Author Archives: Martin Irvine

About Martin Irvine

Martin Irvine is a professor at Georgetown University and the Founding Director of Georgetown's graduate program in Communication, Culture & Technology. He is interested in a wide range of interdisciplinary topics, including media theory, semiotics, cognitive science approaches to language and symbolic culture, computation and the Internet/Web, philosophy and intellectual history, art theory, contemporary music, vintage guitars, and all things post-postmodern.

Hybridity, Dialogism, Combinatoriality: Review with Bjork and Sigur Ros

All the genres of contemporary music (as a mediasphere or meaning system) provide examples of the generative processes of dialogism, re-combination, and hybrid form that we have been studying.

What we’ve uncovered so far:

  • Dialogism and open combinatoriality are the dynamic meaning and expression processes.
  • The combinatorial and dialogic structure enables infinite expression through finite means in meaning structures that function as “second-order” languages with their own codes and encyclopedic frames of meaning and use.
  • Dialogism and combinatoriality work within genres and across genres in larger cultural frameworks that define what is combinable and remixable.
  • Genres form abstract systems for interpretation and implementation in new compositions and expressions. Genres and musical forms with genres (styles, instrumentation, rhythms, etc.) provide codes, properties, and abstract structures that can be implemented or expressed in multiple ways, styles, tones, sounds.
  • Cultural genres are produced and received in institutional frameworks (both high and popular cultures) that specify the means of production and distribution, marketing categories and demographics of markets, but artists and musicians are continually crossing genre and institutional boundaries to create new hybrids.


Cases: Bjork and Sigur Ros

Examples of hybrid form and institutional contexts: music and video interpreted within the “art” category, and the popular culture category of “alternative rock” or “alternative music”.

Note the status of video producer Andrew Thomas Huang and his video of Bjork’s work commissioned by the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA):

Sigur Ros and Contemporary Music Performance

We say music is a medium? How? We do not experience “music” in the abstract, but genres and types of music in multiple symbolic and expressive forms.

Sometimes music that seems hors categorie (outside/beyond categorization) from its reception position (“alternative rock” or, rarely, “avant garde”). Music produced and received within the rock/popular music context finds a semiotic array of types, and an “art” rock category (genre blending, use of classical instruments, jazz fusion, etc.) with all the category slice-and-dicing since electronica, gives us bands and production as far back as Frank Zappa, the late Beatles, Pink Floyd, on to Brian Eno, Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, and the post-electronic diaspora channeled through German, British, American, and Scandinavian “alternative” forms. A main differentiator would seem to be no underlying dance beat music, no obligatory 120-150 bpm from a drum machine. Add Stockhausen, Philip Glass, John Cage to the interpretive mix.

Introducing globalization and convergence

Here’s a sample weekly discussion page.

The topics this week–globalization theory, media/technology convergence, and the network society–are closely interconnected, and are best understood in a macro-level overview first. You can then pursue these fields further as you develop your interests. Each topic now has an overwhelming bibliography of published research in many subdisciplines, which makes a top-level orientation difficult, but very necessary at the beginning.