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Shaugn O’Donnell

Committee Members

Mark Spicer

Jonathan Pieslak

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This dissertation examines how the sound of a recording contributes meaning to the song, working in conjunction with the song’s lyrics, harmonic and rhythmic structures, album artwork, and within its cultural context. Two songs by the rock group Led Zeppelin, “When the Levee Breaks” and “Stairway to Heaven,” are taken as analytical examples in which special attention is paid to the acoustic properties of the recordings, that is, where the instruments are situated within the stereo sound field; how they are timbrally manipulated with effects such as reverb, echo, distortion, and chorus; their relative levels of prominence; and how these factors interact to create meaning in the song.

The intent is to bring into relief the complex and myriad ways that recording studio aesthetics shape both our perception of, and appreciation for, two of the most prominent songs in this group’s rich repertoire. By considering the recorded sound among the other factors that comprise these analyses, I also seek to demonstrate the value of parameters other than pitch and rhythm in analyses of this repertoire in particular.

This project requires extremely close listening to the recordings in order to discern how various studio effects are employed in the context of each song’s particular aesthetics. I take as my methodological departure point Albin Zak’s book, The Poetics of Rock, in which are found analyses of studio production techniques in various rock songs, and Susan Fast’s book, In the Houses of the Holy, in which many facets of Led Zeppelin’s music are examined, including semiotics and the relationship between timbre and text.


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