[csaa-forum] pop =\ [does not equal] crap RE: csaa-forum Digest, Vol 15, Issue 1

Jonathan MARSHALL jonathan.marshall at ecu.edu.au
Sat Jul 2 19:34:09 CST 2005

Dear Mel Campbell and list members,
I agree it's a very interesting piece with some interesting comments on voice. The central (albeit somewhat burried) contention that music aimed at youth audiences increasingly is produced using higher, younger sounding voices is certainly true, though of course it has its origins in at least the 1950s crooners and one might like to speculate what, if any, parallels this suggests with the castrati of old.
However, as a coherent argument or survey of "pop music" (which means what, anyway? the author runs all over genres, distribution networks, labels, timeframes, etc, as though all these things can be reduced down to one single musicological referent with distinct trends) it is sorely lacking and full of holes. What, after all, about his Bob-ness (Dylan that is). Not exactly a new artist, but still selling very well both in old and new recordings, and not just to audiences 30 and over. What about Tom Waits? What about the (now somewhat dying) trend of the gruff voiced male rapper? etc, etc, and --- yes --- more etc.
There are plenty of exceptions to the contention ventured, which radically underestimates generic diversity and distribution. As an analysis of the genre "teen music" (a slippery one at that) it seems pretty fair, likewise of most of MTV's playlist and probably (but not entirely) the "idol" TV programs. However, as anyone who has ever been to their local grungy pub (launching ground for everyone from Green Day to Hole to Melbourne's now defunct King Idiot --- hardly voices without "grain"), or who has been to those strangely beautiful eccentric CD suppliers (78 Records, Perth, or in Melbourne, Gaslight, Dorobo, Peril, Synaesthesia, Readings, etc), there's much more going on than that, and a lot of is more or less "popular" or derived from rock and dance music forms, and so allied to "pop".
There is indeed a nostalgia in the critique, but it is hardly one unique to the writer, or indeed one I reject out of hand. Anyone who has grown up on the old neo-Romantic critical model promoted by everyone from Countdown to NME, the idea that a musical form which cannot be performed in its essential elements live and in a minimallly mediated form, streaming directly off the stage direct to the audience (a model which closely accords with Derrida's model of the defunct crisis of authorship which phonocentric culture tries to paper over, incidently) --- for those of us who recall the special joy of the live band with the live charismatic singer at the front, it is hard to accept that electronic mediation and/or pre-preparation might be able to obviate or eclipse this. The mention of Barthes is significant, as grain implies the authority and presence of the singer. So we lose that. So what? Is presence so important? Kraftwerk always wanted to play like robots. So now --- perhaps, I would stress, unlike the author --- we are approaching an age in which singers sing like robots or similarly manufactured, tiny instruments. Is that so bad? Do we really want to go back to the days of Frank Sinatra and Franklin? What about Bjork, for eg, surely one of the most distinctive voices of the 1990s, but a singer who embraced the manufactured, mediated quality of her presence, working with producers who double, multi-track and often distort her voice, who morph her physical form in videos (Cunningham), who sometimes replace the "grain" of her band too with a mixed timbre of electronica.
I like live singing. I like deep voices. They havent disappeared though, and even if they have, new things have arisen. I myself am not yet ready to cry "The King is dead, long live the Queen" --- and the recent neo-rock movement suggests that Romantic humanism has a stronger pull on music consumers than the author would perhaps concede. However, should such a day come, I shall not mourn. Ive still got the tapes, the vinyl, the memories, and yes, now too I have the videos, the DVDs, the abstract but beat-driven cinesonic creations, the impossible voices of Laurie Anderson on vinyl, the mp3s, and more. Musical change and vocal conflations are something I celebrate. The only downside I can see is that, as in just about all arts, scouring the distribution networks to find the "post-pop" forms you like might get harder!
Dr Jonathan Marshall
Research Fellow
WA Academy of Performing Arts
Edith Cowan Uni


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Today's Topics:

   1. pop = crap?  (Mel Campbell)
   2. Up coming HRC Conference: Asian Cities and Cultural       Change
      (Leena Messina)


Message: 1
Date: Sat, 2 Jul 2005 12:49:08 +1000 (EST)
From: Mel Campbell <incrediblemelk at yahoo.com.au>
Subject: [csaa-forum] pop = crap?
To: iaspm-anz at yahoogroups.com, csaa-forum at lists.cdu.edu.au
Message-ID: <20050702024909.33279.qmail at web21325.mail.yahoo.com>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1

Hello all,

Sorry for cross-posting and if you've seen this
before, but I just found an interesting article in
Spiked Online.


The writer is making a case that pop music these days
is infantile, samey and crap because we don't nurture
individual, mature voices. She traverses all sorts of
familiar ground, from the "Aretha would never get a go
in today's corporate industry" argument to the "kids
these days just want to be famous" argument.

It makes some interesting points about the vocal
qualities of particular genres (which as some people
will know, I have researched), but it also seems
dangerously nostalgic.

I would be interested to see people's responses.




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Message: 2
Date: Tue, 28 Jun 2005 14:54:03 +1000
From: Leena Messina <Leena.Messina at anu.edu.au>
Subject: [csaa-forum] Up coming HRC Conference: Asian Cities and
        Cultural        Change
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