Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Escaping Disaster in Higher Ed

Musicology and ethnomusicology blogs rarely discuss money matters. However, over the last month or so, as many of my former colleagues and students have been protesting the disastrous state of affairs at the University of California system, the silence has been deafening. At a recent meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology which happened at the height of protests UC-wide, I only heard of one scholar mentioning the situation during official business. From merely a musicological and ethnomusicological perspective, the long-term effects on our fields are something that many of us cannot possibly know. The two flagship universities, Berkeley and UCLA, have some of the most celebrated scholars in their respective fields of study. Now take a broader look at the scholarly contributions of the entire UC system and the effects are exponential. Imagine, if you will, what the fields of music study would be like without the scholarly giants at the UC and their academic offspring? It would not be imaginable without the investment of California taxpayers. From a personal perspective, I always felt that I had stumbled onto something special when I learned of the academic powerhouses that resided in Schoenberg Hall (before it was renamed Schoenberg Music Building) during my undergraduate years. I am sure that many of us young and seasoned academics would not exist without the California taxpayer's investment in superior music scholarship even if we never stepped foot on a UC campus. UC faculty permeate our proseminars and undergraduate surveys. What would we be without them?

As news of fee hikes, ballooning class sizes, faculty furloughs and pay cuts, protests, and arrests (numbering over 220 as of this writing) reached me in my small town in Maine, I breathed a massive sigh of relief. I escaped institutional disaster. I attended UCLA as an undergrad when resident fees ranged between $1200 and $1700 per academic quarter and when (shocker!) summer fees were subsidized by the state to help students graduate in a timely manner. My academic loans totals are less than the price of a mid-size sedan. That figure is unimaginable now. As a graduate student, I was a teaching assistant when student tutoring was one of the most tapped resources in undergraduate education. Tutoring centers all across the UC have laid off employees to half their desirable size. Tutors, like TAs, are teaching to larger groups where a typical tutoring session can have one tutor teaching to a full classroom. How much learning do you think happens in those settings? I can't imagine grading papers without undergraduate writing support. This is not the quality of education that made California's system the envy of the world. Imagine what California would be like without broad access to quality higher education. How can UC compete for the best students? What if a diverse group of high quality students just stopped attending the UC?

Plenty has been written about UC President Mark Yudof's failed public relations and flat out dishonesty. As a former TA union activist, I have far too much experience with the UC behaving badly when it comes to its relations with the state legislature and the public. (For a recent example, news of UC's record high research income in comparison to postdoc and staff researcher wages come as no surprise. Just yesterday, there was a protest for that: Postdoctoral Researchers Union and staff researchers demonstrated over stalled contract negotiations.) What shocks me is the complete lack of public outrage over these policies. When will the California taxpayers do something? Just last year a staff researcher died over inadequate safety precautions in a lab. What would happen to the state of research if it became too detrimental to one's health and too financially unfeasible a profession to pursue? What would happen if it all just stopped?

Music scholars on the job market like to moan about our dwindling job prospects as public and private institutions alike continue painful hiring freezes (for the record: last year there were 3 tenure-track musicology / ethnomusicology positions in the UC; this year there are none). I am concerned about the other side of the problem: the students public universities are supposed to serve. This last semester, my students have been extremely smart, but they have had far from the diversity of perspectives that the students I taught during my time at UCSD and UCLA had. As educators, we learn from our students. Pricing many of these students out of higher education will have as adverse an effect on the state of our field(s) as cutting jobs or entire departments. What will we do when our students become homogenous? What kind of action will musicology and ethnomusicology take to keep this from happening?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lectures on your own stuff

For the last few week I've been officially teaching repertoire that rubs right up against the music I research. While my prep time for lectures has diminished to a minimum, I find teaching my own area to be the most unexpected challenge of my course. And I'm not alone. Just last week, I met with a few other ethno/musicologists working in a visiting assistant professor capacity for other liberal arts colleges in Maine, and we all agreed: teaching your own stuff is the most difficult unit of a semester. That is, even if you do not necessarily write or research one aspect of the broader specialization, you may still fall victim to assuming that basic things to your topic are common knowledge (which they are not) thereby complicating even what you envision to be the most straightforward of lectures. Rest assured, I have been learning a lot in this class.

