PopMAC day 3: Applying melodic analysis to infer the extent of plagiarism #popmac

Applying melodic analysis to infer the extent of plagiarism in popular song authorship disputes. Joe Bennett, Bath Spa University

This is my own paper. I’ll publish the slides online  soon, but for now I’ve posted the references, as a few people requested today. I hope to publish something more substantial on this work in 2014. For context, here are a couple of links to my previous research into songwriting creativity;

  • Bennett, Joe. “Constraint, Collaboration and Creativity in Popular Songwriting Teams.” In The Act of Musical Composition: Studies in the Creative Process, edited by David Collins, 139–169. SEMPRE Studies in The Psychology of Music. Ashgate, 2012.  Download pdf
  • Bennett, Joe. “Collaborative Songwriting – the Ontology of Negotiated Creativity in Popular Music Studio Practice.” In Journal of the Art of Record Production 2010. Leeds, UK: Art of Record Production, 2011. Download pdf (English) • Download pdf (Spanish)



Bently, Lionel. “Authorship Of Popular Music in UK Copyright Law.” Information, Communication & Society 12, no. 2 (March 2009): 179–204.

Boden, Margaret. The Creative Mind : Myths and Mechanisms. 2nd ed. Routledge, 2004.

Cason, R. J. S., and D. Müllensiefen. “Singing from the Same Sheet: Computational Melodic Similarity Measurement and Copyright Law.” International Review of Law, Computers & Technology 26, no. 1 (2012): 25–36.

Cronin, Charles. “Music Copyright Infringement Resource – Sponsored By USC Gould School of Law,” 2002. http://mcir.usc.edu/cases/

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. “Society, Culture, and Person: a Systems View of Creativity.” In The Nature of Creativity : Contemporary Psychological Perspectives, 325–339. CUP 1988.

Demers, Joanna. Steal This Music – How Intellectual Property Law Affects Musical Creativity.  University of Georgia Press, 2006.

Melodic Similarity: Concepts, Procedures, and Applications. Computing in Musicology 11. Cambridge, Mass. : Stanford, CA: MIT Press ; CCARH, Stanford University, 1998.

Lund, J. “An Empirical Examination of the Lay Listener Test in Music Composition Copyright Infringement.” (2012). http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2030509.

Melodic Similarity: Concepts, Procedures, and Applications. Computing in Musicology 11. MIT Press, 1998.

Temperley, David. Music and Probability. MIT Press, 2007.

PopMAC Day 3: 42 years of Popular Music Analysis Teaching in 21 minutes #popmac

Tagg screenshotPopMAC Day 3: 42 years of Popular Music Analysis Teaching in 21 Minutes (2 years per minute). Philip Tagg #popmac

Philip accepts the ambitious timescale of today’s title, so states his intention to take an historical overview. Overview – Background and aim; ‘Tonality’; ‘Time’; ‘Totality’ or ‘form’; and ‘Que faire?’. He provides a brief CV in three acts – from practitioner and teacher with an increasing analytical approach since the 1970s. EPMOW articles came out 1998-2001 (encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World). He then notes the different undergraduate courses available (e.g. at Liverpool) – and highlights the problem of classification (using a wonderful ‘precipitation’ analogy). The history of tonal language, comparing variously ‘modal’, ‘pre-tonal’, ‘euroclassical’ and various arguably ‘post-tonal’ languages, which he asserts are not linear, observing that this is less a spectrum than an orbit as regards the analytical language of tonality.

