Theses Doctoral

Music in, as, for, and through Virtual Spaces

Lim, Cheng Wei

This dissertation unites two contrasting phenomena, musical theorizing as practiced on YouTube and dreamlike experiences involving music, under a single rubric: virtual space. While the two phenomena are disconnected in time, geography, and culture, they are nonetheless similar in that they are spatialized in ways that contravene how we typically experience physical space, So, I develop the concept of virtual space as a means of approaching the commonalities underlying these phenomena. Building on a definition of space as a medium in which entities are positionally related, I propose a framework for analyzing virtual spaces that emphasizes a phenomenon’s subjective immersivity and objective relationality. In order to bring out the human dimension of these virtual spaces, I concentrate on the discursive, instrumental, experiential, and generative aspects of embodied virtual spaces that are entangled in social, cultural, and political networks.

To that end, in the first half of the dissertation, I discuss how a community of YouTube content creators has carved out a place for practicing, teaching, and learning music theory. I detail YouTube’s affordances as a space for theorizing music and a medium of communication, showing how content creators have leveraged these to great effect in their theorizing of game music. Flitting between the general and the particular, I balance case studies of content creators and close readings of audiovisual content with sociological approaches. In spite of the platform’s self-image and the community’s political positioning, I contend that YouTube’s egalitarian promise has been left unfulfilled in the English-language, Western-centric field of YouTube music theory, which replicates or even exacerbates some of the epistemological issues and unjust social structures that pervade academia and Western society more broadly.

The other half of the dissertation concerns the analytical interpretation and precise differentiation of dreamlike experiences centered on music. I demonstrate that much of the discourse on this topic comes from close readings of music as dream. As this perspective locates dreaming in an object, I argue for counterbalancing this discourse towards a dreaming subject, and thus I propose a framework with three interrelated components. First, I carefully distinguish dreaming, as a virtual and spatialized experience, from standard waking consciousness through recourse to neuroscience and phenomenology. After that, I set forth a tripartite scheme that articulates the many permutations of how we might position ourselves, other subjects, and music in this non-dreamer–dreamer dynamic. Last, I classify the various interactions between music, dreamlike experience, and analytical interpretation. Using the music of Fryderyk Chopin as my example, I show that, though this music has accrued much historical and cultural meaning through being read as dreamlike, we have much to gain from the analytical insights unique to our subjective, dreamlike experiences with this music.


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2025-06-30.

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Dubiel, Joseph P.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 12, 2023