecting the event to have been more along the lines of a fan convention than an academic research conference, but her work really was out of place at the latter. Halfyard, for her part, had misunderstood 'Once More, With Feeling' and believed that the show's characters did not realise they were singing - an impression quickly corrected by an outburst from the audience! (It is to be hoped that Halfyard revises her argument substantially prior to its publication in Christopher Weimer's forthcoming edited volume Monsters and Metaphors: Essays on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) Nevertheless, despite their faults, these presentations were enjoyable as far as they went.

The second music panel, on Sunday afternoon, differed in a number of important ways from the first. The two papers offered in the latter session were '"I Believe the Subtext Here is Rapidly Becoming Text": Music, Gender and Fantasy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer' by Chris Wiley (Royal Holloway) and 'Meaning and Myth: Leitmotivic Procedures in the Musical Underscore to Angel, Season One' by Matthew Mills (Royal Holloway). These presentations were conceived as a double-act and complemented one another well, especially as they approached the same essential subject - the meanings and narrative functions of music which accompanies the moving image - from two different angles. Moreover, both speakers were trained musicologists, and their papers were already known in wider circles - I note that the webmaster of this site has been in contact with Wiley - and are clearly of significance beyond the academic niche of "Buffy studies". Nevertheless, their work was clearly of much interest to the present conference. Wiley explored the alignment of music, in its various forms, with elements of otherness (including fantasy and gender) on 'Buffy', before examining the ways in which the underscore to the episode 'Hush' participates within the show's narrative in causing obfuscated issues of sex and gender momentarily to surface. Mills theorised the nature of the compositional technique of leitmotif, specifically the associations accumulated by recurring musical fragments and the meanings they thereby accrue, with reference to several episodes in Season One of 'Angel'. Although both Wiley and Mills were obviously struggling to fit their papers into the allocated time, each covered a great deal of ground, and their cogent arguments were supported by musical transcriptions and detailed analytical charts and tables to accompany the video excerpts. Wiley and Mills have made significant progress in establishing theoretical frameworks suitable for the discussion of television underscore, and it is a testament to the worth of 'Buffy' and 'Angel', and of Christophe Beck's contributions in particular, that they should choose to focus on these shows.

Anonymous author

Response from Dr Halfyard, 2002.11.11

I'd like to correct some errors in the report on the 'Blood, Text and Fears' conference at UEA concerning my paper. Firstly, I was not discussing musicality, which is a very loaded term: I was discussing performance and ability to perform, of which singing was one aspect. Secondly, the idea that the characters do not know they are singing in 'Once More with Feeling' [Buffy 6.07] was largely a problem (I confess) in how I expressed the idea - the fact remains that there is considerable ambiguity in whether the characters realize that it is not normal to be singing whilst they're actually doing it: for the most part, it's only once they've stopped singing that they become fully aware that singing is not normal behaviour in these circumstances. The main point of the argument was, again, to do with the nature of performance and the relationship between a character and the actor who plays it - normally, in this kind of singing, only the actor is aware that the singing is 'imposed' by some external agency (e.g. the writers). For a character to become aware that an external force is governing their behaviour is highly unusual and reinforces the character's credibility, because they have developed an awareness that is normally only available to the actor.

The paper presented at the conference was about a third of the chapter for Monsters and Metaphors [a chapter entitled 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel' in forthcoming publication Monsters and Metaphors: essays on Buffy the Vampire Slayer ed. Christopher Weimar], and presenting it was both enjoyable and useful - feedback from one's peers is always one of the great benefits of such events, and the feedback I had was overwhelmingly positive. Finally, I'd like to point out that [the writer of the report] demonstrated a really quite marked bias towards the papers on Beck's music rather than those dealing with other musical issues in Buffy and Angel (understandable given the interests of this website) and that includes how he/she described Vanessa [Knights] and myself compared to Chris [Wiley] and Matthew [Mills]: Vanessa would happily acknowledge that she comes from an academic discipline other than music. I, however, am a musicologist and a senior lecturer in music, and the paper is thoroughly grounded in theory, despite the writer's implication that it wasn't. Perhaps he/she wanted a more musicological debate, but this was not a musicology conference: one of the really enjoyable aspects was the sheer number of disciplines being represented, from law and theology to music and linguistics. It was a remarkable event, and I was very glad to have been part of it.