Rather than embarrass myself by listing the many examples of interesting assumptions I made during my São Paulo unit, I thought I would add my own take on lecturing best practices.

1) Even if you disagree with a canonic point, lecture is not the time to complicate it. Save those problematizing discussions for individual meetings and small seminar situations.

2) When discussing a culture different from the U.S. present, start with the nationalizing myths before delving into hybrids. I know it sounds basic, but it's an easy lesson to forget when trying to plan your syllabus.

3) When discussing notions of race elsewhere, avoid as much as possible comparisons to the United States. It's a rabbit hole and you will not escape.

4) Be emotionally prepared to get through significantly less content than you normally would in exchange for more depth. Students will ask more questions if they know it's your area.

And finally, when in doubt, refer to other sage guides on lecturing. It can be quite fun.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Let's Have Fun!

I am having a really wonderful and surprising experience with this book I'm reading. I’m starting to work on my chapter on the Berlioz Requiem, and I needed to learn about church music in the Nineteenth century. This book is called "Church Music in the Nineteenth Century," by Arthur Hutchings. Considering its title at least 50% promising, I brought it home, or rather, I had my husband bring it home for me, as I leave the house but rarely. It was written in 1967. I expected it to be curmudgeonly and/or dry as dust, and I readied my pen to take down some boring but necessary facts and figures. But! So far from being wrong in that presumption was I that I quickly found myself actually delighted by the book! It is an absolute treasure.

For starters, there is the most charming preface I have ever read. Some excerpts:

"I lack courage to forgo this traditional opportunity to forestall criticism, for I have discovered that if the subject upon which I so readily agreed to write were comprehensively surveyed, even in a small book, I should need more time and travel than I can afford for several years to come."

Then he talks about how it's easy to say what was sung in Vienna at Schubert's church, or at Notre Dame and Westminster Abbey; but what was sung forty miles away at Kuckucksdorf am Donau or Little Cucking? "An exercise bombastically called research, but accurately called prying into cupboards and pestering friends, leaves my answers still vague."

Thus, he says, "It seems sensible to supplement knowledge with imagination and to declare any indulgence in guessing." He says if he didn't do it this way, he "should keep the publisher waiting for a very stodgy tome."

He then does this great joke where he says, "I wanted to dedicate these pages to Canon Kenneth Meux," and delivers a whole long paragraph about what a great guy Canon Meux is, but then he says, "Yet he would agree that the dedicatees should be Mgr. Paul Grant, President of Ushaw College, and the Vice President and Choirmaster, Mr. Laurence Hollis. My protestant tongue does not falter at 'Father Hollis' but Ushaw proudly recalls the style of address brought from Douai and still used in this country during the penal years."


So if that preface were not enough to stoke me up greatly 'pon the reading of this un-stodgy tome, here is the first paragraph of the book:

"We hear more sermons on faith than on hope, without which faith lacks radiance. Most outstanding men of the nineteenth century were such optimists that they either forgot the Devil or treated him as a medieval superstition. Two vast wars have since then set carpenters and clerks killing and maiming carpenters and clerks, few of whom wished to kill and maim; they could acknowledge their contribution to human error but could they reasonably believe that the horrors they witnessed were the just retribution for their sins? The wars 'came'; evil overtakes us because evil is with us."


I genuinely did not expect a survey of church music in the Nineteenth century to indulge in such whimsical flights of fancy, nor did I anticipate an exposition on Good and Evil and the Hearts of Man. It just goes to show you that you quite literally can not judge a book by its cover. I was struck over and over again, reading through this dude’s words, by the love of his subject that shone forth betwixt each page, but even more than that, I was struck by how much he clearly enjoyed the act of writing itself. Clever turns of phrases, beautiful and evocative passages, and always taking an extra moment to point out something humorous or interesting. He uses his imagination! He holds no grudges, even against the atheists. He speculates. He turns what could be dry historical facts into a rich and inviting world. Even when I disagreed with him on some point, or found a section boring, which is surely the fate of almost any book, scholarly ones especially, I still felt compelled to continue, because his prose was so charming, his weird personality apparent on every page.

