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…]