The Singing Voice used to evoke unease, discomfort and violence

Mark Thorley, L. Giuffre

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

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Music’s place in evoking, creating and managing a range of audience responses in cinema has been widely explored (Chion 1994, Lannin and Calley 2005, Sonnenschien 2001). Often such film music includes the singing voice, though its place as a key film music feature remains significantly underexplored, focused almost exclusively on the genre of the film musical. This is particularly surprising given that music discourse has long acknowledged that ‘the vocal line of most songs is the focal point that carries the weight of musical expression’ (Moylan 2002:46). In cinema, the voice has also been acknowledged as a key marker, and evoker, of dramatic expression (Chion, 1999). This chapter explores the role of the singing voice in performance on screen as it is used to in evoke unease, discomfort and even violence. Using key examples of the singing performance across genres, the chapter explores how the singing voice can create a dissonance in the context of the film and character broadly. We argue that the singing voice can be key to a film performance even if it is not apparently coming directly from the character onscreen –the use of non-diegetic singing can become motivator, marker and enabler of dramatic action. Given the relatively little attention that the singing voice has had beyond the musical spectacle and performances of pleasantness, in this chapter we propose two types of crosspurpose and cross-genre singing voice performances that identify connections between the singing voice and feelings of unease or violence; the use of individual singing voices and their relationship to control; and the use of communal singing and its relationship to competition and power. We use chosen case study examples which are particularly well known for their depiction of violence or unease, but revisit them to demonstrate the role the singing voice places in creating this effect.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Singing Voice in Contemporary Cinema
EditorsDiane Hughes, Mark Evans
Place of PublicationSheffield
ISBN (Electronic)9781781797389
ISBN (Print)9781781794456, 9781781791127
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • Singing
  • Violence
  • Cinema
  • Film Sound
  • film and media
  • Voice in cinema
  • sound effects
  • Vocal performance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Music
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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