Survival, Revival and the Negotiation of Gendered Taste in Country and Americana Music Communities
Dave Robinson, Leeds Beckett University
ABSTRACT: Defining marginal country music worlds as broadly either working-class survivalist or middle-class revivalist, I examine how counter-hegemonic representations of gender and sexuality have both infiltrated, and been co-opted by, mainstream ‘country culture’ during the early years of the twenty-first century.
I argue that the disruption of traditional gender roles located in the song lyrics and lived experiences of such country icons as Hank Williams and Kitty Wells, highlights a paradox of American working-class identity that takes on new relevance amongst survivalist cultures in the post-industrial, post-9/11 United States. I also connect the ethics and aesthetics of the alt.country/Americana ‘movement’ to the post-modern anxieties of middle-class urbanites, and to the construction of a more democratic narrative of nationhood from amongst the signifiers of a ‘lost’ rural past.
ABSTRACT: Although America’s south has long been associated with political conservatism and intolerance (e.g. W. J. Cash’s The Mind of the South, 1941), it was only in the 1960s that country music began overtly to express such ideas, provoked by the counter culture’s stance on the war in Vietnam. The appearance at that time of songs defending the military action and extolling patriotism served to reinforce long-held beliefs that both country music and the southern states from which it emerged were reactionary and chauvinistic, strengthening ideas that the south was a world apart.
ABSTRACT: One of Andy Warhol’s earliest Pop art paintings, “Campbell’s Elvis” (1962) is a visual mash-up that combines two kinds of commercial goods, two kinds of trash: the torn label of an old tin can that once contained Campbell’s Soup and a publicity image of Elvis Presley. Perhaps unwittingly, Warhol here invokes a long chain of signification trailing after the word “pop”: as music; as mass produced, promoted and packaged commodity; as popular art; as trash. A late 19th-century slang expression fora garbage-filled backstreet—a “tin can alley”—helps shape early-20th-century critiques of Tin Pan Alley as an industrial fount of musical rubbish. Likewise, Sousa’s (1906) indictment of “canned music” draws on the tin can’s close associations with tainted food and urban pollution. This paper will explore the materiality and ecology of tin cans and canned music as they relate to critical ideas of “pop”.
“Pop” has a longstanding presence in so-called mass culture, from the beginning of the 19th century, when it names one of the earliest individually-packaged consumer products, “ginger pop”, to late 19th century (e.g., the Boston Pops orchestra), to the early 20th century advent of “popular-priced” or “pop” vaudeville. By c. 1920, “pop” is being applied in its modern sense to “popular music.” However, as Stuart Hall (1981) reminds us, it is in this period the very meaning of “the popular” undergoes significant transformation and re-articulation, resulting in ambiguities and contradictions: does it mean “of” the people? liked by many? distributed widely? dumbed down for mass consumption? Whilst paying attention to the democratic potentials of “pop,” this paper will also recount a story brimming with trash, triviality, and trouble. Understanding the genealogy of this keyword can help situate its ongoing importance to popular music studies, from the notorious rock vs. pop binary to Lady Gaga’s most recent album.
¿Dónde está: The Creative Role of Alfred Benge in the Music of Robert Wyatt
ABSTRACT: To many journalists, ‘Alfie’ is simply the woman who picks them up from the station when they come to interview her husband—or, at most, the woman who inspired Sea Song. My paper will aim to document Benge’s multi-faceted role, which may be far more active than mere muse. I will examine her role in the studio (drawing on interviews with Wyatt and Benge themselves, as well as with several other musicians and the engineer Jamie Johnson). This paper will discuss Benge’s pivotal role in securing deals (with Virgin, Rough Trade, Hannibal/Ryko and Domino) as Wyatt’s de facto business manager, and her contribution to the visual presentation of his work (she has designed the cover of every album since 1974’s Rock Bottom). Her creative contribution is evident in the work itself; since 1991’s Dondestan, Benge has written lyrics for a number of the songs that appear under her husband’s name. What is the power dynamic that governs their relationship, both professional and personal? Is the critics’ relative neglect of Benge’s contribution due to sexism, or are there other issues at play? To what extent should her album cover be seen as part of Wyatt’s—or Wyatt and Benge’s—artistic output (Machin, 2010)? Finally, what is the relationship between writing, singing and authorship, particularly in relation to the cover versions Wyatt himself records, and the increasing number of other artists who, in turn, cover his songs (Solis, 2010)?
Making Music for a Museum: An Insider’s View of the Collaborative Creative Process
Dan McKinna (BIMM)
ABSTRACT: To be able to gain an understanding of the creative process in popular music, it is helpful to examine the relationships and motivations at work from the perspective of an insider. Creativity in popular music is often discussed with reference to its social production and in particular to Bourdieu’s concepts of field and habitus. This, and Becker’s Art Worlds (1982) will be used as starting points, particularly in connection with the different roles and relationships, but the paper al-so seeks to address notions of individual agency and expression; a concept is often at odds with social perspectives on the production of art. In order to explore both the expressive ideals and the roles involved in the music’s crea-tion, a layered, auto-ethnographic approach is adopted so that the work is presen-ted with intertwined interviews, narrative and an analytical voice so as to bring to-gether the divergent themes. I argue that the auto-ethnographic approach has ena-bled the relationships involved in the collaborative production of the music to come to the fore, while allowing for the initial emotional connection and need to ex-press to be addressed. A reading of Bourdieu’s habitus is put forward whereby there can be a predisposition to express emotion in a musical way without losing sight of it being constructed through social interaction between creative collaborators.
