Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Wilson, Imogen. “Music and Queered Temporality in Slave Play.” Current Musicology 106 (July 2020): 9-27.

Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play, an exploration of the inherited trauma from slavery in contemporary America, uses popular music to communicate nonverbally its characters’ psychological perspective on their temporal experience. The choice of borrowed pop songs, their use within the play’s narrative, and characters’ intersectional black and queer identities all contribute to the play’s queer temporality, disrupting linear time and dramatizing the lingering trauma of history. The play, drawn in part from Harris’s experience as a black queer man, is about three interracial couples engaging in “Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy,” an experimental treatment for the three black characters’ obsessive-compulsive disorder. The OCD patients all share the symptom of musical hallucinations, which are heard as metadiegetic music shared between certain (but not all) characters and the audience. For example, Kaneisha’s auditory hallucination is Rihanna’s Work, which first appears with Kaneisha singing and dancing along to it in an antebellum home and costume. In addition to this juxtaposition of time and place, Work reveals other dramatic themes: it lyrically presents the theme of labor, it endears Kaneisha to the audience, it creates a counterpoint to the play’s action, and it foregrounds the experience of being trapped in an unending cycle. Gary’s hallucination is Multi-Love by Unknown Mortal Orchestra, which is featured prominently in a dream ballet where he works through his sexual hang-ups with his husband. Both musical hallucinations deal with issues of queer temporality, disrupting the linear, objective time of the play and emphasizing the characters’ interconnected lived times. The musical hallucinations are deeply embedded in the characters’ internal lives as well as in the audience’s impression of the play as a way to connect with and remember their traumas.

Works: Jeremy O. Harris: Slave Play (9-24)

Sources: Jahron Brathwaite, Matthew Samuels, Allen Ritter, Rubert Thomas Jr., Aubrey Graham, Robyn Fenty, and Monte Moir (songwriters), Rihanna (performer): Work (9-21); Roban Nielson and Kody Nielson (songwriters), Unknown Mortal Orchestra (performer): Multi-Love (21-24)

Index Classifications: 2000s, Popular

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
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