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Session 5-3 (SAM-IASPM)
Analyses of American Popular Music

John Covach (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Chair

 

Issues of Value in Recent Analyses of Rock Music

James Bennighof (Baylor University)

Recent analytical studies of rock music continue to engage-implicitly or explicitly-the issue of value in the songs they examine. These studies, by scholars such as Graeme Boone, Matthew Brown, Lori Burns, John Covach, Walter Everett, Daniel Harrison, Dave Headlam, Peter Kaminsky, and Susan McClary, integrate increasingly sophisticated and versatile music-analytical tools with the examination of literary, social, and historical elements in order to produce comprehensive accounts of musical works. At the same time, they shed light on the related ways that value assessments impinge on issues of methodology and ideology.
Methodologically, each different kind of inquiry-music-analytical, sociological, literary, historical, etc.-can serve as a cue for ways to pursue the others most fruitfully. Ideologically, an analyst's choices will tend to be guided by those types of value that are of greatest interest, whether these be in the realm of a compelling literary statement, a fascinating music-syntactical process, or a powerful social commentary. In practice, these concepts interact and modify one another throughout the analytical process-emphasis on one methodological approach may give way to another as more insights become evident, the locus of greatest value may evolve, and methodology and ideology may influence one another as well.
Examination of these issues in analytical studies reveals some of the aesthetic realms which rock music may tend to engage most effectively or naturally, as well as illuminating some intriguing ways in which music analysis can function in an interdisciplinary context.

 

Repetition, Pop Music, and Stevie Wonder

Tim Hughes (Experience Music Project)

This presentation is an investigation of the role of repetition in popular music. I will discuss the nature of repetition, its perception within the Western musical tradition, and its use in American pop music, and will use examples from the music of Stevie Wonder to demonstrate its usage. The act of repetition allows us to recognize sameness while it simultaneously destroys this sameness. When we recognize something as a second statement, we recognize both its sameness and the fact that it is not the first statement. It may be the same in all respects except time of occurrence, but our temporal nature ensures that this difference is perceived.
In Western culture, it is recognized that repetition creates musical structure. Yet, I would argue that we privilege the sameness of repetition and do not generally recognize the difference. Because of this unawareness, the existence of repetition is noted, but its effect is either ignored or seen as negative beyond a certain amount. By describing repeated figures as "static," the possibility that something can move steadily is missed.
In pop music, repetition is accepted as important ­ even desirable. In fact, many pop songs are successful largely because of their repetitiveness. Repetition is used extensively at multiple levels in pop music. I will present analytical examples from Stevie Wonder's songs that illustrate ways in which repetition is used as a positive compositional element at the level of the note, the gesture, the beat, the groove, the phrase, and the song section.

 

Form Making and Bass Bin Shaking: Sounds and Structures of Drum & Bass

Charles Kronengold (University of Northern Iowa)

Even though the sounds can make it seem otherwise, today's electronic dance music genres preserve arrangement schemes associated with live rhythm sections. How do these sounds--and the way electronic songs are made--change the valence of traditional schemes? If recent dance genres individuate themselves partly through the samples they use, what does it mean when these samples bear traces of other genres?
Drum & bass emerged from rave culture in the early '90s and as such descends ultimately from the sequencer-based dance music of the '80s. It has established itself as an autonomous dance music genre, with specialist producers and DJs, and well over one hundred labels releasing mostly 12" singles. Songs in this genre share tempi of around 160 bpm, lengths over six minutes, and an arrangement scheme that includes an active drum groove (layered, heterogenous, dynamic) and an assertive, usually very low bass line, supplemented by a pad that can drop in and out, and a vocal or instrumental element that will momentarily occupy the foreground at various points.
Form cannot live by sequencer alone. Nor do drum & bass songs draw much from conventional pop or hip-hop song structures. What makes form in drum & bass? How is form acknowledged and understood by producers, DJs and audiences? These songs exhibit a refreshing formal openness that has helped to shape talk around the genre, in particular by encouraging narrative conceptions of form. I discuss the relation of timbre, generic reference and production practices to the construction of form.

 

Dance of the Language Barrier: Meter and Accent in the Music of Sun Ra

Janna K. Saslaw (Loyola University, New Orleans)

Although much has been written about the philosophy, experimental work, and influence of jazz pianist, composer, and big band leader, Sun Ra (Herman Blount, 1914-93), there has been virtually no detailed analysis of Sun Ra's music. Even the highly praised recent biography of Sun Ra, Space is the Place (1997), by anthropologist John Szwed, has been cited for its lack of musical analysis. This paper begins to fill that analytical gap by examining one of the most exciting aspects of Sun Ra's compositions, their intricate manipulation of metrical structure and accent. This manipulation is immediately perceptible in many of his works, as in "Space is the Place" (which includes layers heard in 5/8, 3/4, and 4/4). I have examined several heads and intros by Sun Ra for their processes of metrical displacement, and methods of creating phrase asymmetry. The paper will include segments of interviews with Arkestra members about their experience performing these works. Compositions to be discussed include "Saturn," "Of Strange Incident," "A Street Named Hell," and "Dance of the Language Barrier." In these compositions metrical manipulation processes creating unexpected accents include layering together parts of different lengths, using phrases of odd lengths that change metrical position when repeated, shifting upbeat and downbeat figures to the opposite position, and gradually expanding phrases into asymmetrical units.

 

Voice Leading and the Theme of Loss in the Music of Tori Amos

Kevin Clifton (University of Texas at Austin)

This paper examines Amos's unique compositional style through both an introversive (structural) reading and an extroversive (expressive) reading, modeled after Edward T. Cone's analysis of Schubert's Moment Musical, op. 94, no. 6 (Frisch, 1986). This synthesis illustrates that Amos' music often expresses a narrative of self-actualization in both text and music. The music itself can be seen as a window into Amos' slippery psyche--a window that illuminates a journey toward self-completion from one song to the next, and even from one album to the next. The focus of this paper will be an analysis of three songs ("Putting the Damage On," "Spark," and "Northern Lad") that span two albums (Boys for Pele [1996] and From the Choirgirl Hotel [1998]). This paper will thus suggest ways in which these three songs are woven together by the theme of loss, as well as how they ultimately complete each other. This paper will also show that a voice-leading phenomenon mirrors the lyrical search for self-actualization in these songs; an enigmatic F# helps depict the narrative of an inner journey toward self-completion.

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