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…]

PopMAC day 2: The Structural Role of Distortion in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal #popmac

MagazineThe Structural Role of Distortion in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. Ciro Scotto (University of South Florida)

[abstract] Distortion is an important and essential property of timbre, and it is the timbral property that defines hard rock and heavy metal. However, most analyses and analytic theories of compositions from this repertoire focus solely on pitch-class relationships because pitch-class theories can produce powerful explanations or structural descriptions, such as, functional harmonic or Schenkerian style analyses of pitch-class relationships. The preeminence of pitch-class theories is further enhanced by the limited power analytic theories of timbre have had in analyzing timbre relationships. Unfortunately, most tonal theories of pitch-class relationships applied to hard rock and heavy metal produce analyses that lack the complexity found in the analyses of classical compositions, so hard rock and heavy metal works often appear to be structurally simplistic. However, the complexity that would put compositions from this repertoire structurally on par with classical compositions is often found in the domain of timbre. In this paper, I will present a theory of distortion. The theory presents a quantized view of the distortion continuum based on spectral analysis that produces a series of transformations connecting an absolutely linear signal to a signal containing 100% total harmonic distortion. The theory also incorporates contour theory. I will use the theory to demonstrate how distortion motives are developed and how distortion can create form in a composition. Specifically, I will present an analytical model of distortion motives and distortion structuring in the compositional design of two Metallica songs, ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘Nothing Else Matters’, as well as other compositions from the repertoire. [Read more…]

PopMAC day 2: Structure and Unity in Norwegian Black Metal. Mark Johnson #popmac

Structure and Unity in Norwegian Black Metal: An Analytical Case Study. Mark Johnson (Australian National University)

[abstract] The Norwegian Black Metal scene of the early 1990s has, to date, been primarily considered by scholars as a violent and subversive subcultural movement. The relative lack of detailed musical discussion of the genre is perhaps partly due to its own deliberate cultivation of an obscure and alienating aesthetic; as if to repel outsiders and allow access only to an exclusive inner circle of bands and fans. This paper goes beyond the aural DO NOT ENTER sign through a close musical analysis of an exemplary album of the genre, Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger (1994). The album’s lo-fi production and sonic texture seem particularly inscrutable, monochrome and minimalistic, even by the standards of previous Black Metal.

DarkthroneHowever, by adapting analytical tools drawn from classical repertoire, such as voice-leading analysis and Schoenberg s concept of Grundgestalt, it is possible to understand the complex approach to melody and form which lies beneath the music’s harsh and homogenous exterior. Extensive motivic development and structural relationships between riffs contribute to a sense of musical unity, both within individual tracks, and across the album as a whole.

Through a case study of an emblematic album, this paper moves towards an analytical framework for Norwegian Black Metal more generally. By approaching the genre from an analytical perspective, we can begin to understand the ’inner circle’ from which we have been barred, and in doing so, speak back to current sociological understandings of this subculture.

Mark Johnson is a PhD Candidate at the Australian National University (ANU). Mark completed a Bachelor of Music in 2009, majoring in Musicology and also studying piano and fortepiano. In 2010, Mark was awarded the Bernhard Neumann Memorial Prize for best fourth year student at the ANU School of Music for his Honours theses on rhetoric and didacticism in Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and on elements of mysticism in Scriabin’s late musical language. Mark’s research interests include rhetoric, narrative, aesthetics and esotericism in music.

Mark’s PhD research is centred on a musical analysis and interpretation of Norwegian Black Metal, which allows him to explore his research interests in a new context of popular music.

[With apologies to Mark for missing the first couple of minutes]

The first Darkthrone example we (I) hear is from As Flittermice as Satans Spies, and Mark notes the relentlessness of some of the musical characteristics (tremolando picking etc), stating that he intends to filter them out for analytical purposes – we will see why shortly.

[Read more…]

PopMAC day 2: Elevating Form and Elevating Modulation. Dai Griffiths #PopMAC

Westlife: Shane helpfully indicates the probable direction of the impending T2 dominant-tonic juxtaposition modulation.