Dr Janet Halfyard (Steve Halfyard)
Senior Lecturer in Music
Birmingham Conservatoire


Response from Dr Knights, 2002.11.12

I'd also like to correct some errors in the report on the 'Blood, Text and Fears' conference at UEA surrounding my paper. I am the first to admit that I am not a musicologist but I do work in the popular music field. I made the decision when presenting this paper not to do an in-depth analysis of one particular aspect of music use (I did not just talk about narrative function as is implied in the commentary) but to give an overall view of the function of music in BtVS. This is not because I thought I was going to a fan convention but because I realised that this was an interdisciplinary conference attended by scholars from many fields who might not be familiar with technical musical terminology.

My aim was simply to make the point that all too often music is left out of studies of TV when it is an integral part of shows such as BtVS and that applies equally to the use of scoring and popular music. Like Janet I also found the feedback I received at the conference to be overwhelmingly positive, I was asked for references by other participants (all of whom I consider to be intelligent people!) and told how much they had enjoyed a session they were nervous of attending because they thought the language would be too specialised.

I do not feel that I was forced to admit a fundamental error during the ensuing discussion. There was a question from the floor as to why I had chosen to use a framework from film music studies rather than one taken from an article on TV music. The framework chosen was from an in-depth book length study of contemporary film by Anahid Kassabian which in fact has a very firm grounding in the study of TV music. Kassabian was involved with the groundbreaking work of Tagg and Clarida in this field. There were no unacknowledged borrowings in my paper. If there were coincidences with other work done then I would be grateful for a full reference rather than an insinuated accusation of plagiarism.

Due to work commitments I was unable to attend the presentations by Chris Wiley and Matthew Mills and therefore cannot comment on the respective merits of the sessions. However, the abstracts looked fascinating and I wish them well with their plans for a full length study of Music, Gender and Narrativity in BtVS and Angel.

Dr Vanessa Knights
Lecturer in Spanish and Latin American Studies
University of Newcastle upon Tyne


Response from Dr Bloustien, 2002.11.17

I would like to add my comments to the report on the International Buffy conference, Blood Text and Fears. I attended the papers discussed in the report and I want to state firstly that I found both of the presentations of Dr Halfyard and Dr Knight stimulating and perceptive. In fact I find the anonymous author's view (that Dr Knight's paper was 'academically a little disappointing - to the more intelligent members of the audience at any rate') extremely insulting to both the presenters and the participants in the audience - and obviously quite inaccurate. Perhaps this is why the writer chooses to be anonymous rather than declare his interests. As a senior lecture, I clearly regard myself as an intelligent academic and I am one who has particular research interests in this field. I was sitting amongst many others who are similarly positioned as academics and who took part in the lively discussions that followed.

I felt at that time, as now, that some of the issues raised in the discussion following the presentations such as concerns about the choice of framework for the studies, revealed a lack of knowledge of the field by the questioner rather than the presenter. As Dr Knight herself has pointed out the framework was based on the work of Anahid Kassabian who draws her perspective from the study of TV music. It seemed to me that the anonymous reporter in this review has revealed his/ her own narrow theoretical/ analytical bias in the discussion rather than any short comings by Halfyard and Knight.

Dr Geraldine Bloustien
Senior Lecturer
School of Communication, Information & New Media
University of South Australia

Response from Chris Wiley, 2003.02.02

I had decided not to submit a response to the above review, partly because news from my own website has been copied here, but mainly because at the time the review appeared, I was working 26 hours a day on a seminar presentation I was due to give at the Institute of Historical Research, not to mention several other projects, and I felt that there was far too much I wanted to say to dash off a short, quick reply. However, a couple of weeks ago, the webmaster contacted me again to solicit my opinions, preferably in a form in which (and I quote) 'the average lay music-savvy person can catch the gist of any argument' - so here they are.

