From Stage to Screen: A Musical Transformation

I sat in the Packard Lobby on a surprisingly comfortable blue couch that wasn’t really a couch because it lacked certain aspects of a couch such as arm-rests and a backrest, but I digress.  The reason I sat upon this not-a-couch was because we, the students, had been tasked to go and find a place to sit and record the sounds of our surroundings.  I looked to my left and noticed that my not-a-couch was covered in dog hair.  I was getting distracted, again.  I reeled my wandering eyes and thoughts in, and shut everything down except my ears– a dangerous move on the first Monday of a block.

Silence wasn’t silence at all.  I heard the fans of the ventilation, the footsteps of humans walk up the stairs to my left, the cracking of the plexiglass tunnel across the room from me.  The cracking of the plexiglass as it heated under the rays of the sun reminded me of the first time I entered Packard this fall as a brand-new first-year student: It was dark, I was going to band, and I was 100% sure the glass was going to immediately shatter and fall on me after hearing it pop and crack for the first time. I remembered the emotions of my new-to-college-self: fear, trepidation, hope, excitement and above all, wonder.

Curses! I was off topic again… Or was I?  I paused to think for a minute.  Was this what was supposed to happen?  Was I supposed to sit here and let the sounds trigger memories?  If the popping sound of plexiglass was enough to get me to lose myself in memory, what could music do?  What does this have to do with music in film?!


It turns out that one cannot simply dive straight into the complex transformation of music as it passes through different media.

As a class, we started by reading some incredibly dense material entitled Emotions Expressed And Aroused by Music by Stephen Davies, which comes from the succinctly named The Handbook of Music and Emotion: Theory, Research, Applications which discusses how a non-sentient thing (for lack of a better term) such as music can cause emotional reactions in listeners.  It was laborious reading, but the subject material fascinates me.  I never appropriately wondered why I listened to songs that made me feel sad.  Why would I want to feel sad? How does the music make me sad?  Would the song make me feel differently if I were to encounter it in a different context, such as in a movie?

Lo and behold, we discussed my final question today in class!

Last night we were tasked to listen to “Caught in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel.  In case you are unfamiliar with the song, it was written in 1972 and is by my description “a song you can listen to whilst driving an old red pickup truck along a dirt road on a clear day in Iowa.”

But today, the song was in the movie Reservoir Dogs and was not used in a carefree, “cruisin” application.  Instead the sing is played during a gruesome torture scene by Mr. Blond– a character in the movie– as he mutilated a cop with disturbing glee.

The image the song conjures in my head is no longer of a red truck, but that of a psychopath torturing a young cop.  The transformation of my interpretation of the song depending on its setting is extremely interesting, and I am interested to see where we go next.

Tomorrow, we are watching Fantasia. Oh yeah, I’m excited.


Bryan Harding