Philly AMS breakdown

Phil Ford

So I’m back from the annual American Musicological Society meeting. As usual I feel like I lived about 3 weeks in 4 days, so where to begin? Maybe with a song.


Jake Cohen, a musicology grad student and Dial M reader I got to talking with after the “American Recorded Repertories” session (a great panel BTW), sent me this link. The guy who made the vid, Kutiman, finds clips from Youtube and cuts them up, mixes them together, and makes new (extremely funky) creations out of them. If you follow the link to Youtube you can check out all the videos he used in this track. Note the deployment of the Chopin C minor nocturne op. 48 no. 1 towards the end. (And there are more vids: check out his website.) As Jake wrote in an email to me, there’s lots we could say about these things: “how they juggle issues of ‘found musical objects,’ musical/intellectual ownership on the internet, and the work-concept as either reified or able to be manipulated by the performer/arranger’s desire.” But I’m incapable of serious thought today, so I’ll leave it at that and continue the show and tell.

Speaking of the “American Recorded Repertories,” my friend John Howland held down the last paper on that panel, doing an expanded version of the “six degrees of separation from Jay-Z” paper he did for the “Middlebrow Cultures” panel we did in Glasgow this summer along with Andrew Flory. Best conference handout ever:

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All that’s missing is the RAND corporation and the Bavarian Illuminati. After the paper I commented that while this chart looks like a graphic representation of a narrative of stylistic transmission (Arthur Lange begat Ray Heindorf, who begat Nelson Riddle, etc.), it’s actually also a way of looking at how we listen to pop music as well. Even if you don’t know who all those guys are, or that there’s a long tradition of writing jazz/pop arrangements that capitalize on the juxtaposition of funky, lowdown, street American vernacular and high art style, if you jump in at any point of the network — say you hear Jay-Z and the Hustler Symphony Orchestra — it will conjure the rest of the the network into memory. I’ve written that this is how film image works, and MIchael Long has published a study (Beautiful Monsters: Imagining the Classic in Musical Media) of how this mechanism creates a network of associations that constitute “the classical” in the popular imagination. Which reminds me — guess who won the Kinkeldey award this year? Michael Long is who. I take this as a good sign. Long’s book is a really risk-taking, unusual book, a product of an intensely individual intelligence (and an intensely intelligent intelligence), and it’s great to see it rewarded by the AMS. By the way, I just reviewed it for the Journal for the Society of American Music. (Here’s a pdf.)*

So let’s see, what else. The Saturday night party: please god never again. I know why they AMS wanted to have everyone in one big room instead of spread out throughout the whole hotel (economies of scale, plus it’s arguable less exclusionary), but it just wasn’t any fun. The food and drink didn’t amount to much — when it’s all a bunch of separately catered events there’s a lot of variety in what’s being served — and as Ryan at Amusicology notes, you couldn’t find anyone. Even if you did, it was too loud to hear anything anyone might say. But I was exhausted by the time it came around anyway, so maybe I’m not being fair. I left after a couple of minutes and went to bed.

More to say, but I’ll get to it later, maybe. Lots of good papers this year.

*Phil Ford, review of Michael Long, Beautiful Monsters: Imagining the Classic in Musical Media, Journal of the Society for American Music 3, no. 4 (2009), 502-07. Copyright Cambridge Journals.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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8 Responses to Philly AMS breakdown

  1. Jake says:

    Glad you liked those Kutiman videos as much as I did, Phil. I’ve been watching this one and his 4th one, which utilizes lots of middle eastern and/or instruments from Arab cultures alongside a drum n bass beat. These videos sort of remind me of Thievery Corporation (especially the girl who sings the words “I’m New”) except that Kutiman re-orders notes from his “thieved” examples to make something more his own.

  2. Michael Ethen says:

    I agree that the food and drink situation needs attention if AMS is going to continue the mass party. But I don’t share the opinion that you couldn’t find anyone. I found a lot of people there, maybe not those I had hoped to run across, but many nonetheless. When we sat down, I heard them fine.
    As for the problem of not finding people at their current or past school’s table, that seems to be a problem not solved by re-separating the parties. If folks don’t hang around their alma mater’s table, you won’t find them there, whether or not the table is located in its own room.
    I considered calling ahead, or “making a reservation” with friends I’d like to see, but I didn’t. Instead I got lucky, and stumbled into two friends (whom I had already spoken to briefly after papers), and was doubly lucky to meet folks I didn’t know before. I understand more now about the state of 19th/20th-c French symphonic scholarship than before thanks to a conversation with Brian Hart. I guess if you’re looking for specific people, it was tough to find anyone. From another perspective, though, it was a musicology buffet.

  3. PMG says:

    I think all the Saturday night party needed was some country line dancing, à la SAM.

  4. Wow, that Kutiman vid is the truth. Thanks guys. K’s virtuoso spatio-temporal juggling is unbelievably interesting, as Jake points out. But why is it also so affecting, and in ways that go beyond the small-world-after-all effect of bringing all these nice folks together?
    Take, for example, the motif of the piano that a girl eventually attacks with what happens to be the opening chord of a Beethoven sonata. (The note is synched with a jumpy image at O:54, but it is first sounded–after a shot of the unoccupied bench and keyboard–at 0:25.) I would venture that the poignancy (as opposed to the more readily explicable interestingness) resides largely in the *conviction* communicated by that single gesture, combined with the knife-edge momentariness of the sound as edited.
    Ah Jeez, there I go, being all unpostmodern again…

  5. Andy H-D says:

    It’s funny you single out John Howland’s handout, because the guy I was sitting next to turned to me and said “This is a terrible handout.” I suppose it neither has bulletpoints nor is in 12pt Times New Roman so whatever.
    I imagine those who planned to meet at the uberparty probably had great success, but young’uns like us don’t know who the people we’re looking for look like. Not everyone has facial machine guns, and they’d be of limited use anyway if everyone had them.

  6. JaneC says:

    The party was truly awful. Unfortunately, even the reason for having us all in one room didn’t amount to much; was anyone really listening to the announcements when they brought out the cake? I could have lived without the proof that musicologists can’t do better than anyone else when it comes to singing “Happy Birthday” in tune.
    Other than that and the persistent drizzle, it was a good conference this year. I heard a couple of complaints about the conference being more “conservative” than usual, but I didn’t see that at all.
    I totally agree with PMG’s suggestion of line-dancing on Saturday night.

  7. squashed says:

    Hey, I posted Kutiman. He is a funk/groove dude from tel aviv. He released his first album a year ago or so. A nice album, feels familiar like old leather shoe. Should email him, nice person.
    My favorite remix of the decade is still Venetian snares Öngyilkos Vasárnap. Billie Holiday never sounds so haunting. Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett is a very cool album btw, milions year ahead in term of rhythm layering than average hip-hop remixer. he understands beat like no other guy out there.



    also see hajnal from same album.


  8. Michael Ethen says:

    on another note . . . did anyone else attend Prof Burkholder’s pedagogy masterclass? Truly inspiring, very interactive. IU music majors must be the envy of undergrads all over.

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