Category Archives: Week 6

The possibilities in fusion

On the Chinese New Years Eve (15th Feb.), I went to a special cornerstone event at the the Kennedy Center of Performing Art, which featured world-renowned artist and UNESCO Global Goodwill Ambassador Tan Dun.  The highlights of the night are Guan Xia’s Hundred Birds Flying Toward the Phoenix with traditional suona soloist Wenwen Liu, andTan Dun’s own Triple Concerto for Piano, Violin and Violoncello: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Tan’s works often incorporate audiovisual elements; use instruments constructed from organic materials, such as paper, water, and stone; and are often inspired by traditional Chinese theatrical and ritual performance.

As for that particular night, I was exposed to the combination of suona and the symphony orchestra. On top of that, water was also used as a source of sound in the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

My question for this would be:how a music genre would influence and shape the artists and their works and how the artists would give feedback to that genre.

What’s the possibilities and inspirations in adding alienized sound into certain music piece.

How would certain adaptation change the language of a music work?

Applying semiotic concepts to analysis of Japanese Anime

Relating to the works of Irvine assigned for this week, I want to apply semiotic concepts to analyze a Japanese Anime: Neon Genesis Evangeline and articulate my questions based on my understanding of the Anime and Irvine’s work.

The Anime tells a story happening in the near future ( in 2015 to be accurate, but it seems futuristic enough for people in the 90s), when  after a global cataclysm known as the Second Impact, teenager Shinji Ikari is summoned to the futuristic city of Tokyo-3 by his estranged father Gendo Ikari, director of the special paramilitary force Nerv. Shinji witnesses United Nation forces battling an Angel, one of a race of giant monstrous beings whose awakening was foretold by the Dead Sea Scrolls. The main plot unfolds following such background along with the companions and enemies that Shinji meets on his journey.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is acclaimed and controversial in its sudden overturn of its belligerent and patriotic first half after about its 14th episode. Its director, Hideaki Anno began to massively use flashback and montage techniques in these episodes to create a hypnotic ambiance, together with the conversation and interaction between major characters to reinforce the impression that Shinji saving the world is nearly impossible. Despair permeate through the latter half of the anime, with the last two episode even consisting of seemingly meaningless images that was compelled together to further confuse the audience. It probably has one of the most disputed yet profound ending scene in the anime history:

It seems like everyone is congratulating to Shinji on overcoming his weak and indecisive past self, yet judging from the plot trend of the second half, this most possibly means Shinji’s own delusion after merged into the sea of LCL, the final destine for every human being.

Also, the anime alludes to various concepts from religions, most notably from Bible. I think the Anime is worth discussing in terms of the generation of meaning, where the combinatoriality is most exemplified from religious idea stripped from its original text to produce new meaning in a media work and mass reaction which complexifies the media work by relating to their own personal experience and cultural background. Many interpretatives are generated in the process, and the meaning of Neon Genesis Evangelion’s dialogic nature is certain given the ambivalence of the director in expressing his idea and copious interpretations offered by the fanatic pursuers of the Anime.

Some questions:

How can Neon Genesis Evangeline be tied to the socioeconomic context of Japanese society in 90’s?

How different meanings are layered in Neon Genesis Evangeline?

How interpretatives of Neon Genesis Evangeline are collectively developed?


Martin Irvine, Introduction to Visual Semiotics

Martin Irvine, “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A Model for Generative Combinatoriality

Applying semiotics methods to analyze a song

For this week’s lab I will choose to analyze a song by Nora Jones.

She is an american singer and song writer. A friend introduced me to her music not long ago. Nora Jones is a jazz artist. She sold more than 50 million records worldwide during 2000-2009 decade. Since I don’t have a lot of knowledge of this artist and her songs, it would be great to analyse and learn how to interpret them.

As Philip Tagg suggests in his article, we spend too much time listening to music everyday, and because of that it is important to understand the semiotics, the meaning behind the music that we listen to.

Here is the link to her music video:

As Dr. Irvine suggests, we need to keep in mind how the features of musical forms work for making meaning and this makes it easier to analyse and understand a song.


Some questions to analyse the song:

What instruments can we hear?

What is the beat, tempo of the song?

What cultural, subcultural values does this music represents?

Are the melody and the lyrics in sync?

What is the feel of the song?

Are there repetitions in the melody and the lyrics?


