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Abstract

This dissertation explores the persistence of Romanticism in contemporary soundtracks and easy listening. Drawing from a transnational archive of recent music for films and TV shows as well as acoustic instrumental genres marketed as classical, ambient, and New Age, the dissertation traces the emergence of a musical and affective “really long nineteenth century” in global musical atmospheres. In my examples, the drawn-out collective attachments to historic Western genres and styles are accompanied by suppressed moods and soft and slow atmospheres. What is historical and ongoing also registers alongside a pervasive sense of melancholy, of impasse, and of affective and political-economic recession, etc. The dissertation thus listens for inarticulate but musical knowledges of what it’s like to live on in the present as a situation of belatedness and loss. While holding out for something other than the ongoing, the familiar, and the romantic, the dissertation makes a case for attuning to the remnant genres, styles, and fantasies that open up to a shared, if melancholic, here and now. Chapter 1 considers how the romantic-style soundtrack of Cloud Atlas (2012) underscores the film’s cosmopolitan totality and emerges within the plot as the privileged affective vehicle and infrastructure for the film’s ambivalently affirmative and structurally-melancholic liberal cosmopolitics. Chapter 2 turns to the piano music of globally-successful New Age artist Yiruma and traces Koreanness as it simultaneously emerges and disappears through colonial and post-colonial mimicry in music, language, and space. Chapter 3 listens for the entwined melancholy strains of recent minimalist soundtracks and the music of Franz Schubert; in and around their repetitions and allusions, the chapter traces a collective art of dysthymic persistence.

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