Dr Lucile Desblache, Roehampton University


As a mode of artistic communication, music is translation by essence. It ‘transmutates’ aesthetics sensibilities (Jakobson), transcends and translates cultures, enabling interactions across communities. Yet the phenomenon of translation in music is complex. Does a famous song like Guantanamera, sung and translated in a wide range of languages, strongly evoke Cuba, or just exoticise it in the imagination of the listeners? Can Frank Sinatra’s ‘If you go away’ be considered a translation of Jacques Brel’s original song? Music from all countries and cultures can be listened to easily, but can it be understood? While the largest awards and music talent shows, largely driven by the US and UK who still hold more than 40% of the music market value, are still dominated by English, music featuring foreign languages is promoted through a range of sites (e.g. Music Alliance Pact), genres (opera, world music, film music) and platforms (radio, internet, digital juke-boxes, cinema, television, particularly music television channels, live performances). Yet the interconnections of translation and music have not been widely explored and verbal language, often part of musical texts, remains a barrier to social cohesion as words are frequently left untranslated or are poorly suited to a multimodal context.

This network brings together an interdisciplinary network of academics, music and translation professionals, and industry providers to foster new developments in the mediation of musical texts and engage in a debate on the complexities and the challenges of music mediation in the 21st century. Exploring the interpersonal, intercultural, intralinguistic and interlinguistic bridges on which music and translation intersect, it examines how words linked to music are currently translated. It will also map out current practices to identify how to improve the provision of such translation to make music more widely accessible, and multicultural forms of expression both more visible and more valued. In particular, contemporary translation and accessibility models provided for opera will be examined with the aim of considering them in other musical contexts. Opera houses, under criticism for being elitist and therefore under pressure to provide access to a wide public, are successful pioneers in the provision of intralinguistic and interlinguistic translation. They are also successful in adapting past works into representations that are meaningful to present audiences. Besides, opera and its contemporary new forms are offered in translation in several formats from film to radio broadcast or live performance and actively engage with new technologies in order to connect with audiences.

Translation strategies and technologies pioneered in opera, still the leader in successful translation provision, can be useful models for other musical forms and genres in film, television and multimedia. This network will chart the most important developments to be considered so that the art that ‘hears cultures’ (Erlman) can also translate them. A range of events to promote the development of the translation of musical texts will take place, fostering interaction between translators working in the field of music, translation and accessibility managers and different music providers. Partners with expertise in translating and making music accessible to contemporary audiences are keen to develop new technologies, undertake research in the mediation of music and exchange ideas across different sectors of the music industry. National accessibility organisations are also offering expertise and cooperation, involving end users to take part in applied research on accessibility and music.

When surtitles were introduced in opera, audiences unanimously claimed how much they enhanced their enjoyment of music. The ultimate role of this international network is to make similar enhancements possible across all musical audiences and performances.


Dr Lucile Desblache

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