Irvine, Martin. “Complex Artefacts: Music’s Meanings”. Presentation

Irvine, Martin. “Popular Music as a Meaning System” (Introductory essay).

Tagg, Philip.  “Introductory Notes to the Semiotics of Music.”

Ancient Chinese Music

The Ancient Chinese Music is a new music style occurred in 21st century. The characteristics of ancient Chinese music include classical and elegant lyrics, poetic words, neat and beautiful melody and multi-ethnic musical instruments. It’s totally different from the metallic feeling of rock music and heavy feeling of classical music. Ancient Chinese Music has its unique aesthetic style. The whole piece of music is more melodious and dreamy, and it seems to be back to those antique scenes in the novel.

Ancient Chinese Music initial is used as background music of some Chinese mythical game such as Chinese Paladin: Sword and Fairy, etc. Since 2013, with the rise of Internet, many original ancient Chinese music teams were formed and more and more original ancient Chinese ancient music were created.


The main instruments of Ancient Chinese Music are traditional Chinese instruments.

  1. Erhu

Erhu is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument, more specifically a spike fiddle, which may also be called a Southern Fiddle, and sometimes known in the Western world as the Chinese violin or a Chinese two-stringed fiddle.

  1. Xiao

The Xiao is a Chinese vertical end-blown flute. It is generally made of bamboo. The Xiao is a very ancient Chinese instrument usually thought to have developed from a simple end-blown flute used by the Qiang people of Southwest China in ancient period.

  1. Chinese Flute – Dizi

The dizi is a major Chinese musical instrument, and is widely used in many genres of Chinese folk music, as well as Chinese opera, and the modern Chinese orchestra. Most dizi are made of bamboo, which explains why dizi are sometimes known by simple names such as Chinese bamboo flute.

  1. Bianzhong

Bianzhong is an ancient Chinese musical instrument consisting of a set of bronze bells, played melodically. These sets of chime bells were used as polyphonic musical instruments and some of these bells have been dated at between 2,000 to 3,600 years old. They were hung in a wooden frame and struck with a mallet.

  1. Konghou

The konghou is an ancient Chinese harp. The konghou became extinct sometime in the Ming Dynasty. It has been revived in the 20th century as a double bridge harp; the modern version of the instrument does not resemble the ancient one, but its shape is similar to Western concert harps.

  1. Guqin

The Guqin is a plucked seven-string Chinese musical instrument of the zither family. It has been played since ancient times, and has traditionally been favored by scholars and literati as an instrument of great subtlety and refinement as well as being associated with the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius.

  1. Pipa

Pipa is a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument, belonging to the plucked category of instruments. Pipa is one of the most popular Chinese instruments and has been played for almost two thousand years in China.


Here is some example of Ancient Chinese Music:

  1. Initial Ancient Chinese Music

[Pure Music] Back in Fairy

This is my favorite pure ancient Chinese music which is the main background music of Chinese Paladin: Sword and Fairy 4. The instruments of this music are Flute, Erhu and Chimes.

  1. Modern Ancient Chinese Music

[Song] Resisting World

This is my favorite song sung by He Tu. The instruments of this song are Flute, Guzheng, Pipa, Piano, Electric Bass and Drums.


For the signifying features and inferable patterns of the Ancient Chinese Music, I want to use music structure to analyze it. Take the Back in Fairy as an example;

[1] sonic anaphone: The Transition from flute to rrhu is very harmonic and it embodies a kind of environment where nobody is around you and that resembles to the scene in the game.

[2] tactic anaphone: In the beginning of this pure music is a long part of solo Flute and the timbre of flute makes people feel calm and brings them unconsciously into the world of wonderland. Therefore, it is similar to the sensation of skin being wrapped by cloud and comfortable wind.

[3] kinetic anaphone: The addition of Bianzhong sounds like swords in the game and when people hear Bianzhong which is added in Erhu, it reminds people of the fight scenes in the game.

I think the development from initial ancient Chinese music into modem ancient Chinese music is to cater to the need of the society. Music must be described as well as the society. The development can be reflected in the following aspects. First, most initial ancient Chinese music is the background music of games and it doesn’t include lyrics. Second, initial ancient Chinese music is played only by ancient Chinese music instruments. However, modern ancient Chinese music combines both ancient Chinese music instruments and popular music instruments. For example, Resisting World also includes piano, electric bass and other computer synthesizers. They combine both traditional Chinese elements and modern popular music elements. Third, initial ancient Chinese music didn’t have actual albums. Some even didn’t have digital music for downloading. However, some modern ancient Chinese music has actual albums and music videos. They can be downloaded online and saved them in individuals’ phones for listening at any time.

