Review of Isabella van Elferen’s Gothic Music: The Sounds of the Uncanny

Isabella van Elferen’s Gothic Music: The Sound of the Uncanny does what my favorite academic texts accomplish: provides sufficient ground for future arguments without foreclosing on those horizons. 

As Gothic Music suggests, sound is haunting and ghosts are only with us as long as they wish. Why shouldn’t we listen to those ill voices on the wind?  

Gothic Music is not merely a commentary on those cultural nodes that express gothic by way of music, but a theorization of the gothic as it inherently weaves into our human interaction with sound. 

The very act of hearing is out of time. Music and sound outlive their origins and each bar that reaches out ears is a messenger of something already no longer with us. It’s not that some sounds are gothic, but that all sound is haunted by its very nature. 

The text builds a foundation in common gothic spaces. Gothic music, movies, and even gothic gaming are all covered. However, the soundscapes of each of these subjects will one day need their own, full exploration using gothic music as a framework.

Case studies from pop music, video games, television and cinema act as movements in the symphony of this text. In particular, sections on diegetic sound, the works of David Lynch, and the intersections of musicology and the ludic nature of games stand out.  

Gothic Music leaves the door open for future work. The focus on Gothic-as-genre leaves us poised to go beyond those boundaries. The notable absence of a politically engaged readings leaves us ready to take this toolkit to the contested grounds of politics and critical theories. 

There is a consistent, and completely appropriate invocation of Derrida, but we could take this a step further and hear the chorus Gothic Music alongside the sonic Spectres of Marx. 

This agential and active engagement with the material conditions of our world is an overripe celerity of potential for the frameworks in Gothic Music. The mournful and melancholic labor songs of the early American labor movement, present and contemporary Irish folk tunes, and the inherent political dimensions of gothic sound are left uninterrupted by this text. 

They are sonic spirits left interred. Ghosts that wail and are yet, at least by gothicists, unheard. 

Isabella van Elferen’s Gothic Music still stands a decade later as both a critically useful gothic toolkit and a vital text for any gothicist listening into the whispers of the damned.

These sonic specters emerge at all intersections of human activity. Even their present-absence in silence connotes a gothic soundscape for which Gothic Music provides us ample tools to invoke, conjure, and commune. 

Music is never just. Isabella van Elferen’s text carries out of the academic confines of medium and includes dance as a substrate for an analysis of the audible gothic.  

Let the spirit of this text pass into your gothic repertoire. Our ghosts have been speaking with us for as long as we could listen, what else has gone unheard and denied when we turn away from the sounds of the dead?