IASPM-US Website CFP: The Return of the Mixtape Series

by Jessica Dilday on September 10, 2014

iaspm typewriter

It’s no question, life’s been good to me/ Cause life ain’t nothing but a good groove/ A good mixtape to put you in the right mood

-The Beastie Boys, “Professor Booty”

Our mixtape series is back! Mixtapes are phonographic anthologies capable of telling stories through ideas and emotions, coded in the selection and sequence of featured musical selections. These sonic anthologies also act as media through which mixtape composers express social and collective identities. The IASPM-US website seeks 30-45 minute-long mixes for our mixtape series. The mix can feature any genre(s) of music and style of production, and should be accompanied by a short explanation that speaks to the motivation and vision behind its creation, and/or a critical reflection on the place of the music in a given social, political, or cultural context (250-500 words). For some ideas and inspiration, check out our featured posts below, and also The Mixtape Museum blog, which includes a list of resources and bibliography on mixtape-related projects.

The audio mix itself can be submitted in AIFF, WAVE, FLAC, OGG, MP2, MP3, AAC, AMR or WMA formats, which will be uploaded to the IASPM-US SoundCloud account. The accompanying material may include both text and multimedia (audio/video footage or YouTube clips, for example).

Submissions are now being accepted on a rolling basis. Please submit drafts and multimedia files as attachments to both Jess Dilday (jadilday@gmail.com) and Victor Szabo (vls2u@virginia.edu).

Featured Posts

“Resurrect the Cassette: Revaluing Bay Area Underground Hip Hop Tapes,” by Anthony Kwame Harrison

“Hearing Raggamuffin Hip-hop: Musical Records as Historical Record,” by Wayne Marshall and Pacey Foster

“elegy (for extraordinary black boys and girls),” by Jalylah Burrell

“PRISMatic,” by Victor Szabo

“World War IV Techno,” by Ryan Diduck

{ 0 comments }

barry shank

The Political Force of Musical Beauty (Duke University Press, 2014) both describes and demonstrates how popular music scholars might think the relation between precarious experiences of musical beauty and the ability to change subjective positions within the world. Both a set of case studies and theoretical toolbox, The Political Force of Musical Beauty challenges readers to re-think what politics looks like in popular music – how do we encounter difference through music, and how can we understand the political power of these encounters? Barry Shank begins with an axiom that is as elegant as it is complex – “The experience of beauty is the recognition of the way things could be, the way things should be” (p.3) – and proceeds to follow the complicated strands that result. Drawing musical evidence from a wide range of artists, including Moby, Sam Cooke, Yoko Ono, the Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, Bad Brains, Alarm Will Sound, Tinariwen, and many more, Shank engages specific musical details with a group of theorists and philosophers as diverse as his musical models. Below, Barry and I explore some of the nuances of his claims and discuss how The Political Force of Musical Beauty might be of use to those of us invested in the political stakes of popular music.

political force of musical beauty

Benjamin Court: There is an implicit strand throughout The Political Force of Musical Beauty that seems influenced by classical aesthetics. It is not only important that beauty has a political force, but you also seem to argue for certain standards for the judgment musical beauty. For example, you argue that Moby’s evocation of Nancy’s sens in his sample of Vera Hall’s voice in “Natural Blues” makes that song beautiful. How significant is your particular model of musical beauty to your larger argument about politics, or would other standards of judgment work just as well?

Barry Shank: I want to step back a bit in response to this initial question. I’m not at all sure what you mean by classical aesthetics. So I want to retrace quickly the aesthetic frame that I meant to evoke in The Political Force of Musical Beauty. The question of the aesthetic emerged as I began to think about the gap in Pierre Bourdieu’s theorization of fields of cultural production. Where Bourdieu is extraordinarily lucid about the moves that actors make in a particular field and the means whereby those moves are legitimated or not, his theory has a major hole in the middle.

Bourdieu was primarily interested in critiquing the Kantian idea of a disinterested “pure” aesthetic. Indeed, the “Postcript” to Distinction is subtitled “Towards a ‘Vulgar’ Critique of ‘Pure’ Critiques.” I agree absolutely with Bourdieu’s dismissal of the idea of some kind of pure or disinterested judgment. But something has to be working in the center of a field of cultural production that distinguishes it from mere power games. Fields of cultural production are distinguished from the field of power by a founding illusio, a belief in a core value around which the field coheres and that is appealed to by legitimating actors as they make their judgments about the relative value produced by a move in the field. This illusio is necessary for the field not to descend into mere power grabs. When a field loses the sense of its central value, it can no longer be distinguished from the field of power. (See, for example, recent decisions by the United States Supreme Court, which have severely weakened the Court’s founding in any sense of justice apart from sheer politics.) We all know that there are power games in any cultural field, and Bourdieu’s unveiling of the fundamental self-interest at the heart of these games has become common sense. But there would be no point in playing the game of good music or visual representation or literary production if there were no central illusio that all the players maintain a commitment to (even though the precise content of that commitment remains up for grabs). Why struggle to produce good music if all one wants is the extrinsic reward of attention or money or power? It just doesn’t make sense. There are much more direct ways to approach those goals. So the central value must be important enough to exert a gravitational pull on the judgments of the actors who play the game.

Another questionable aspect of Bourdieu’s theories is that he uses the rather weak concept of homology to explain how the relatively autonomous fields of cultural production can have effects outside the fields themselves and in the field of power. Bourdieu was enough of an empiricist to see the political effects of actions that take place in a cultural field, but he could not explain how that worked, given that fields of production are based on an illusion. All he could say was that the alliances that develop in a cultural field have a shape similar to the alliances in the world of power. Bourdieu has essentially said that the actual products created in field of musical production are irrelevant to the relationship between that field and the world outside it. All that matters are the sets of relationships created inside the field and the ways those relationships have a structural similarity to relationships outside the field. What can I say but, he’s wrong.

I think that the way out of this problem is to recognize the power of the founding llusio in cultural production. How is it that the illusio holds its power? In fields of cultural production, the illusio enables the experience of beauty, the felt experience of right relations. The commitment to this central value is the force that holds together the relationships that constitute the field and, furthermore, the experience of that value, however it is contingently produced in any particular instance, is the central existential fact that connects experience inside the field to the world of power.

I think that is something like what Adorno was trying to get at in his late masterwork, Aesthetic Theory, where he struggles with the legacy of Kant’s aesthetics. Many of Adorno’s cryptic statements in that book capture this irreducible aspect of the experience of beauty and the political significance of that experience. For me, the key statements come early, on page 6–“The unsolved antagonisms of reality return in artworks as immanent problems of form. This, not the insertion of objective elements, defines the relation of art to society.” And on pages 50-1, “The definition of aesthetics as the theory of the beautiful is so unfruitful because the formal character of the concept of beauty is inadequate to the full content of the aesthetic. If aesthetics were nothing but a systematic catalogue of whatever is called beautiful, it would give no idea of the life that transpires in the concept of beauty…The idea of beauty draws attention to something essential to art without, however, articulating it directly.” And then, this nearly perfect Adornian statement on page 77, “The being-in-itself to which artworks are devoted is not the imitation of something real but rather the anticipation of a being-in-itself that does not yet exist, of an unknown that—by way of the subject—is self-determining. Artworks say that something exists in itself, without predicating anything about it.”

I take all of this to mean that the experience of beauty is essential but the concept of beauty does not capture the fullness of that experience. Instead, what matters for Kant’s understanding of the beautiful is that it is fundamentally a judgment about the sense of right relations. The experience of the beautiful object is a subjective experience that feels objective about the way the world ought to be. We know that this feeling is a judgment that compels us as subjects, but we also know that aesthetic feeling is produced through the experience of a beautiful object. In this way, aesthetic judgment enables us to connect the subjective and the objective in a fleeting sensual comprehension of the way the world might be. And the intensity of that experience is precisely what lends it power outside any particular field of cultural production.

All of that, all of that abstract gesturing, is why I found Nancy and Rancière to be so helpful. Rancière also looks to Kant, but also to Schiller and his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man. For Rancière, the aesthetic judgments that Kant identifies are not disinterested but undeniably socially and politically located. Rancière’s version of way that the aesthetic links the subjective and the objective works through the concept of the sensible. Here is the way he defines the problem of the relationship between art and politics: (from Aesthetics and its Discontents, p.23) “Art is not, in the first instance, political because of the messages and sentiments it conveys concerning the state of the world. Neither is it political because of the manner in which it might choose to represent society’s structures, or social groups, their conflicts or identities. It is political because of the very distance it takes with respect to these functions, because of the type of space and time that it institutes, and the manner in which it frames this time and peoples this space.” Art is political because of its capacity to redistribute the sensible, to shift the senses of time and space that organize the legitimated and recognizable ways of knowing and being in the world.

Nancy’s beautiful book, Listening, captures exactly that moment of musical experience where such redistribution is possible. From page 7, “To be listening is always to be on the edge of meaning, or in an edgy meaning of extremity, and as if the sound were precisely nothing else than this edge, this fringe, this margin—at least the sound that is musically listened to, that is gathered and scrutinized for itself, not, however as an acoustic phenomenon (or not merely as one) but as a resonant meaning, a meaning whose sense [a not quite correct translation of the French sens.] is supposed to be found in resonance, and only in resonance.”That being on the edge of meaning is the experience of beautiful music. In Nancy’s view, this alertness to sens is an apperception of possibility beyond the immediately given social. The experience of musical beauty is a felt momentary crystallization of those possibilities. The key point is that this experience is always socially and politically determined and it also makes possible the redistribution of those determinations.

That possibility is what I hear in the central moment of Moby’s “Natural Blues.” The drop that sets off Vera Hall’s evocation of Emmett Till, “brother was dead,” focuses the listener’s attention to sens as it evokes the redistribution of the sensible. Your question suggests that I mean to imply some absolute standard of musical beauty. Seriously, I mean no such thing. I mean that the beauty of “Natural Blues” is an effect of the formal relations generated in and by Moby’s decision to place the drop where he did and by the musical, historical and political context in which that decision took place. In this way, the drop refocuses the attention of dancing listeners on the gap that still remains between the promise of the Civil Rights Movement and the realities we continue to live in. That crystallization of a political aesthetic is the generation of a community to come, an aesthetic experience of what does not yet exist in the world. So to return to Bourdieu, all experiences of musical beauty are socially situated and politically interested; the experience of musical beauty is a felt resonance with a set of not yet existent possibilities. Hence, the political force of musical beauty.

BC: This gap, problem, or illusio that you identify in your musical examples provides a strong model for other scholars to think through the notoriously tricky relationship between music and politics. And your focus on music’s formal ability to demonstrate social/political possibilities affords a material usefulness to this politics. But to narrow in on my first question, the simultaneous necessity and inadequacy of beauty that you reference from Adorno has me wondering about the multitude of subjective relations to beautiful objects. For instance, drawing on your example of Moby and Vera Hall from Chapter 1, “The sens of the song is opened up by this gap – the sudden silence that embraces that line and forces the listener to ask, ‘what?’” (p. 36). How can we account, politically speaking, for listening subjects that hear no sens in this moment, or the blogger you reference that heard this as a musical moment of white supremacy?

