As we head toward the middle of the semester, seniors have begun to reflect on the progress of their theses, whether writing, drawing, painting, sculpting, or performing their projects. Music majors Max Luton ’17 and Adam Rochelle ’17, for example, are writing separate papers but looking forward to playing together in a pop band as the culmination of their joint thesis.
“Not very many people do a joint thesis, but we found there is so much cross-pollination in the Music major that we would end up working together anyway,” Rochelle said. “There are some aspects that fit perfectly into both theses and some things that are contradictory and it’s kind of fun to work those out. We have the same adviser and [Ron Kuivila] seems interested in the process and not letting the contradictions hinder our progress.”
Not only do Rochelle and Luton share Kuivila as an adviser, the pair are also housemates and share a creative environment while developing their songs. As pop-focused as they are, posters of Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey hang above their keyboards to survey their process.
Rochelle’s paper focuses on the logistics of electronic pop performance, while Luton explores the power imbalances within pop production, such as the relationship between producer and performer and between performer and audience.
“My paper was primarily inspired by my work with Mary Jane Rubenstein and Roger Grant last year,” Luton said. “Rubenstein’s pantheism seminar played a big part because Christianity is a part of culture we’ve internalized and accepted as default, and it sets up binaries primarily between this world and the divine world. That has set up a lot of injustice, and I see these binaries in the pop music world.”
Luton aims to examine pop through a pantheistic lens and create music that dismantles these binaries.
“I’m hoping this is a way to inform my own musical practice and dig into the religious implications of music,” he said. “I hope I can make music that is good for everyone instead of harmful.”
Although Rochelle is also dissecting pop music, his approach emphasizes the technical aspects of electronic music, specifically how electronic music translates to a live audience.
“My paper is mostly centered around how electronic musicians deal with the fact that the sound they’re producing may not be physically embodied in what they’re doing,” Rochelle said. “There’s a visual disconnect between the sound and performance, and that may lead to distrust of the performer when there’s just a lead singer and a backing track.”
Both Luton and Rochelle chose electronic pop as a way to pay homage to their own experiences in the Wesleyan music scene.
“During thesis recital season last year, we would see these very academic performances where people would just be sitting in chairs and listening quietly,” Rochelle said. “We wanted to do more of a big, sweaty concert. We want people to dance and enjoy themselves because ultimately, pop is for the kids.”
Luton and Rochelle’s as-yet-untitled band will perform several times throughout the year, including on April 7 at the World Music Hall.
Maia Nelles-Sanger ’17, a Theater and Film double major with a Writing Certificate, is also incorporating performance into one of her theses. For her playwriting thesis, Nelles-Sanger will be developing an original musical as well as submitting a research paper in the spring with the help of her adviser Quirara Hudes. Nelles-Sanger will also be writing an eight-part series on film criticism with advisor A.O. Scott, focusing on the role of feminism in film and film criticism.
“My musical is about adolescence on stage and how the deep emotional feelings we get growing up [can be] transferred to music effectively,” Nelles-Sanger said. “The way I’m writing it, I’m doing the brunt of the creative work this semester and the research aspect next semester.”
Nelles-Sanger has begun outlining characters and lyrics for her production but believes most of her early creative output will not make it in the final cut. To offer an outside perspective after the musical is written, Cheyenne Williams ’17 will be directing a reading later on.
“Oftentimes I think writers can lose track of human beings,” Nelles-Sanger said. “A big part of the reading is to hear people interact with each other and with the writing. I can always read it myself, but that would never show me how it would actually sound on stage.”
The research paper will expand upon Nelles-Sanger’s focus on emotionality and music onstage, addressing how music emotionally supports a performance.
For her film thesis, Nelles-Sanger will analyze eight different films in four different genres, including “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Ghostbusters (2016),” “Frozen,” and “Toy Story.”
“I’ll be looking at what makes a film feminist and how we should think about that when we critique film,” Nelles-Sanger said. “It’s about understanding a film’s social progress in regards to feminism when we take into account the film as a whole.”
Nelles-Sanger decided to focus primarily on male-dominated movies and contrast them with films like “The Devil Wears Prada,” which she cites as one of the most feminist films in her lineup.
“It seems male-heavy because most of the films I had to choose from are just very masculine-skewing to begin with,” Nelles-Sanger said. “I couldn’t really think of a drama film that came close to ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ that could be an engaging movie, and a good piece of cinema that also portrayed women as people. That’s the crux of the thesis, to portray women as people.”
Another senior whose project bridges multiple majors is Ethan Yaro ’17, who is writing a thesis in the College of Letters and German Studies. Yaro will be comparing the theories of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and J.G. Herder on the origins of language.
Yaro was inspired by a class he took with his current thesis adviser Martin Bäumel of the German Studies Department.
“The genesis of the idea was last year in a class I took first semester with Bäumel about Germany and the German environment,” Yaro said. “It was an interdisciplinary course between German and Environmental Studies and only tangentially related. Roughly speaking, Rousseau develops theories on the origins of language arising differently in different places. In cold climates he says it arises out of need, and in the south it arises out of desire.”
Since he was young, Yaro has had an interest in language. He speaks five languages including German, French, and basic Arabic, and he lived in Munich growing up. Yaro agrees that his interest in language stems partly from his father, who speaks over seven languages himself.
While these seniors’ thesis topics are as diverse as their majors, all four showcase the benefits of collaboration. Whether between two students or two disciplines, their sharing of ideas will likely produce even richer results.