Elevating Form and Elevating Modulation. Dai Griffiths (Oxford Brookes University)

[abstract] The device known as, among other terms, truck-driver modulation, arranger’s modulation, and pump-up modulation, is an important procedure that merits a place in the harmony textbook. For a conference that brings together popular music and music analysis, it’s a topic nicely balanced: theoretically thin perhaps, critically derided certainly, but familiar and important in pop music. Problems in nomenclature reflect problems of definition, and this paper steers debate chiefly in two ways. First, the title marks a distinction between form and modulation through the shared epithet; the fresh emphasis on form can rapidly be presented. Secondly, however, the focus is upon the modulation, the harmonic procedure, which reveals a wide range of pieces working in consistent ways. A typology attends to distance of transposition and modulatory technique, adapting where possible standard types from harmony textbooks. Other interesting topics, such as the role played by the elevation in the piece as a whole, the role of arrangement, words and the effect of elevation, and questions of history and repertory, will likely be passed over.

Dai Griffiths is Senior Lecturer in Music at Oxford Brookes University, and author of monographs on Radiohead and Elvis Costello. His research is now mostly on words in songs, while his teaching is mostly in tonal harmony and analysis. Since 2009 he has divided his working time equally between the University and fatherhood.

The opening slide in Dai’s presentation is his reading list – including Muchler, Christopher Doll’s Rockin’ Out, Walter Everett’s Understanding Rock (1997) and Carl Schacter’s ‘Analysis By Key’. He hands out a list of his categories of modulation, and then we’re straight into the examples. He starts, delightfully, with Bernard Cribbins’ Right Said Fred, describing this as a ‘T1’ analysis, and then Rosemary Clooney’s God Bless America. His ambition is to create a set of categories through which we can classify all US/UK popular songs.

[Read more…]

PopMAC day 2: Pentatonic Scale Fragments in Pop-Rock Harmony. Christopher Doll #popmac

Pentatonic Scale Fragments in Pop-Rock Harmony. Christopher Doll (Rutgers University)

[abstract] The harmonic practice of much Anglophone popular music from the past fifty years represents a fusion of pentatonicism and diatonicism that resists analytical techniques designed with only the latter in mind. This paper offers both a theoretical and historical account of this kind of mixed pentatonic-diatonic harmony, starting with an analysis of ‘Green Onions’ by Booker T. and the MGs (1962), an early soul hit that is likely responsible for sparking an explosion of this harmonic practice in the mid-1960s. In ‘Green Onions,’ the harmonic framework is the traditional 12-bar blues, but embellishing this structure are chords with roots derived from the minor pentatonic scale, as heard in the opening motion F-Ab-Bb-F, or I-bIII-IV-I. Transpositions of this scalar fragment to the subdominant (Bb-Db-Eb-Bb) and dominant (C-Eb-F-C) result in still more embellishing chords (IV-bVI-bVII-IV and V-bVII-I-V), which, when taken altogether as a group, can easily be misinterpreted as having roots based in diatonicism. (The only ‘missing’ chord would be II, on G.) Using ‘Green Onions’ as a model, this paper shows how the transposition of pentatonic scale fragments can be a powerful explanatory idea when analyzing pentatonic-diatonic harmony from the mid-1960s onward, even when there is no clear connection to the blues (the style in which this practice originated), and even when the scales are not fragmented in an obvious way. Numerous artists from the past fifty years will be discussed, from The Temptations to Ozzy Osbourne, from Loverboy to The White Stripes.

Christopher Doll is Assistant Professor in the Music Department of the Mason Gross School of the Arts, at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. He teaches theory, analysis, and composition, and his research focuses on recent popular and art music, particularly in regard to tonality and intertextuality.

Chris’s paper begins with the Sex Pistols’ Submission (1976) – he shows the power chord harmony loops of C-Eb-F-G-Bb, then C5-Bb5-Eb5-C5 and the chorus Eb5-F5-C5. He comments that the chords are built on an underlying pentatonic scale, noting that it is unusual in popular music to build the entire harmony’s root notes purely on pentatonics in this particular way. He gives us a ‘pentatonic effect’ equation that can be used to quantify the extent of pentatonicism in a work. The second example is All Day And All Of The Night (1964) and http://www.metal-archives.com/images/6/2/4/624.jpghttp://www.metal-archives.com/images/6/2/4/624.jpg directs us to listen for the major thirds in some of the moving barre chords. This song is used as an illustration of the pentatonic/diatonic mixture that underpins much rock harmony. He asserts that pop-rock diatonicism is often therefore coloured by implicit chromaticism [I agree, and also with the way he nuances this point by observing that the resultant chromaticism is an artefact of the underlying pentatonic scale driving the root notes). [Read more…]

