Beyond nostalgia: hearing anachronism in Westworld and television's new golden age

Kolassa, Alexander (2024). Beyond nostalgia: hearing anachronism in Westworld and television's new golden age. In: Halfyard, Steve and Reyland, Nicholas eds. Palgrave Handbook of Music and Sound in Peak TV. Palgrave MacMillan (In Press).

Abstract

A temporal uncanny defines Peak TV, and playful period settings and out-of-time dystopias typify our TV moment. The soundtrack, in particular, has proven to be a febrile site for the cerebral and visceral encounter with a fracturing temporality: consider only the medialized ‘early music’ of Game of Thrones, the sci-fi western hybridity in The Mandalorian, and the widespread 1980s synthwave allusions, say, of Stranger Things. This politics of time is especially salient, though, in the already historically complex and constitutively anachronistic Westworld: this is most felt in its accompanying richly layered interleaving score, and its period-inspired diegetic soundscape of pre-existing song.

Much has been said now about the omnipresence of forms of cultural nostalgia. Regularly treated as a marker of our cultural impoverishment, it has also come to point toward a rich discourse that considers anachronism in the context of the recuperative nostalgias of Svetlana Boym, and of Mark Fisher’s hauntological spectres and absent futures. The television series is itself an unstable medium, narratively speaking. Hugely collaborative endeavours, with diffuse authorship and stretched across many hours, they are also products of a complex convergence culture governed by countless and diversifying stakeholders, audiences, and technologies. The expediencies of the medium produce a dizzying sonic spectrum congruent with a present-day politics of nostalgia, but in its very complexity points toward something new too: a return of history.

This chapter, then, will consider the function of a layered anachronisms in Westworld’s modern television score. Considering music’s potent ability to create or sustain pasts, presents, and futures (as well as the spaces in-between), it will point towards sound and music’s destabilizing temporal presence and the problematizing of the borrowed and pre-existing. Westworld and Peak TV’s approach to time will therein be typifying a contemporary play with history itself.

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