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The Big Smoke: a song cycle for the twenty-first century

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posted on 2022-08-29, 05:18 authored by David Martin Mason-Cox

This thesis explores how song can deliver emotional impact and add dimension to characters drawn from a work of fiction. It balances creative, practice-led research with a written treatise. The creative element is a song cycle of five songs inspired by D’Arcy Niland’s novel The Big Smoke (1959), which is set in early twentieth century Sydney. Its interweaving stories allow the adapter to use song to develop the novel’s characters. Song, particularly in the first person, can positively reinforce and expand upon personality and dramatic action, providing substantial insight into a character’s psyche through the imaginative mining of subtext and context. The song cycle was a highly regarded art form in the nineteenth century, although its popularity later waned. Pop musicians loosely resurrected the idea in the 1960s, in the form of the concept album. This work attempts to understand the future potential of the song cycle.

The written treatise focuses on how adapting a source text to a new creative medium can augment one’s understanding of the emotional makeup of the characters. While the original narrative provides background and character development, the conversion of the written word into song form distils the essence of the work. This thesis examines how this is enhanced by the very nature of song. Music has long been acknowledged as emotionally evocative and lyrics, employing repetition and rhyme, can enrich and focus an idea. A singer’s vocal nuance may further arouse and shape the listener’s experience. The adaptation aims to add aesthetic and cultural value to the source.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Methodology -- Adaptation -- Song - Part 1 -- The song cycle -- Song - Part 2 -- Scope -- Conclusion -- References -- Bibliography -- Appendix - Lyrics and notes on each song -- Technical notes


This thesis is submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Research (combining creative practice and exegesis)

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


Thesis MRes, Macquarie University, Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies, 2018

Department, Centre or School

Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Catharine Lumby


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