I think I'll start, like Janet and Vanessa, by correcting a few errors in the review. Firstly, Matthew and I were actually permitted 25 minutes rather than 20, by special arrangement with the conference organisers, so we didn't run over; and judging by the fact that the audience were collectively laughing and nodding throughout our papers, and sustained a lively and high-standard discussion afterwards, I don't think any of them minded, if they even noticed. Secondly, although there were only four papers primarily on the topic of music in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and/or Angel, there were several others that raised points of music tangentially and in some cases, very well. Thirdly, the reviewer has failed to recognise the points of intersection between the two pairs of papers around which their respective sessions crystallised; more on that below. Fourthly, my presentation was not a mere case study of 'Hush', but laid a broad contextual framework for the various strata of music on Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the first half of the paper (as the basis for hermeneutical reading of the underscore in its second half), and this was just as important, especially as the case study would have been impossible without it. I also took advantage of my placing late in the conference to refer to work presented by other speakers and discuss recurrent threads therein. Here I agree with Janet that the reviewer has written for the Beck-oriented audience on this site rather than more generally, and I'm quite disappointed that other aspects of my paper, which many in the audience found very valuable, were marginalised. Though I am glad that my improvised explanation as to the wider aims of Matthew and I in undertaking this project was absorbed by the reviewer, albeit quoted practically verbatim.

On the subject of unacknowledged borrowing (which seems as good a place to start as any), I may be able to shed some light on the reviewer's reference to Vanessa's paper. In discussing the show's use of popular music, Vanessa mentioned, in passing, that the viewing audience knew that Kathy, Buffy's initial college roommate, was a demon, from the fact that she likes Celine Dion - an unfortunate choice (to put it mildly) in the mind of the eponymous heroine. This point has essentially been made by S. Renee Dechert in her article '"This is Oz. He's in a Band": Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the rhetoric of music', in Rhonda V. Wilcox and David Lavery (eds.), Fighting the forces: What's at stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), [pp.]218-26. Having looked it up, Dechert writes as follows: 'When Buffy first meets her demonic college roommate Kathy Newman, we know instantly, as she hangs up her Celine Dion poster while perkily predicting the year will be "Superfun!" that this is no typical coed. And our worst fears are confirmed in the next episode... when Kathy plays Cher's "Do you believe in love" repeatedly. Who but a monster could endure that? As Willow moves into Buffy's room at the end of the program, she brings with her a poster for the much cooler Dingoes Ate My Baby.' (p.221). A number of people at the conference spotted what for the sake of diplomacy I'm going to refer to as the origin of what would appear to be a very similar idea. Dechert's article is so far the only work on the music of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in print (as distinct from cyberprint), as Vanessa acknowledged in her abstract. The matter is further problematised by the fact that Kathy is such an unimportant character (I even had to look up the spelling of her name), since she appears in only two episodes and we're basically encouraged to hate her - so the few references to her in the show's secondary literature tend to stick in one's mind. Ideally one would expect some rubric like 'As Renee Dechert has suggested...' or 'Following Dechert...' when conveying an opinion sourced elsewhere; nevertheless, there's no doubt in my mind that Vanessa had either footnoted Dechert, or it just completely slipped her mind where she'd read it. Personally, I don't happen to agree with her (Dechert); her article is most valuable for its contextual information, but I find it less secure in terms of some of the interpretations she offers. In the case of the two "Kathy" episodes, suspense is maintained by keeping the question open as long as possible as to whether Buffy is right about her roommate being a demon, or whether she is merely overreacting to her, trying to find faults in her and wanting to believe that she is not of her (Buffy's) world - as well as a reason to expel her therefrom, or at least to beat her to pulp. Their conflicting taste in popular music (the manufactured female pop vocalist genealogy of Celine Dion and Cher versus the authenticity of a local rock band) therefore stands as yet another manifestation of the incompatibility of the two roommates, reinforcing the tension between them rather than functioning to signify Kathy's demonic side. A pity that the episode turns out the way it did - I quite like Cher's "Believe".

