EMP CFP, etc.

Phil Ford

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
“freak folk”

–“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.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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16 Responses to EMP CFP, etc.

  1. TTU theory says:

    Your footnote about cool and irony made me think of the Hipster Olympics:

  2. Matthew says:

    Sammy Davis Jr.’s cover of “Shaft” is my personal favorite cover version of anything, not just because it proves there is simply no such thing as too much wah-wah guitar, and not because it’s ironic-good, but because its clash of sensibilities puts it so energetically beyond ideas of irony and authenticity that one is left confronted with the eessential branching nature of space-time, pondering that there exists a universe somewhere in which Sammy Davis Jr. actually was the star of Shaft, and realizing that, for all its considerable pleasures, our own universe’s version in all likelihood pales in comparison.

  3. Byron says:

    My own research for a paper on taste took me down the “music that sucks” road last year. In conjunction with the Levine and/or pop-music studies, these sociologically oriented articles might be helpful:
    Antoine Hennion, “Baroque and rock: Music, mediators and musical taste,” Poetics 24 (1997), 415-435.
    Bethany Bryson, “What about the univores? Musical dislikes and group-based identity construction among Americans with low levels of education,” Poetics 25 (1997), 141-156.
    Mike Savage, “The Musical Field,” Cultural Trends 15, no. 2/3 (June/September 2006), 159-174.
    Omar Lizardo, “How Cultural Tastes Shape Personal Networks,” American Sociological Review 71 (2006), 778-807.

  4. Gabriel says:

    Thanks for the plug and the kind words.
    On the question of terminology for music-academic blogs, I’m comfortable with the term musciology blog, inasmuch as I tend to think of historical musicology, music theory, and ethnomusciology as sub-species of a single project (the academic investigation of music and music making) which, for lack of a better term, I’ve taken to referring to with the unmarked musicology.
    Is there a grammatical rule of cool akin to the double negative? Consider, in addition to the S.D. Jr./Shaft examle, consider Frank Sinatra singing “I’ve Got a Woman.” Surely there must be more of the same.

  5. Phil Ford says:

    Hey Gabriel — welcome to the musicoloblogosphere. Make yourself at home. I think there’s still some Hi-C in the fridge.
    Love the idea of the “double negative of cool.” You know, I think you have something there. Remember Poochie from the Simpsons? “I’m the kung-fu hippy from gangsta city”? That’s kind of in the same neighborhood.
    Hey Byron — thanks for the citations. Y’know, I actually did do the musical stress test. I started with Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” (which most people felt represented some sort of high artistic accomplishment), then Arthur Lyman’s Hawaiian version of Blowin’ in the Wind, then Buddy Morrow doing the theme from Rawhide (with cow noises), then “Johnny Spots, Private Ear,” which is a 1950s anthology of radio jingles bound together with a kind of Mike Hammer voice-over. This turned out to be a great exercise — the last guy to comment in class said one of the smartest things I’ve ever heard on this topic. I love that I get paid to do this.

  6. Jonathan says:

    When in high school I came up with the idea of the “absolute value of genius,” which may be a paler version of the two-negatives-equaling-a-positive approach to the double negative of cool. Charmed by the idea that the absolute value of 6 is 6 and that of -6 is also 6, I reflected that past a certain, very remote point, some music is so unutterably crappy that it cries to be cherished and examined and enjoyed (yes, enjoyed) note-by-note as music of true genius is. The problem is that I honest-to-goodness cannot bring any of my examples to mind. Perhaps I was thinking of the Portsmouth Sinfonia recordings of the Blue Danube and *Also sprach Zarathustra*, I don’t know. Maybe Steve Miller’s “The Joker.”

  7. Gabriel says:

    Hey, thanks! I’ve been a casual lurker for a while, and have been toying with getting my students to blog. So far so good, I think.
    I was struck by your delight at this job. I so share your feeling about that. I often think of a Steve Martin bit, where he sings, “I see people going to college/learning to be doctors and lawyers/and I see people getting up in the morning/to sell flair pens/but the most amazing thing to me is/I get paid for doing this!”
    For all my occasional bitching about things, life really couldn’t get a whole lot better.
    The absolute value concept is nice, inasmuch as it explains the genuine pleasure and delight I take in things that are, by some measure, crappy. I realized, as a sophomore in college, when using an excellent Hawaiian-themed wallet, that at some point all the things I liked for camp value had become things I just liked, plain and simple. Absolute value, indeed.

  8. Eric says:

    Is Shooby Taylor on everyone’s radar? If so, I’d like hear various reactions to his music in light of the post-modernists’ “quality is relative” argument. Note: you can find his stuff on line for free; prepare to be amazed!

  9. Eric says:

    Me again: For those of you new to Shooby, I recommend “Life every Voice And Sing” which can be hear on his tribute website.
    Happy Listening, Eric

  10. Gabriel says:

    Shooby, shooby, shooby. Shooby-dooby-doo, La-la-la-la-la.
    Actually, this reminds me, a dear friend (not incidentally a lesbian) called me this evening after reading my post about sucky music, to tell me to turn on the local independent radio station to hear that they were playing awful lesbian singer-songwriter music (so she said). Her point was that it sucked, plain and simple, and that some music just sucks. We had a good laugh. And I thought, the whole point of this probably is to say that though we may recognize that suckiness is context-dependent, we don’t experience it as though it were.

  11. As one who has scorned with the best, only to find that time and experience has caused a change of mind, I can only ask, if there is an absolute value, how do you measure, outside of taste?
    I can say with a certain authority, in outer space, Bach’s entire oeuvre is worth no more then Sam the Sham’s! 🙂

  12. As one who has scorned with the best, only to find that time and experience has caused a change of mind, I can only ask, if there is an absolute value, how do you measure, outside of taste?
    I can say with a certain authority, in outer space, Bach’s entire oeuvre is worth no more then Sam the Sham’s! 🙂

  13. Phil Ford says:

    In outer space, Sam the Sham is MUCH more popular than Bach. I thought everybody knew that.

  14. Oorgothi X says:

    Send more Chuck Berry!

  15. ben wolfson says:

    They’ve never even heard of Sam the Sham in outer space: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyager_Golden_Record#Contents

  16. Ken Wissoker says:

    Sammy Davis Jr.’s version of Shaft was produced by Isaac Hayes (also given co-arranger credit) and he certainly had a good idea of what it should sound like. I’ve heard it argued that the break is that much hotter, to give an extra push to Davis’s version. I can say that the cover to the LP is entirely cool unfolding into an orange backed four panel poster of multiple Sammys on one side and a fab collage of pictures of Sammy with everyone from the Queen to Judy Garland to Elvis on the other. So, it’s cool enough to seek out, even if it doesn’t become your favorite version.

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