It reminded me, as almost everything does these days, of my deep and abiding love of Jacques Barzun. I love a smart fancy person who can be serious without taking himself too seriously. There is a certain ease of address with Barzun that I enjoy whenever I encounter it. Can’t we just write down our thoughts and have fun doing it? We can’t, really. We need too many footnotes. We are too scared of the job market. And the disciplines have separated and become so rigid—gone are the days when somebody in the academy could write about Berlioz and baseball and race in America and crime fiction and the educational system without batting an eye. (And by "we" and "somebody" I don’t presume to mean "me," obviously, as I am nobody’s idea of a public intellectual, being but a proto-junior junior scholar who doesn’t really know about anything yet, except zombie movies, and certainly not baseball (sidenote: how much would I love to read something Jacques Barzun wrote about zombie movies?? Impossible to quantify)). I would just like to encourage everyone to take pleasure in writing, I guess, and I would like to try to continue enjoying writing even as I (hopefully) become smarter. I would like to read things written by people who like to write. I would like everyone to write in an enjoyable and compelling manner, such that people outside their discipline could still read and appreciate their words. This is how the Humanities will thrive, and how people outside the academy will understand what it is we are doing and why it is important for the world.

Anyway. This book is really taking the bad taste out of my mouth that was caused by the inadvised reading of two back-to-back devastating New Yorker articles, about global warming and the CIA's predator drone program, all at once, without coffee. Jesus, where is the New Yorker of bygone days, which taught me about how insights happen and how bees communicate???? What good is learning about this horrible world if there's nothing I can do about it except get blown up in my bed by an errant missile launched by a remote-controlled robot hovering in the sky over Pakistan whose coordinates got screwed up by the guy operating it from a bunker in suburban Denver?


Monday, October 26, 2009

Everyone Loves Tico-Tico

One of my favorite recent memes on Google Reader (especially Bruitus at Immanent Discursivity) is the flood of interesting videos of various people performing the Brazilian choro classic "Tico-Tico no Fubá" by Zequinha de Abreu. To get an idea of what I am talking about, here is the world's most famous Brazilian parrot, Joe (Zé) Carioca, teaching Donald Duck about samba through a demonstration of "Tico-Tico" (start around 04:41).

The title literally means "a little bit of (maize) flour" and was a way of describing how dancers looked as they danced to this song. Despite its popularity at dance events around Rio de Janeiro, this choro was only recorded in 1931, a full 14 years after it was first composed.* It was incredibly successful and attained its height of popularity during 1940s – no small feat at a time when sambas and choros were all the rage in the Brazilian record industry.

Eventually, "Tico-Tico" became one of the most widespread Brazilian songs from Hollywood's embrace of Brazilian music during the Good Neighbor Policy Period; it appeared in 4 additional films and was performed by Carmen Miranda in Copacabana(1947) after she'd already starred in a number of popular Fox musicals. A recording by organist Ethel Smith from 1944 was probably the most successful on the hit parade.

True to the demanding choro genre, this song is often a vehicle for tour-de-force instrumental virtuosity and showmanship (even if it is sometimes reinterpreted as a tango). By way of example, look at this impressive duo performing "Tico-Tico" on one guitar.

Clearly, this is some very impressive stuff. The first performance of it that I heard after learning a thing or two about Brazilian music was by Shooby "The Human Horn" Taylor in a class I took at UCSD. Here is a video that includes some animation to accompany Shooby's characteristically creative interpretation.

As someone who has heard all of Shooby's recordings, this is probably the closest I've ever heard him come to how a song is performed in other contexts. Stunning stuff, really.

Which bring me to my point: "Tico-Tico" has a sustained popularity in certain circles, especially among aspiring musicians wishing to demonstrate their instrumental prowess. How does burning through this chorinho (little choro) give so many people pleasure? And why does it still enjoy widespread popularity on so many different instruments? Sure, there is something fun about the song: it's upbeat and melodically and harmonically intricate. Something tells me that its larger than that, perhaps having something to with novelty. Thoughts from the peanut gallery?

* Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello, A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras (Vol. 1: 1901-1957), 6th ed. (São Paulo: Editora 34, 2006), 107.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


It's nice to see that the slow wheels of academic musicology are finally swinging into motion:


Special Issue:
Michael Jackson: Musical Subjectivities

Edited by Susan Fast and Stan Hawkins

Submissions are invited for a special edition of Popular Music and Society that examines constructions of subjectivity in Michael Jackson's music, with a focus on gender, sexuality, age, disability, and race. Contributors are invited to address ways in which Jackson's vocality, grooves, rhythmic invention, songwriting, conformity with and/or irreconcilability of generic categories, particular songs, song categories (such as ballads) or albums, record production, use of technology, and live or mediated performance work to produce his own, often spectacularized, subjectivities, as well as those of his listeners. We are interested in drawing together articles that engage in an interdisciplinary manner the myriad ways in which subjectivity is constructed in Jackson's work: narratives of desire, healing, redemption, anger, violence, celebrity; engagement with world politics, charity; intergenerational relationships; the spectacular body in performance; illness as it impacted his music and performance; freakishness/the fantastic; challenges to hegemonic constructions of race, masculinity, sexuality, gender--to name only a few possibilities. Although we welcome contributions that employ a broad range of methodologies, including the development of new methodologies for the analysis of popular music, we intend that these essays address musical sound and sound related to text (lyrics), image(s), and dance directly. While the complexity, ambiguity, and irreconcilability of Jackson's subjectivity/ies have been covered exhaustively, mainly by the mass media, only a few scholarly essays have made significant inroads to understanding these phenomena; moreover, none of these has addressed musical sound in detail. We therefore see the need for rigorous scholarship into Jackson's creative output, with specific emphasis on musical sound, the place where he, himself, arguably commented most explicitly upon the matters referred to above. Our vision is that this issue will include essays that range over Jackson's long career, from his time with the Jackson 5 through his last studio album, Invincible, and final live performances, perhaps including the forthcoming film documenting preparation for his This Is It tour.

Essays of 6,000-8,000 words are due by September 2010. Essays will be peer-reviewed. Inquiries regarding potential essay topics and their suitability for inclusion are welcome. Please include your professional/academic affiliations, a postal address, and preferred email contact with your essay; for purposes of blind peer-review, please do not include your name within the body of the essay.

Please address all communications to: Susan Fast (McMaster University, Canada) or Stan Hawkins (University of Oslo)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Google Keeps Changing the Music Reception History Game

For two chapters of my dissertation (remember that?), I attempted to tackle that music history beast known as reception history. I spent weeks on end in libraries browsing through old issues of Vogue, Downbeat, New Yorker, and Billboard among other periodicals. And as I refined my ideas about samba in the 1940s and bossa nova in the 1960s, I sometimes had to revisit these collections causing further damage to my eyesight. (Nothing exhausts one's eyes quite like spending days in a row searching and browsing microfilm.) But this process was good for me. It hardened my research resolve, and I had the opportunity to make connections that otherwise would not have been possible.

But I have a confession to make: I knew to search in these periodicals because I did a few lazy searches in ProQuest's historical newspaper database. If that didn't exist, I never would have thought about going down that road. For many young scholars, ProQuest and other services like it changed the game of how we do reception history, and on a larger level, research. The mere fact that someone was treating old periodicals the way that Lexis Nexus or IIMP treated recent stuff was a revelation.

A few months ago, I heard something absolutely crazy through Phil's Blog: Google Books now has full issues of Billboard on hand. They also have Life Magazine, New York Magazine, The Village Voice and Ebony. This is fascinating. Of course, as luck would have it, Google Books did this well after I defended and filed my dissertation, so I am officially off the hook for what a lazy person's word search might reveal. However, as I adapt my research for publication, I cannot ignore what recent searches turn up. Already, my mind is spinning and I am already embarking on similar browsing sessions that I never would have considered were it not for digitization. Many people bemoan the lost insights that come with not having to do searches while being physically present in the library (you know, those books you only would have picked up because they were on the same shelf as something you sought out). But in this case, there are some clear positives. Thank you Google! You keep changing the research game.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pop Music Professing and Consumption

Just a few hours ago I finished my very first lecture at my very first post PhD job. And it was exciting, let me tell you. I have the rare privilege of teaching the very stuff that matters most to my research. It's great!