I have to confess being slightly bemused by the commentaries of Vanessa's paper: in places it seemed she was merely telling us what we were seeing and/or hearing (here are strings... and now wordless voices... and Willow's lip is quivering... etc.) - things I didn't think we really needed to be told. But what I find interesting is that some people might not have noticed certain observations on the music; this leads to a potential paradox, as any study of narrativity necessarily assumes that the audience does pay some level of attention to the music. (Exploration of this particular avenue is one of my projects for the future.) I also know that Vanessa's paper was a hit with those who did not enjoy the level of interpretation by other presenters, feeling that little attention was paid to form as a result - except, notably, in the music papers. (It's easy to see how, for example, my tabular analysis of all 59 shots of the Danse macabre scene [from 'Hush'] would be enjoyed by somebody expressing this opinion!) So useful groundwork such as this shouldn't be knocked. After all, 20 minutes is hardly enough time to say anything profound, especially when the A/V equipment isn't working very well and a tired operator mistakenly shows clips from the wrong pile of videos. I thought that both Janet and Vanessa handled themselves extremely well in this respect. It can't have helped, knowing that they only had a 45-minute session to begin with, when (through no fault of anybody) things started to go wrong.

And, to be honest, it wasn't the kind of conference where one would necessarily expect to encounter profound, groundbreaking research. To my mind, many of the papers would be better described as talks, or presentations, rather than as conference papers (which term, within academia at least, has its connotations). Janet has put the point succinctly in describing the event as 'extraordinary'. The majority of conferences centre either on a central topic/issue/question or a person/place/group, but only rarely on an "object", which made this event quite special. (I think this was a point Scott MacKenzie tried to make in the closing discussion about the difference between Buffy studies and, to cite his example, Milton studies.) The conference inevitably attracted people who enjoyed the show, including many extremely capable scholars, and there was, it is true, a certain amount of quoting of script from memory, rattling off episode titles fluently, referring to the shows' creator Joss Whedon as "Joss" or (even worse) "our hero", and so on. Many speakers talked mainly about the seasons most recently released on video, Season Six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and/or Season Three of Angel. (I made the point, very gingerly, in my presentation that these episodes hadn't aired in this country yet, by way of explaining the basis of my decision to present my previous work on Season Four to avoid spoilers. On British terrestrial television, we were at the time most of the way through Season Two of Angel and still awaiting Season Six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) The standard of papers presented was quite variable, with many people talking about the show in extremely competent, authoritative terms, but others slightly less so. Some speakers met with lacunae in questioning, perhaps because time was so limited, and several of the papers were probably too specialist to warrant presentation elsewhere. Of course, it's generally understood that conference papers do not represent finished, polished scholarship but merely research at a suitable stage to present at an appropriate forum and, as Janet observed, to gain feedback. And, with very few exceptions, they were enjoyed. Hence, they were successful. Actually, I really appreciated the friendly, relaxed atmosphere, the fact that it didn't matter if you'd read something wrong or there were sentences that didn't make sense in your typescript, and the overtly enthusiastic audiences, hanging on your every word and laughing constantly at your jokes despite the relative chaos and fatigue of two packed days of papers. What great fun!

Incidentally, if a conference is interdisciplinary, that tends to mean that people from a number of disciplines are going to be present, rather than that scholars from one discipline necessarily undertake projects that are situated exclusively within another. Interdisciplinary projects tend to fall into one of two categories: scholars drawing on their own discipline in order to enrich another, and those who look towards other disciplines in order to enrich their own; in recent years, some of the best work in musicology has been as a result of such approaches. But however far removed from their original discipline scholars find themselves in the course of their work, there is always a sense in which they bring their own disciplinary background/training/expertise to such studies. (In my own work on Ethel Smyth, for example, I start with the literature of her friend Virginia Woolf, and end by critiquing gender in opera and sonata form, and the androcentricity of the musical canon.) It was this sense that seemed missing from Vanessa's paper, as she did not mention her work in popular studies, only that she approached the topic from outside musicology. Unfortunately, I think this led her to lose some of the authority with which she spoke; for example, one of her voiceovers included the 'Buffy and Riley' theme, yet she did not mention that it was one of the show's most important passages of music (especially insofar as Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 4 is concerned), which led some of the less charitable in the audience to wonder whether she'd recognised its significance, given that many who watch the show have discerned the theme's recurrences. The general level of knowledge in music exhibited by many of the conference delegates was extremely high (judging by the number of people who followed my motifically-analysed musical transcriptions, and the standard of discussion during my session), and many of those I spoke to were themselves musicians of high calibre. Correspondingly, I know that some people did feel a little patronised (clearly this is true of the reviewer), and one or two even felt that they could have given a talk on the music just as well as Vanessa. But I can't help but wonder whether such people had missed the point. The POINT was that Vanessa did give that paper; moreover, that she had a paper accepted at the conference in what was presumably a blind peer-reviewed process, and with an abstract that probably wasn't over-advantageous to her, purely because it gave the impression that she intended to cover much more material than would have been possible within the notional maximum of twenty minutes' presentation time (whilst giving only a vague indication as to findings and conclusions). Well done to her.

