Popular Music Education. These three words, even though they have been at the center of my professional life for more than 25 years, continue to challenge and intrigue me because each one generates questions. What do we mean by ‘Popular’? Popular with whom, and for how long? Popular in the sense of widely distributed, or in the sense of culturally influential? When we say ‘Music’, which music… and whose music? The consensus reached long ago in conservatoires about the centrality of the European ‘common practice period’ has no easy parallel in PME, and popular music has evolved into so many forms and sub-genres that it is arguably impossible for any teacher or student to have knowledge of it all. And when we talk about ‘Education’, what, exactly, are we teaching? PME in high schools and in higher education deals variously with listening, performing existing music, creating original music, music technology, the commercial music industry, and (often controversially) the history of various canons, styles and traditions. Which of these should we choose to teach? Each answer to these questions breeds further questions. If we decide that our curriculum supports creativity, then our students will probably need to be songwriters, the song being the dominant creative product in most popular music. But how does one build a suitable grading framework for songwriting, when songs represent personal expression? What if the teacher’s definition of a good song is different from the student’s?
The Institute was founded on a musical question, which is:
What would jazz sound like in a culture without patriarchy?
This morning I was viewing the video of remarks from our outstanding keynote speaker Dr Farah Jasmine Griffin (William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University NY). Like a lot of people, when an inspiring speaker mentions artists, music or books that are new to me, I like to explore further – cue a brief trip down a Google ‘rabbit hole’. So here’s the full presentation, with citations below.
Davey will be discussing songwriter identity in the context of optimal distinctiveness theory, and uses this to frame some popular music within the known teen phenomenon of ‘I loved [that band] before they were famous’. He uses the famous example of iMacs that looked like furniture – the novel and the familiar are balanced to create consumer need.
Popular music is perceived to come out of ‘scenes’ – genres, fashions and subcultures – and necessarily has different audiences, who in turn require identity, categorisation and distinctiveness (Zuckerman 2014).
In Davey’s auto-ethnographical research, he has created 4 albums over 8 years; 2 of these gained traction; 2 faded away. He analyses each project according to its distinctiveness, genre, novelty, conformity etc (via the above ODT framework).
We now hear ‘Memory is a Weapon’ (CousteauX, 2017), from Davey’s reboot of his turn-of-the-century band Cousteau. The journalistic feedback and reviews triangulate the product’s perceived distinctiveness. Assimilation (conformity to expectation) is contrasted with Differentiation (challenge to expectation) – for example, the torch singer persona of Cousteau’s work becoming the rogue-ish character of the CousteuX reboot. This is in the lyric mode of address (first person, reflective, confessional). Most of the rest of the album is in the dramatic mode of address (quasi-second person – addressing the audience as if they were present or speaking to somebody else positioning the audience as witness).
The journalistic responses agreed with the intent, reliably highlighting words such as ‘dark’ and ‘brooding’ etc.
I always love to hear Anne speak. Alas, I live-blogged her entire hour-long keynote today, complete with examples, and due to a horrible WordPress browser fail (including no success with autosave reversions) I lost all the text and examples!
So to recreate it from memory, Anne discussed some of the musical characteristics of black popular musics, as articulated by Wilson (1983), and then used these to trace a 50-year timeline of rhythmic accuracy in African-American popular music, particularly focusing on the cusp of digital tools (from early 1980s). Trends were traced, from the quest for super-accurate grooves (e.g. Prince’s Kiss), through the muddying/blurring of the beat (examples include Snoop Dogg, D’Angelo, Destiny’s Child, Tyler The Creator).
The (Dis) Embodied Voice: hearing meaning in vocal timbre
Simon Zagorski-Thomas (London College of Music, UWL)
Keywords: Vocal timbre, ecological perception, embodied cognition, sonic cartoons
ABSTRACT: It can be argued that since the persona of the performer is widely perceived to be the locus of meaning in popular music – as opposed to the more indirect voice of the composer in the western art music tradition – that the timbre of the voice and its control during performance should be the focal point of popular music analysis. This paper uses a framework combining the ecological approach to perception (Gibson, 1979; Clarke, 2005), embodied cognition (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999) and the neural theory of metaphor (Lakoff and Johnson, 2003; Feldman, 2008) to explore how the disembodied sound of the recorded voice in popular music is interpreted as a schematic representation of a human entity and action: a sonic cartoon (Zagorski-Thomas, 2014).
