Academic conference questions – translated

conf.jpgSo farewell, Kassell, as day 5 of the IASPM2017 conference winds down. Our German hosts have been fantastic, and the overall atmosphere has been, as ever, one of courteous collegiality and mutual academic admiration. Almost all of the questions from the floor have been in the spirit of inquiry, peer support and knowledge sharing.


Below, as a public service, I’ve provided a list of some of the more ‘problematic’ questions that we hear from time to time at academic music conferences, with translation.

Thank you for a great presentation…
I’d like to tell you about my work.

Less of a question, more of a point, really…
I’d like to tell you about my work.

Have you read…?
I’m going to cite an out-of-print book you’ve never heard of and watch you squirm politely.

What’s the relationship of your work to [e.g.] the Andean nose-flute?
I’ve written a book about the Andean nose-flute.

One of the things that seems, to me, to be the case, based on the way you set up the inherent affordances available to the agents of this paradigm, is that, how can I really say this, well, there’s a difference between… well, more of a dichotomy… between the primary sources as they state their position phenomenologically, and the secondary sources, filtered as they inevitably are through the lens of scholarship and the attendant limitations of the contemporaneous evidence base available, although I have to say you do a great job of pulling those sources together given the inherent paucity of reportage from the primary participants, which I suppose is an inevitability due to the kind of retrospective material we’re dealing with here, and we all would support, as I’m sure everyone here agrees, the requirement to preserve the authenticity of that, even if the researcher is sometimes pressured by the field into creating taxonomies not necessarily intended for academic consumption by the original practitioners being studied, and that’s important, but only important inasmuch as the research community needs to define it for this particular sub-field, given that there are so many other sub-fields within which different taxonomies have been established; what’s your view?
It’s time for the coffee break and I’m the only one in the room who doesn’t want coffee.

How does the tabor syncopation example you played relate to Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital?
You musicologists know nothing about society.

In terms of the geopolitics you mention, what is the effect of the Dorian pivot-note key change halfway through bar 23?
You sociologists know nothing about music.

The Politics of Digitizing Analogueness #iaspm2017

Pat O’Grady
: Macquarie University

The Politics of Digitizing Analogueness


Plug-in hardware emulation – are looks as important as sound to the user?

ABSTRACT: In the field of pop music production, audio companies such as Waves and Universal Audio claim to reproduce the sound of ‘vintage’ analogue signal processing recording technologies. They use software to emulate the form and sound of technologies that, in their hardware form, became highly valued parts of recording studios from the 1960s and 1970s. These digital technologies are marketed towards the increasingly capable and more affordable personal computer market, often used in home studios. The companies claim to provide the user with the comparable results to analogue. Since the 1980s, similar changes to the recording technology landscape have been understood as ‘democratization,’ as music production trended towards a digital economy. However, these emulations also exist alongside a reemergence of the use of analogue technologies in music production, particularly in large studios. In this paper, I explore how the popularity of digital emulations can be partly attributed to shifting attitudes towards analogue vintage technologies. I draw from an analysis of industrial discourses within music production in order to show that rather than democratize the field of music production, they reinforce the social order of the field of recording. In doing so, they continue to promote within a discursive space the importance of large studio music production.

Pat begins by leading us quickly through the development of the technologies that led us here, through the rise of digital recording in the 80s, the rise of the workstation in the 90s and the plugin in the 2000s and beyond. We are now, he suggests, in the ‘Analogue Comeback’ era, and he cites both analogue hardware and UAD emulation plugins in some Australian professional studios’ advertising. He notes that due to the four-decade establishment of digital recording, there now exist professional studio practitioners who did not grow up with analogue equipment. [Read more…]

Binaurality and stereophony in 60s/70s pop #iaspm2017

Franco Fabbri: Conservatorio di Parma, Università di Milano (Italy)

Binaurality, stereophony, and popular music in the 1960s and 1970s

Mixing desk

In the early days of stereo recording, engineers would often mix without headphones, even if the final mix was intended for binaural listening.

