Analyzing Popular Music

Analyzing Popular Music

Analyzing Popular Music

Analyzing Popular Music

Synopsis

How do we "know" music? We perform it, compose it, sing it in the shower; cook, sleep and dance to it. Eventually we think and write about it. This book represents the culmination of such shared processes. Portraying a wide range of genres (rock, dance, TV soundtracks, country, pop, soul, easy listening, Turkish Arabesk), the essays cover methodology, modernism, postmodernism, Marxism and communication.

Excerpt

How do we 'know' music? Although music has a variety of distinct audiences, one way of approaching a universally applicable response is by looking at the activities we undertake in its presence. Most widespread, of course, is listening. We may listen for pleasure, for identification, as an accompaniment to other activities (dancing, cooking), distractedly (as when watching a film) and in many other ways. In pre-modern societies, listening without any more active form of participation was rare indeed, whether that activity focused on performing itself, on some form of dance, or even on banter with the musicians: some would argue that in modern society too, the musical experience is impoverished without such participation. Many of us are either fortunate or wilful enough to insist on performing, and even composing. All of these activities may be defined as ways of 'knowing' music, even if that knowledge is not communicated verbally. We do, however, find verbal communication about music a seductive activity: the scholar Nicholas Cook even argues that words are indispensable in the process of our creating for ourselves meaning out of the music we listen to (Cook 1998a: 270). Verbal communication is certainly necessary for the remaining activity we undertake in respect of music – its study, the process of knowing it 'better'.

Twenty years ago, it was difficult to find any institution where popular music (as a field distinct from 'classical' or 'non-Western' musics or jazz) could be found being taught to prospective musicians at undergraduate level. It simply did not appear on the syllabus. Partly as a consequence, the music was ascribed 'amateur' status, notwithstanding the evident professionalism exhibited by its practitioners, and the revenue those considered successful were able to generate for various stakeholders (agents and managers, publishers and recording companies, performance venues, record distributors, high street outlets). At the turn of the century, the position has changed to such . . .

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