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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Recorded-Music Technology and the Musical Genre

This article elaborates on my previous article Is Dirty Dancing a Musical?

In Dirty Dancing the characters dance to recorded music. The characters do not sing lyrics, but the recorded artists sing them.

In 1963, music is recorded on vinyl records. The movie audience sees characters put vinyl records onto a record players. When the record players are not visible, the movie audience understands that they are present. The dancing in the ballrooms at the Kellerman and Sheldrake hotels and in the staff workers' "dirty dancing" room is done to powerful record players that are not visible but must be present.

Such recorded-music technology was not commonly available before the mid-1900s. Movies such as Oklahoma, Fiddler on the Roof and The King and I could not have depicted characters placing vinyl records onto record players and dancing to the music. Musical-quality instrumental music could be provided only by orchestras, which are provided to the movie audience in three main ways:

1) The orchestra is celestial, and the characters hear the music magically. For example, in Oklahoma the characters at the rural train station sing and dance to the instrumental music of an orchestra which certainly cannot be present. The characters must hear the music.

2) The orchestra is merely on the soundtrack. For example, the Fiddler on the Roof characters in the woods are running around and singing in a woods, where an orchestra certainly cannot be present. However, their movements and singing are plausible without an orchestra. If the orchestra music were eliminated from the scene, the scene still would be believable. Therefore the audience can understand that the instrumental music is part of the movie's continual, subtle musical soundtrack, which is heard only by the movie audience.

3) The orchestra is present to play for a musical performance that is part of the movie's core story. For example, the King and I characters performing their play about Uncle Tom's Cabin must be performing with the accompaniment of an orchestra that is not seen by the movie audience but must be present.

In 1963, when the Dirty Dancing story takes place, record players of small size but good quality existed and could be incorporated into the musical genre. In the following scene, Johnny Castle lives in a rustic, poorly furnished cabin, but there he has a record player that is cheap but good enough for the scene's actions.

The record player that the "dirty dancers" use at their night parties might be just as cheap, just with better speakers.

The record players and speakers in the ballrooms of the Kellerman and Sheldrake hotels were among the best that were available to buy in 1963. Those hotels paid expensive orchestras to play for some events, but saved a lot of money by using record-playing sound systems at other events.

As the musical genre has evolved, the improved record-playing technology has been incorporated into stories that take place when such technology is available. The movie Dirty Dancing is an important milestone in this development. In 1963, the lead characters could just dance, without singing, because recorded artists were doing the singing on record players that were plausibly available to the characters.


Another development in the consciousness of movie audiences was transistor radio, which became commonly available in the 1960s. A transistor radio could provide music in a place like a bus. A movie audience might imagine, for example, that a bus passenger is playing a transistor radio in this scene from The Graduate.

Music might really be heard anywhere -- even on a bus or even in a beauty salong -- after the mid-1950s, because of transistor radios.

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