ABSTRACT: Stereophonic headphones were first marketed in the USA in 1958. Binaural listening (via headphones) became one of the favourite ways for fans to listen to rock albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Stereophonic mixes, however, were not necessarily designed for binaural listening. Sound engineers rarely used headphones, and generally preferred to mix without wearing them, with some explaining that they couldn’t get a proper balance if they didn’t listen to the studio monitors. Often they would listen to the result of a mix with cheap shelf loudspeakers, or even car loudspeakers, claiming that those would be the most common sound sources used by the audience; strangely enough, headphones were not used for this purpose in the studio. While the association and historical overlap of stereophonic mixes, advances in studio technology and consumer audio, and the rise of psychedelia and progressive rock have been commented (more in accounts on or by individual artists/bands/producers than in general terms) the issues of binaurality, of stereophony, and of their relations with popular music has seldom been explored. The paper will focus on the musicological aspects of binaurality and stereophony, both at poiesic and aesthesic levels.

Franco opens with a history of the study of binaurality, leading us to the development of stereo audio in the 50s/60s, which provided two [and this is key to what follows] separate channels. He makes the point about the difference between binaural listening on headphones (which separates the signals completely) and binaural listening (which includes phase/delay between the signals). In the earliest experiments in binaurality, headphones were used first – and listeners considered headphones more ‘realistic’ than speaker-based stereo. Headphones were also not an option in the early days of cinema (he cites Disney’s Fantasia as one of the earliest movies with 2 channel sound)… because of the social aspect. Franco illustrates “it was difficult to kiss your loved one in the cinema wearing headphones”! [Read more…]

Technological tactility in mixing #iaspm2017

Brendan Anthony: Queensland Conservatorium (Australia)

Talking tactility: Technology’s influence on ‘feel’ in popular music mixing.


What does ‘tactile mixing’ mean when everything is digital?

ABSTRACT: One of the final creative stages in the popular music production process is mixing, and often creative brilliance not technical prowess is responsible for mix popularity. The arrival of digital technologies has affected a rapid change in mixing techniques and perhaps the subsequent overuse of various forms of technology can dominate and distract the mixers’ connection to creativity. In this instance technology should be an extension of consciousness, because mixing is a form of synesthesia and mixers should attempt to connect to creativity and emotion through their mix system. This author theorizes mixers can connect to the emotive paradigm of music via a personalized system designed around a preference of tactility and a sense of ‘feel’ when mixing. Therefore, this paper uses a qualitative comparative investigation into the popular music mixing process. This exploratory experiment involved five participants, who mixed two songs each, with varying forms of technology and tactility. The participants completed a questionnaire after the experiment so comparative data regarding the mixing experience was collected. Mix results were analyzed by the author and a thematic analysis supported by professional research completed the study.

[ABSTRACT ONLY – with apologies to Brendan for arriving late – the last few minutes that I saw sparked a fascinating discussion in the room].

Global Folk drumming pedagogy (Sweden) #iaspm2017

Daniel Akira Stadnicki: 
University of Alberta, Canada

Towards a ‘Global Folk’ Drumming Pedagogy?: Percussive Innovations and Legacies in Swedish Folk Music


Swedish drummer Peter Bernadalen

ABSTRACT: This paper explores the drumming and percussion techniques found in Nordic ‘global folk’ music (Hill, 2007), emphasizing some of the pedagogical questions, issues, and opportunities that emerged in this research. Concentrating primarily on the ‘innovationist’ branch (Kaminsky 28-30; 2012) of Swedish folk music and the work of drummer Petter Berndalen, this presentation expands upon some of the key features of contemporary Nordic folk drumming as potential resources for ‘world’ drum kit performance and instruction. These include: timbre as a pedagogical resource; the subordination to melody instruments; and the distinct melodic rhythm of the polska as a radical drumming paradigm. This presentation will incorporate stylistic analyses, interviews with Swedish and Norwegian folk drummers, and reflections on my own performance-practice (including brief demonstrations). Drummers are often musical outliers in many established folk traditions, and drumming—particularly in trap/kit configurations—remains an overlooked topic in folk/roots music scholarship. However, Nordic drummers have crafted unique ways of accompanying folk musicians, generating new percussive traditions, often on modified kits using mounted and hand- held tambourines. Through highlighting the work and oral histories of Nordic folk drummers, this paper will contribute new research on folk musicianship and music pedagogy.

