Twisted Tones and Jumbled Styles: Musical Humor in Hong Kong Mo Lei Tau Movies.
University of Illinois Chicago
Mo lei tau (無厘頭), roughly translated as “nonsensical,” is a signature comedic style of the Hong Kong entertainment industry around the 90s. The identifying markers of mo lei tau include excessive cultural references, non-sequitur logic, and exaggerated delivery. Music in these movies elevates the comedy by exploring the lexical tones of the Cantonese language and by mixing the Eastern and Western references familiar to colonial Hong Kongers. This paper investigates these previously underexplored comedic strategies in two case studies, “Only You” from A Chinese Odyssey II: Cinderella (西遊記II之仙履奇緣) and “BBQ Wings” (燒雞翼) from Flirting Scholars (唐伯虎點秋香). I scrutinize (1) how the speech tones of the Cantonese lyrics conflict with the contour of the already-existing melodies, (2) how serious scenes are juxtaposed with lowbrow comedies, and (3) how contrasting stylistic features such as those in pop/rock, Cantopop, and Cantonese opera are parodied in the same musical number to defy audiences’ expectations and solicit laughter.
Building on Aaron Carter-Ényì and Quintina Carter-Ényì’s study on text settings in the tone language, Ìgbò (2020), and Noriko Manabe’s work on the phonetic play in Japanese musical parodies (2022), my paper introduces Cantonese specific strategies in appreciating mo lei tau movie music. I show how the absurd eclecticism reflects what the film scholar Victor Fan calls the extraterritorial position of Hong Kong movies and how such nonsensicalness creates a shared space among colonial Hong Kongers in the 90s to express and negotiate their complicated cultural identities.
Vanishing Variations: Motivic Uniqueness as a Signifier of Prize Value on "The Price Is Right"
University of Delaware
A single episode of The Price Is Right can feature upwards of twenty prizes, and, ranging from breakfast cereal to luxury cars, the variety is astounding. Equally diverse is the array of short musical works, called cues, that accompany the unveiling of these prizes; some of them exhibit a strong connection to the show’s theme song, while others sound newly composed. I argue that, in the first two decades of The Price Is Right, a given cue’s motivic distance from the theme song has a direct positive relationship to the value of the prize that it accompanies. I categorized each of approximately one hundred musical cues, taken from a sample of shows airing in 1984, according to the degree to which they preserve or reference five motives present in the theme song; then, I compared that information to the value of the prize that it accompanies. Grocery items, which typically go for ten dollars or less, show the highest degree of musical similarity to the theme song, with several cues incorporating three, four, or even all five motives. Music for moderately priced items, such as a washer/dryer combination worth $1,020, tends to include two or three of the theme song’s motives. The highest-value prize packages, such as cars and showcases, use music that is the most motivically distant, often displaying none or one of the five identified characteristics of the theme song. With the theme song at its core, the world of prize cues for The Price Is Right is vast but ordered. Each cue can have any number of degrees of motivic distance from the theme song, and that distance is used to signal prize value: the more different the cue sounds, the more expensive, exotic, or extraordinary the prize—yet another layer of game show excitement.
A Corpus of Corpses: Murder and Modernism in the Crime Films of Max Steiner
Brigham Young University
It is commonly observed that the Classic Hollywood style owes a debt to late Romanticism for its tonal language. However, David Neumeyer and others have noted that this “supposedly late romantic musical style” is far more eclectic in nature, incorporating a variety of styles to suit the genre and the dramatic situation. The genre of the crime film, for instance, often demands a more dissonant and modern musical style. This corpus study examines 112 scenes involving murder or violent death in 38 films in the crime genre. All have music by Max Steiner, spanning the time period from Thirteen Women in 1932 to The FBI Story in 1959. In order to examine harmonic content in detail, Steiner’s own original sketches have been used.
The study finds that scenes involving murder and violent death were far more likely to feature tone clusters, polychords, whole-tone chords, quartal chords, and other sonorities best analyzed using pitch class sets. Other common compositional features include unstable tonality, chromatic parallelism, dissonant basses, complex layering, ostinati, tritone oscillation, fragmentation, and the use of non-diatonic collections. At least two-thirds of the scenes in the corpus used some of these modern techniques. In connection with these findings, I examine how the nature of the death (murder, suicide, accident, etc.) and the type of character dying (hero, villain, innocent bystander, etc.) affects the compositional handling of the scene and the way in which leitmotifs might be transformed in response to that character’s death.