Sample replays and their implications for producers and listeners
Justin Morey, Leeds Beckett University
ABSTRACT: There is evidence that the cost of clearing the recording copyright of a sample (the master clearance) has risen significantly in the last 20 years (see, for example: McLeod and Di Cola, 2013; Morey, 2014), with one result being the increasing use of sample replay services, which create a sound-alike of a sample at a fraction of the price of clearing the original. A further recent development is that producers (hereafter sampling composers) whose records originally used cleared samples have found that on expiry of the term of clearance, record label demands to authorize an extension have become financially prohibitive, leading to a choice either to create a version with the sample replaced by a replay, or have the record disappear completely from streaming services and broadcast media.
Using qualitative data from practitioners involved in sampling, sample replay services, and sample clearance, this paper explores the implications of developments in the industrial management of copyright on the creative practice of sampling composers and the canon of sample-based music available to listeners, and considers issues of the aura and authenticity of an original recording in terms of sampling and sample replays.
Keywords: digital sampling; copyright; creative practice
Franco Fabbri, University of Milan and Conservatorio ‘A.Boito’, Parma
Our opening keynote for the conference is the much-loved Franco Fabbri, a much-celebrated musician, educator and musicologist. I was particularly interested to hear this one, because Franco is talking about Forensic Musicology, and with a particular focus on Italian case law.
Here’s my live-blog of his hour-long talk, with YouTube examples where I could find them:
Dr Brandoff opens with two vignettes; one where he describes a time of personal social frustration where he wanted to punch a wall (but played some classical piano instead – he demos it live!). His second example is a patient case (see slide).
As a palliative care expert and pain specialist, he gives us an overview of patient needs, in the context of his profession, and in the context of US healthcare. He considers opioids an important part of pain treatment, but acknowledges the rampant public health opioid crisis. We look at some disturbing stats of overdose deaths involving opioids in the US, correlated with heroin and fentanyl takeup, and a more local analysis of the picture here in Massachusetts.
Dr Carr ones with a powerful statement: Pain itself is a disease. There are a number of causes, and types, of disease (heart disease, lung disease etc) but once they become established and manifest as pain, they have similarities. Dr Carr believes that having access to pain control is a human right. Pain is a public health issue. Pain professionals view it it as a disease, which can be understood as a combination of pathology, host and environment. Definition discussion (Williams and Craig, 2016).
Pain, Dr Carr suggests, is a public health issue (O’Brien et al, 2017) and lower back pain is argued to be a global disability.
Dr Heiderscheit begins with an historical overview, which is fascinating – see photo. She presents this slide with minimal comment due to pressure of time.
We see some quantitative (and remarkable) stats relating to public health issues – economic costs of addiction, trauma and pain – but Dr Heiderscheit suggests that the human cost of these issues is literally unquantifiable. They affect our health, relationships, wellbeing, security, purpose, community and environment. “We can work to slap band-aids on gaping wounds, but if we don’t address these areas we are not achieving [societal] well-being”.
Our first speaker, Dr David Silverstein, leads us through a fascinating overview of ‘music and the brain’, and he begins with a quotation from Hippocrates:
And men ought to know that from nothing else but thence [from the brain] come joys, delights, laughter and sports, and sorrows, griefs, despondency, and lamentations. And by this, in an especial manner, we acquire wisdom and knowledge, and see and hear, and know what are foul and hat are fair, what are bad and what are good, what are sweet, and what unsavory… And by the same organ we become mad and delirious, and fears and terrors assail us…
We see evolutionary comparisons of the prefrontal cortex of various mammals, from rats to humans. As Dr Silverstein puts it “[our brains] hitch a ride on blood oxygenation”. Neurology and psychology are the fields by which we learn about our subjective brain experiences.
Matthew opens with a discussion of the role of curriculum in popular music education, noting that the skills musicians gain in Higher Ed are arguably much more important than the qualification. Like the industry, he says, we must be ruthless in prioritizing meaningful musical career skills, rather than focusing on those elements that are the easiest to teach, or have heavily established pedagogies.