ABSTRACT: In 2004 US Time magazine named Glasgow as Europe’s capital of rock music and likened it to Detroit in its Motown heyday (Porter, 2004). In August 2008 the city was named UNESCO City of Music and the application dossier submitted in support of this title notes the importance of rock and pop for the city’s musical reputation. Given Glasgow’s recent accolades, and the number of critically and commercially successful rock/pop artists to emerge from the city over the last thirty years, there has been little research into the ways in which Glasgow has maintained such a vibrant and productive popular music scene.
Portland, Oregon is a city renowned for its countercultural preference of cottage industry over multi-nationals, despite living in the shadow of Nike, Intel and Adidas. In terms of the music industries the city is pinpointed by a handful of independent labels and the various self-releasing internet platforms available. Music-making is also supported by a strong network of not-for-profit organisations providing opportunities to play, funding for exploratory projects and start-up capital for independent music industries such as record labels and studios.
John Street, Dave Laing & Simone Schroff, University of East Anglia
CREATe Panel on ‘Music & Copyright’
ABSTRACT: The recently adopted European Directive on collective management organisations and online crossborder music licensing is the first pan-European legislation to regulate the activities of national authors’ societies, the voluntary bodies that collect royalties from broadcasters, online services and promoters, and distribute the money to songwriters and publishers. It also marks the end of an era when these societies enjoyed national monopolies on such activities by granting blanket licences, and were able to give additional support to music making in even the smallest European countries.
At the root of copyright’s legislative reach, and practical effects, is the matter of ‘copying’ itself – often referring to what may legitimately (morally or legally) be done with an apparently completed piece. Yet making music, and acquiring the skills to do so, is shot through with acts of copying, from straightforwardly learning a basic riff to the network of socially inflected influences in composition and multifarious technological means of manipulation, particularly in popular music, where criteria for entry to the field are relatively lightly codified. Likewise, as well disrupting longstanding distribution methods, digital technology has blurred the relationship between production, consumption and the ‘finished product’.
Musicians are central to an industry rhetoric in support of copyright protection that often relies upon conceptions of discrete works established in a pre-digital era. This paper explores popular musical practices themselves in the face of a rapidly evolving palette of creative possibilities. How do musicians regard digital techniques—like sampling—and their outputs against other long established forms of copying? At what point do they consider the implications of copyright for their practice?
This paper scrutinizes the role of copyright in the commercial decision-making of Popular Music creators. UK copyright law confers an exclusive ‘basket of rights’ on musical creators. Theoretically at least, this privileges creators as the key decision makers in copyright transactions. However, scholars have questioned whether most creators wield meaningful influence in these negotiations. Instead, they have argued that creators find themselves in extremely weak bargaining positions largely due to the ‘take it or leave it’ terms offered by commercial investors.
Perhaps as a consequence of these critiques, the nuance in the ‘lived experience’ of creators’ commercial decisions has been largely overlooked in academic research. Drawing on data gathered from in-depth interviews with contemporary creators and investors, this paper probes the complex interplay between these key stakeholders.
[with apologies to Martin for missing the start of his session]
From the late 1920s until the late 1980s the amount of records the BBC could play on its radio stations was severely limited by a system known as ‘needletime’. Officially this was an arrangement between the BBC and Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL), acting on behalf of the major record companies. However it was also subject to scrutiny and intense lobbying by the Musicians Union (MU) which was dedicated to restricting the amount of records played on the radio as part of its determined campaign to ‘keep music live’. Based on a series of previously unseen documents, this paper examines the history of the needletime agreements, their scope and the controversies which emerged between the contending parties. It suggests that an understanding of the needletime agreements sheds further light on the historically complex nature of the UK’s music industries and on the interactions between those representing music makers, music publishers and music users.
Richard begins with a discussion of a personal experience of seeing Mona Lisa recently at The Louvre, and uses this as a springboard to reflect on the difficulty in separating a work from its mythology. He then discusses the ‘Text’ and the ‘Context’ with reference to Tagg.
Leonard Bernstein’s view of Elvis is cited – he described the latter as ‘the greatest cultural force in the twentieth century’ and reflected on his influence on musical grammar. This leads the paper to a discussion of craft and art, and the relationship between creative constraints and an ideas-driven agenda. Such constraints, Richard suggests, can include technically poor musical skills (Sleaford Mods and Ian Curtis are cited as examples), and with these constraints some songwriters can thrive if they have an ‘ideas-driven agenda’.
United we stand? Representations of Scandinavian pop music and contradictions thereof.
Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen, University of Edinburgh
[Arnar has a background as a music journalist and is a panellist/judge with expertise relating to Nordic pop. As a PhD student he also speaks modestly of his ‘academic wisdom, developing’! He defines ‘Nordic’ as Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland and contrasts these countries with the ‘all-powerful’ Anglo-American pop tradition. Today’s discussion is about cultural stereotypes in Nordic popular music].
Our first example is Anna von Hausswolff and her video is briefly discussed, mainly for its ‘walking in the snow’ Nordic stereotype.
The collaboration of collectivism and individualism: the Chinese pop song “Fill the World with Love”
(Lijuan Qian, Sichuan Normal University)
Lijuan’s paper focuses on how this pop song became incorporated into Chinese popular culture in the 1980s, and she opens with a discussion of humanism in China at the time, contextualised from Sartre and Marx. “the relation of transcendence as constitutive of man with subjectivity”. She suggests that the individualism and self-determination of Sartre’s humanism was at odds with some early 1980s Marxist thinking in China. Can love be a manifestation of humanism for those in China who have had a hitherto collectivist life experience? Some Chinese critics were concerned that any tendency towards individualism among intellectuals was a risk for society.
The song is representative of a move towards individualism, not least because its lyric is in the first person.
Dynamic Popular Music – The First Stages of a New Art Form
Keith Hennigan, Trinity College Dublin
Keith begins with an entertainingly ‘sci-fi’ way of looking at musical creativity – that is, speculating about the opportunity to make different choices at various stages in the composition’s development (and in its playback timeline). Dynamic Music is categorised (after Collins) as ‘Interactive’ (where the music changes in response to the user) and ‘Adaptive’ (where the user interacts with an additional element that in turn affects the music). Keith adds ‘Generative’ to the taxonomy in order to include music that changes due to internal systems [JB note – he comments that he was prevented for tech reasons from doing a live iPhone demo but I infer he was going to show us something like this – http://www.generativemusic.com/].
[Friday afternoon here in the music dept at University College Cork, and after an early start (most of us flew in this morning) the first paper wakes us all up with some solid classic gangsta rap.]
Justin’s paper focuses on “We Ain’t” by rapper The Game (prod. Eminem) as an example of intertextuality in Gangsta rap lineage. Useful quote (didn’t get the origin?) – “the artist starts by imposing a culture on himself and ends by imposing it on others”. Justin discusses lineage, both literal (e.g. Rock Family Trees) and cultural, and expands on the themes from his book ‘Rhymin’ and Stealin’ – https://www.press.umich.edu/3480627/rhymin_and_stealin.
We hear verse 1 and the first chorus of the song – video below.
I’m en route to the UK & Ireland IASPM conference in Cork. I was at the International one in Spain last year – the branch and International IASPM conferences leapfrog each other every other year, so for 2014 we’re back in our respective countries. I’ve submitted an abstract for the 2015 conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil (about chord loops in the Eurovision Song Contest – regular readers will know this is an interest). Waiting to hear if it gets through peer review.
So here’s my abstract for the forthcoming conference. This is part of a panel about similar themes — other presenters are Holly Holmes (Chester), Dan McKinna (BIMM) and Marcus O’Dair (Middlesex).
As always I’ll live-blog from the conference where possible.
Where is creativity? Locating intellectual property in collaborative songwriting and production processes
(Joe Bennett, Bath Spa University)
Songs lie at the centre of popular music’s Intellectual Property framework. They represent the starting point for the industry’s two most important creative products: the live performance or the recorded audio artefact. In the early 20th century, US and European copyright conventions were established whereby two separate objects could be ‘owned’: the song and the sound recording, the latter being a derivative work of the former. This state of affairs, where ‘song’ and ‘track’ are separate copyrights, remains at the industry’s administrative core, and has led to awareness among creators of the economic benefits of ‘keeping a slice of the publishing’.
However, in real-world songwriting and production situations it is not always easy to ascertain who contributed to ‘writing the song’ and who acted as an arranger, performer or producer. Inferring creative contributions from the audio artefact itself is fraught with methodological challenges; from a listener’s point of view, there is no experiential distinction between song and track. Drawing on the theoretical work of Moore, McIntyre and Csikszentmihalyi2, together with interviews with professional songwriters and the author’s own experience as a songwriter and expert witness forensic musicologist, this paper argues that the artificial administrative distinction between ‘song’ and ‘track’ is simultaneously a constraint upon creators and a silent driver of creative practice itself.
2 Allan F Moore, Song Means : Analysing and Interpreting Recorded Popular Song (Ashgate, 2012); Phillip McIntyre, “The Domain of Songwriters: Towards Defining the Term ‘Song,’” Perfect Beat: The Pacific Journal of Research into Contemporary Music and Popular Culture 5, no. 3 (2001): 100–111; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “Society, Culture, and Person: A Systems View of Creativity,” in The Nature of Creativity : Contemporary Psychological Perspectives, ed. Robert Sternberg (Cambridge University Press, 1988), 325– 339.