Spectral music in Nordic Noir

Sholl, Robert (2019) Spectral music in Nordic Noir. In: Spectralisms Conference, IRCAM,, 12-14 June 2019, Paris, France. (Unpublished)

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This paper addresses spectral music in Nordic noir-style television. In particular it examines the way composers have sought to use spectral sounds as a reservoir to support televisual narrative, suture a sense of viewer embodiment and to help create a sense of situated emotional trauma and geographical placing. Study of this genre is in its infancy despite its popularity and general studies by Barry Forshaw (2013), and Kim Toft Hansen and Anne Marit Waade (2017). Gunhild Agger has examined climate, mentality and landscape as features of the genre (Agger 2016); Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen has begun to expose the cultural portability of the concept and its popularity in the UK (Stougaard-Nielsen, 2016). Anne Marit Waade briefly extends the notion of melancholy to music, but the discussion does not touch on any particular issues of spectral music (Waade, 2017), and Tobias Steiner has begun to look at the way in which the phenomenon can be relocated to different countries, in particular France (Steiner 2018). There is currently no work on spectralism in this television music.

This paper first addresses Nordic Noir as an idealist representation of the North, as alienation (concerned with industrialization, cold, and pain) that draws the listener towards a vicarious enjoyment and embodied experience of ‘dark’ human action (murder, torture, and abuse). The North is perceived as a common culture and as an accessible yet also alien ‘other.’ Through its ‘dark’ conceptual topoi, I argue that spectralism occupies a negative secular theological position and that this alterity becomes part of this lingua franca for this genre expressed through various emotional and physical states. Foremost amongst these is an incipient angst and trauma that lies at the heart of the criminal underworld, landscape, ethos and narrative effect of these dramas. I examine three excerpts from different television programmes, all from different countries: from the final series of the Swedish/Danish series The Bridge (Bron/Broen), from series 2 of the French series Witnesses (Les Témoins) (2017) and from series 1 of the Australian series Mystery Road (2017) to address aspects of the impact and continuation of spectralism beyond Europe, and beyond the ‘second spectral generation’. This paper also addresses themes central to the conference, in particular the role of spectral music in a sonic ecology with film, and spectralism in wider senses than addressed at the Oxford Spectralisms conference. The paper argues that through Nordic-noir television, spectralism has become a formant of a common musical culture, an essential aspect of this televisual genre, and a tool that is now used by composers and producers without reference or regard to the concept in art music, but that in fact draws out possibilities already present in this tradition.


Agger, Gungild. 2016. “Nordic Noir — Location, Identity and Emotion,” Emotions in Contemporary TV Series, Alberto N. García ed. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Digital

Forshaw, Barry, 2013. Nordic Noir. Harpenden: Pocket Classics. digital

Steiner, Tobias. 2018. “Bron/Broen, the Pilot as Space between Cultures, and
(re)negotiations of Nordic Noir.” The Scandinavian Invasion: The Nordic Noir
Phenomenon and Beyond. Richard McCulloch and William Proctor eds. Oxford: Peter Lang (forthcoming).

Stougaard-Nielsen, Jakob. 2016. “Nordic noir in the UK: The allure of accessible difference.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Culture, Vol. 8, No. 1. ok

Toft Hansen, Kim and Anne Marit Waade. 2017. Locating Nordic Noir: from beck to the bridge. London: Palgrave MacMillan. digital

Waade, Anne Marit. 2017 “Melancholy in Nordic noir: Characters, landscapes, light and music.” Critic Studies in Television: The International Journal of television studies. Vol. 12, No. 4, 380-394.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: Music > Musicology
Depositing User: Robert Sholl
Date Deposited: 18 Dec 2019 10:25
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2021 07:12
URI: https://repository.uwl.ac.uk/id/eprint/6617

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