In the past few weeks I've been culling together my materials for this class and a few things occurred to me about the nature of teaching pop music classes, especially those classes that rub up against the present. At a certain level, we must consume pop culture at an accelerated rate approaching hyper-consumption. Those of us who work in that vague temporal period known as "Music of the 20th Century and Beyond" must somehow keep up with the ever-changing pop cultural landscape through consumption. This is a pop cultural landscape increasingly characterized by ever-changing niche markets and sub-sub-genres where the mainstream isn't as central as it was just five or ten years ago (let alone what it was during Michael Jackson's hey-day). Those of us who work on music from different parts of the world have an even greater challenge of keeping up with pop culture shifts in multiple places. It can be a bit dizzying.

Some of us are really savvy at navigating this new cultural landscape. We read music blogs, twitter and what have you. We pay attention to what we hear on our favorite TV shows and we keep up with our students' tastes as much as possible. Some of us are also pop music producers/performers and through that practice, we are always involved in what's going on. Or we try to be. It's a talent that I very much wish I had, but alas, I do not as of yet. As a blogger (and twitterer) and active user of the internet, I consume and listen as much as I can. But as an academic and a specialist, I often feel pressured to turn on that giant fire hose of pop culture at specific times to be as efficient as humanly possible. It's a common dilemma: there just isn't the time to hear all the great stuff that there is out there.

So how do we do it? Where do we set our limits? Apart from the basic ethical dilemmas of piracy (and a legal system that treats file-sharing as a very serious crime), I always feel myself turning into a hyper-consumer in the weeks leading up to a new class. (All of this doesn't even begin to approach the problems of making these examples accessible to students... but I digress.) I don't want the examples I cite to be dated or "played out," but I also don't want to compromise the arguments I wish to craft over the course of the term. It's a serious dilemma. Any ideas from the peanut gallery of professing pop scholars?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Attempting a Thematic History

As Phil Sr. says, happy academic new year! Since both he and my co-blogger Kariann are talking syllabi, I thought I would pitch in as well, especially since I could use some advice.

One of my classes this semester is a three-fold challenge:

1. It is a one semester history of western music. That's a lot of history.
2. It is required for music majors, and in fact is the only history requirement--we offer the whole sequence of course, but those courses are electives. So this is one chance to make sure the music majors know their history.
3. At the same time, it is open to all students in the school, regardless of musical training, and fulfills various general education requirements. So there is a big chunk of people with no musical experience.

You see the challenge--conflicting needs, and a surplus of material. But it is also an opportunity for me to rethink how I've been teaching history sequences. We all face the challenge of wanting to teach our students how to think critically about music, when in reality they usually don't yet know the basic facts of its history, facts that are necessary to know before you can do much else. I've seen approaches that take both sides of that coin--for example, just plowing ahead with advanced stuff hoping that they have learned history and repertoire somewhere else or will do it independently on their own, or the opposite approach of just sitting down and going through Grout, chapter by chapter.

I've decided to bite the bullet and attempt to find a middle ground by doing a history thematically, rather than chronologically. So instead of starting with Charlemagne and plowing on through the next millenium of music, we're having units on specific topics, like "notation" or "colonialism" or "classicism" or "sexuality." In the "notation" topic, for example, we'll look at early chant notation, ars nova, an example of common period music, and end with Earle Brown's graphic scores in Folio. Obviously there will be lots of interesting notation we won't look at it, but I think that's enough to get one thinking.

What makes this possible, I hope, is that the first unit, taking place over the first two weeks, is grandiously titled "Organizing Sound." In this unit we'll do a little philosophical "What is Music?" stuff, but mostly it will be a quick overview of the major periods and their stylistic characteristics. It will necessarily be a quick, glancing overview, but hopefully it will them a context into which they will be able to fit everything else we're doing.

The semester has started, the syllabus distributed, so no turning back now! Any advice is welcome. On the plus side of all of this is that my students are very smart, and work very well independently. And although it might at first seem like a lot more work for me, in reality it more closely matches how I tend to think about music in the first place, so I'm hoping it won't be so bad.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Syllabus - Music and the Global Metropolis

This fall semester, I will be teaching a course at Colby College entitled "Music and the Global Metropolis." I thought it might be fun and productive to post the syllabus minus audio examples here on Musicology / Matters and on my other blog, Rebellion on Two-Wheels, for commentary and public use. So please, do with it as you like within the limits of reason!