This kind of development is related to the need of the society and market. First, most people prefer to listen to songs rather than pure music because songs have lyrics. Consequently, some fans of ancient Chinese music who are proficient in Chinese ancient literacy are specialized in writing lyrics for ancient Chinese music and remix the pure music into songs. For example, based on the plot of the game and the melody of Back in Fairy, a group of team wrote the lyrics and remixed it into the song called In One Thousand.

During the remix, that music team not only change part of the pitch and note, but also add several popular music instruments in it. In fact, although this remix is not official, it’s even more popular than the original pure music.



  1. What are the differences of intersubjective and interobjective comparison between initial ancient Chinese music and modern ancient Chinese music?
  2. What are the differences of transmitters and receivers between initial ancient Chinese music and modern ancient Chinese music?
  3. What’s the detailed roles of popular music instruments added in ancient Chinese music?
  4. What kind of technical and cultural interference is the intended message subject to in its audience in the communication channel? What’s the difference of intended symbols understood by transmitters and receivers?
  5. What are the specific symbolic, iconic and indexical modes encoded in ancient Chinese music?

Fashion Look in Semiotic System

This week, I would like to try to briefly analyze a look of Heaven Gaia RTW Spring 2017 in Paris Fashion Week. The designer is Chinese whose name is Xiong Ying.

Basing on the model of dialogic, generative visual semiotics in artworks, I rearrange the model a bit to make it more fit to my case study. A question I would like to list here is that ss it reasonable to have all the compositional semantic values activated?

+ combinatorial composition on a rectangular surface as a general formal feature of apparel design

     + composition as arrangement of discrete elements

This dress is obviously a composition of discrete elements. When criticizing a costume     design, we usually do the analysis from three basic perspectives which are the structure, fashion elements and the texture. In this way, this dress can be regarded as the composition of dip-dyed silk (texture and fashion elements), Mandarin collars and covered button fastenings (fashion elements),hand-painted motifs (fashion elements), blue and white porcelain tiles (texture and fashion element) to create a chain-mail-style dress (structure), typical Chinese cheongsam outline (structure).

Is it necessary analyze this part in separate perspective or just put them together? Can the co-working of the three perspectives itself be regarded as a combination?

+ surface of the costume as combination/assemblage of images and marks

    + illusionistic picture plane, no depth, only surfaces and material forms

The use of silk and the blue and white porcelain are the two key points of Ying’s design, also two typical Chinese style elements which can also be regarded as symbol of traditional Chinese culture.

  + traditional formal laws of arrangement (here refers to the typical structure of a specific type of dress)

Yes, the structure (outline) of the dress follows the design of Chinese cheongsam.

+ reuse already made images, objectified

The patterns on the porcelains are typical elements in traditional Chinese ink and wash paintings, while the designer did not mention if the imaged on the dress were rubbingged from several specific traditional Chinese ink and wash paintings or did she paint these patterns herself.

+ marks and images made by hand and already machine made

Information relevant to this part are insufficient. The losing information here are about whether the dyed-silk and porcelain pieces are hand-made or produced by machine and whether the images on the porcelain are handcraft or digital printing are not clearly given.

-“original” images made by hand of artist

As the upper-class title of the line is surface of the costume as combination/assemblage of images and marks, when looking at the design of the dress, I do not see any totally new structure, elements or textures that do not exist before.

However, what I would like to add is that the whole design of this dress is a complete personal creating process, the way that the designer arrange the structure, the fashion elements and texture together basing on the existing correlations, the ground of the collective understanding to specific fashion elements and the basic law of costume designing, is “original”.

+ invoke representational question: the relation of the painting/art object to the world outside the object

– cancel representational form and indexical/referential potential of the dress

    + embed real objects and photographs as things, not representations of thing

Audience who went to the Paris Opera will be able to see the real artifact of this dress while now, we can only see the videos of the show and photos of each look in the show.

+ composition imitating irrational states of objects (Dada), randomized placement [?]

More things that I think should be put into consideration in this part is that

1) the model who shows the dress.

