In the news: it looks as if there’s a new musicology group blog. Like amusicology (which is based at Harvard), People Listen To It is based at a single institution, namely the University of Illinois, and is the work of Gabriel Solis and a several participants in one of his seminars on popular music. It is accordingly pop-centric, which makes me happy — while there are pop bloggers and musicology bloggers, there aren’t enough pop musicology bloggers.
Gabriel is a terrific ethnomusicologist who’s written a book on the reception of Thelonious Monk I am itching to read.* His post on music that sucks is especially worth reading. Speaking of which, this morning I am teaching a class in my American music graduate course that focuses on Lawrence Levine’s Highbrow/Lowbrow, which charts how a settled sense of cultural hierarchy (i.e., music that can be held, normatively, to suck, being segregated from the emerging canon of classics) developed in the United States throughout the 19th century. As Levine notes at the end, the contemporary tendency is to assert that all such hierarchies are obsolete. But we still have aesthetic hierarchies, and they’re still bound up with class, though not in quite as easily legible a way as they were in the 19th century, so I’m tempted to do a kind of musical stress test. “You say that all music is equally valid? Then what about THIS [plays the theme from Rawhide]? No? How about THIS [Sammy Davis Junior sings the theme from “Shaft”]** No? Then how about THIS [Yanni]” etc.
Elsewhere in the news, the Experience Music Project (EMP), which I have blogged about before, has just issued its 2008 call for papers. I haven’t posted any CFP’s at Dial M before, assuming that my musicological readership will have gotten them all already, but EMP has only imperfectly penetrated the consciousness of musicologists and music theorists — which is to say, there weren’t that many of them last there last April. (Ethnomusicologists are somewhat better-represented.) As I’ve said before, the EMP is a friggin’ blast, and I encourage my fellow AMS’ers to throw down this year. The topic is the sort of thing that tends to get a rise out of Jonathan, but it’s worth noting that, while the issue of music’s potential for effecting political change emerged as a major theme of the 2007 EMP, the tone was not the rah-rah rock ‘n’ resistance boosterism you used to hear so much of in the 1990s. The question didn’t seem to be how music acts as a “site of resistance,” or even whether it does, but rather what happens after the idea of resistance has lost its luster — what happens to music whose sensibility is resistance when “resistance” comes to seem just another bit of our past? This isn’t to say that everyone took this point of view, but the distinctly elegiac tone of the last EMP was something that made it so much more interesting than any other popular music conference I’ve been to. This year, following up so closely on last year’s promises to be very interesting indeed.
Call for Papers: 2008 Pop Conference at Experience Music Project
Shake, Rattle: Music, Conflict, and Change
April 10-13, 2008, Seattle, Washington
How does music resist, negate, struggle? Can pop music intensify vital confrontations, as well as ameliorating and concealing them? What happens when people are angry and silly love songs aren’t enough? The migrations and global flows of peoples and cultures; the imbalanced struggles between groups, classes, and nations: what has music’s role been in these ongoing dramas? We invite presentations on any era, sound, or geographic region. Topics might include:
-In conjunction with the new EMP exhibit, American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music, how Latino musics have shaped the American soundscape and challenge black and white rock-pop paradigms, or more broadly, the unsettling effects of immigration, internal migration, displacement, assimilation, and colonization.
–How music enters politics: social movements and activist responses to crises such as New Orleans; entertainment’s connection to ideology and propaganda; music within “cultural policy” and as part of the
public sphere; debates over copyright, corporate power, and cultural democracy; performing dissent
–Social and musical fragmentation: segregation and constructions of whiteness, divisions of class and gender, versus musical categorization and niche marketing, from big genres to smaller forms such as
–“Revolution” as a recurrent theme in popular music, a social or technological reality it confronts, or an association with particular genres and decades of music.
–Clashes between communal, local, identity — tradition, faith, nativism — and cosmopolitan, global, modernization
–Music in times of war, economic crisis, adolescence, and other intense stress
–Agents of change: tipping points, latent historical shifts, carnivalesque subversions, and accidents or failures of consequence
–The sound of combative pop: what sets it apart?
Send proposals to Eric Weisbard at EricW@empsfm.org by December 17, 2007; please keep them to 250 words and a 50 word bio. Full panel proposals, bilingual submissions, and unusual approaches are welcome. For questions, contact the organizer or program committee members: Joshua Clover (UC Davis), Kandia Crazy Horse (editor, Rip it Up: The Black Experience in Rock ‘n’ Roll ), Simon Frith (University of Edinburgh) Holly George-Warren (author, Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry), Michelle Habell-Pallan (University of Washington), Michele Myers (KEXP), Ann Powers (LA Times), Joe Schloss (NYU), RJ Smith (Los Angeles magazine), Ned Sublette (author, Cuba and its Music), and Sam Vance (EMP).
The Pop Conference at EMP, now in its seventh year, joins academics, critics, writers of all kinds, and performers in a rare common discussion. The conference is sponsored by the Seattle Partnership for American Popular Music (Experience Music Project, the University of Washington School of Music, and KEXP 90.3 FM), through a grant from the Allen Foundation for Music.
*It occurs to me that I have unconsciously fallen into the habit of
calling all music-scholarly blogs “musicology blogs,” even when they
are written by music theorists or ethnomusicologists. Internet
shorthand idiom or musicological imperialism? Discuss.
**Sammy Davis Junior is cool. The theme from Shaft is cool. But Sammy Davis singing the theme from Shaft is not cool, unless you’re being ironic, which is also not cool. (Turns out, all those “end of irony” people were right, but for the wrong reason.) Such are the nuances of taste our students need to acquire to take their place in the 21st-century workforce.