BS: Great questions, Ben. They really hit at the heart of the issue. There are a multitude of subjective relations to beautiful objects—and even significant dispute about what objects are beautiful. It is not possible to account for them in advance. What matters for me is that experience of the beautiful. There are always going to be persons for whom that Moby track doesn’t work—it doesn’t sound beautiful to them. There could be uncountable reasons for that, ranging from responses to the musical choices made to any of the political or social associations conjured by those choices. My sense is that many listeners who have a strong negative reaction to any of those factors have to be captured first by the music. After all, the political force of musical beauty does not produce agreement or consensus, but the legitimate grounds for dissensus. It is, therefore, necessary to talk about specific examples, specific relations. Which is why I’m really glad you brought up Luxnigra’s response to Moby’s work. Luxnigra isn’t wrong. The analysis that points out the complicity between Moby’s use of Vera Hall’s voice and the history of white supremacy is necessary. I also think it is incomplete. What I’m trying to outline in this and other examples is how the experience of musical beauty can capture the alertness of a listener as it reaches beyond itself to construct a sense of the world. Remember that the experience of musical beauty is a judgment by a subject about an object. It feels objective, even when we know it is not. It can contain contradictory complexities. It often produces significant disagreement about political choices as it distributes and reinforces a shared orientation towards what and who matters, what and who counts, what and who are political objects and subjects.

BC: Speaking of dissensus, lately there has been a revived interest in issues of difference and sameness in musicology. You place these issues right up front by stating, “Political community is not characterized by sameness,” (p. 3) and make a convincing case in part through the use of theoretical precedents set by Carl Schmitt and Chantel Mouffe. I was wondering if you could expand on your understanding of ostensible sameness in musical communities, particularly the “being-in-common” that marks the cultural environment of rock music.

BS: I’m not fully sure what you mean by “ostensible sameness in musical communities.” But I’ll take a shot at answering in this way. I think you might mean the way that a musical community might be thought of as having some particular qualities in common. Sure it can, in a reductive sense. But I’m interested in contesting those reductions. Communities are always sites of contestation. Some concepts of political community try to ground their legitimacy in something outside this contestation, often through an asserted identity. Specifying that identity, enumerating its qualities, is always an essentializing move. (Mouffe identifies all the problems with Schmitt’s efforts to purge any community of meaningful difference. Another important reference point here is Tommie Shelby’s We Who Are Dark: The Political Foundations of Black Solidarity.) Throughout The Political Force of Musical Beauty I try to eschew not only essentialism, but also any preformed concept of identity. Identities are contingently and temporarily constructed. Identity, therefore, is no less tenuous than any other ground for community. The two terms are mutually constitutive; neither term can be the ground of the other.

That said, I assume that the “ostensible sameness in musical communities” in reference to rock can point in two directions. It can point to the musical conventions that stabilize rock as a genre, and it can point towards the way that rock as a genre has been racialized and gendered. But the gendering and racializing of the musical conventions of rock do not define the “being-in-common” that the experience of musical beauty in rock can evoke. Being-in-common is an emergent process. You cannot know what that common is until after it has developed from the relations of those interacting. Here it is important to reintroduce the flow of history. Rock’s musical conventions solidified in the late sixties and early seventies. That solidification was self-consciously distilled in much of the punk rock of the later seventies into the hardcore of the eighties. The sense of right relations generated by the experience of musical beauty in rock is always related to the orientation towards the world that was lived by its producers and fans at that historical moment. I cannot take the time here to fully identify all those relations. But a certain sense of the rightness of particular hierarchies was encoded in rock. In the book, I argue that Patti Smith’s articulation of the primary rock value of freedom with an ever-receding imaginary blackness was central to the genre’s conventions. But there are many different ways to live that value. Furthermore, the being-in-common generated by the shared experience in our own time of the musical beauty of rock is not indelibly shaped by those historically lived hierarchies, even though it can never really escape that legacy. For example, recent recordings by an act like Wussy along with almost all 21st century indie rock, articulate the declining slope of those hierarchies, a shrinking of the horizon of the old forms of domination. What seems to set apart Wussy right now is the force with which they use those old musical signs of domination to reveal their current attenuation.

BC: Sorry for the vagueness – you make it very clear in The Political Force of Musical Beauty that your political model is not one based on identity. I am glad you mentioned your argument about Patti Smith (from Chapter 5) because that section stuck out for its reference to the experience of the common: “Rock generates an experience of the common that parcels out a commitment to freedom only for those who can sense the freedom that constantly recedes from the center of rock’s productions – a freedom coded as disappearing blackness” (p. 166). If, as you state, political community is characterized by difference, then is this experience of the common one of an imagined future? In other words, do you see this politics of possibility, via Rancière, Nancy, and others, as “utopian?”

BS: I don’t think you were vague, Ben. It’s just that we’re struggling to find a common vocabulary. So defining terms becomes part of the conversation. For example, what is this “common” that I draw from Nancy (and suggest is related to Rancière’s sensible)? This is another crucially specific question. In places, I clearly imply that the common is constructed in and through the shared experience of musical beauty. In that sense, it is projective. But in my discussion of Patti Smith’s version of “Hey Joe” I seem to be talking about a pre-existing tradition of the extra-musical significance of particular generic conventions. I meant this passage to identify some of the more regressive aspects of rock’s beauty. There is nothing utopian in this example. Because of the historical conditions under which it developed, many of rock’s conventions attempt to contain and control the source from which they were taken. As in so much of American culture, rock’s expression of freedom was incumbent upon imagined limits placed on others. One of the things I love about Patti Smith’s earlier interviews is the unselfconscious way that she talks about this. It can produce a really uncomfortable reaction among today’s readers. It’s painful (for me at least) to see rock’s roots in minstrelsy so blatantly revealed. Any future common that can be imagined to emerge from the musical beauty generated by rock has to deal with this legacy. Regardless of the identity of the musician or the listener. It is built into the ways the conventions work. Which is not to say that no politically progressive common can emerge at this moment from the shared experience of rock’s beauty. Just that for it to do so, it must not deny its history. I think that’s a general point about all genres, by the way.

BC: I absolutely agree that this racial history is a necessity when studying the history of genres. Race is an unavoidable topic in popular music studies and almost every chapter of The Political Force of Musical Beauty deals with race in one way or another. While your overall argument is not based on identity, how would you say that race seems to necessarily overlap with issues of musical beauty?

BS: You cannot talk about the political force of musical beauty without talking about race. As Ronald Radano and Philip Bohlman state in the introduction to their important collection, Music and the Racial Imagination, “Race lives on in the house of music because it is so saturated with racial stuff…. As a key signifier of difference, music for America—in its wonder, in its transcendence, in its affective danger—historically conjures racial meaning” (p. 1). Race is a fundamental fracture point and integral component of musical production in the Western world. It has played a central role in the development of secular popular music in the United States for longer than there has been a United States. The history of musical production in the US is inextricably intertwined with the historical context of colonialism, genocide, slavery, Jim Crow, and (in Michelle Alexander’s words) The New Jim Crow. As so many scholars have shown, (e.g. Toll, Lott, Cockrell, Lhamon, Miller) commercial secular popular music in the US developed out of blackface minstrelsy, that fundamentally deconstructive performative practice that simultaneously asserted its authenticity and its falseness. The experience of musical beauty cannot escape this legacy. Race structures the experience of musical beauty in two ways—as an ineradicable component of the social and political situatedness of every aesthetic experience, and through the historical processes whereby musical genres and the conventions that construct them have been racialized. These are really two aspects of the same process—every listener is shaped by racial discourses, every musical sound is shaped by racial discourses. But no necessary consequences follow from this fact. Musicians have creatively played with and fought musical wars with the racialization of sounds for hundreds of years. Race is an instrument, a resource, a tool, and a weapon. One of the key strategies I can think of for the creation of musical beauty is to challenge the existing racialization of musical sounds—in the process perhaps generating a new being-in-common.

BC: You make an excellent point that the racial discourses of that shape listening have no necessary or specified consequences. This point is most clear in Chapter 2 with your discussion of how musical anthems function politically. While you use several anthems from the Civil Rights Movement to demonstrate how music has fostered political community, you also describe a striking complication: “Rather than producing an intimate public, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ most often constructs a docile one, one normalized not by an equality of singing but rather by the consuming equality of spectatorship” (p. 52). I’d like to seize upon this relatively small example to ask a much broader question. What do you identify as the dangers of the musical beauty?

BS: Before I address that powerful last question, I want to specify quickly the context of that quotation about “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It comes from a larger discussion that differentiates between being part of a group failing to sing the song “properly” and being part of a group listening to a virtuoso performance of the song. I was kind of making a classic cultural studies distinction between spectatorship and participation, but in a particular context of anthemic performance. I do believe that when we all sing that song and when we all hear how impossible it is to achieve a full beautiful performance of it, we can sense the utopian nature of the nation’s claims to equality and freedom and experience something of the demand that utopian desire places on all of us. But when we sit back comfortably and listen to a masterful performance by someone else, we find ourselves pacifically expecting someone else to do the work of democracy for us.

That said, yes, the experience of musical beauty is fraught with danger. It can reinforce complicity with all kinds of horrors. It can confirm the inner fascist in each of us. This has nothing to do with the overt content of any lyrics or the social or political stereotypes associated with a genre. It has to do with the way that listening to comfortable music with easy pleasures can comfort us in the rightness of the world as we know it. Musical beauty can confirm in us not only the sense of our belonging in an unjust and oppressive world but also the sense that this is the way the world ought to be. For example, in “On Popular Music,” Adorno (and Simpson) famously say that the meaning of the second theme in Beethoven’s 7th Symphony comes only from its deep contextualization and that nothing like this can happen in popular music. In that statement, they expose their inability to comprehend the full contextual complexity of popular music. Implicitly, they insist that the contextual aspects of which they are ignorant are not important. That’s the bad side of loving Beethoven. On the other hand, the beautiful articulation of all that is horrible in the world can have a critically progressive force. Adorno also says when he is talking about “Late Style in Beethoven,” “Objective is the fractured landscape, subjective is the light in which—alone—it glows into life. He [Beethoven] does not bring about their harmonious synthesis…. He tears them apart in time…” That’s the good side of loving Beethoven. These contradictions are not really all that dramatic. They happen all the time.

BC: In my reading, the most daring points of The Political Force of Musical Beauty come when you reevaluate (and reinvigorate) musical concepts that scholars have dismissed in recent decades (including musical beauty). Your academic defense of authenticity at the 2011 EMP Conference has been major influence on my own work and your dedication to the topic here has unsettled the go-to critiques of authenticity. But you are clearly still critical of the gender and race biases that authenticity judgments often enact. What new uses do you see for the concept of authenticity in pop music studies?

BS: The issue of authenticity emerged with the coming of modernity. In The Political Force of Musical Beauty, I trace some of the history of the term relying on the work of scholars like Marshall Berman, Regina Bendix and Karl Hagstrom Miller. Berman provides a pretty clear discussion of the irresolvable contradictions that emerge from the modern habit of self-questioning. Bendix and Miller show how the quest for authenticity has shaped folklore studies and how the paradigm that developed in folklore exerted a determining role on the marketing and reception of popular music in the US, resulting in various forms of essentialism. In that framework, authenticity became a question of the relationship of particular musical sounds to a specific social ground. It quickly became a rigid trap: “Can a blue man play the whites?” and all that. The stakes in that question become more intense when musical sounds enter the marketplace. Pygmy music should only be played by Pygmy peoples; it should not provide the introduction to a Herbie Hancock hit. But such judgments are rarely straightforward. In The Political Force of Musical Beauty, I argue that the judgment of authenticity is important because of music’s power. We want to know if we can trust the feelings that it produces in us. We want to know if our sense of the social and political real generated by a set of sounds will have some extramusical traction. That’s why the judgment of authenticity remains important.