2) the concept of the whole series

3) the site setting and background music of the show

4) a comparison between the run way look and the products actually on sale in the same series.

The left problem here is that I’m still confused about how to relate them with the existing model, to analyze them in a more symbolic way instead of what just like a fashion critique.

In order to getting familiar with the correlation in the field and do the analysis better, more works should be done on the field of fashion and China chic.


Information about the dress


Detailed look of the dress and the whole series.!2/heaven-gaia-rtw-spring-2017-2

Blue-and-white pottery



The stylish and often tight-fitting cheongsam or qipao (chipao) that is best known today was created in the 1920s in Shanghai and made fashionable by socialites and upper class women.

Chinese ink and wash painting



Music Association with other forms of work – Wency

Music Association with other forms of work

Last weekend I did an interesting psychological test which I personally think is highly semiotic so it might not be a bad idea to start from it. In this test, there are overall seven questions each of which plays a different piece of music, based on the music, you are asked to choose which painting, scene, drink, etc. that you think fits best with the piece and at last the result will show you the gender construction of you. The details are as follows.

  1. Which painting do you think fit best with the music?
  2. What time do you think fit best with the music?foggy morning; b. sunny morning; c. a nightfall with beautiful setting sun; d. a night full of stars
  3. What kind of drink do you think fit best with the music?
  4. What do you think is expressed by the piece of music? a. The excitement of seeing an old friend. b. The expectation for a great future. c. Missing the lover who is far away. d. The helplessness of the unfair destiny
  5. Which scene comes into your mind while hearing this piece of music? a. A farm boy walking on the field. b. A driver driving on the highway. c. A wanderer lying on the window. d. The brave soldier on a battle ground
  6. Which place do you think the music comes from?
  7. Use a word to describe your feeling towards the piece of music.a. Despair; b. glory; c. rebirth; d. quiet.

This test serves as a combination of how opinions, comments and verbal or visual associates to music (Tagg, 1999, p.33). After listening to a piece of music, we first get an immediate interpretant of the piece based on the then based on the codes and categories we have learned within the sociocultural system we are in, we are thus able to add other associations for building a stack of multiple interpretant, which, according to Peirce, is a way of Dynamic Interpretants (Irvine, 2018, p.18). Our previous experiences somehow build into our memory that enables the successive connotation to happen (Tagg, 1999, p.5). Take the second question as an example, what I heard from the piece was a combination of two electrical guitars and a drum where the tonic guitar and the rhythm feats well together in harmony and the drumbeat feats exact at each point, in addition, though not sure which key the song is playing, I could tell that the piece is played within a major mode. But the knowledge of the frames within this piece is not the only source for me as a receiver to interpret the piece. I also come up with several words such as relax, straightforward, cozy, free, happy through listening to the melody.

But at this point, my interpretation is still more or less ambiguous and I can’t depict a specific scene according to these words. As for me, the reason why I couldn’t give a specific description is that those words could stand for several different scenes, probably several friends sitting near an outdoor swimming pool, or me sinking in my bed in a sunny, warm afternoon after having all my homework done. Luckily, the options in these questions somehow gives me a hint or a constrain for my depiction. Since a symbol may have an icon or an index incorporated into it, by looking at the symbolic description of each of the scene, I was able to go to my memory, find out similar experiences I’ve been through before seeing the symbolic forms of these scenes, in this way, these four scenes somehow becomes the instances of the prototype, i.e., my original previous experience which is unique in a 4 dimensional space (i.e., a 3 dimensional space and the other dimension stands for time) (Irvine, 2018, p.19). Then, if we consider each scene as a new starter, i.e., the first signifier in our second connotation process, we can therefore develop other lists of symbolic representamens for each scene, by comparing the list I developed through hearing the music and the list I developed through these four scenes, I would be able to select the one that satisfies the largest number of matches: I remember a typical 80s movie scene where on a highway of California, there was a stunning nightfall and three cow boys are singing and yelling on ragtop. In this way, the interpretant of music also moves through the timeline where historical styles and moments are recalled and also a California style is highly cultural defined (Irvine, 2018, p.11).