I’m in Seattle at the New Music Ecosystem conference, organised by the University of Washington Law School. It’s a gathering of music and law professionals, discussing the future of creators’ compensation, tech/music innovation, and copyright reform. [Grammar folks – I’ve now been in the USA for long enough, and had Oxford commas inserted into my copy so many times, that I have decided to give in and just use them from hereon].
ABSTRACT: Over the past several years, perhaps no single person has fostered collaborations with groups on the fringe of networking infrastructure than Dan Nichols of Northern Illinois University. In this session, Dan will explain how to reach partners with limited expertise and resources. Prominent software solutions like Artsmesh and Jam Kazaam will be explored.
Thus far, the conference has focused on high-bandwidth institutions with fast Internet2 connections. Dan’s presentation covers bringing networked collaboration to the masses, particularly those who do not have access to these network/hardware/institutional resources.
Dan begins with a description of Jamkazam, a free solution (that also offers a $299 hardware audio interface). After describing its features and virtues, he plays us a demo of multi-site bands jamming at SXSW 2014.
Project leads for LOLA, Ultragrid and CESNET’s 4K streaming appliance (MVTP) share recent developments for each platform. The presentation will include the recent release of LOLA v1.5.0, new features and a look to the future of LOLA v2.0 and multisite functionally. Milos Liska will lead a walkthrough of the new Ultragrid graphical user interface, which opens of the application to less experienced users. Sven Ubik will share the most recent work with the MVTP appliance with a live demonstration of the technology in action.
Claudio is one of the world leaders in this field, and one of the inventors/developers of LOLA (background presentation about LOLA). Today’s presentation is to update the community on the technological advances in the new version LOLA v1.5.0. [JB comment – the tech developments are remarkable, including fast JPEG compression and 120FPS video support – which I find astounding in an internet-based video service, let alone one where super low latencies are crucial].
I’m in Miami at the annual conference of ‘Network Performing Arts Production Workshops’ (that’s the current title of the organisation; they have stated in the introductory remarks that they’re looking for a more pithy name than ‘NPAPW’!). Our host organisation is the New World Symphony.
Yesterday I attended the inaugural Berklee XR summit, held on Feb 7th 2018 at the Berklee Media Center, here at Massachusetts Ave in Boston, part of the Stan Getz Library. The all-day event was envisaged by our estimable Berklee colleague and XR Professor Lori Landay. XR is a catch-all term (Cross Reality, or Extended Reality) and it refers to “technology-mediated experiences that combine digital and biological realities”. Augmented Reality (AR) is adding virtual objects to the real world, typically through a smartphone camera (Pokémon Go being a well-known example); Virtual Reality (VR) is creating an entire immersive world for the user to experience, usually via first-person headset technologies. VR is particularly used in games such as Doom VFR but also in non-gaming contexts, including medicine, education and law (not to mention dance).
As promised to the delegates on the day, I’ve listed below some of the urls we collected, from listening to the artists, colleagues, presentations and exhibitors. If you were there and you think I’ve missed any, please contact me here or @joebennettmusic and I’ll be glad to add to the list.
There’s a news story right now about the ‘Happiest Christmas song’, a commerical research project I was asked to undertake recently to provide statistics about the characteristics of the UK’s favourite Christmas songs (Spotify streams, Christmas 2016). It resulted in the following song, penned by the remarkable Harriet Green and Steve Anderson, two super-talented and mega-credited UK songwriters. The song is below – I think it came out great, but judge for yourself.
Academics who are interested – here’s the analysis paper – a simple list of musical and lyric traits by popularity, with some speculative commentary about cultural trends (complete with extra-Christmassy red and green data charts). There’s also a ‘making of’ video at the bottom of this post.
[JB note – I type this sitting under the Sound Dome in ‘Lilla Salen’, one of the Royal College’s lecture theatres. It appears to be an array of 13, 8 and 4 speakers arranged in concentric circles above a non-raked 100-ish seater auditorium in a large black box space, with options additional floor-level speakers in a circle. We can also see a big stereo FOH ceiling PA and four subs in the corners of the space. I’m sure we’ll hear more – in both senses of the phrase – soon].
Bill begins with a description of his own background, and like many at ARP he traces his first inspiration back to the moment he first heard the Beatles. He tells stories about his enthusiasm for acquisitiveness in audio, having recently bought three SSL desks after using one for a particular session in an opera house (he notes that, as a Texan, he believes everything should be big).