An Imaginary Musical Road Movie : Transmedial Semiotic Structures in Brad Mehldau's Concept Album "Highway Rider"

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An Imaginary Musical Road Movie revolves around two integrated objects: on the one hand, the programmatic and cyclic concept album Highway Rider (2010), which is jazz pianist and composer Brad Mehldau’s most complex instrumental work, and on the other hand transmediality, both as a concept and phenomenon. Musicologist Mats Arvidson claims that a deep understanding of an intermedial music culture is a prerequisite for knowing how to interpret a work like Highway Rider. Having such an intermedial framework at hand further enables the integration of formal and structural analysis with cultural, historical and technological aspects of music. In a captivating manner, Arvidson shows how Highway Rider circulates in and through different cultural systems, and in doing so, explains how, where and when musical meaning is produced. Highway Rider is understood as a transmedial phenomenon both through its genre-specificity and its narrative structure, that is, as an imaginary musical road movie whose story raises questions about the meaning of life. The study is addressed to musicologists interested in issues related to intermediality, as well as to researchers within the field of cultural studies, film studies, media studies, visual studies and comparative literature.

The idea of ‘music alone’ as an independent auditory medium expressed in the institutions of today’s academia does not resonate with how we listen to and perceive music in everyday life; music is always accompanied with paratexts such as programme notes, LP sleeve images or other types of media. This idea forms the basis for this essay and is used to present a number of issues concerning meaning production: How, where and when is musical meaning produced? To be more specific, this essay deals with how an intermedial music culture can be described and analysed through one specific case study. Intermediality arises in the crossings between constructed media borders, which means that different aspects of a specific medium can be transgressed in various ways. Based on the American composer and jazz musician Brad Mehldau’s (1970–) most complex instrumental works, the concept album Highway Rider (2010), this essay explores how such an album can be understood within an intermedial music culture. It merges formal and structural analysis with cultural, historical, technological and psychoanalytic aspects of music emphasising the role of subjectivity in the production of meaning. By offering a varied and broad theoretical and methodological framework, the author demonstrates ways to approach the work using concepts like transmediality, intermedial reference, meta-reference, iconicity, semiotics, paratext, psychoanalysis and ecological psychology.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherLund Studies in Arts and Cultural Sciences
Number of pages270
ISBN (Print)9789198145854
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Publication series

NameLund Studies in Arts and Cultural Sciences
ISSN (Print)2001-7529

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Musicology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Other Humanities not elsewhere specified


  • Highway Rider
  • Concept Album
  • Symphonic Poem
  • Programme Music
  • Song Cycle
  • Jazz Music
  • Brad Mehldau
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Iconography
  • Multimodality
  • Transmediality
  • Intermediality
  • Material Culture
  • Cultural Studies
  • Culture
  • Hermeneutics
  • Musicology
  • Semotics
  • Intermedial Studies
  • Nicholas Cook
  • Lawrence Kramer
  • Lars Elleström
  • Werner Wolf
  • Hans Lund
  • Subjectivity
  • Ecological Psychology


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