Tonal terminology was naturally historically developed to define monometric music whose pitches divide tonally/chromatically into the octave, and that this is its strength and its limitation. We see some basic definitions with etymological language derivatives; [Read more…]

PopMAC day 3: Yes, the Psychedelic-Symphonic Cover, and ‘Every Little Thing’ #popmac

Yes, the Psychedelic-Symphonic Cover, and ‘Every Little Thing’. John Covach (University of Rochester)

[abstract] The 1969 debut album of the British band Yes contains a cover version of the Beatles ‘Every Little Thing’. The original Beatles version runs just over two minutes, while the Yes version extends the song to almost six minutes. The practice of taking a short pop song and developing it into more extended piece was perhaps made most famous by the American band, Vanilla Fudge, whose 1968 version of the Supremes ‘You Keep Me Hangin On’ (1966) clocks in at well over seven minutes. Inspired by Vanilla Fudge, Yes created a series of psychedelic-symphonic cover versions of this type, including ‘I See You’, ‘Something’s Coming’, ‘No Opportunity Necessary’, ‘No Experience Needed’, ‘Everydays’, and ‘America’.

This paper will examine how Yes’s version of ‘Every Little Thing’ is developed from the Beatles’ song, at times jamming on a static harmony, at other times developing melodic and harmonic ideas from the song itself, and ultimately recasting the actual sung parts of the original tune to amplify some of the characteristics present in the original. The practices found in this song will be compared to passages from the other Yes covers, as well as to the Yes originals that would soon dominate the band’s output. It will be argued that the practice of the psychedelic-symphonic cover becomes a part of the band’s composing process for epic numbers such as ‘Close to the Edge’ and ‘Awaken’, complex numbers that grow out of simple pop songs.

John’s paper opens with an outline of his approach – that he intends to focus exclusively on cover versions by Yes. Their practice in this early work was to develop complex extended arrangements based on very simple pop song originals; this approach was modelled on the covers of Vanilla Fudge.

[Read more…]

PopMAC day 3: Analyzing Bad Music. Willemien Froneman #popmac

Analyzing Bad Music. Willemien Froneman (Stellenbosch University)

[abstract] Boeremusiek, a genre of predominantly white folk music in South Africa, is in many respects a fascinating topic of study. Its weird and wonderful anecdotal tradition and vibrant events offer rich opportunities for the analysis of postcolonial politics, race and class. Accordingly, my previous work on boeremusiek has focused mainly on the social, cultural and political contexts of boeremusiek. Kofi Agawu s 1997 attack on the new musicology, however, keeps ringing in my ears: that new musicologists have so far not found a use for the surplus of detail that theory-based analysis produces . Although Agawu was speaking about Western art music here, his arguments are no less relevant for the analysis of popular music. In the case of boeremusiek this surplus of detail is especially problematic. In many ways, boeremusiek aspires to an aesthetic of amateurism: participation is more important than tuning, for example, and loudness trumps the importance of careful sound engineering. Even accomplished musicians seem to hide their musical prowess in group contexts. Although the badness of boeremusiek has distinct and interesting socio-cultural meanings, there is no precedent for analyzing the musical surface of bad music. In this paper, I am after a hermeneutics of badness. To this end, I am willing to go against the grain of ethnomusicological ethics. By focussing on flaw rather than merit, I hope to draw new connections between ethnographic and musical analyses. [Read more…]

PopMAC day 2: Computer Assisted Analysis of the Music of Elton John #popmac

Elton JohnComputer Assisted Analysis of the Music of Elton John. Rupert Till & Phillip Allcock (University of Huddersfield)

[abstract] This paper explores what part computational methods can play in the analysis of popular music, and how they can be combined with other approaches to form a better understanding of the analytical subject. This project investigates the use of Humdrum, a powerful computer toolkit that in the past has mostly been used to analyse classical music. Although it uses musical scores as its source, It offers a high level of flexibility, and can provide valuable objective data about musical content.

The music of Elton John is used as a case study, and the use of traditional musicological analytical tools is compared with computational methods, as is what other approaches might be required to deal with cultural issues such as gender, identity, and sexuality. The value of Humdrum in exploring the changes in musical style between the four distinct eras of Elton John s music is discussed.