As to the perceived dichotomy between the two sessions, many people said to me, following the mentions of "musicology" in Vanessa's paper, that they didn't know there was 'a word for it' (and here I might make mention of the fact that the perceptions of "musicology" by wider communities was a topic hotly debated on the AMS [American Musicological Society] e-mail discussion list recently!) I have to say that I found this slightly curious, given Willow's reference in one episode to switching courses to ethnomusicology, 'cool, West African drumming - I think it's going to change everything' ('The Freshman'). But I can well understand how people who were unclear as to the nature of musicology, but knew only that Vanessa was talking about music in terms that she herself defined as not those of a musicologist, came to the wrong conclusion when presented, the following day, with a veritable barrage of musical transcriptions, analyses, tables, charts, technical descriptions and so on from myself and Matthew. One striking difference between the two sessions was that Janet and Vanessa spoke around the music rather than specifically about it (Janet's paper drew on sociology as well as musicology, considering the way in which the music was performed rather than the music itself, and Vanessa's paper has already been discussed), whereas Matthew and I delved right into the scores themselves. There is, of course, absolutely no sense in which one approach is any better than the other. In justification of my own method, I might mention that I am by no means alone amongst scholars whose object of scrutiny is that invidiously termed low-art music, in seeing my ultimate function as being one of theorising and explicating the actual music (Allan Moore and Philip Tagg, for example, have both made eminently comparable points in their own work). But I was actually glad that the papers by Janet and Vanessa left so much scope for those by Matthew and myself, and especially there was minimal crossover between Vanessa's presentation and my own, given that our respective presentations referred to the same episode and even to some of the same clips. I also thought the order of the two papers (mine and Vanessa's) fortuitous, in that I examined 'Hush' in more detail than she. (That isn't a qualitative assessment, just that the second half of my paper was, essentially, a case study of the episode, whereas hers drew on a number of different episodes and so could not discuss any one in as much detail.)

With some trepidation, I turn to the pertinent question I asked Vanessa in the discussion that followed her paper - namely, why she chose for the purposes of her study to adapt a framework from film music, specifically Anahid Kassabian's Hearing film: Tracking identifications in contemporary Hollywood film music (New York & London: Routledge, 2001), rather than use an existing one for television music, such as that of Julie Brown's excellent article 'Ally McBeal's Postmodern Soundtrack', Journal of the Royal Musical Association, vol. 26, part 2 (2001), pp.275-303. In hindsight (bearing in mind what Dr Bloustien says above) I guess I'm slightly surprised that neither Vanessa nor Janet thought to mention Kassabian's background in television music, which is apparent from the opening chapter of her book, not to mention her contribution to one of Philip Tagg's early articles. But I certainly don't think that they are ignorant not to have thought of this point, in the heat of the moment, and at the end of a long and tiring day. In any case this isn't relevant, for reasons I'm about to explain. Quite deliberately, my original question did not, as Dr Bloustien writes, refer specifically to Kassabian and her framework; instead I referred loosely to a framework adapted from film rather than mentioning any one writer (a point whose significance appears to have been missed). The reason for this was that the framework Vanessa drew from Kassabian centred on the terms "source music", "source scoring" and "dramatic scoring" (a recategorisation of the diegetic/non-diegetic bipolarisation). These terms do not actually originate with Kassabian, as Vanessa implied, nor were they established by her (Kassabian). They are in fact drawn from an instructive volume for film composers published thirty years earlier, namely Earle Hagen's Scoring for films: A complete text (New York: E. D. J. Music, 1971). Kassabian, in introducing these terms (pp.43-6), clarifies both their origin with Hagen, and their standard use in the film industry (albeit given definition by Hagen). Alas, the fact that the terms originated in the context of film, as defined in a text predating Kassabian's work on television, and that a scholar who has worked in television music applies them only to film, unfortunately weakens their applicability to television; though I, for entirely different reasons, found Vanessa's use of them justifiable, given the relationship between television and film (for which, see my forthcoming research). I was quite happy to let this point pass, and I am very sorry to raise it here and now - but alas, I feel Dr Bloustien has forced my hand. Either she (Dr Bloustien) did not know of the original context of the terms used by Kassabian, or she did not know of their origins, or she did not know of Vanessa's exact application of Kassabian (i.e. Hagen via Kassabian). Perhaps Dr Bloustien should be more careful whom she calls ignorant...