Hill, Juniper. “Global Folk Music” Fusions: The Reification of Transnational Relationships and the Ethics of Cross-Cultural Appropriations in Finnish Contemporary Folk Music,” in Yearbook for Traditional Music 39 (2007), 50-83.

Kaminsky, David. Swedish Folk Music in the Twenty-First Century: On the Nature of Tradition in a Folkless Nation (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2012).

After a brief contextual intro, we see a selection of kits, which include traditional kits, augmented with djembes, cajons, plus various Indian and Japanese drums etc. [Read more…]

Two Sides of the Moon: the virtuosic & primitive in rock drumming #iaspm2017

Mandy Smith: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame/Case Western Reserve University

Two Sides of the Moon: Mediating the Virtuosic and the Primitive in Rock Drumming

Keith moon

Keith Moon – “controlled chaos” deconstructed.

ABSTRACT: In live performances, The Who’s drummer Keith Moon flails his arms wildly, dazzles the crowd with classic “drummer face,” and dominates the entire kit, leaving no drum or cymbal unbeaten. In the midst of this pandemonium, however, he executes technically masterful passages and maintains a steady beat. Moon’s bodily performance style produces a visual and aural clash that embodies both chaos and control. He somehow manages to epitomize both “primitiveness” and virtuosity—two concepts often at odds in Western culture. This paper draws on recent scholarship on the body and groove, particularly Robert Fink’s concept of rhythmic tension and release, to argue that drums operate as a site where rock’s value structures are mediated because of the instrument’s ability to signify simultaneously the primitive and the virtuosic. I analyze two Who songs, “My Generation” (1965) and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (1971), to demonstrate how Moon manifests musically an important conflict in rock values—its competing aesthetic ideals of cerebral complexity and raw simplicity. By embodying both values simultaneously, Moon complicates debates over rock authenticity and lineages. This paper ultimately argues for an analytical consideration of the oft- neglected drummer to gain a deeper understanding of rock’s meanings and pleasures.


Mandy opens with an excerpt of Keith Moon playing Won’t Get Fooled Again, pulling “at least four awesome drummer faces” while playing to the headphone beat of the ARP synthesizer backing track, simultaneously achieving the primitive and virtuosic.

[Read more…]

A History of drummer jokes… #iaspm2017

Matt Brennan: University of Edinburgh

Towards a history of drummer jokes and stereotypes


Victor Joyner’s Imperial Four, 1915

ABSTRACT: This paper investigates the history of drummer jokes and stereotypes. Drummer jokes are abundant in popular music culture, and their punchlines hinge on stereotypes about drummers (I focus on seven in particular – drummers as dumb, noisy, illiterate, uncreative, male, broke, and replaceable.) This is not to say that drummers are universally perceived as low status musicians by any means. Instead, as Stephen Cottrell (2004) has suggested, “stereotypes require a certain suspension of disbelief; we persist in stereotyping even when confronted with evidence which defies or contradicts the stereotypical image created.” But musician jokes of all kinds employ humour which “also has its place in controlling behaviour, that is, it can be used to reinforce behavioural norms and values existing within a society or group; ridiculing socially inappropriate behaviour promotes social control because it emphasizes social conformity” (ibid). This paper sketches the history of drummer jokes and stereotypes and argues that drummer stereotypes are ultimately not just about drummers: we find similar stereotypes routinely attributed in wider narratives of “low culture” of all sorts. Making fun of the drum kit and drummers is therefore a useful lens to consider the historical construction of the divide between high and low culture.

Ref: Cottrell, Stephen. Professional music-making in London: ethnography and experience (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004).

Matt begins, contrarily enough, with his serious research questions – how do drummer jokes define perception of drummers, and are the jokes a cause or effect of their ‘lowly’ status. [Read more…]