PopMAC day 2: System vs. Self. Jim Dickinson #popmac

FountainSystem vs. Self. Jim Dickinson (Senior Lecturer. Bathspa University)

Stockhausen once described the Beatles as ‘Do Re Mi with Electricity’. This simplification of the standard western 12 tone approach, misses another fundamental component of popular music performance and composition, that of context. This paper will seek to expose the hidden complexities that exist between the notes of a given scale, by looking at harmonic, temporal and cultural difference as a compositional tool. In addition it will explore the juxtaposition of sonic material plundered from multiple sources. This approach has become the norm for a new generation of composers and in this post post-modern free-for-all of cut up audio and sampling, it would be easy to assume that all the creative possibilities of these techniques had been exhausted. This paper will challenge that assumption, by suggesting a more systematic approach to analysing and exploring the creative potential of harmonic, cultural and temporal dissonance, both in the traditional organisation of pitch and rhythm and in the use of plundered audio. Using musical examples taken from released records and pedagogical practice this paper will suggest that these techniques offer an alternative view of the perceived sonic, harmonic and temporal perfection of much of popular music’s current output.

Jim Dickinson is a senior lecturer in Commercial Music at Bath Spa University. As a recording artist he had numerous hit singles and albums, including a U.K number 1, as well as composing for television and computer games. Recent performances include Download festival 2012 and The Isle of Wight festival, main stage, June 2013. His main research interest is visual music, with a focus on the influence of the painter Paul Klee on the work of specific composers.

Jim’s first slide is of a Paul Klee painting, representing his research interest in ‘visual music’. He discusses (from PopMAC day 1) commonalities between papers, and cites the apparent paradox of popular music’s surface musical simplicity and how difficult it is to achieve excellence within it. He notes, citing Anne Danielsen’s keynote on microrhythm, that as popular musicologists we speak not of the ‘grid’ but of the ‘bits in between’. He notes Klee’s work as being musician-like, given that the picture on display is a single gesture (a one-line drawing of a human face). [Read more…]

PopMAC day 1: Temporality and Microrhythm in Groove-Based Musics. #popmac

Temporality and Microrhythm in Groove-Based Musics. Analytical perspectives. Anne Danielsen, University of Oslo.

[abstract] The state of listening to groove-based music has been described as a condition of heightened presence in the musical here-and-now. This experience is often ascribed to the rhythms’ circular structural design and the groove’s repetitive form, which can last from several minutes to several hours depending on the context. However, also the presence of subtle microrhythmic features is crucial to the experience of groove. How can we analyze microrhythm in groove-based musics? And what can be said about form in groove-based music, which often seems to be completely devoid of form in the traditional sense? Last but not least, how can the analyses of temporality and micro rhythm inform us about the particular experience of time linked with dancing and listening to a groove? I will start with a discussion of previous empirical and theoretical work on rhythm within musicology, ethnomusicology and music psychology. Then I present a framework for analyzing groove-based music inspired by the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, and apply it to various groove- based musics. Here, I propose to engage with rhythm as an interaction between two analytically separable levels—virtual reference structures and actual sounds—that evokes the interaction between syntax and actual speech or writing in linguistics. I will use auditory analysis and various visual representations of sound, such as waveform curves and spectrograms, to explore the rhythmic design in detail. Finally, I touch upon how digital music technology has changed the feel of contemporary groove-based music.

Anne Danielsen is Professor in Musicology at the University of Oslo. She has published widely on rhythm, groove and music production in post-war African-American popular music and is the author of Presence and Pleasure: The Funk Grooves of James Brown and Parliament (Wesleyan University Press, 2006), for which she received the Lowens Book Award from the Society for American Music. She is also the editor of the anthology Musical Rhythm in the Age of Digital Reproduction (Ashgate, 2010).

Anne’s opening question (inherent in much of her research) ‘how can we analyse micro-groove?’ and although she focuses on musical analytical perspectives today, she asserts that this does not preclude a cultural analytical approach. She starts with a brief discussion of previous work in musicology, ethnomusicology and music psychology. [Read more…]