Help a workaholic have a productive break.
November 1, 2009 11:15 AM   Subscribe

I am working on a PhD in music theory and cognition. I hate wasting time, but sometimes my brain needs a break from reading/writing/listening/analyzing. Help me create a list of films and documentaries that relate in some way to my field so that I can stare at a screen sometimes and still feel like I'm feeding my unquenchable desire to learn about music and mind.

Some specific topics that are germane to my research:

emotion and meaning
compositional practice
cognitive science

I'm interested both in documentaries that address these (or related) issues directly and in films that address them in their own sundry ways.

I mostly work on Western Art Music (ugh I hate that name), but I'm into a little bit of everything, so go crazy. I know there are tons of films and documentaries about popular musicians, so unless there's one that's extra, extra good, those are probably not quite what I'm looking for.

If I can watch on the internet, that's extra plus good, but that's no big deal. Thanks a bunch!
posted by nosila to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add psychology and narrative to that list.
posted by nosila at 11:20 AM on November 1, 2009

Oliver Sacks on Musicophilia. I got to see this talk in person, and he is both highly informative (relevant to your field, especially) and funny. Well worth listening to / watching. There is a long-ish introduction at the beginning, but he starts talking at minute 6:35.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:31 AM on November 1, 2009

A beautiful film that might resonate emotionally is Kieslowski's Blue, about a grieving composer's wife. The use of music in the plot/score is very interestingly and compellingly done.
posted by xo at 11:42 AM on November 1, 2009

Sans Soleil

trust me.
posted by past at 12:29 PM on November 1, 2009

Touch the Sound--a doc about Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie, a brilliant musician who is deaf.

posted by Janey Complainy at 12:38 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend the documentary Genghis Blues, about a blind San Francisco musician who discovers the art of Tuvan throat-singing, and goes on a pilgrimage to Tuva. It sounds clinical and dull, but it's very emotional. The music is wondrous also.
posted by stennieville at 1:00 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I love 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould because you can watch snippets at a time, stop/start anywhere and not have to commit to a full-on break.

One scene that comes to mind is a maid who comes in and listens to him practicing in his hotel room- there's a layering of you, the maid, and Glenn having completely different experiences of the same source. There's a variety of music in the film too- really makes you think about how every incidental person in the movie comprehends the music in their own way. Also, Colm Feore is great in this movie.

Touch the Sound is fantastic.
posted by variella at 1:09 PM on November 1, 2009

I second Genghis Blues. Watching someone trying to learn the ways of a very different musical tradition is a great way to watch the effects of cultural training on musical perception play out.

As a fellow theory student, I've also spent a long time hating myself every time I use the phrase "art music." I'm sure you've heard it before, but I recently started saying "concert music" instead. It's equally meaningless if you think about it too hard, but I feel like it avoids the implicit value judgment that makes "art music" an uncomfortable term.
posted by invitapriore at 4:22 PM on November 1, 2009

If there were one recent documentary about a composer that I would recommend, it would be this one. It might be only tangentially related to your research, but the music is so extraordinary and the story of his life is so remarkable that it's worth watching anyway. I just noticed that you're in Montreal, so you may well know all about Vivier but just in case, here it is.
posted by ob at 4:48 PM on November 1, 2009

Response by poster: invitapriore: At the risk of being too chatty, I always call concert music/art music/classical music/whatev WAM. It lightens my thoughts about the whole thing considerably, and the unavoidable association with WHAM! cracks me up.

Concert music is definitely better than "Western aaaahhhhrt music," and I think I will start using it in situations where I am not allowed to just call it WAM. (When I am older, I will call it that anyway, and damn what anyone thinks.)

To everyone: thanks so much! I can't wait to get started on my productive spacing out! I'm not marking best answers because I think that's too much gray, and all the answers are awesome.

To anyone still reading: keep 'em coming, of course!
posted by nosila at 5:54 PM on November 1, 2009

Have you already seen Memento? (Nothing special to do with music, that I recall, but memory, cognitive science, emotion: yes.)
posted by Orinda at 6:54 PM on November 1, 2009

I loved Bernstein's Norton Lectures, when I listened to them in 1978 or thereabouts, but considering your field of study perhaps you're already familiar with them. I listened to them on LPs, but according to the above website, they're available on some form of video.
posted by angiep at 10:21 PM on November 1, 2009

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