Music 197 A: Music and the Global Metropolis


Kariann E. Goldschmitt
Lorimer Chapel 001

Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays
1:00PM – 2:15PM
150 Bixler Art and Music Center

Office Hours:

Required Texts:
Thomas Turino, Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).
Mike Davis, Planet of Slums (New York: Verso, 2007).

Readings on Reserve in Bixler Library:
e-Reserves (ER)
Bixler Reserves (BR)

Course Description:

Metropolises bring together diverse groups of people in concentrated locations all over the world. Despite the dangers that these cities represent (violence, crime, and poverty), they also produce an astounding variety of musical innovations. This course is an exploration of the meetings of disparate musical cultures in major metropolises of the world. Throughout the semester, we will study six different major cities (New York, Mexico City, São Paulo, Paris, Tokyo, and Mumbai), the major musical developments to come from them, and the cultural conflicts and celebrations that emerge in contemporary urban life. We will discuss styles such as hip hop, punk, reggaeton, mariachi, nor-tec, dancehall, roots music, samba, j-pop, shibuya ke’i, karaoke, bhangra, filmi, “world music,” and electronic dance music, and how they relate to the urban environments where they were developed and where they continue to thrive.

Throughout the course, the professor will bring audio, visual and participatory examples that relate to the reading. Students are encouraged to do the same so long as they email the professor in advance.

Students will become familiar with the critical issues at stake to these musical communities through a variety of course readings, writing assignments, exams and the development of term paper. Class objectives include:

· increasing basic understanding of the relationship of music and geography;
· developing of critical reading and listening skills;
· understanding the diversity of musical practices in different places in the world;
· appreciating music as a site of conflict and celebration in present day urban policy;
· the development and revision of an original term-paper that meets the academic requirements of the course.

Course Expectations:

o Students are expected to do all reading for the course and have questions and comments prepared before class convenes. The easiest way to succeed is to take note of questions that arise as you engage with course materials and bring those concerns to class meetings.
o Students are expected to keep up with the listening on a regular basis. The musical examples for this course will be available through links on the course website (under “A/V examples”), often in the form of YouTube videos and streaming audio.
o All students with documented disabilities will be given special dispensations if they so require them. Please notify me during the first sessions of class.
o I am happy to answer questions and chat with you about your thoughts and ideas about this class. Please feel free to visit me during Office Hours. I am also available by appointment via email, text or phone and I maintain an open door policy with all students.

Grading and Assignments:

I. There will be two exams in this course: a midterm (worth 15% of your final grade) and a final (worth 20% of your final grade).
II. There will be three short written assignments designed to help you work through recurring issues in the course and help you develop your term paper: one reading response (1-2 pages in length) worth 5%, one listening response related to your term paper (2-3 pages) worth 5%, and a final paper proposal outlining your repertoire / locale of choice, your line of inquiry, and how it relates to the class (10%). I will discuss the details of writing assignments throughout the term. Keep copies of all papers in the case my copy goes astray. Late papers result in a grade deduction of one-third a grade every day they are late.
III. There will be one term paper (7-10 pages), worth 25% of your final grade. You must show evidence of incorporating the professor’s comments on your writing assignments into the final paper to get a good grade.
IV. Due to privacy, I only discuss grades in person. Please make an appointment or visit my office hours if you wish to inquire about your performance.

Grading Breakdown:

15% Midterm Exam
20% Final Exam
20% Writing Assignments
25% Term Paper
20% Participation


Schedule of Class Meetings

Unit 1: Conceptual Foundations to Music and Urban Geography

[Music] / [Global] / [Metropolis]

• Wk 1: September 9 Introduction to Music and Globalization
Bohlman, Philip V. “Colonial Musics, Post-colonial Worlds, and the Globalization of World Music.” In World Music: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. ER
Turino, Thomas. “Introduction: Why Music Matters.” In Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

• Wk 1: September 11 Urban Studies and Musical Participation
Davis, Mike. “Urban Climactic.” In Planet of Slums. New York: Verso, 2007.
Turino, Thomas. “Participatory and Presentational Performance.” In Music as Social Life.

