Michael J. Kramer, Visiting Assistant Professor of History and American Studies at Northwestern University, takes a novel approach to teaching Tin Pan Alley song for his US Popular Music History course. “This assignment,” he writes, “works well not because it asks students to get creative in their understanding of the past, but rather because it asks them to get uncreative.” Read about “Tunesmithing History, Tin Pan Alley imitation for historical inquiry” here, on Prof. Kramer’s blog.


Joanna DemersListening through the Noise









Synopsis and interview by John Melillo.

Listening through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music (Oxford, 2010) by Joanna Demers argues for a sweeping aesthetic theory of electronic music. For Demers, electronic music foreshadows the end of Western art music as we know it: this music remakes the rules, rituals and expectations that structure listening and performance. By drawing together genres—from musique concrète to EDM to noise music—that are usually separated by different institutions, traditions, and histories, Demers weaves together a set of concerns about the function of meaning in relation to music. She takes up three conceptions of the meaningfulness of sound—as “sign,” “object,” and “situation”—in order to show the ways in which electronic music complicates the prescriptive and self-prescriptive strictures that bind its generic divisions. In place of a prescribed listening that defines “sound objects” outside of all causality or reference, or a readerly listening imagined as an extension utterance, Demers argues for a theory of “aesthetic listening” that renegotiates the frames by which we imagine and understand music. Aesthetic listening recognizes the status of organized sounds as different from everyday sounds and yet it also recognizes the intermittency, incongruency, and irrationality of our various ways of listening. Aesthetic listening revels in what Demers calls “the absence of the musical frame.” Listening through the noise, listening in the breach, suggests a listening bound not by structure and sign but by free play, a special kind of play conditioned by electronic music’s plurality of calls and responses.

John Melillo: What initially brought you to this project? What composers / musicians helped to spark it? Was there a moment of listening confusion or clarity that helped you to begin?

Joanna Demers: I came upon the record label 12k, which specializes in minimalist and (often) very quiet, elegant music. I also found some recent collaborations between Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto. It was easy to fall in love with this music. One recording led to another, and soon I had a whole galaxy of music that, for me, was beguiling and mysterious.

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We have added The Hip Hop & Obama Reader (Oxford 2015)—featuring chapters by several IASPM-US members!—to our Interview Series Book List. Would you like to interview editors Travis L. Gosa and Erik Nielson about this exciting new book? Or would you like to suggest an addition to our list? Please see the Book List for instructions on contributing to the Interview Series.


Call for Proposals (Abstracts due December 1, 2015)
International Association for the Study of Popular Music, US and Canada Branches
2016 Annual Conference
Calgary, Alberta (Canada) May 28-30, 2016

L’Appel en français

Wanna Be Startin’ Something: Popular Music and Agency

Making and listening to music are agentive processes, involving a network of actions and transactions: acts of expression, acts of faith, acts of sound and silence, acts of rebellion. Through musical choices we act and impact our world, each other and our environment, shaping our individual and communal experiences. As we create and consume music, we respond to, reinforce, and reconfigure the social structures that frame our lives.

Our theme encourages participants to explore the difficult, delicate negotiations of power within which music is situated, and which in turn permeate the popular music industries of the twenty-first century. Who is in charge in the production and consumption of music? What role does music play in the social revolutions of disenfranchised communities? How do music and its technologies inform our responses to injustice? How do we censor and empower bodies through music?

The 2016 IASPM-US Annual Conference and IASPM-Canada Annual Conference will take place from May 28-30, 2016 at the University of Calgary, Canada, as part of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Papers related to Canadian themes are especially welcome.

Papers may address one of the following subthemes, other issues regarding music and agency, or – as always – any other topic in the study of popular music.

1) Who Runs the (Music) World?

The dynamics of production and consumption remains a central theme of popular music studies. It is also vital to the new music industries of the twenty-first century, in which a multimediated sense of consumer choice and participation has become a marketing mainstay. Recent pop processes—streaming services, reality competitions, the rise of YouTube stars, the burgeoning Internet fan community—have been characterized as democratizing, providing increased access, choice, and interaction between listeners, artists, and producers. But as musical consumers find new forms of empowerment, the emergence of neoliberal corporate policies and development of the 360° deal may perpetuate the dominant power structures of the music industry. So whose voices are heard? And who listens?

How are new musics and new technologies reshaping ideas about musical agency among fans? How do musicians work to retain or reclaim agency in the popular music industry’s current political economy? In what generative or productive ways do individual and communal agencies intersect?

2) Music and Social Justice

Recent years have seen the emergence of new and renewed discourses critiquing the continued impact of poverty and structural racism in the lives, and deaths, of North Americans. Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots protesting economic inequality have counted musicians among their most vocal proponents, and music has become integral to the progress of the movement. Beginning in the U.S. and spreading to Canada, the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked new, charged conversations about injustice. Among the voices of protest, those of musicians have persistently driven the conversation. With new songs and revivals of familiar ones, Black artists have called listeners to attention, called them out, and called for action. They have echoed the mantras shouted by marchers in the streets, and in turn their own words have become rallying cries there. The current moment perhaps marks the most vital presence of protest music in American public culture since the beginning of the Iraq war.

