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Palgrave Macmillan

Identifying and Interpreting Incongruent Film Music

  • Book
  • © 2018


  • Expands the definition of incongruent film music by taking a nuanced look at how difference between a film’s images, narrative and music can contribute to perceived meaning
  • Combines psychological research and other subject perspectives (including semiotic and poststructuralist theory), with more traditional approaches from film music studies
  • Identifies additional types of incongruent film music to those traditionally discussed, for example, film-music mismatches of a more philosophical and conceptual nature rather than just those that rely on emotional difference between sound and image

Part of the book series: Palgrave Studies in Audio-Visual Culture (PSAVC)

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About this book

This book explores the concept of incongruent film music, challenging the idea that this label only describes music that is inappropriate or misfitting for a film’s images and narrative. Defining incongruence as a lack of shared properties in the audiovisual relationship, this study examines various types of incongruence between a film and its music and considers the active role that it can play in the construction of a film’s meaning and influencing audience response. Synthesising findings from research in the psychology of music in multimedia, as well as from ideas sourced in semiotics, film music, and poststructuralist theory, this interdisciplinary book provides a holistic perspective that reflects the complexity of moments of film-music incongruence. With case studies including well-known films such as Gladiator and The Shawshank Redemption, this book combines scene analysis and empirical audience reception tests to emphasise the subjectivity, context-dependency, and multi-dimensionality inherent in identifying and interpreting incongruent film music.  

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Table of contents (9 chapters)

  1. Identifying Incongruence

  2. Interpreting Incongruence


  “David Ireland’s book is ‘cutting edge’ scholarship in the best sense of the term. It takes a deceptively simple question—what is incongruent film music?—and examines it from varied disciplinary perspectives using an impressive range of analytical tools.  With its ambitious synthesis of film theory, empirical research, and close reading, Ireland’s approach not only displays methodological sophistication, but also offers a pathbreaking model for future humanistic inquiry.  I recommend it highly!” (Jeff Smith, Professor of Film, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA)“David Ireland's book takes the reader on an engaging and enlightening exploration of the concept of congruence, a term that permeates theoretical and empirical discussions of film music, but has rarely been critically examined. Ireland approaches the topic with astonishing breadth—bridging film music studies and music psychology with the meticulous scholarship and clarity that will appeal to readers across multipledisciplines. This book should have a far-reaching influence on the study of film music.” (Siu-Lan Tan, James A. B. Stone Professor of Psychology, Kalamazoo College, USA)

“David Ireland has tackled a difficult problem in film-music studies by carefully collating and coordinating a variety of approaches that have often themselves been considered ‘incongruent’ in the past. The result is not only a great success but also has broader implications for film-music analysis and interpretation.” (David Neumeyer, Professor Emeritus of Music Theory, The University of Texas at Austin, USA)


Authors and Affiliations

  • School of Music, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

    David Ireland

About the author

David Ireland is Lecturer in music psychology at the University of Leeds, UK. He has previously published on incongruent film music in the interdisciplinary Constructing Crime collection (2012), as well as The Soundtrack and Music and the Moving Image journals. 

Bibliographic Information

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