It should not be fetishized, however. Adorno had a lot of fun ripping into the existentialist hypostatization of authenticity. But in The Jargon of Authenticity, he was critiquing the misuse of the concept, not the concept itself. Misused, authenticity is an almost nostalgic longing for a previous hegemony, “an allegedly hale life…far from all social considerations.” But with music, we care deeply about the social considerations. No popular music genre holds the title to authenticity; every musical sound can be used to lie. All performers have to be able to fake it. No listener’s pleasure should be limited to the sounds they grew up with. But the concept of authenticity remains important insofar as it functions as a judgment about the relationship between the musical and the extramusical. Here’s how I put it in that 2011 Pop Con paper: “The judgment of authenticity is simply the effort to identify music that feels real, that seems grounded in something more significant than the vibrations from which it is shaped, so that the feelings that are articulated in and through musical performance can be trusted.” We even judge the slickest most sophisticated pop performers in terms of this relationship to the real. That’s what authenticity is; that’s why it matters.

BC: A relatively small, but well-made, point in your chapter about the Velvet Underground about “fun” implies that the enjoyment of music-making can be both a way out of avant-garde seriousness and the commercial trappings of pop. With all of the recent attention on affect, have you considered further work on the feeling of musical fun?

BS: However native to the field of popular music it is, the concept of fun is not a simple one. Fun is not the answer to why we have a relationship of enjoyment to particular sounds. It is simply a statement of the problem to be analyzed. Where there is fun, the popular music scholar must ask why this set of people finds fun in this set of sounds. Fun implies a certain intensity of enjoyment that feels like it is natural. In fun, one has lost (for only a little moment) that self-questioning self-doubting tenor that has become an intimate aspect of daily life. Which means that in fun, the problematics of social contradiction have been momentarily forgotten. And that means that a social and political problem has found an imaginary solution. (The bibliography for the answer to this question comes mostly from Fred Jameson—The Political Unconscious and “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture.”) Because the solutions are imaginary, they are lacking an important connection to the real. But when fun feels authentic, then it has some connection—the solutions that generate fun are never totally false. There is a utopian moment of possibility hidden inside all popular music. In a post I wrote for Sounding Out! a year and a half ago, I talked about the fun that is embedded in Psy’s “Gangnam Style.” There I called it “the demand for purposeless pleasure,” which now sounds to me to be disturbingly similar to Kant’s purposeless purpose. But just like Kant’s disinterestedness really hides the interests that are reproduced and reaffirmed in every moment of beauty, the purposeless pleasure of fun contains a kernel of connection to a desired for image of the real. When Psy dances in all the places where he officially does not belong, he is dancing for the erasure of those official boundaries. When we dance along, we imagine something of the same disappearance and the same freedom.

BC: Your analysis of rock imperfections and “participatory discrepancies” made me wonder how your model of musical politics relates to structuralism. You are very careful to warn that your readings depend upon contexts and are not simply inherent to the music. As you planned each of these chapters, how important was the ability to analyze musical structure for your arguments?

BS: I assume that you are referring to the “readings” I produce of songs like “Heroin,” or “Gloria.” I want PFMB to contribute to a project of developing a specific popular musicology. I’m committed to detailed careful listening to popular music. Because close listening enables the auditor to hear subtle patterns of interaction that generate moments of musical beauty that then crystallize a sens for extramusical relations. My goal in my discussion of these songs and others is to lead listeners through the sounds that are the constitutive elements of those moments of beauty. In the process, I hope to demonstrate their aesthetic complexity and show how moments in the experience of that complexity generate a sensibility that shapes an orientation towards the extramusical. When traditional musicologists talk about musical structure, they often leave out what are the most important components of popular music. The terms of their analyses do not fit. Don’t get me wrong: melodies matter; harmonies matter. But what matters more are the textures of the sounds, the ways that sounds wash over each other, the force that rhythms exert on skin cells and blood vessels, the spaces that are conjured by slightly out of tune guitar strings, scattered handclaps and splashing cymbals. Embracing the structure of permanent desire and temporary release produced by the tangle of guitars, the throbbing of the kick drum, and the shriek-drone of the viola in “Heroin” forces the listener to recognize the commodity desire at the heart of the popular. Listening carefully to the interplay of piano, guitars, drums and voice in “Gloria” reveals an opportunity to experience a wide-focused longing, an invitation to join that experience and to revel in its delayed satisfaction. I want my readers to hear how the beauty of these songs is produced and feel how that beauty shapes their world.

BC: To follow-up on the issue of musical structure, I am fascinated by how you approach musical structures and their ability to affect those other important components of popular music: the ways sounds wash over each other, the force that rhythms exert on skin cells and blood vessels, and so forth. For example, your analysis of the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” describes how John Cale’s viola provides a uniquely forefronted drone, in contrast to the tension and release repetition of Sterling Morrison’s guitar and Maureen Tucker’s drums. As you demonstrate, Cale’s drone does not provide consistent sameness, but rather a continuous “oscillation of difference” (p. 141). In your conclusion to Chapter 4, you state,

“In ‘Heroin’ a droning viola captured the sense that something lay just out of reach…The fans of this music experienced that sense of beauty equally as the felt sense of rightness of these formal relations: simplicity amid monotony, freedom amid tight generic constraints, beauty above all created out of the sheer intelligent manipulation of limited resources, and, finally, over and over the aching echoing understanding that the human production of value escapes every effort to coin it, every effort to concretize it. Thus, a redistribution of the sensible occurred” (p. 145-6).

This quote brings us back to your earlier point about the relationship between musical form and social/political form. With “Heroin,” listeners are able to reshape their world according to principles that can be culled from musical structure. Thus, the link between musical structure and politics is, as you say, through listening. Does a politicized experience of musical beauty imply a specific type of listening, though? In other words, does the listener understand this redistribution of the sensible as a conscious experience of musical form?

BS: Wow, another great question. Whenever one embarks on a project like the one I pursue in The Political Force of Musical Beauty, one risks the implication that all “real listening” is the listening that I do. You, all of you, must listen in the way that I do, in the way that college professors and intense music fans do. I hope that I do not insist on that. Instead, I think I am showing how close listening can reveal the ways that the music works as music in the production of its beauty. I had a lot of fun writing those long interpretive descriptions of individual songs. I believe that in that writing lie some truthful comments about those songs and the connections they concretize between musical beauty and extra-musical form. I do not think that every listener is aware of these connections in the moment of listening fun. Nor do I think that every listener should. I think I should be aware of this. It is my job. I hope that I have done that job well and that readers who listen along with me are convinced by what I wrote. If that is true, if readers agree with my interpretations, then I think that I have shown something important about those songs and the political force of their musical beauty. In the particular case of “Heroin,” one central point of my argument is that in the classic recording of this song, the Velvets force us to re-feel the meaning of a commodity, the unceasing demand for more, and the possibility of reimagining a place outside that demand—while remaining inside the system that continually reproduces that demand. The Velvets wanted a hit. They thought “Heroin” would be a hit. On the radio. When I listen to it and hear that desire, I hear the impossibility of substance being contained within the commodity form and the musical beauty produced by the form’s evacuation. If you think that too, after reading what I wrote about it, then I will be a very happy boy.

BC: Finally, I was especially intrigued by your analyses that argue for the experience of musical beauty as locally world-changing. How literally or materially do you take interpret the political force of musical beauty, and what would you hope to see in future scholarship about music and politics?

BS: The political force of musical beauty derives from music’s ability to make us feel the rightness of particular combinations of relations. The orientation towards the world that results from this sense of rightness finds its extramusical expression through subtle transformations in the ways that sounds and textures and gestures and inflections move from strangeness to familiarity, from frighteningly other to engagingly and differently common. Your world is changed by the aesthetic experience of musical beauty. When you interact with differences that reverberate disturbances you don’t quite understand but whose sense you can feel, you recognize those inflections, gestures, textures, and sounds as intentional and politically meaningful—they are the sounds and gestures that constitute a political community of difference. I intend all of this quite literally, quite materially. The commons that is constructed through musical beauty (and countless other types of aesthetic affect) sets the terms of possibility for political action. The political organization of humans can only take place when a felt understanding of the commons exists. Extending the reach of our ability to experience musical beauty extends the complex of relations that can be experienced as a shared world. All of these sounds, textures, gestures and inflections come with extramusical associations. They are never “purely musical.” In fact, the purely musical does not exist. I would like to see a lot more work that confronts the reality of the need for an aesthetically constructed commons as a condition of possibility for any traditional political action to take place.

That said, I feel like I must repeat some of the caveats that are stated fully in The Political Force of Musical Beauty. The political force of musical beauty is a limited one. It establishes the possibility for a shared felt sense of the world. This shared felt sense does not directly determine any political actions or beliefs. There are no direct connections between musical taste and political positions. A shared sense of musical beauty is an index of a shared orientation towards the world, which enables a political community to emerge. This political community is not a community of right-thinking progressives. It has no necessary politics in that sense. What it does have is an ability to comprehend the differences that are included within it and through that comprehension carry on the real work of politics. New political communities can be formed when new experiences of musical beauty are shared. The political force of musical beauty is limited, but it is also fundamental.
___

Barry Shank is professor and chair of the Department of Comparative Studies at The Ohio State University where he teaches courses in interdisciplinary methods, cultural theory, and popular culture. A founding member of the Long Ryders, he is also past president of IASPM-US and the author of Dissonant Identities: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Scene in Austin, Texas (Wesleyan 1994), A Token of My Affection: Greeting Cards and American Business Culture (Columbia, 2004), and The Political Force of Musical Beauty (Duke, 2014), as well as numerous essays on cultural theory, American studies, and popular music.

Benjamin Court is PhD candidate in Musicology at UCLA. His dissertation, tentatively titled “Not Knowing: Musical Amateurism in the 1970s,” studies constructions of musical knowledge, specifically how and why punk and experimental musicians during the 1970s framed themselves as amateurs by purporting a lack of musical knowledge. He is the current graduate student representative of IASPM-US and has presented scholarship at EMP/IASPM-US, the AMS Pacific-Southwest Chapter Meeting, and several graduate student conferences.

 

{ 0 comments }

Announcing the New IASPM-US Web Editor Team

by Mike D'Errico on August 29, 2014

After two years as executive editor, I am now officially stepping down from the position. Thank you to everyone I have had the pleasure of working with in the past two years, and a special thanks to Justin Burton for creating a strong and sustainable foundation for both the website, and the public face of IASPM-US in general. That being said, I am pleased to announce the new IASPM-US Web Team: executive editor Jess Dilday and assistant editor Victor Szabo. Together, Jess and Victor bring the combined expertise of professional DJing, radio hosting, and social media management, as well as academic research and scholarship across disciplines. It has been great to hear their innovative and exciting plans for both the website and the online presence of IASPM-US as a whole, and I look forward to seeing where they take it in the coming months.

Jess Dilday is a recent graduate of the MA program in Sociology at University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Her interests include local music scenes, dance floor dynamics, queer theory, nostalgia and musical activism. She also DJs, plans and promotes dance parties under the moniker DJ PlayPlay.

Victor Szabo is a PhD candidate in the Critical & Comparative Studies program at the University of Virginia’s Music Department. His dissertation, “Ambient Music as Popular Genre: Historiography, Interpretation, Critique,” investigates the aesthetics of the Ambient genre through a cultural history of electronic Ambient recordings. He has an article in the Journal of Popular Music Studies on the queer performativity of Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart, and also works on issues of gender, race, and class in U.S. American popular music, as well as questions of musical value and taste. You can stream his weekly electronic music radio show, Toxic Shocks, on wtju.net.