There is another reason why Dr Bloustien might have been alerted to the fact that mine was no ignorant question. Often experts and specialists ask questions at conferences either to broaden discussion in one direction or another, or to allow a speaker to respond to a point not referred to elsewhere in the paper. I read two other questions (raised just prior to mine) in this light: Matthew's very important question to Janet as to whether the characters were (as she suggested) unaware that they were singing in 'Once more, with feeling', and another question from the floor as to Willow's situation within this episode (which allowed Janet to respond to a point she hadn't addressed in the paper: that the reason for Willow's limited contribution to the episode lies in the fact that the actress who plays the character, Alyson Hannigan, did not want to sing). Admittedly, I'm curious as to whether Vanessa was aware of the ultimate origin of the framework she used; but another of my intentions in asking that question was to open up the discussion in new directions, and I have to confess I was drawing on my background knowledge of Janet and Vanessa. (Vanessa had expressed to me beforehand an awareness that there was little musicological literature on television music, so it was a reasonable assumption that she might have consulted the most relevant article.) At the back of my mind was the sense that Vanessa had nowhere explained why her interest in the narrative function played by music on television centred on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and also why she drew specifically on Kassabian, and I aimed to give her an opportunity to justify her method and thus strengthen her paper overall, as well as to allow her to draw in discussion of another television show by way of comparison. (I was actually surprised that she managed to give the paper she did without referring, at least in passing, to Ally McBeal, and I wanted to allow her to make the point that some of the observations she had made were actually very common in television.) Even without referring to Brown specifically, the question could have been answered quite completely. What, for example, are the differences between television and film? What are the similarities? What are the corresponding implications for music in these respective media, and for scholarship thereon? Why might there be so little critical literature on television relative to that on film? To what extent are the ways in which music is employed on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and indeed Angel, similar to those of television shows generally? What is it about the music of these shows that makes them special, even unique, in comparison to, for example, Ally McBeal? What are the differences between the uses of music on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and Ally McBeal? What fresh insights might be yielded by such a comparison? In what ways does the employment of popular music differ? How does the character of Vonda Shepard on Ally McBeal differ from that of Lorne on Angel? If anybody who has succeeded in reading this far is interested in the points I've raised in this paragraph, these are all questions I'm addressing in my work.

As to the question asked by Matthew to Janet, I have to agree that there's just too much evidence that the characters are aware they are performing in 'Once more, with feeling' to argue the contrary. If one considers the wider corpus of analogous musical works, including operas, music drama, musicals, and music film, not to mention the research of such scholars as Carolyn Abbate [eg. Unsung voices: opera and musical narrative in the nineteenth century (Princeton, New Jersey : Princeton University Press , ca.1991)] and Edward T. Cone [eg. The composer's voice (Berkeley; London: University of California Press , 1974 ), the moments when characters are aware that they are singing (as distinct from merely singing in lieu of speaking as befits the conventions of the genres) actually constitute the exception rather than the rule. Moreover, many such moments occur in the context of characters consciously singing a song for some reason or other, whereas the cast of 'Once more, with feeling' are being forced to enact their lives in a musical, for the most part against their will. To my mind, 'Once more, with feeling' is special in this respect precisely because the cast know that they are singing, and indeed do not have much choice in the matter. This, certainly, is one place in which broader relatable context might have yielded a more substantiable conclusion (though whether that's what the reviewer was referring to is anybody's guess). I am much more receptive to Janet's idea suggested above, that 'Once more, with feeling' is significant in that the characters possess an added level of awareness that they are being made to sing; what I'm still unsure about is how this view can be reconciled with the opinion that they aren't aware they are singing. In any case, I very much look forward to reading the full version of Janet's paper in Monsters and Metaphors, where I am certain that all residual creases will be ironed out.

