Music as Movement: Conceptualizing Sign Language Music
Assistant Professor of Music Theory, University of Iowa
For Western music theory, which is so practiced at engaging with musical sound, songs created in sign languages pose considerable challenges to our assumptions about music. Crucially, if music can exist without sound, then what is music? In answering this question, this presentation places sign language music, and specifically Deaf music, at the center of music-theoretical inquiry. In doing so, I come to define music as organized movement. This means that sign language music, rather than being peripheral or extraneous to histories and theories of music, is in fact central and crucial to our understanding of all musical expression. In centering signed music, I engage with the following questions: what makes sign language music musical? What parameters of sign language music are available for analysts to discuss and interpret? How do these parameters interact to form a meaningful musical experience? And what can sign language music tell us about how Deaf and hearing people understand the musical aspects of physical gestures? My presentation answers these questions through analyzing voice, rhythm, and melody in a selection of signed pieces, and through a detailed case study of Rosa Lee Timm’s “River Song.”
About Anabel Maler
Anabel Maler is an Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Iowa. She received her PhD from the University of Chicago in 2018, where she completed a dissertation titled “Hearing Form in Post-Tonal Music.” Her book project, Seeing Voices: Analyzing Sign Language Music, is the first monograph-length analytical study of sign language music (forthcoming with Oxford University Press). Her work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Arts and Humanities Initiative, theObermann Center, and the Center for Gesture, Sign, and Language. Her research on sign language, Deafness, disability, and music has appeared in Music Theory Online, Music Perception, the Journal of the Society for American Music, and the Oxford Handbook of Music and Disability Studies. Her coauthored publication “Rhythmic Techniques in Deaf Hip Hop” received the 2021 Adam Krims Award. Her work on post-tonal formal function has also appeared in the journal Intégral. She has presented her research at numerous regional, national, and international conferences on music theory and analysis, musicology, and Disability Studies. She previously taught at Indiana University.