Mike D’Errico
PhD Candidate
UCLA Musicology
michael.derrico@ucla.edu
www.derricomusic.com

{ 0 comments }

IASPM-US Interview Series: Roll With It, by Matt Sakakeeny

by Jessica Dilday on August 18, 2014

matt-sakakeeny-1294jpg-97ee47c4935497abroll with it bigger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roll With It is a firsthand account of the precarious lives of brass band musicians in New Orleans. These young men are celebrated as cultural icons for upholding the proud traditions of the jazz funeral and the second line parade, yet they remain subject to the perils of poverty, racial marginalization, and urban violence that characterize life for many black Americans. The gripping narrative follows members of the Rebirth, Soul Rebels, and Hot 8 brass bands from back street to backstage, before and after Hurricane Katrina, always in step with the tap of the snare drum, the thud of the bass drum, and the boom of the tuba.

Steven Feld: Let’s start where you end the book, in conversation with Willie Birch about words and images, representation and evocation, about working together to create a rhythm from ostinatos to riffs, from grooves to surprise accents. So: there have been several photographic accounts and responses to the world of brass bands in New Orleans, and there have been literary, documentary, and historical writings. But nothing like what the two of you do here: combine a layered multiplicity of academic and local voices with the angularity of modernist art registers that distinctly place us in the now, with nods to the visual genealogy of Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and others. This is a bold move, particularly in the way it locates a very contemporary story of the streets, the struggles, the sounds, in the longer and larger historical duree of race and place, of reputation and memory. Tell us more about the kind of representational work you hoped to do through your collaboration with Willie Birch, and about how it has been received now by New Orleans locals and aficionados, as well as an audience of newcomers and passersby.

Matt Sakakeeny: Collaborating with Willie Birch was a dream I had, a creative germ of an idea that nestled in my imagination after first seeing a painting of his in 2006. It was a life size rendering of a brass band parade, and because of the scale of the work and the specific techniques he used I felt swept up in the image. Willie can erase the boundary between art and spectator, which is also what happens when you attend one of these parades and there is no separation between musicians and club members and everyone else. I was writing my dissertation and trying to figure out how to do that with another two-dimensional medium, words on a page, and it wasn’t working. I remember presenting on a panel at the ethnomusicology conference with our friend Andy Eisenberg, and I was explaining afterwards how I was trying to model my presentation on the rhythm of the parade, and he casually responded that I wasn’t there yet. When I saw Willie’s painting something clicked: He’s not just representing or depicting a multisensory experience, he’s using it as a model, a method. How can I do with words what he did with visuals?

For the dissertation I could only begin to play with narrative and poetics and pacing, but after starting at Tulane I decided to rewrite everything top-to-bottom for the book, and while I was working on it I brought Robin Kelley in for a campus lecture and Willie was there. We began a relationship that is paternal, fraternal, and professional, meaning he is my friend and he is also one of the most insightful critics of my work. When I told him my dream of collaboration, he said only if he read my manuscript and approved, so I gave him a printout of the first draft and he brought it back to me with the margins filled with suggestions in red ink, and said let’s get to work. The full story is in the afterword of the book, which we wrote together, but essentially we created an ethnographic monograph that is also an “art book,” as Willie calls it. (He compares it to The Sweet Flypaper of Life by Langston Hughes and photographer Roy Decarava, which of course I would never do, and he teases me that years from now our names will have to be reversed on the cover so his is first, which is more plausible.)

Willie and I are almost 30 years apart in age, and he is a black New Orleanian with an established international career while I am a white northerner who moved to New Orleans 17 years ago and just wrote my first book. We come from different social locations, but each of us is attempting to model our work off of local cultural formations and we both do so explicitly from our relative subject positions. Maybe most importantly we assess ourselves as both cultural critics and creative artists, the latter of which continues to be marginalized as “radical” or “experimental” in academia decades after Foucault, the reflexive turn in anthropology, and the system wide deconstruction of objective research. Trying to model writing or visual art after another cultural formation takes creativity in translating methods from one medium to another, and then combining words and visuals was a thrilling artistic process hashed out in Willie’s studio using photocopies, scissors and tape to create a syncopated rhythm. The painting technique (grisaille) is literally layers of paint and enamel that creates the depth that draws the viewer in, and the text is a purposeful layering of musicians’ voices, scholars’ voices, and my voice, and they work together to replicate the dense layering of polyphony and polyrhythm that is the hallmark of the New Orleans style, especially in the street parades where audience participation and environmental resonance create added layers.

The response locally has been beyond gratifying, with the highlight being the book release party, which we had at Sweet Lorraine’s bar near Willie’s studio with the Hot 8 Brass Band. And New Orleanians and fans of the music are SO invested in it, I’ve had some great exchanges with readers, but the text is very critical of structures of power in New Orleans so ideally there will be some backlash that inspires public dialog. It will also be interesting to see the response from my colleagues. The only scholarly review I’ve seen was very dismissive, and it sent me into spells of laughter because the reviewer just absolutely nailed what I was trying to do, except he hated it! “Adding to the vagueness is the absence of photos… Instead the book has only line drawings by artist Willie Birch.” That line is a keeper, but my favorite criticism was about the organization of the writing: “finding specific kinds of information [is] nearly impossible, requiring readers to immerse themselves in the players’ lives. In other words, one must read the book cover to cover.” So maybe we’re on to something.

SF: As engaged ethnography, Roll With It is one of the first books about music to deal deeply and consistently with what is now widely called “precarity,” surely one of the hottest buzzwords in contemporary anthropological discourse and debate. Much ink has been spilled to argue why “precarity” is so much about the current moment in histories of power and position, and is a concept that can take us well beyond other familiar analytics (like resistance and accommodation, structure and agency, labor and materialism, ethics and care, etc.) Tell us about the significance of “precarity” as a means for discussing the scene, the music, the musicians, the moment, the aspirations, the troubles, the post-Katrina anxiety-scape presented in Roll With It.

MS: The book is organized around the experiences of a handful of musicians from three brass bands in New Orleans. These bands propel the movements of large crowds in jazz funerals and neighborhood parades called second lines, and the musicians have marched off the streets and onto the stages of festivals, concert halls, and clubs. These young men are ambassadors of the city, and yet they remain vulnerable to the racial pathologization and curtailed citizenship facing many others in urban enclaves across the U.S. They are alternately celebrated as culture-bearers and marginalized as secondary citizens in richest and most powerful country in the world. So the term “precarity” is definitely applicable, just as it is in the many so-called third- and fourth-world sites that fill the anthropological record, and the most significant studies of post-Katrina New Orleans have taught us much about the vulnerabilities produced by market-based governance (Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith by Vincanne Adams, Driven from New Orleans by Jay Arena, and The Neoliberal Deluge edited by Cedric Johnson). The city has been restructured as a neoliberal laboratory for experiments in charter education, public housing, flexible service labor, and privatized health care, and poor black New Orleanians – Americans – are the primary lab rats.

But the allure of precarity as a shiny new analytical category can be blinding, obscuring longstanding patterns of marginalization that began during plain-old “capitalism” and have adapted extremely well of late. Precarity and neoliberalism are hawked as the cause and the effect of the new world order, whereby the borderless transnational expansion of capitalism and market-based strategies of governance (“neoliberalism”) produce unprecedented disparity and insecurity (“precarity”). Yet capitalism has been based on the transnational mobility and exploitation of labor, in the form of objectified and commodified bodies, for over 400 years. That’s some precarious shit right there. In the U.S., the slave system was replaced immediately by a police state of enforced segregation, ensuring disempowerment by legal means (Jim Crow rule) as well as within the supposedly free market (“redlining”). Were the people subject to these curtailments of citizenship not “precariats”? If the era of civil rights and Great Society were a fleeting attempt to legally redress these uninterrupted histories of peril, then the subsequent rise of market-based solutions is not so much a new ordering as a re-ordering, a flexible adaptation that allows for the retention of prior patterns of marginalization. I’m on board with calling this precarity if it helps readers relate these particular conditions of insecurity to others, but I situate contemporary conditions within what Benjamin called the “state of emergency.” Precarity is not the historical exception but the rule.

For me, the book is about power. The original title was “Instruments of Power,” and while our wonderful editor Ken Wissoker ultimately convinced me not to hitch my cart directly to Foucault’s horse, I do miss the bluntness of that pairing. Picking up a musical instrument is an assertion of power, a form of agency, and my primary goal was to contextualize that microlevel act within the macrolevel of an imbalanced power structure. That meant furthering “structure and agency” studies that defined the social sciences for decades, while attending to critiques of “resistance and accommodation” that recast all social relations as relations of power, moving beyond the false dichotomy of powerful/powerless and the false consciousness of “hegemony.” Can you imagine if I had organized my study around structure/agency, resistance/accommodation, or hegemony/complicity today? When precarity loses its luster like these concepts have, I hope the claims made in the book about the persistence of marginalization across historical epochs will remain relevant.

SF: I was impressed, in Chapter 3, by your nuanced ways of wrestling with “tradition,” particularly how it signifies very differently to differently positioned actors, histories, generations, and narratives in New Orleans, and how it can discursively and practically operate simultaneously as a deep site/signifier of pride and a very moldy Trojan horse. How do you respond to the classic larger question provoked by this kind of analysis of “tradition?” Namely: Does modernity produce more difference than effaces? Always? Never? Sometimes? Often? Maybe? Is there something new this New Orleans brass band site and tale tells us about either/both the social productivity or potential paralysis of “nostalgia”?

MS: That chapter is absolutely the most resonant with classic topics of ethnomusicology and folklore, but I actually had no intention of contributing to that intellectual lineage; the discourse of “tradition” arose during my fieldwork among the musicians themselves, as a defining schism between older and younger musicians, and they led me into that area. I knew I wanted to focus on relatively young people, and I think that allowed me to stake out an underrepresented stance towards tradition, the study of which has historically been dominated by research on elders as tradition-bearers. I realized I could make a contribution to a much smaller and more contemporary body of literature on how new generations balance innovation with adherence to tradition, the weight of which can be a real burden for them. More than anything it was an ethnographic imperative: if it’s important to my subjects than it’s important period.

So you’re right that I only dealt in passing with folklore’s paradigmatic question of the preservation vs. transformation of tradition in relation to modernity, even if the entire chapter implicitly extends critiques of both the structuralist “tradition-as-inertia” school and the poststructuralist “invented tradition” school by Richard Bauman, Greg Urban, and others. My take is outlined a bit more explicitly in the historiographic essay “New Orleans Music as a Circulatory System,” which essentially builds off the productive friction between two intellectual lineages: the massive body of literature on African retentions of tradition that defined the field of African American studies, and recent research on circulation by Ronald Radano, Karl Hagstrom Miller and a cluster of scholars working on the blues. In this work, “tradition” is the glue that binds together a sprawling network of actors with diverse intentions, including cultural innovators who are attuned to a plethora of sounds and styles, and folklorists and industry professionals who are attempting to constrict their identities and performances to those that align with their expectations of what is “traditional.” One effect is that the feedback loop adds surplus value to tradition and bestows cultural capital on those deemed tradition bearers, and another is that boundaries of what is and what is not traditional are demarcated.