In both the U.S. and Canada, indigenous peoples continue to fight against racial violence, disenfranchisement, discrimination, and misrepresentation. Discourse about Native/First Nations/aboriginal cultural appropriations has entered a broader public forum in the past few years, recently explicitly acknowledged in the banning of faux “Native American headdresses” at several music festivals in North America and Europe. In Canada, music has helped to fuel the grassroots movement Idle No More, which not only critiques renewed challenges to indigenous sovereignty, but also contributes leading voices to the fight for environmental protection.

These movements have also provoked reexaminations of the intersectionalities that permeate marginalized experiences in the U.S. and Canada, where people of color in particular face gendered, classed, religious, and ableist discrimination and violence.

In these and other contexts, we ask: How does music empower individuals and communities in the face of injustice? How do music and social media intersect in responses to oppression?

3) Music and Dis/Ability

Studying music and agency in Western frameworks inherently means studying ability, examining intersecting ideas and ideologies about extraordinary bodies and minds, about how they are allowed to act. Both musical bodies and disabled ones are inscribed with intertwined notions of difference and supernatural interventions, and positioned outside the statistical realm of the “normal.” The stories of our most idolized popular musicians are entangled in public mythologies of mental illness and addiction; disabled bodies are celebrated only when they also inhabit discourses of genius. The music industry operates with the assumption that consumers experience music in the same ways, though the sensory processing of music works diversely among many individuals and even communities.

How do discourses of ability and disability support and silence musicians?

How does musical ability impact a musician’s agency? How is the dis/abled body inscribed in popular song? Following the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, how accessible is popular music? And how do accessibility practices shape the experiences of fans and artists?


We welcome proposals on these and other themes. Please submit proposals via a single Word document [labeled with last name_first name.docx] to iaspmus2016@gmail.com by December 1, 2015. 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. For more information about the conference, send email inquiries to Katherine Meizel, program committee chair, at kmeizel@gmail.com. You will receive an email confirming receipt of your submission.


2016 program committee:

Chair: Katherine Meizel (Bowling Green State University),

Committee: David Blake (University of Akron), Kimberly Mack (University of Toledo), Andrew Mall (Northeastern University), Owen Chapman (Concordia University), Brian Fauteux (University of Alberta), Charity Marsh (University of Regina).


In the newest addition to our Popular Music Pedagogy Series, Stephanie Doktor explains how she conceptualized and taught A Cultural History of U.S. Popular Music at the University of Virginia. She includes here a valuable list of pedagogical resources, as well as her course syllabus. These can be viewed below, as well as on our Pedagogy page.

In the spring of 2014, I taught a large lecture course called “A Cultural History of U.S. Popular Music” to one-hundred-and-twenty University of Virginia students. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about pedagogy, as a Graduate Student Associate for the University’s Center for Teaching Excellence. In this position, I have had the opportunity to consult with graduate student teachers, help the Center develop programs for new faculty, and lead a team of faculty through our renowned Course Design Institute—which helps participants create a learner-centered syllabus. Given this recent and immersive experience with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, there are a few changes I have made to my syllabus and a few more I will make when I teach this course again. These changes have very little to do with which content to “cover” and more to do with “creating significant learning experiences” about the relationship between popular music and culture (Fink 2013).

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Additions to the IASPM-US Interview Series Book List

by Victor Szabo on September 18, 2015

The IASPM-US Interview Series features conversations with popular music scholars of recently published books. We have recently added The James Bond Songs: Pop Anthems of Late Capitalism (Oxford 2015) by Adrian Daub and Charles Kronengold, and Real Men Don’t Sing: Crooning in American Culture (Duke 2015) by Allison McCracken, to our Interview Series Book List. Would you like to interview one of these scholars about their recently published book? Or would you like to suggest an addition to our list? Please see the Book List for instructions on contributing to our Interview Series.


Popular Music Pedagogy Series: Glam, by Gregory Weinstein

by Victor Szabo on September 11, 2015

In the latest installment of our Popular Music Pedagogy Series, Gregory Weinstein shares his experience teaching a course called Glam at Davidson College. He has also shared the syllabus, which is included below, as well as on our Pedagogy page.

Despite its name, this course focused not on a musical genre, but rather, on an analytical perspective that can be applied across musical forms and communities. The course opened with a discussion of Philip Auslander’s analysis of “glam” performance, and we concentrated especially on David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust-era experiments in performance persona. Bowie superbly confounded audience expectations about how identity is expressed through pop culture, blurring the normative boundary between the concert stage (where a performer assumes a persona) and the backstage realms where the performer reveals his “authentic” self.

