(Un)labeled and (Un)signed

Let us explore what semiology is made of and see how we can connect these conclusions to music.

Semiology is broken into the signifier, the signified, and the sign. Roland Barthes describes their relationship in his essay “Myth Today”:

“For what we grasp is not at all one term after the other, but the correlation which unites them: there are, therefore, the signifier, the signified, and the sign, which is the associative total of the first two terms”.

The example Barthes uses is a bouquet of roses (signifier) conveying passion (signified) with the sign being the “associative total” of the roses and passion.

What adds another layer to this semiotic relationship is how the signifier and signified work to create a sign. If there are multiple signifieds for a signifier, a sign does not reveal itself. Put one signified in, however, and a sign arises.

Barthes makes note of this with an example: “…take a black pebble: I can make it signify in several ways, it is a mere signifier; but if I weigh it with a definite signified (a death sentence, for instance, in an anonymous vote), it will become a sign”.

Generally, musicians are not ones to label their music. They often defy such a prospect openly. If labeling were to happen semiotically speaking, the signifier would have one signified. A sign, then, would be present. Is this push to defy categorization a push against one’s music becoming a sign?

That would imply that a sign carries negative connotations; as if signs are used to propagate the profit of record executives. But are signs used exclusively for financial and marketing situations?

A band could signify a particular thought process that coincides with a scene of musical people that also signify the same thing. It opens happens vice versa as well. The sign works in a communal way, bringing like minded semiotic systems together.

And yet was not that what happened with the previous example? Even if it is under the guise of big business, at its base is the same musical-cultural semiotic event.

Nevertheless, music can and does have multiple interpretations. Does that mean that there is less of a sign? Maybe a music can exist as many signs because people settle with different signifieds for the same signifier. That would imply everyone is hearing the signified in the same way. Are we really?

This, along with semiology in general, begs to be explored.


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