In the article, I went all the way back to the slave dances at Congo Square, the bedrock of New Orleans music if not African American music more broadly, and approached the ring shout not only as the source of tradition but also as a site of performance (of music, of bodily engagement, of race, of power), and sketched a genealogy of the circulating accounts of the dances that now provide our only documentation of them. The book, which is historically grounded but predominantly focused on the contemporary, is the other terminus: I am trying to account for all the dynamics that arise when tradition has been saturated by centuries of investment into the very idea of what constitutes tradition. As in many other cases, New Orleans traditions have become enhanced by recognition, especially through festivals and other staged cultural exhibitions for tourists, making them even more bulky and cumbersome for young people charged with upholding it in particular ways. And the short answer is, most of them don’t. They innovate, they express themselves, they mobilize rather than strictly preserve. This is what every generation going back to the slaves in Congo Square has done, and cultural vitality and longevity depends on it, because inertia and formulaic adherence is a recipe for mummification. Just compare the audiences for blues and jazz with those of brass band music in New Orleans, maybe the only place in the U.S. where young black people dancing to live music is completely routine.

SF: The words and images of Roll With It roll and rock, and are often visually evocative beyond the black and white artwork, and sonically evocative beyond voices edited into the printed word. Have you thought more since publication about ways to develop, extend, or connect the book project more to film and radio/recording or internet media? Did you think at all about making this a more image/sound enriched Ebook? As someone whose resume includes being a New Orleans resident, a journalist, a media producer, a performer, and a scholar, what are your current thoughts on bringing the project to the largest public audience through and across multiple media?

MS: I would have loved to create a more developed Ebook, but the demands of time and the path to tenure derailed that possibility, so I created a website with my photographs, videos, radio stories, and profiles of bands and musicians, including a reading guide with media relevant to each chapter. Willie and I are also planning a traveling gallery exhibition of his paintings paired with my audio recordings of brass band parades to create a kind of installation piece. The paintings are massive and really need to be experienced in person to get the full effect of his approach, which situates the subject in the artwork on the same plane as the viewer and sort of forces the spectator to enter into the space that the subject governs. The added context of the soundscape will create another dimension, so we’re fishing around for the resources of time and money to make it happen.

SF: How do you simultaneously stay tuned, keep current, and move on from a project of the ethnographic and theoretical depth and scope of Roll With It?  What are you doing now to keep the local conversations going, as well as to develop new trajectories for your research? Have your interlocutors asked for any particular kind of follow-up? Once you’ve worked with such a compelling cast of characters what comes next?

MS: I have the incredible luxury of living in the place where I conduct my research, of doing anthropology at home. And it just happens to be New Orleans! I really couldn’t be more grateful. That relationship with the city and the people shaped my whole methodology for research and writing. I moved here in 1997, and worked in public radio for six years before going away to New York for grad school, and when I returned in 2006 to do my year of fieldwork a job came up at Tulane and I got it. So the whole time I was “in the field” I was also “at home,” and that really directed the way I approached people. It gave me lots of freedom to observe and interact with people on an informal level, to create friendships with the people I was drawn to the most, and to learn about them by just hanging out in addition to more formal interview settings. Assuming you consider Accra one of your “homes,” I would venture that you assess your relations with the musicians in your movies, recordings, and writings comparably. And as with your Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra, when I turned to writing my book I saw the potential in adopting a first-person narrative frame of storytelling, where a small group of people become the hub of the book and their experiences become the spokes that connect to larger structural patterns.

I would never suggest that I see myself as integral to these musicians’ lives, or that they are pillars of my social life. Musicians are public figures who navigate within a very rich public sphere, and I see myself as part of that sphere and my “data” is mostly derived from the informal interactions and observances I made out in this world. When I finished the book I shared relevant sections with the musicians, which brought about some “dialogic editing” at a much more modest level than what you detailed in your second revised edition of Sound and Sentiment. I was honored when Tyrus Chapman’s response was “it sounds like me,” and nothing could make me happier than having every musician in the book say that, but of course reality is more complicated. For instance, there are hundreds of brass band musicians who don’t appear in the book, and to those who don’t know me (and perhaps to others that do) I may be just an interloper profiting off of their cultural labor. Racial politics and histories of exploitation and appropriation run very deep, no one gets a free pass, and my response was to write openly from a reflexive narrative position about those sticky engagements.

But anthropology at home doesn’t end with publication. In the best instances, I curate public programs with the musicians. Locally, if someone asks me to lecture, I instead request a collaborative presentation with musicians, inviting them to speak and perform. Last year I traveled to Norway with the Hot 8 Brass Band and I had a conversation with Bennie Pete onstage before their performances, and I’m doing the same with Rebirth Brass Band for the 25th Anniversary of the Southern Folklife Connection at UNC. However, my future encounters with brass band musicians will not all be fueled by the spirit of collaboration; there will be other motivations, people will be wary of me or worse, and ideally that will lead to more dialog and more collaboration.

As for my future research, I am writing a theoretical essay on sounded communication in the jazz funeral, drawing upon the anthropology of the voice and linguistics to interpret the capacity of instruments to communicate to the dead and among the living. I have begun a new research project with the congregation of the Church of the Living God in Toccopola, Mississippi, charting the sounds of their services on a continuum of sounded communication ranging from the sermon to shouting to singing to the instrumental articulations of the steel guitar. Eventually I will bring together this research in a book about “voice,” broadly conceived, and interwoven together with reflexive analysis of my own multiple voices (musician, author, radio narrator, etc.). That’s where my publications are going to be directed. In my ongoing engagement with New Orleans, my intention is to enter more directly into cultural policy, to advocate for musicians with those in the public sector and the culture industry. That’s where the rubber hits the road.

____

Matt Sakakeeny is an ethnomusicologist and journalist, New Orleans resident and musician. An Associate Professor of Music at Tulane University, he initially moved to New Orleans to work as a co-producer of the public radio program American Routes. Sakakeeny has written for publications including The Oxford American, Mojo, and Wax Poetics. He plays guitar in the band Los Po-Boy-Citos.

Steven Feld is a musician, filmmaker, and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Music at the University of New Mexico. His books include Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra: Five Musical Years in Ghana, also published by Duke University Press. He is a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

{ 0 comments }

iaspm-us_logoFINAL_300dpi

As the director of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham, Stuart Hall (1932-2014) called for a groundbreaking critical practice that takes seriously the political heart of popular culture, “one of the sites where this struggle for and against a culture of the powerful is engaged: it is the stake to be won or lost in that struggle…” From the contours of digital video’s gendered representation, to the politics of ethnicity in the recording studio, to the affect of co-movement on the dancefloor, the sounds and styles of popular music both reproduce and trouble the cultural status quo. Popular music studies itself also unfolds on contested political terrain, as we struggle to transform–rather than reproduce–pop’s place in the discourses and practices of dominant world systems.

Hall outlines a popular cultural studies that offers an intervention into established regimes of representation, and the 2015 IASPM-US conference takes up his mandate for “the deadly seriousness of intellectual work” on popular culture. In a neoliberal age in which the substance of political struggle organizes around unequal flows of global capital and the elusive politics of everyday empowerment and disempowerment, popular music studies becomes an amplifier by which the radically contested and otherwise fugitive strains of musical practice become audible. Here, the study of Black aesthetics, youth culture, disability, socioeconomic class, postcoloniality, queer identities, and Third World feminisms, among others, hangs together with attention to the textures of musical composition as well as the patterns of global media markets.

Hall locates the struggles of power in the realm of aesthetics and politics. Central to this work is a nuanced consideration of the ways in which media (for McLuhan, “any technology by which the human body is extended”) serve both to reproduce established discourses and to generate new possibilities for artistic liberation, decolonization, self-authorship, and the imagination of alternative futures. Popular music studies mobilizes an inclusive concept of media studies that acknowledges dominant global digitalities alongside subcultural, stylistic, and other “off-label” engagements with media technologies. In order to account for the breadth and depth of musical practice, the field binds together an engagement with aesthetics, the textures of technology, and the politics of difference.

The 2015 IASPM-US conference will revisit the genealogies of critique that shape popular music studies’ longstanding intervention into discourses on culture, media, and power. An approach that takes into account the radical contexts of musicmaking is key to documenting processes of empowerment and disempowerment in pop. It calls for an understanding of, in Hall’s words, “the effect of the unseen ‘work’—that which takes place out of consciousness, in the relationship between creative practice and deep currents of change.” The field honors Hall’s legacy by practicing popular music studies while simultaneously reflecting on its theoretical and critical arcs. We enthusiastically welcome proposals that creatively engage both popular music and the broader field of cultural and media studies, particularly through these key discourses:

1. Roots and Routes
While popular music studies continues to critically mine the genealogies of genres, lyrics, styles, and sounds in pop, we ask how the field can also better foster a complex, multilinear engagement with globalization, diaspora, and the mobility of musical practices. Reflexively, what continuities does pop music studies have with other modes of engaging music, culture, politics, and history, and how can attention to these strengthen critical work? Who are we as a body of scholars who converge at IASPM-US, whom does the field currently include and exclude, and who do we hope to be?

2. Defining the Struggle
What populations exist on the periphery of or fully outside dominant world systems that control the flow of money, availability of vital resources, and ease of mobility? When these populations make popular music, what does it sound like, how does it circulate, and what interventions become possible through these sounds? How has/does this music fit into the field of popular music studies? In what ways might popular music studies take up the political work of contributing to the empowerment of the subaltern?

3. A Detour through Theory
What happens when we apply Hall’s mode of conjunctural analysis–a mode of studying culture that takes into account the intersecting histories, polyvalent meanings, cultural genealogies, media technologies, politics of place and time, and other radical contexts that reverberate in a given pop genre/scene/style? How can the field of popular music studies, which so often draws from theories generated in literary studies, sound studies, gender and sexuality studies, ethno/musicology, anthropology, sociology, multicultural studies, philosophy, science and technology studies, and communication and media studies, articulate a theoretical legacy from within?

4. Pedagogy and Intervention
The demands of work in the academy and contemporary media challenge pop music scholars to balance theoretical rigor and readability that, like popular music itself, reaches wide audiences. How can intellectual work about popular music circulate in formalized, institutional settings as well as in public venues? What are the opportunities and pitfalls of the growing acceptance of popular music studies within academia? What role do popular music scholars play in light of widespread de-funding of higher education and the increasingly corporate model of university administration?

5. Digital Media and Representation
How can popular music studies engage new developments in technology and globalization both in terms of the increasing speed and thickness of their networks, and in terms of their contested, polyvalent, and problematic work in perpetuating global inequality? How do complex forms of musical communication and representation shoot up through the established regimes of representation and make space for new musical possibilities?

Please submit proposals via Word document [last name_first name.docx] to iaspmus2015@gmail.com by 15 October 2014. Individual presenters should submit a paper title, 250-word abstract, and author information including full name, institutional affiliation, email address, and a 50-word bio. Panel proposals, specifying either 90 minutes (three presenters) or 120 (four), should include both 125-word overview and 250-word individual proposals (plus author information), or 250-word overview and 50-word bios (plus names, affiliations, and email addresses) for roundtable discussions. Please indicate any audio, visual, or other needs for the presentation; each room will have sound, projector, and an RGB hookup. We also welcome unorthodox proposals that do not meet the above criteria, including ideas for workshops, film screenings, and other non-traditional formats. All conference participants must be registered IASPM-US members (it’s okay to register after one’s proposal is accepted). For membership information visit: http://iaspm-us.net/membership/. For more information about the conference, go to http://iaspm-us.net/conferences/ or send email inquiries to iaspmus2015@gmail.com.

Program co-chairs: Justin D. Burton (Rider University) and Ali Colleen Neff (College of William and Mary).
Program committee: Rebekah Farrugia (Oakland University), Luis-Manuel Garcia (Freie Universität Berlin), Anthony Kwame Harrison (Virginia Tech), Nadine Hubbs (University of Michigan), Elizabeth Lindau (Earlham College), Larisa Mann (New York University), Shana Redmond (University of Southern California), and Barry Shank (Ohio State University).