Anyway, I am glad that, if I understand correctly from Vanessa's response above, she doesn't feel that my question struck at the heart of her paper; I certainly don't feel it took anything away from what she'd said. But I really felt that a reference to Julie Brown's article would have enriched and strengthened the work of both Vanessa and Janet. With respect to music for television, Brown brings to fruition the same sort of points: the fact that some of the shows' characters sing whereas others do not, the correspondence of the lyrics of soundtrack songs to the on-screen action, the blurring of the boundaries between diegetic and non-diegetic, etc. Incidentally, it strikes me that the latter point represented common ground around which the two papers crystallised, and that they were therefore not as disparate as the reviewer has suggested. (These days, I don't think that "diegetic" and "non-diegetic" are considered to be mutually exclusive or antithetical, and as the aforementioned example of Hagen demonstrates, this has not been the case for quite some time; but that is a minor point.) As to my own paper and Matthew's, though there are several points of intersection, our papers essentially revolve around critical exploration of leitmotif in television underscore, myself from the hermeneutical perspective and Matthew from the theoretical. I don't feel that we really made this point explicit enough, and certainly the reviewer seems to have failed to recognise this connection. On the subject of our work, the news on my own website (copied to this one) about our longer-term plans for a book was written in June/July 2002, before the Buffy conference had taken place. Our interest lies primarily at the musicology end rather than the Buffy studies end (that isn't a qualitative judgement, merely that our interest lies in researching television underscore and not just in one specific show), the current plan is to publish a series of articles, as well as finding Buffy-specific outlets such as the conference (for which the theoretical portion of our papers was largely cut), before bringing out the whole. Watch this space, as they say!

I have, of course, much more I could write on the fascinating topic of Buffy music/ology (to coin a new discipline) but I suspect that such discussion is best not prolonged here, as I am certain that I have already overstayed my proverbial welcome. (If anybody wishes to continue conversing off-list, as it were, my contact details are available on my own website.) May I end by saying that I did enjoy meeting Janet and Vanessa (and many other truly interesting people) at the conference and listening to their papers, and that I wish them well for their future projects. On which note, I spotted late [December 2002] on the Slayage website [http://www.slayage.tv] that Vanessa has teamed up with a musicologist to edit a volume on sound/music/silence in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. The topic is indeed fertile ground. I do look forward to reading the finished product.

Best wishes,
Chris Wiley

Christopher M. Wiley BA(Oxon) MMus(Sur) LTCL
PhD Candidate and Teaching Assistant
Royal Holloway, University of London


Bluntinstrument/Ian's remarks 2003.02.05

1. The texts above have been added with the permission of the authors. 2. Any square brackets encase a few perhaps helpful pointers to readers not aware of some points in the discussion; Now referring to Chris Wiley's text: 3. Re: 'I quite like Cher's "Believe"' - Bluntinstrument reserves the right to volunteer an exclamation of amusement.; 4. Re: '59 shots of the Danse macabre scene' - I am sure anyone present would be fascinated to know how this scene was analysed. Perhaps Chris might manage a timed 'commentary track' in the style of many DVD's which might be played along with the scene by those interested. An interesting alternative to cartoon-like time-line charts and description-heavy essays; 5. 'I, for entirely different reasons, found Vanessa's use of them justifiable, given the relationship between television and film (for which, see my forthcoming research)' - Buffy is of course often trumpeted by fans as a television series with the quality (if not the production costs) of a film, although Angel is arguably the more cinematic, and the interest lies mainly in how the composer addresses (among other features) the dichotomy between the brevity of a single television episode with the marathon of a 22 episode series. However, the basic conscious and unconscious musicality of the audience remains the same, so film and television are able to plunder similar techniques in different ways. One important nugget is that in television series the composer is often as in the dark on future developments as the actors (and this is very much the case in both Buffy and Angel) and so the kind of long-term planning which one might expect to carefully draw out leitmotifs for example is very much dependent upon the musicality (and communication with the composer) of the shows' creators and upon the instinctive foresight of the composer. It is most unfortunate that the seventh season of Buffy is in far more musical turmoil than the second. So far no fewer than three composers have been engaged.