Now what’s interesting is that I barely have any clear concept of what, for example, blue, Jazz, folk, pop music would be like, nevertheless, as a person who has a very limited vocabulary of describing different established music genres, I can somehow distinguish different token-instantiation of types, i.e., different song elements based on their frames including rhythm patterns, instrument and timbres, melody, harmony repetitions, etc. that they belongs to types, or better, they are objects or instances of different classes (Irvine, 2018, p.8). Such concept of different genres, though not clearly described, constrains the range of the following signified I would come up with during the connotation.

Besides, appropriate elements of the respondents’ sociocultural habitat, such as age, gender, nationality, education, profession, etc. also count into the whole procedure of communication, i.e., how the information is transferred from transmitter to the receiver and the degree to which the information is interpreted as what the transmitter expected (Tagg, 1999, p.33). In this test, while I and most of my friends are sharing a similar cultural background, we respond highly different according to each music piece. This, according to Tagg, is an intersubjectivity from the receiving end (Tagg, 1999, p.22). Now if we move back to the association chart I draw, every individual, even in a same cultural background, is holding a unique memory which affects the whole process where she or he see a form of representamen (e.g. a music piece or a painting), select in a short reaction time the elements in the large scale and generate meanings ongoingly based on these signifiers and further ones. To be sure, I would slightly criticize this text for containing more or less gender stereotype, but the mode one uses to think and interpret symbols, though one can argue that happens unconsciously, as for me is highly context embedded. If we move back to the basic communication model according to Tagg, each component is therefore mutually interactive with others, therefore, while work of art can be considered as a macro unit in a dialogic, the response is multi-directed and somehow unpredictable (Irvine, 2018, p.14).



  1. Irvine, M. (2018). Introduction to Visual Semiotics.
  2. Irvine, M. (2018). Popular Music as a Meaning System.
  3. Tagg, P. (1999). Introductory notes to the Semiotics of Music.

Andy Warhol in Pop Art

Andy Warhol was a representative artist in pop art movement during the mid- and the late 1950s. His artworks are filled with colorful repetitions which are quite distinctive. Because of his obvious personal characteristics, I would like to take his work as an example to illustrate Bakhtin’s theories.

First of all, almost all works of Andy Warhol share a strong connection with existing elements. Or, in other words, most of his work is built upon existing symbols, such as Marilyn Monroe, Zedong Mao, and Campbell’s Soup Cans. Each symbol shares its unique meanings in its context. Whereas, Andy Warhol recreated them by coloring and placing them in certain orders. With repetitive patterns, the previous meanings of these elements are overturned or added with more hilarity, and therefore conveying a brand-new attitude towards arts and modern life. Some critics regard pop art as a passive and indifferent attitude to commercial society and industrialization, but I view it as a restatement and dilute of seriousness. Hence, from this perspective, Bakhtin’s dialogism comes in. The work of Andy Warhol is not isolated but has a close dialog with other symbols. His “utterance” was produced in the process of interacting with “otherness”. Although other genres of arts can also develop from extant patterns, pop art makes the best use of them and maximize its own effects.

As Prof. Irvine said, “anything we express in any sign system presupposes that any addressable expression can, in turn, produce an answer. (Martin Irvine, 2018)” Pop art movement is a response or rebellion to elites’ art. Pop artists, like Andy Warhol, proposed that popular art should gain equivalent respect as well. Popular culture is not as vulgar or superficial as someone criticized. On the contrary, city culture and commercial culture can be excellent ingredients of art performances. Therefore, pop artists created pop art movement. What more interesting is that in the late 1960s, people feel tiring with complicated elements and colors and turn to minimal art which is to abandon unnecessary elements and merely remain indispensable ones. Both of these two evolvements of art indicates the answerability of meaning systems, and it is the answerability that keeps the dialog to continue without the end.

From what stated above, it is not uncommon that the genres of art seem to suppose to emerge in the right era because of its previous genres and ongoing social milieux. In other words, it is a process of continuous dialogs and responses with otherness. The circulation of art movement indicates that the expression itself is always “embedded in the history of expressions” till it is activated by social changes. Besides that, there is never an end of the art, just like there is nothing conclusion has taken place.

Questions help us to analyze:

What features make you tell the artwork belongs to pop art?

How do you comment when you encounter an unfamiliar painting with features stated above in a gallery?

What emotions or attitudes artists want to represent by these paintings?

How do critics comment on these works?


Martin Irvine (2018). Dialogue, Dialogic, Dialogism; Addressivity/ Answerability; Intertextuality

Martin Irvine (2018). Remix and the dialogic engine of culture