{ 0 comments }

Call for Nominations: The 2014 Woody Guthrie Award

by Jessica Dilday on June 30, 2014

The International Association for the Study of Popular Music-US Branch (IASPM-US) requests your nominations for the most distinguished English language monograph in popular music studies published during 2013. Books may be nominated by any member in good standing of IASPM, by members of the prize committee, by their authors, or by publishers.  Copyrights must state 2013.

CHANGE:  The deadline for nominations is August 1, 2014. Nominations should be sent electronically to guthrieaward.iaspmus@gmail.com, and should include the author’s name, book title, and publisher’s information including ISBN. The society will announce the winner at the spring 2015 IASPM-US meeting.

{ 0 comments }

IASPM-US: Call for Web Editor

by Mike D'Errico on June 20, 2014

IASPM-US Banner 2014

The executive committee of IASPM-US is currently seeking applicants to fill the position of Assistant Web Editor.

The Assistant Web Editor commits to an 18-month position. In the first six months, primary responsibilities include managing social media networks for IASPM-US (Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud), as well as assisting the current Executive Web Editor, Jessica Dilday, in generating content for the website. In the next year, the Assistant Web Editor will take on the position of Executive Web Editor, becoming the primary point person for website related tasks, including: maintaining and generating content for the website; working closely with the executive committee and program committee to keep the organization updated about elections, annual conference details, and other IASPM-US related business; addressing the executive committee and broader membership with an annual report at the IASPM-US conference; and training the incoming Assistant Web Editor. The executive committee is particularly interested in applicants who are adept at social media networking, blogging, and content curation. While there are no technical prerequisites to the position, a working knowledge of WordPress is desired.

To apply for the position, please send a 300-500 word personal statement to iaspmus@gmail.com, including a brief biography, list of accomplishments, and what skills and ideas you would contribute to the organization. Applications must be received by July 14, 2014.

Please direct any questions to current web editor Jessica Dilday, or outgoing web editor Mike D’Errico, at iaspmus@gmail.com.

{ 0 comments }

2015 IASPM-US Conference

by Jessica Dilday on May 14, 2014

iaspm-us_logoFINAL_300dpi

IASPM-US is pleased to announce that its 2015 annual conference will take place in Louisville February 19-22, hosted jointly by the University of Louisville and Bellarmine University.

Theme and CFP

Call for Proposals (Abstracts Due October 15, 2014)

Notes on Deconstructing Popular Music (Studies): Global Media and Critical Interventions
International Association for the Study of Popular Music, US Branch 
2015 Annual Conference
Louisville, Kentucky, February 19 – 22, 2015

As the director of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham, Stuart Hall (1932-2014) called for a groundbreaking critical practice that takes seriously the political heart of popular culture, “one of the sites where this struggle for and against a culture of the powerful is engaged: it is the stake to be won or lost in that struggle…” From the contours of digital video’s gendered representation, to the politics of ethnicity in the recording studio, to the affect of co-movement on the dancefloor, the sounds and styles of popular music both reproduce and trouble the cultural status quo. Popular music studies itself also unfolds on contested political terrain, as we struggle to transform–rather than reproduce–pop’s place in the discourses and practices of dominant world systems.

Hall outlines a popular cultural studies that offers an intervention into established regimes of representation, and the 2015 IASPM-US conference takes up his mandate for “the deadly seriousness of intellectual work” on popular culture. In a neoliberal age in which the substance of political struggle organizes around unequal flows of global capital and the elusive politics of everyday empowerment and disempowerment, popular music studies becomes an amplifier by which the radically contested and otherwise fugitive strains of musical practice become audible. Here, the study of Black aesthetics, youth culture, disability, socioeconomic class, postcoloniality, queer identities, and Third World feminisms, among others, hangs together with attention to the textures of musical composition as well as the patterns of global media markets.

Hall locates the struggles of power in the realm of aesthetics and politics. Central to this work is a nuanced consideration of the ways in which media (for McLuhan, “any technology by which the human body is extended”) serve both to reproduce established discourses and to generate new possibilities for artistic liberation, decolonization, self-authorship, and the imagination of alternative futures. Popular music studies mobilizes an inclusive concept of media studies that acknowledges dominant global digitalities alongside subcultural, stylistic, and other “off-label” engagements with media technologies. In order to account for the breadth and depth of musical practice, the field binds together an engagement with aesthetics, the textures of technology, and the politics of difference.

The 2015 IASPM-US conference will revisit the genealogies of critique that shape popular music studies’ longstanding intervention into discourses on culture, media, and power. An approach that takes into account the radical contexts of musicmaking is key to documenting processes of empowerment and disempowerment in pop. It calls for an understanding of, in Hall’s words, “the effect of the unseen ‘work’—that which takes place out of consciousness, in the relationship between creative practice and deep currents of change.” The field honors Hall’s legacy by practicing popular music studies while simultaneously reflecting on its theoretical and critical arcs. We enthusiastically welcome proposals that creatively engage both popular music and the broader field of cultural and media studies, particularly through these key discourses:

1. Roots and Routes
While popular music studies continues to critically mine the genealogies of genres, lyrics, styles, and sounds in pop, we ask how the field can also better foster a complex, multilinear engagement with globalization, diaspora, and the mobility of musical practices. Reflexively, what continuities does pop music studies have with other modes of engaging music, culture, politics, and history, and how can attention to these strengthen critical work? Who are we as a body of scholars who converge at IASPM-US, whom does the field currently include and exclude, and who do we hope to be?

2. Defining the Struggle
What populations exist on the periphery of or fully outside dominant world systems that control the flow of money, availability of vital resources, and ease of mobility? When these populations make popular music, what does it sound like, how does it circulate, and what interventions become possible through these sounds? How has/does this music fit into the field of popular music studies? In what ways might popular music studies take up the political work of contributing to the empowerment of the subaltern?

3. A Detour through Theory
What happens when we apply Hall’s mode of conjunctural analysis–a mode of studying culture that takes into account the intersecting histories, polyvalent meanings, cultural genealogies, media technologies, politics of place and time, and other radical contexts that reverberate in a given pop genre/scene/style? How can the field of popular music studies, which so often draws from theories generated in literary studies, sound studies, gender and sexuality studies, ethno/musicology, anthropology, sociology, multicultural studies, philosophy, science and technology studies, and communication and media studies, articulate a theoretical legacy from within?

4. Pedagogy and Intervention
The demands of work in the academy and contemporary media challenge pop music scholars to balance theoretical rigor and readability that, like popular music itself, reaches wide audiences. How can intellectual work about popular music circulate in formalized, institutional settings as well as in public venues? What are the opportunities and pitfalls of the growing acceptance of popular music studies within academia? What role do popular music scholars play in light of widespread de-funding of higher education and the increasingly corporate model of university administration?

5. Digital Media and Representation
How can popular music studies engage new developments in technology and globalization both in terms of the increasing speed and thickness of their networks, and in terms of their contested, polyvalent, and problematic work in perpetuating global inequality? How do complex forms of musical communication and representation shoot up through the established regimes of representation and make space for new musical possibilities?

Please submit proposals via Word document [last name_first name.docx] to iaspmus2015@gmail.com by 15 October 2014. Individual presenters should submit a paper title, 250-word abstract, and author information including full name, institutional affiliation, email address, and a 50-word bio. Panel proposals, specifying either 90 minutes (three presenters) or 120 (four), should include both 125-word overview and 250-word individual proposals (plus author information), or 250-word overview and 50-word bios (plus names, affiliations, and email addresses) for roundtable discussions. Please indicate any audio, visual, or other needs for the presentation; each room will have sound, projector, and an RGB hookup. We also welcome unorthodox proposals that do not meet the above criteria, including ideas for workshops, film screenings, and other non-traditional formats. All conference participants must be registered IASPM-US members (it’s okay to register after one’s proposal is accepted). For membership information visit: http://iaspm-us.net/membership/. For more information about the conference, go to http://iaspm-us.net/conferences/ or send email inquiries to iaspmus2015@gmail.com.

Program co-chairs: Justin D. Burton (Rider University) and Ali Colleen Neff (College of William and Mary).
Program committee: Rebekah Farrugia (Oakland University), Luis-Manuel Garcia (Freie Universität Berlin), Anthony Kwame Harrison (Virginia Tech), Nadine Hubbs (University of Michigan), Elizabeth Lindau (Earlham College), Larisa Mann (New York University), Shana Redmond (University of Southern California), and Barry Shank (Ohio State University).

{ 0 comments }

J Playing PianoWilliams Rhymin Stealin

In Rhymin and Stealin: Musical Borrowing in Hip-Hop (University of Michigan Press, 2013), Justin Williams turns his ear to the re-use of pre-existing musical material in hip hop, primarily focusing his attention on rap. Williams theorizes hip hop as a genre that holds borrowing as a core principle, and he explores the way pre-existing music is used to define subgenres, evoke space, lament or celebrate martyrs, and bond artists from one generation to the next in a complex web of influence and lineage. Below, Justin and I delve into the topic of musical borrowing as related to the book and beyond.

Justin D Burton: Hip hop studies is a broadly interdisciplinary field, and I find it helpful to think about how our varying backgrounds inform our work on the genre. Early in the book, you mention that you are a musicologist and that Rhymin and Stealin is a product of your musicological training. How does this shape the book? Or, the same question from a different angle—how do you think the book might have turned out differently if you weren’t approaching the material from a musicological perspective?

Justin Williams: One of the things that draws me back time and time again to hip hop studies is that so many people from diverse disciplines engage with it. Hip hop becomes the common ground and gives me insight into the concerns of other fields. At the same time, it makes me think about what I am doing as a musicologist and why I think that is important. I’m finishing up work on editing a Cambridge Companion to Hip Hop which includes scholars from anthropology, ethnomusicology, music theory, art, music production, linguistics, politics, dance studies, etc. and it really does show how vast the network is.

My background in musicology helps me to a) work with different methods in which to talk about sound and b) acknowledge historical links with other musics which perhaps have been given more scholarly attention in my field. Now this is not to elevate hip hop to some greater, legitimate topic (I hope we don’t need to keep convincing people hip hop deserves scholarly inquiry), but to look at real links between practices in other cultures and eras. If I find a lamenting musical figure in songs that mourn Tupac and Biggie, for example, that cultural code of the descending minor chord progression still holds true for me and others. Or: can the strategic formation of lineage between Mozart and Haydn and Beethoven be compared to Dr. Dre, Eminem and 50 Cent in their own respective worlds? Since the subject of the book is “musical borrowing,” a musicological subfield, it also makes sense to adopt these perspectives in their historical context. Other fields can talk about sound as well as about music history quite competently, but I found that the musical borrowing perspectives had not really been discussed in hip hop studies, so I wanted to try and follow those arguments through, work through them, and provide case studies that would help to demonstrate the varied intertextual practices in hip hop and what they might say about our times.

JDB: This, I think, is a perfect explanation of what interdisciplinarity can do—it not only brings us into others’ fields of study but also helps each of us better understand and explore how our own training informs our work. As for those case studies, I notice that the book can be broken into a couple of sections. The first two chapters after the introduction look back, with you exploring the roots of borrowing in hip hop and then hip hop’s own engagement with jazz. Then the final three chapters trace parallel groups of rappers, focusing on Dre/Eminem/50 Cent alongside Tupac/Biggie. How did you settle on these as your case studies? Obviously, you only have enough space to cover a few examples, so I wonder if there was something particularly representative or evocative about these case studies that drew you to them?

