Sometimes it’s a basic noun:
Sometimes it’s an adverb or adjective:
Sometimes it’s a combination of the two:
Sometimes it’s not the type of music, but the type of instrument:
And sometimes it is something so oddly specific that Stephen wonders whether deaf people can actually process it:
Discordant, ambling melody
Flute fluttering bird song
Flute playing sweet, yearning
Piano and clarinet playing mischievous melody
Whistling upbeat pop
Stephen noted 27 descriptions of music that began with “Orchestra playing,” most from the French silent movie “The Artist.” They include:
Orchestra playing accelerated frantic
Orchestra playing blustering discordant
Orchestra playing bright fanciful
Orchestra playing halting, forlorn melody
Orchestra playing light dramatic
Orchestra playing light dreamlike
Orchestra playing quiet, pensive
Orchestra playing slow bittersweet
Orchestra playing slow melancholy music
Orchestra playing warm, ambling melody
Orchestra playing whimsical, ambling music
I spoke with Jason Mitchell at CaptionMax, a captioning company with offices in Minneapolis and Burbank. “We generally like to try and describe either the style or the instrumentation, whichever is more relevant, and then have some sort of adjective — it can be as simple as ‘upbeat’ or ‘instrumental’ — especially if it’s relevant to what’s going on in the story,” he said. “Then people try and be more specific.”
For some shows — “Glee,” for example — such descriptions are critical.
“In shows like that, the music is part of the story,” Jason said. “If it’s something like auditions and someone is singing really badly you want to describe that it’s not good singing. Otherwise you wouldn’t understand what was going on.”
These descriptions allow the captioners to exercise a little more creativity than they employ when merely transcribing dialogue verbatim.
“I hope that it helps people who can’t hear what it sounds like,” he said.
Christian Vogler, director of the Technology Access Program at Gallaudet University, said that in the past, closed captions were pretty poor overall. He found descriptions such as “tense music” to be patronizing.
But captions have gotten better. “And in the context of good quality captions, I appreciate a description of the music,” he said. “Sometimes it serves as a clue that something is about to happen. If a hearing person can determine this by the type of music, then I think we have every right to expect that we will be able to tell, too.”