Thus, we used Bowie as a core analytical model through which we could approach a wide range of other materials. Some of the materials put forward in the course bear a fairly obvious connection to Bowie and other 1970s “glam” artists: Alice Cooper, the Sex Pistols, Lou Reed, Lady Gaga. However, we also pushed the idea of glam performance in some fairly unconventional directions, such as the performance of blackness on the 19th century minstrel stage, Bob Dylan’s transition from a folk to a rock persona, and the notion of masculinity in castrato operatic performances.

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SEM 2015 Annual Meeting

by Victor Szabo on August 31, 2015

The Society for Ethnomusicology is a U.S.-based organization with an international membership of over 1700 individuals dedicated to the study of all forms of music from diverse humanistic and social scientific perspectives. As a network of scholars, teachers, students, activists, and musicians that reaches across countries, disciplines, and institutions, SEM serves as a leading forum for the exchange and peer review of research on the world’s music.

Each fall SEM holds an annual conference that attracts more than 900 participants and features research presentations, discussions, workshops, films, and concerts. The SEM 2015 Annual Meeting will be held on December 3-6 in Austin, Texas, with the University of Texas at Austin serving as the host institution. In conjunction with this event, the University of Texas will hold a pre-conference symposium, titled “Music, Property and Law,” on December 2.

SEM publishes Ethnomusicology (the leading journal in the field), the SEM Newsletter, and several online communications. In addition, the Society holds 10 regional chapter conferences each winter/spring, awards prizes that recognize outstanding work in ethnomusicology, and carries out a variety of academic and public oriented special projects.

Visit the SEM website for more information about the Society, its programs, and membership benefits and rates.

Society for Ethnomusicology
Indiana University, Morrison Hall 005
1165 E. 3rd St.
Bloomington, IN  47405-3700


The University of Oxford, in association with Lady Margaret Hall, proposes to appoint an Associate Professor or Professor in Music with effect from 1 October 2016 or as soon as possible thereafter. Deadline for applications is Monday 28 September 2015. Further information can be found here:


In the newest installment of our Popular Music Pedagogy Series, Donna S. Parsons explains her pedagogical approach to the seminar, Issues in Popular Music: Women Who Rock, which she teaches at the University of Iowa. She has also shared her syllabus, which is included below, as well as on our Pedagogy page.

Popular music appeals to individuals across diverse demographics and generations. As our knowledge of solo musicians and bands grows, we develop an affinity for a certain style or genre of music or specific musicians. My undergraduates feel a strong connection to Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Jay-Z, and Kanye West. Most are familiar with those musicians who worked in what we now call classic rock. But what about Rihanna’s, Lady Gaga’s or Shania Twain’s predecessors? How did these women open doors for their peers and successors? What contributions did they make to the development of popular music? How did they bring awareness to a particular social or political cause? In “Issues in Popular Music: Women Who Rock,” we investigate women musicians’ contributions to popular music and society. We analyze the innovative guitar picking of Maybelle Carter, the introspective songwriting of Joni Mitchell, and the social activism heard in the lyrics of Nina Simone. We explore the ways in which women developed musical networks, cultivated a loyal fan base, and acquired critical acclaim from their peers, critics and fans. On a more personal level we consider how popular music shapes our identity and informs our life.

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Call for Nominations: The Woody Guthrie Award 2015

August 15, 2015

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 2014. 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 2014. The deadline for nominations is October 1, 2015. […]

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Popular Music Pedagogy: Call for Syllabi

July 15, 2015

The IASPM-US Branch has a longstanding interest in scholarly dialogue and research regarding the pedagogy of popular music, particularly in college and university settings. Several issues of the Journal of Popular Music Studies have explored the topic through research articles, course syllabi, and reflective essays on pedagogical practices for learners within the K-16 spectrum (see volumes 9 [1997], 10 […]

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IASPM-US Interview Series: Alejandro L. Madrid and Robin D. Moore, “Danzón: Circum-Caribbean Dialogues in Music and Dance”

June 15, 2015

In Danzón: Circum-Caribbean Dialogues in Music and Dance (Oxford UP, 2013), co-authors Alejandro L. Madrid and Robin D. Moore examine the danzón, a music and dance that originated in Cuba in the 19th century, became popular in Mexico and Cuba in the early 20thcentury, and has experienced a revival over the past 30 years. Winner of […]

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Announcing the New IASPM-US Web Editor Team

June 4, 2015

Dear IASPM-US Readers, It’s been a great pleasure to work as web editor for IASPM-US during the last two years. June 1 marks the first official day of Victor Szabo’s term as IASPM-US web editor-in-chief, which means May 31 was my last day. I will continue to serve in a different capacity, as I was […]

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IASPM-US Interview Series: Nadine Hubbs, “Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music”

May 11, 2015

                Nadine Hubbs’ Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music (University of California Press, 2014) historicizes and challenges dominant narratives in the U.S. that imagine country music as a soundtrack to the supposed bigotry and homophobia of the white working class. Here, Diane Pecknold discusses with Hubbs how class politics relate to discourses around music and sexuality, […]

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