JW: I haven’t really thought about the book like that, but you are right, and that’s really interesting. In a way, I see Chs. 4 and 5 (on Tupac/Biggie and Dre/Eminem/50 Cent) as companions, and Ch. 3 as an exploration of music and geography (of space, the automobile, and place, Los Angeles). I’ve deliberately chosen mainstream examples, and many which represent a mainstream West Coast gangsta ethos. This has worked from a musicological perspective since Dre and others had similar production techniques so it was a way to develop and discuss their “sonic signatures” in a way that had not been done before. I’d extend that further to The Game (whom I am writing an article on as we speak) and Kendrick Lamar though Kendrick turns it on its head, in my opinion. As for jazz rap, I am a jazz musician so I felt comfortable talking about that genre, and it provides a useful case study for talking about genre, semiotics, and the meanings that certain sounds and genres can bring to the table, so to speak. The list of case studies is endless to be honest, so I did have to stop somewhere!

JDB: This is something you cover in the book, but, before moving on, could you say a few words about how “musical borrowing” is not simply “sampling”?

JW: Thanks for this question, as it is an important one. Sampling refers to the specific process of digital sampling—taking a sound in binary form so that it replicates exactly what was originally heard. It was originally a studio technique for replicating sounds (i.e. using horns when a horn section wasn’t available or one couldn’t afford them). The practice was made cheaper and popularized in the mid-80s by samplers like the E-mu SP-12 and hip hop artists who extended DJ practices in more efficient and complex ways (not to say one is better than the other, of course). We now associate samplers with the construction of “beats” or perhaps electronic dance music but one could also sample a voice of a person for a hip hop track.

But what about when Sugar Hill Gang uses a backup band to re-perform Chic’s “Good Times” for “Rapper’s Delight”? That’s not sampling, and it’s not DJing. It’s a disco cover with rap over it, but falls under practices of musical borrowing. So does mentioning classic rap lines in a rapper’s flow. In other words, there are all these non-digital-sampling practices which occur within hip hop that warrant discussion and often derive from the same intertextual impulses as previous African-American art forms but aren’t strictly sampling, and I wanted to give them some attention as well.

I can’t tell you the amount of times when I talked about my book topic, people responded “Oh, so like sampling?” Well, yes, but it’s more than that. Graffiti is all about taking something with one purpose (spray paint) and using it for something else, or breakdancing. Auto-tune is essentially borrowing a technology and using it to different ends.

The reason to focus on “musical borrowing” (a term not everyone embraces) is twofold: one, to align myself with a musicological discipline founded by J. Peter Burkholder which I believe has been neglected in the past two decades (shout out to Phil Ford for first showing me his work); and second, simply to assert that the vast intertextuality in the hip hop world includes not only digital sampling, but is one of many techniques used to reference the past, or to use the past as raw material for the construction of new sounds and identities. I argue this at length in the introduction to my book.

I could have called the book many things and could have used many terms: intertextuality, musical theft, musical promiscuity (as Jason King once suggested to me), quotation, etc. But I felt comfortable with borrowing given that I wanted to align my story with a history of using previous musical materials to new ends.

JDB: Burkholder’s whole goal with that 1995 essay was to open up a field of study focused entirely on musical borrowing as you’ve defined it here. The idea was to cross genre/era/musician in the interest of hearing the way musical borrowing is employed over time and in different places, connecting unlikely analogs in the hopes that—in his case—Renaissance practices could enlighten Ives scholarship. His vision for a field of musical borrowing hasn’t exactly come to fruition. Why do you think that is, and what draws you to it? Burkholder includes hip hop as a part of the field but mostly as a gesture, focusing more explicitly on his area of expertise, Western art music. As a hip hop scholar, can you articulate the value of plugging into a field that studies musical borrowing across such sub-disciplinary divides? How might this intersect with other approaches to musical borrowing, like Joe Schloss’s ethnographic focus, Amanda Sewell’s taxonomic analysis of the Beastie Boys and PE, or Stanyek and Piekut’s notion of intermundane collaborations?

JW: There’s probably a few reasons why Burkholder’s “Musical Borrowing as a Field” has not really been embraced wholeheartedly by music academics at large, or at least not used more. As an article, the taxonomy works really well for Ives, but needs to be tweaked for other repertoire. Additionally, borrowing is problematic as a term because it almost suggests the object being borrowed can be returned. I think many just don’t like the term. And I think there is just a general skepticism in looking at things across time and place. We become specialist in one or two fields for various reasons, not least because of time restraints and job marketability. Philip Tagg looks at pop by often acknowledging the history of musical sounds and gestures, but he is skeptical of musicological terminology and wants us to adopt his terms, terms which some musicologists may not want to adopt.

But in another sense, borrowing has been embraced by many scholars, it is just that those people who are interested in borrowing (whether they call it parody, quotation, homage, allusion, intertextuality, modelling, etc.) don’t really talk to each other very much. Burkholder’s bibliography of borrowing attests to the fact that there are hundreds of people working on this field, they just might not know it, or they might use different terminology. I’m also to blame here, but another reason this hasn’t been pushed forward is because musicology is not terribly collaborative compared to other fields. And even when two or more people collaborate, they may all be “Medievalists” or “jazz scholars” or “pop scholars” etc. etc. How could we get 8-10 musicologists around a table, all trained in completely different subfields and repertoire, to create a working document that addresses musical borrowing as a field from a real variety of disciplines? It would take some determination, but it might be possible. Nor would I want that document to become a ‘my way or the highway’ set of tools, terms, tricks and methods that then dominate the discussion.

David Metzer’s first book is probably the closest I’ve come to seeing a single person looking at a wide variety of eras and genres. I’ve always liked what that book was trying to do, and I hope more things like that come out. My book focused only on hip hop, so in a way it was trying to add hip hop to this discourse of books by Burkholder, (Chris) Reynolds, Metzer, (Honey) Meconi, Stilwell and Powrie (ed) and many others.

In relation to Schloss, Sewell, Stanyek and Piekut, yes, they are all part of this conversation. In a way, Schloss’s Making Beats and its concern with compositional process is more aligned with old school musicology than we’d think at first glance. I hope that doesn’t sound like I am being unfair to Joe, as that book is still the best book on sampling out there (!) But I can see a link between some producers who wish to hide their sample sources by transforming them and Reynolds’ book about how 19th century composers tried to hide their influences to sound original. Sewell is taking it in a really positive direction, to really get into the analytical details of these techniques as well as many of the legal issues. Stanyek and Piekut’s article on the intermundane involves some fascinating comments about dead labor and the studio processes of “Unforgettable” which very much add to my writings on post-mortem sampling in Ch. 4 of the book, and I’m still trying to think through some of the issues they brought to the table with that article.

So yeah, we’re all here doing this work, and I guess the question is: do we try and use the same terminology and try and push things forward, or is it simply a case of having it grow organically through responding to each others’ books and articles? Maybe we need an edited collection on musical borrowing, or on intertextuality, but one which does not feel like a set of discrete articles, but something which has come about through a symposium/workshop, something that feels like a real productive conversation. Maybe this is already happening and I just didn’t get the memo.

JDB: I guess part of the subtext is the question of whether a field needs to define itself as such. Certainly the work is being done, and bibliographies—including Burkholder’s impressive catalog as well as those found in books and articles by scholars working on musical borrowing/intertextuality/sampling—provide connective tissue.

As for the term “borrowing,” you mention here and in the book that one problem the term faces goes something like this: to borrow something implies the ability to return it, and borrowed music can’t be returned. I’ve been having trouble getting with this line of reasoning, though, as I think we often use the term “borrow” to refer to things that can’t be strictly returned. A few weeks ago, my neighbor borrowed sidewalk salt from me during a snow storm. Three days later, he knocked on the door and gave me a new bag of salt. He didn’t bring back the exact salt I gave him—nor would I have wanted him to—but he brought back something very similar to what I gave him. I hope this isn’t reductive, but it seems musical borrowing works in much the same way. Dre borrows through reperformance “Swing low, sweet chariot/Stop and let me ride” and returns to PFunk (and the rest of us) something very much like what he took.

There are a few problems with this analogy, namely that salt has a finite use; once my neighbor drops salt on his sidewalk, those granules are used up. A musical idea can be endlessly recycled without using up the original source, so what Dre returns is a new bag of salt but also the old bag, which remains available to other musicians to “borrow.” What the analogy perhaps highlights, though, is the value of what is returned—Dre has reworked PFunk’s musical material in imaginative new ways and in the process generated more material for others to borrow.

I wonder whether some reluctance about this term is bound up in issues of ownership, copyright, and control. Certainly, Queen and David Bowie weren’t particularly thrilled with the return on “Under Pressure” that Vanilla Ice offered. And famous, rich producers borrow/take from unknown artists without asking or willingly sharing the profits, which crosses some ethical lines most of us would like to preserve. How does a term like “musical borrowing” fit into this complex web of activities, and how do you think cultural practices of capital shape our understanding of both musical borrowing and the terms we use to name it?

JW: I like what you are saying about the value of what is returned after it has been re-worked, and I do think it brings up important issues of ownership. What I perhaps should say is that the music can be returned, but never in its earlier form—it is transformation of the “original” through re-contextualization. Can we really hear The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” the same way post-Puffy?

Musical borrowing, as I see it, is a framework that attempts to start a conversation about the different ways that hip hop music references the past and other things around them. The legality of doing such things, or the value of it (in both senses of the term) was not a huge part of the conversation within the book. This was both in the interest of pushing the “not all borrowing is the same” agenda and that I had other things to say about what such practices tell us about hip hop and the times we are living in.

Of course, the legality of sampling, ownership, value and control tells us things about the times we are living in and influence the musical poetics of the tracks. My mind is certainly starting to think more about labour and practices of production which do use older labour and materials to sell or update products. So I think some of the next work I do will address these issues from the standpoint of labour and ownership.

JDB: Alright, so let’s get back to those other things you had to say about the practices of borrowing in hip hop. I don’t want you to give away an entire chapter of the book, but you explore the intersection of borrowed sounds and their spatiality in relation to Dr. Dre and his focus on car sound systems (and I know you also explore automobility further in the recently published Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies). Could you say a bit about how borrowed sounds can evoke space and also follow up on what you mentioned earlier, that The Game and Kendrick Lamar extend (and in the latter’s case, “turns on its head”) the sonic signature of the West Coast that Dre was so instrumental in helping popularize?

JW: Yes, in the Oxford Handbook (of which you are in as well) I talk about a longer history of car audio and use Dre as a case study. That was a great experience as it helped me to think about music and mobility, which could be considered one arm of mobility studies (and one of the book launches will be at the EMP conference coming up at the end of April). I’d love to write an even longer history of music and automobility someday, but that feels like a life-long project to me and someone may beat me to it!

My chapter on Dr. Dre in the book takes a similar perspective, but emphasises this idea of borrowing and tailoring sounds for certain spaces, in this case, the automobile. But as you say, sounds can signify both space and place, and the whiny “Funky Worm”-esque synth has become representative of the West Coast sound of a certain era, and a signifier of Compton. If you listen to Lamar’s “M.A.A.D. City” (feat. MC Eiht), the track uses that synth style at the end, but I read it completely different in that context given the lyrical content of the song. For Dre, it was about celebrating Compton. For Lamar, it is a leitmotiv which in his context feels very different, certainly not a celebration in the G-Funk sense. It almost makes you feel ashamed for celebrating it in the early 90s. It is actually a very powerful track as I hear it. And with borrowing, so much hinges on a person’s knowledge of the “original” material, so I think if you grew up with G-Funk, or know it well, then that is what makes the Lamar track especially poignant.

