Join the Workshop on Music and Creative Arts Scholarship on Thursday, Dec. 1 at 3:30 in Presser Hall room 112 for a discussion by Dr. Peter Smucker on his current research. The workshop is an open faculty forum to provide feedback on ongoing research. Feel free to attend all or part of the workshop.
Appalachian Folk Music and the Supernatural: Tracing Social Encounters in Kentucky Route Zero
Dr. Peter Smucker
This paper draws connections between social alienation and supernatural encounters through the use of Appalachian folk music in video games, film, and television. My primary focus is music from Kentucky Route Zero (2013–), a video game that builds on legends of Appalachian ghost stories. A common trope in Appalachian folk music deals with death (Crissman 1994)—often in the form of “crossing a barrier”— and typically delivers positive and religious messages of post- life experiences. Yet this music also highlights social removal and fear of the unknown. To better understand the multilayered musical meaning in Kentucky Route Zero, I demonstrate links between social and supernatural encounters in folk music through analyses of several scenes from film and television.
I first show how Frank Hutchison’s song “Hellbound Train” is a paradigmatic “crossing over” piece of folk music, which highlights supernatural attitudes towards death. Scenes from the films Deliverance (1970) and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010) establish a negative visual stereotype of Appalachian peoples, yet particular musical underpinnings instead suggest positive social interactions. The final television episode of Quantum Leap (1993) takes place in a 1950s coalmining town, and musically demonstrates that many parts of Appalachia are historically and culturally diverse (Simon 2014). Through the use of Appalachian folk music in these scenes, I establish three primary intersections of sound and image: social acceptance/removal; musical positivity/negativity; and encounters between life and death. These intersections inform a nuanced understanding of the music in Kentucky Route Zero.