Musical Representation in Documentaries: An Argument for Serialism as the
Representative Music of the Transatlantic Modernist Poets

Levi Walls, University of North Texas

In Michael Rabiger's landmark 1987 work, Directing the Documentary, the eminent documentarian states that the "choice of music should give access to the inner life of... the subject," namely by reflecting their overall aesthetic views. In documentaries on transatlantic modernist poets, the chosen soundtracks have fallen short of this purpose. The aesthetics of the transatlantic modernists were based on qualities like dissonance of language, economic use of resources, and brutal honesty; yet, documentarians have traditionally chosen to represent these poets using classical music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as jazz and Coplandesque Americana. In order to address this aesthetic disparity, I will show that serialism best represents the credos and aesthetic beliefs of the transatlantic modernists. Through my comparison of these two artistic movements, I will emphasize the importance of interdisciplinary knowledge for scholars, while also underscoring the central role of music in depicting documentary subjects.