JDB: One of Lamar’s gifts seems to be his ability to evoke mixed emotions about hip hop and its tropes in general, and listening through to “M.A.A.D. City,” I can hear how that GFunk sound resonates in new ways. The last chapter of your book covers the idea of lineage and the way rappers/producers use musical borrowing to establish themselves in specific hip hop traditions. This theme runs through the book, really—jazz samples mark off one subset of hip hop while Dre’s synthesizers map the West Coast and Pac/Biggie samples apotheosize these larger-than-life figures from the mid-90s—but the last chapter considers the strategic ways Pac and Biggie samples can be deployed to play up Eminem and 50 Cent as carrying the gangsta rap torch into the 21st century. This brings to mind a couple other examples, one recent and one not, of rappers/producers positioning themselves in Biggie’s wake. Puff Daddy, of course, achieved an impressive level of national notoriety just after B.I.G.’s death, and his use of samples stands out as different from what most of his peers and predecessors were doing—do you see Diddy as a significant game changer when it comes to musical borrowing in hip hop? Just this year, Rick Ross released his Mastermind album, which features the track “Nobody,” whose hook is pulled from Biggie’s “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Kills You.” Jon Caramanica recently reviewed a Ross performance for the New York Times, and ends with some loose thoughts about the way Rick Ross is calling on Biggie at a time when the rapper is shrinking back from his image just a bit—Caramanica describes the album as attempting some introspection as Ross himself appears and sounds smaller than before. Caramanica’s review called to mind your chapter and has me thinking about whether the sampling of Biggie (or Pac or other hip hop icons) can be employed not just to establish careers like Eminem’s and 50′s but also to shift gears, if indeed that’s what Ross is doing. How would Diddy and Ross intersect with your work on lineage and borrowing in hip hop?

JW: Good question. First of all, I picked Eminem and 50 Cent to discuss sampling and lineage because I also had things to say about Eminem’s production, his “sonic signature” which helped in providing a study of hip hop beats which is a big focus of the book. Not only do I want to nuance and widen the discussion on borrowing and intertextuality, but I want to provide case studies in the musical analysis of hip hop. That example worked well and I am now expanding some of those ideas to The Game and Kendrick Lamar. In terms of Rick Ross, I certainly see this both as a “rap cover” as well as using the social capital of B.I.G., and the personal detail that Ross was the target of a drive by shooting in 2013. Diddy is also using Ross as social capital as well, I think, to stay relevant. To answer the question, though, it may be part of a larger “changing gears” as you say in this context, but rappers can often either utilize laments or more introspective tracks as part of their overall output (largely popularized by 2Pac, and extended by Eminem). The fact that Ross is doing this in 2014 demonstrates there is still more to talk about, lots more (and don’t get me started on Yeezus!)

As to Diddy, I think his way of operating did reflect a shift. This is something I want to write more about: producers The Trackmasters and The Hitmen doing production for Diddy and Will Smith and others which were closer to rap covers than pieces transformed through sampling. A song like “Come with Me,” I think, reflects the Clinton-era economic prosperity of the late 1990s, and these covers in a way also update the previous product in a particular way. This is something I’ll talk more about at EMP and hopefully more in print soon.

JDB: The relationship between Diddy and Clinton-era prosperity is an intriguing one—I’ve been talking to my students about him in the context of so-called luxury rap. The Police and Led Zeppelin are the Audemars and Bugatti of the licensing world. You mention The Game and Kendrick Lamar as your current focus of study, and Kanye and Yeezus as fruitful possibilities, too. Were there any studies planned for the book that didn’t make the final cut? And is there anything else you’re working on now?

JW: We had J. Griffith Rollefson give a research seminar in Bristol the other day, and he talked a bit about Watch the Throne (2011) as “luxury rap” (and it’s great to have another hip hop musicologist out in the UK now!). So I think my original list of case studies for the book was extremely long, and I am now wondering if I have that lying around as a document or notes somewhere as it would be interesting to re-visit.  Some of those ideas extended the genre conversation, like the use of Bollywood samples and exoticism (and pop exoticism has been discussed in lots of places like Glenn Pillsbury’s book on Metallica and Tim Taylor’s work), but I didn’t have time to do anything with that. I also was toying with the use of rock and metal in Run D.M.C., but I think Loren (Kajikawa) has done some work on it since. I think I initially had a lot of ideas for case studies, but they haven’t been pursued yet, but may well be extended in future.

Other things I’m working on include a chapter on crowdfunding for the Oxford Handbook to Music and Virtuality (with Ross Wilson), a chapter on Soweto Kinch for an edited collection on Black British Jazz (ed. Tackley, Doffman, Toynbee), and editing the Cambridge Companion to Hip hop which has been a very personal journey for me. First of all, it will be dedicated to the memory of Adam Krims (my former PhD supervisor), such a pioneer, but it also is a testament to my navigation of hip hop studies, which largely thanks to IASPM-US has allowed me to meet all sorts of people interested in hip hop from other disciplines. Case studies also include a lot of hip hop outside the US, and make me realize that we need either a book series on hip hop outside the US, or 50 edited collections on the topic, or both. I think that the Companion will be informative for students, fans, and others, and that’s one purpose, but it is a celebration of one of the most interdisciplinary fields I can think of.  It is turning into an important snapshot of the next generation of hip hop scholarship which is going in amazing directions. After this, my attention moves to co-editing a Companion to the Singer-Songwriter (with Katherine Williams), which surprisingly has little in print beyond biographies and autobiographies (with a few exceptions; we’re presenting a singer-songwriter panel at IASPM-UK in Cork). Lastly, my attention increasingly is moving to the contributions of the UK to hip hop culture, where US influences morph into unique and innovative styles in terms of breakbeat-based dance musics and street art, to name but two things.

JDB: We have a lot to look forward to, then. I’ve been especially excited to see the Companion, and it will be particularly rewarding for the field to have such a hefty contribution in Adam Krims’ memory. Thanks for taking the time to discuss the book for this interview series. 

Justin A. Williams is Lecturer in Music at the University of Bristol. He received his BA in music from Stanford University, master’s degree in music from King’s College London, and a PhD from the University of Nottingham. As a professional trumpet and piano player in California, he ran a successful jazz piano trio and played with the band Bucho! which won a number of Sacramento Area Music Awards and were signed to two record labels. Research interests include: popular music studies (especially hip-hop),musical borrowing, film music, jazz, digital patronage, music and geography, mobility and sound studies, and the analysis of record production. He is currently finishing editing the Cambridge Companion to Hip-hop.

Justin D Burton is Assistant Professor of Music at Rider University and serves on the IASPM-US Executive Board. His research interests include hip hop studies, posthumanity, and critical race theory. Recent and forthcoming publications can be found in the Journal of Popular Culture 46:3, the Journal of the Society for American Music 7:3, the Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies, and Sounding Out! . He is co-editing with Ali Colleen Neff a forthcoming special issue of the Journal of Popular Music Studies titled “Sounding Global Southernness.”

{ 0 comments }

Sound and Affect: Voice, Music, World

Stony Brook University, April 18 and 19, 2014

Keynote speakers will include Lydia Goehr, Robin James, Tamara Levitz, and Gary Tomlinson. A full list of our speakers (including scholars in musicology, music theory, ethnomusicology, philosophy, art history, media studies, and literary studies) is included below.

This conference is co-sponsored by Stony Brook’s Departments of Music and Philosophy.  It has been organized in collaboration with the Music and Philosophy Study Group of the AMS and with the assistance of the Music and Philosophy Study Group of the RMA.

A full conference schedule is available here:

http://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/music/conferences/soundandaffect/soundandaffect-schedule.html

Details about travel and accommodations are available here:

http://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/music/conferences/soundandaffect/soundandaffect.html

The event is free and open to the public.  If you have any questions, please contact Stephen Decatur Smith at stephen.d.smith@stonybrook.edu.

Speakers:

Anthony Abiragi, UC Boulder
James Currie, University at Buffalo
Murray Dineen, University of Ottawa
Ryan Dohoney, Northwestern
Benjamin Downs, Stony Brook
Denise Elif Gill, Washington University, St. Louis
Lydia Goehr, Columbia University
Ted Gordon, University of Chicago
Roger Mathew Grant, University of Oregon
Mack Hagood, Miami University, Ohio
Robert Harvey, Stony Brook
Christopher Haworth, University of Calgary
Aaron Hayes, Stony Brook
Berthold Hoeckner, University of Chicago
Don Ihde, Stony Brook
Robin James, UNC, Charlotte
Adam Knowles, New School
Sophie Landres, Stony Brook
Tamara Levitz, UCLA
Sara Marcus, Princeton
Eduardo Mendieta, Stony Brook
John Melillo, University of Arizona
Julie Beth Napolin, New School
Tony Perman, Grinnell
Deniz Peters, Music and Performing Arts, Graz
Emily Richmond Pollock, MIT
Michael Birenbaum Quintero, Bowdoin
André Redwood, Notre Dame
Martin Scherzinger, NYU
Lorenzo Simpson, Stony Brook
Chris Stover, New School
Kris Trujillo, UC Berkeley
Gary Tomlinson, Yale
Daniel Villegas Vélez, University of Pennsylvania
Dan Wang, University of Chicago
Emily Wilbourne, Queens College and the Graduate Center, CUNY
Peter Winkler, Stony Brook
Jessica Wiskus, Duquesne

{ 0 comments }

IASPM-US Interview Series: The Amazing Bud Powell, by Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr.

April 9, 2014

Bud Powell was not only one of the greatest bebop pianists of all time, he stands as one of the twentieth century’s most dynamic and fiercely adventurous musical minds. His expansive musicianship, riveting performances, and inventive compositions expanded the bebop idiom and pushed jazz musicians of all stripes to higher standards of performance. Yet Powell […]

Read the full article →

Putting the Ass in IASPM: A Review of the 2nd Annual IASPM-US DJ Night

March 31, 2014

*This review was co-authored by Jess Dilday and Mike D’Errico The IASPM-US conference’s DJ night this year was definitely one to remember. We had a diverse group of DJ/scholars dropping a variety of beats, and enthusiastic crowd participation created the perfect storm on the dance floor, which didn’t let up until the bar closed at […]

Read the full article →

IASPM-US Election Results

March 11, 2014

We are pleased to announce the results of the recent election. The newly elected IASPM-US officers are: Secretary Rebekah Farrugia Treasurer Lindsay Bernhagen We congratulate the winners of this year’s election and extend our thanks to all who appeared on the ballot.

Read the full article →

IASPM-US Interview Series: Political Rock, edited by Mark Pedelty and Kristine Weglarz

February 28, 2014

Edited by Mark Pedelty and Kristine Weglarz, Political Rock (Ashgate, 2013) examines how—through their careers and oeuvre—a diverse group of musicians have expressed political statements, invoked messages of protest, supported social movements, and commented on issues related to class, gender, environmentalism, imperialism, and war. The collection’s editors and authors incorporate autobiographical reflection, song analysis, live […]

Read the full article →

CFP: 2014 David Sanjek Memorial Graduate Student Paper Prize

February 10, 2014

The committee for the David Sanjek Graduate Student Paper Prize of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music – US Branch (IASPM-US) invites graduate students who will be presenting at the 2014 IASPM-US annual conference to submit their papers for consideration. Eligibility: Any student who presents, in person, a formal paper at the […]

Read the full article →