In Sound and Society’s first meeting of the spring quarter, we welcome Florian Walch, PhD student in Music History and Theory, who will give a talk titled,

Trump’s Sound Bites: Confronting the Musical Logic of the Authoritarian Voice

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019

Logan 028 (* please note room change)

4:30 – 6:00 PM

Florian writes, “While the presidency of Donald Trump has renewed interest in Frankfurt School theories of the authoritarian personality and fascist propaganda, his voice remains under-theorized. I argue that it is not sufficient to analyze the propositional content of his utterances to grasp the spell that Trump’s voice holds over followers and resisters alike. While ellipses and copious amounts of repetition are a much-remarked-on feature of Trump’s verbal style, they are widely regarded as a flaw. Yet this is where scholars of music can uniquely contribute to the critique of Trump as a political phenomenon. My thesis is that in Trump’s voice, a specious musical logic of motivic repetition and development substitutes for logical and factual soundness.

Crucially, the deployment of register, contour and rhythm in Trump’s speech melody goes beyond the models predicted by intonational phonology, suggesting deliberation and possibly even advance rehearsal. The aestheticization of Trump’s voice as a fetish object is a cultural fact whose material preconditions demand to be critically examined – even if it forces us to reconsider our view of music as a benevolent force. Transcription into standard Western classical notation suggests an autonomous layer of musical form and semantics that is crucial to a genre in Trump’s arsenal of insults: A miniature drama where he puppets his enemies and demeans them not just with words, but also musically. The appeal of this ensemble form, where voices collide as though in a Twitter thread, to the wounded narcissist seeking to vicariously fulfill his ego demands through Trump is apparent: Acting as a conduit, Trump engages the supposed “liberal elites” held in contempt by him.

Evaluating these musical fantasies using psychoanalytical models of authoritarian identification may bridge and enrich existing conceptions of the voice, notoriously divergent between disciplines. Theodor W. Adorno once observed that “language itself, devoid of its rational significance, functions in a magical way and furthers those archaic regressions which reduce individuals to members of crowds.” In the case of the voice saturating our political moment, we may have to substitute “magical” with “musical”.”

There are no pre-circulated materials for this workshop.

Refreshments will be served.

Persons who believe they may require accommodations to participate fully in this event should contact the coordinators, Ailsa Lipscombe at or Amy Skjerseth at in advance.

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