Response from Dr Knights, 2003.03.31

Apologies for the delay in replying as I was in San Juan, Puerto Rico, researching in various popular music archives for the last three months. Many thanks to Chris for his extremely detailed and thoughtful response which opens up myriad fruitful avenues for discussion.

As for the reference to Kathy Newman, it came at the end of a list of contrasting mainstream and indie bands (the latter being identified with various 'Scoobies'). I didn't quote Dechert verbatim e.g. I made no mention of Kathy not being a typical 'co-ed'. In fact, as Chris points out, she seems fairly typical at first. The point I was making was that she did not fit in with the main characters and that 'manufactured pop' is coded as crass at various points in the show. I'm not sure that I agree about the suspense being kept up as to Kathy's demon origins. This seems like a fairly typical season opening where Buffy's friends come down on her and do not trust her Slayer judgement. Whilst I am perfectly aware that Dechert refers to the same episode (and in a written piece would footnote her article), I do not think it necessary to refer to previous authors when making a point that is fairly obvious to any regular viewer of the show. And yes I did cut a section referring to Dechert in the introduction I gave due to shortness of time following the technical problems faced by Janet Halfyard.
As for my use of Kassabian's framework, I did not actually state that the terms 'source music', 'source scoring' and 'dramatic scoring' originate in her work. I am quite aware that they come from film music as referenced in Chris's response. The framework I was actually using was:

music, dialogue and narrative /commentary
music, silence, mood and affective association
music and characterisation
music and affiliating/assimilating identification processes

The latter is the key contribution of Kassabian to the study of film and in discussion with her she has confirmed her feelings that this framework could be productively transferred to the study of music in television. Unfortunately due to constraints of time I was unable to develop this point and only signal it as a key area for future detailed analysis. If I didn't mention Kassabian's background in television music in the discussion session it was due to tiredness which tends to kick in at the end of a conference day. (Unfortunately exacerbated by the cytotoxic drugs I take to control an auto-immune condition.)
I would agree with Chris in not categorising my piece as a paper but as a presentation perhaps. It was very much intended to be given to a general audience, was devised as a spoken piece and obviously it does not correspond to written work. Whilst some in the audience may have felt patronised by listening to something they could have delivered, again as Chris points out they didn't, and therein lies my reasoning behind giving a very general overview to suggest how those who made musical points tangentially in papers elsewhere might make more reference to it when studying for example characterisation. Within television studies music has suffered from the perceived invisibility also noted in early film studies. Whilst this has been corrected to a large extent in the study of film (although more so in relation to scores than the use of songs/compiled soundtracks), there is still very little out there on television music. Also I feel that it is important to allow people to talk across the disciplines without fear of being shot down for using inappropriate vocabulary or not possessing the correct critical jargon to allow for more holistic work to be done. This is a point that was discussed at large during the popular music and film conference I co-organised at the University of Newcastle in November 2000.

My interest in Buffy stems not only from its originality with respect to certain musical features but also the way in which it exemplifies many of the techniques used elsewhere with high quality. (I can't comment on Season 7 as I have not seen all of it yet). Also as I stated at the beginning of the paper (in common with McBeal, Xena and other shows such as South Park) the show is partly sold on its music with accompanying CDs and other tie-ins, the episodes which are most striking in their use of music are those most constantly referenced in cult TV press and from the amount of fansites dedicated to music it is obviously a key point of audience identification.

The pertinent questions Chris poses about comparisons with McBeal and other television shows (the musical episodes of Xena and Hercules spring to mind within genre TV) and film are also issues that I propose to address along with Paul Attinello in the edited volume referred to above. The approach is deliberately interdisciplinary and has attracted a wide range of international scholars. I hope that it will complement Chris and Matthew's work on underscores to enrich the study of television music as a whole.

Dr Vanessa Knights
Lecturer in Spanish and Latin American Studies
University of Newcastle upon Tyne


Feedback to any of the text here should ideally come to the_englishman@lineone.net, with either "beck" or "buffy" somewhere in the header. The webmaster invites further response, particularly from other speakers and visitors at the conference. E-mail addresses have not been included but may be provided via the webmaster with the authors' approval