[Read more…]

PopMAC day 2: This Record is Dedicated to Me: Rufus Wainwright’s Ego. Katherine Williams #popmac

RufusThis Record is Dedicated to Me: Rufus Wainwright’s Ego. Katherine Williams (Leeds College of Music)

[abstract] Canadian-American singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright comes from a long family tradition of publicly expressing emotion and anxiety through song. While Wainwright does not explicitly continue the pattern established by his mother (folk singer Kate McGarrigle) and father (folk singer Loudon Wainwright III), the majority of his songs use the first-person singular pronoun. In combination with the increasing prominence of his voice in the production of subsequent albums, this adds up to an overblown sense of ego and identity. This exaggerated ego is emphasized by the visual and musical flamboyance of Wainwright’s musical performances and output. Many of his songs contain explicit or indirect references to opera and the classical music tradition, which offers another avenue for drama and excess. His 2009 opera Prima Donna brought his name and music to new audiences, and is revealing (in subject matter and idiom) of his perception of himself as a leading figure in multiple musical styles.

In this paper, I will explore my hypothesis that the increasing prominence of Wainwright’s voice in the produced mix through his seven studio albums can be attributed to his ego and his growing comfort with his place in celebrity culture. By combining detailed analysis of his output with the philosophical perspectives of Barthes and Freud, alongside Allan Moore’s and Ruth Dockwray’s work on the ‘soundbox’ and the spatialisation of recorded sound, I will relate Wainwright’s sense of self to his music, providing a new perspective on the role of autobiography in indie rock.

Katherine’s paper begins biographically, describing Rufus personal and cultural background. We hear ‘Danny Boy’ – a track from the eponymous debut album (1998), and see an analysis of its soundfield (after the work of Dockwray and Moore). By 2001, with the second album Poses RW had embraced the ‘pop star lifestyle’; the vocal is higher in the mix and this is inferred to be a representation of a rising egocentricity in the approach. Katherine notes many different producers for Poses and we hear an audio excerpt of the title track. The number of in-jokes on the album’s credits are noted and briefly discussed. [Read more…]

PopMAC day 2: Into the Mythic. Richard Parfitt #popmac

Bob and WoodyInto the Mythic. Richard Parfitt (Bath Spa University)

Through universal themes we understand and make sense of the world. Our reaction to art is imbued with unintentional responses. That we may see rebirth in the constant reinvention of David Bowie, or perhaps find the spirit of Odysseus in Bruce Springsteen, is testament not just to the power of myth, but the exploitation of that need by market forces. The metaphor retains its power and the message finds its medium in whatever culture is available at the time. Narratives from the Bible and Greek drama, as well as Hollywood movies and fiction chime with the semiology of many contemporary acts. Non-Western traditions are represented through comparative mythologies and mystical archetypes. One only has to look closely at Florence and the Machine to see not just the modern Pre-Raphaelites, but also the White Goddess. In this secular age, paganism has gone mainstream, and that means the free market is on to it. Don DeLillo once wrote: When the old gods leave the world, what happens to all the unexpended faith? (1) The philosopher John Gray believes that that the need to worship is hardwired into the human brain (2). If he is right then people will seek out the old myths in whatever context they have put their faith. This presentation will look at implied narrative and the significance of psychic landmarks as a way of validating music and unifying aspects of pop culture.

Richard J. Parfitt is Senior Lecturer in Commercial Music at Bath Spa University where he runs the MMus in Songwriting. He crossed over to the ‘dark side’ of academia late, having previously worked professionally within the music industry, where he was guitarist and songwriter for the 60ft Dolls. In 2005, he worked closely with Rough Trade Management developing the career of Grammy and Brit Award artist Duffy, and as a songwriter he has sold over a million records. He is currently working towards a doctorate in Music and Myth.


Richard sets out his arguments by outlining questions of authenticity and voice in the context of the question he is often asked ‘how do you teach songwriting’. He then lists many ‘teachable’ parameters – metre, rhyme, imagery, melodic shape etc. But he asserts that although craft can be taught, songwriting is also an art. [Read more…]