Semiotic Snowballing (Brevis) #occupycomps

Posted February 3, 2015 @ 8:30am | by Tripp

My hope for this essay is to demonstrate through ethnography and semiotic theory how one might begin to articulate in a Christian context what ethnomusicologist Guy Beck calls "sonic theology" in his book, Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Sound published in 1993. Relatedly, in her book, The Sonic Self published in 2000, Naomi Cumming explores listening in the development of a semiotic understanding of “listening as an act of love.” Also, Thomas Turino’s concept of “semantic snowballing” serves as a great tool for understanding how a single musical unit such as the hymn “Blest Be The Tie That Binds” might symbolize various and even competing meanings simultaneously and over time. Finally, I will begin a rudimentary sketch of Christian sonic theology utilizing Augustine’s theology of the Trinity as multifaceted loving. 

Before you get too excited, this first (of three) essays is just barely coming together. I still love this paragraph, though. The prose could be better - more engaging - but the ideas are there. There has been a surprising consistency in my work over the last few years. I'm astonished, truth be told.

I gave up two hours of working time this morning to sleep. I thought I would get up at 4:30 and start tapping away. Instead, I lingered and dozed. The earlier hour just hurt too much. So, here I sit. Blogging. Processing, really...thinking into the Great Stream that is the internet.

I must slow down and focus. The vortex that is social media like Facebookistan is too much a barrage of content for me to focus like I need to. So, let's dial back on the bandwidth there. I have so little to spare in the first place.

Back to this paragraph to your right. This is the kernel of it, really. This is my work. I use phrases like "eschatological musicking" to get at these same ideas. There are several paths that can get you here. Semiotics. Perichoresis. Ethnography. Polyvalence. Hell, Dave Grohl is a fucking genius about how music functions in society. Don't let the profanity and flannel fool you. And if he is not convincing, read Questlove

The prevailing mistake that I find again and again, and that I find it again and again in troubling, is the notion that of all the rich symbols employed in liturgical life, we insit that music is somehow the most clear communicator of them all. It is certainly a direct communicator, but is it clear? Of course not. And yet, we keep at this systemetizing of music through markets or forms (like Gregorian chant, CCM, hymnody, Gospel, or Taize). If we find that one way to communicate the truth of the Gospel musically, we'll tame this thing called "music." We'll rein it in in some way. 

I say bollocks! Embrace the complexity. Let the snowballing come. Bring All The Things. 

But first, I need to write. 


Sound itself is a theological language. Word, song, instrumentation, and ritual movement all provide layers of theological meaning. In focusing my future study on the sound specifically I propose that we will there discover another potent vehicle for encounter of the mysterium of God that can carry the varying and competing experiences of individuals and communities in a dynamic system of creation and reception where sound is a principal tool for embodying our fullest selves. Listening, passion, intimacy, our bodies and our communities, all of these are components of religious ritual performance and communal meaning making.

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