Urban Geography, Community, and Divisions

• Wk 2: September 14 Musical Communities and Music as Culture
Turino, Thomas. “Habits of the Self, Identity, and Culture .” In Music as Social Life.

• Wk 2: September 16 Music Technology and Urbanism
Krims, Adam. “Introduction.” In Music and Urban Geography. New York: Routledge, 2007. ER
Turino, Thomas. “The Recording Fields: High Fidelity and Studio Audio Art.” In Music as Social Life.

• Wk 2: September 18 Cultural Impact of Post-Fordism and Urban Renewal
Davis, Mike. “The Prevalence of Slums.” In Planet of Slums.
Abrahamson, Mark. “Introduction, Background, and Preview.” In Global Cities. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. ER

Unit 2: New York City, United States

The Five Boroughs and the ’70s and early ’80s: Hip Hop, Punk, and Club Culture

• Wk 3: September 21 Downtown to Uptown: The Development and Spread of Disco
Lawrence, Tim. “Pollination: The Rise of the Downtown Party Network.” In Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-1979. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. ER
Lawrence, Tim. “Recognition: The Crystallization of a Sound.” In Love Saves the Day. ER

• Wk 3: September 23 Urban Grit and Noise: Punk and DIY
Polk O’Meara, Caroline. “The Bush Tetras, ‘Too Many Creeps,’ and New York City.” American Music 25 (2007): 193-215. ER

• Wk 3: September 25 Hip-Hop and the Bronx
** Writing Assignment 1: Reading Response Due in Class (5% of Final Grade)
Chang, Jeff. “Necropolis: The Bronx and the Politics of Abandonment.” In Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2005. ER

The City, Migration, and Mobility

• September 28 No Class – Yom Kippur

• Wk 4 TBA Latinos and Música Negra I: Nuyorican Soul and Salsa
Knights, Vanessa. “Nostalgia and the Negotiation of Dislocated Identities : Puerto Rican Boleros in New York and Nuyorican Poetry.” In Postnational Musical Identities: Cultural Production, Distribution and Consumption in a Globalized Scenario. Edited Ignácio Corona and Alejandro L. Madrid. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007. ER
García, David F. “Embodying Music / Disciplining Dance: The Mambo Body in Havana and New York City.” In Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader. Edited by Julie Malnig. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009. ER

• Wk 4: September 30 Latinos and Música Negra II: Reggaetón
Marshall, Wayne. “Dem Bow, Dembow, Dembo: Translation and Transnation in Reggaeton.” Lied und populäre Kultur / Song and Popular Culture: Jahrbuch des Deutschen Volksliedarchivs 53 (2008): 131-51. ER
Marshall, Wayne. “From Música Negra to Reggaeton Latino: The Cultural Politics of Nation, Migration, and Commercialization.” In Reggaeton. Edited by Raquel Z. Rivera, Wayne Marshall, and Deborah Pacini Hernandez. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. BR

• Wk 4: October 2 Urban Folk Music and Class Mobility
Turino, Thomas. “Old Time Music and Dance.” In Music as Social Life: the Politics of Participation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Unit 3: Mexico City: The Biggest City in the Western Hemisphere

Intranational Musical Genres: Mariachi and Cumbia

• Wk 5: October 5 Mexico City and the World
Davis, Mike. “Treason of the State” and “SAPing the Third World.” In Planet of Slums.

• Wk 5: October 7 Cultural Industry and Mariachi
Sheehy, Daniel E. “Mexico.” In Handbook of Latin American Music. 2d Edition. Edited by Dale A. Olson and Daniel E. Sheehy. New York: Routledge, 2007. ER

• Wk 5: October 9 Transnational Hybrids: Cumbia and Tecno-Cumbia
** Writing Assignment 2, Listening Response Due in Class (5% of Final Grade)
García Canclini, Néstor. “Mexico: Cultural Globalization in a Disintegrating City.” American Ethnologist 22 (November 1995): 743-755. ER

Transnational Music of Mexico: Rock en Español, Nor-tec, World Music of Mexico

• Wk 6: October 12 No Class for Fall Break

• Wk 6: October 14 Rock en Español and Border Music
Kun, Josh. “Rock's Reconquista.” In Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. ER
Dillon, Hope. "Café Tacuba: Forging a New Mexican Identity." Journal of American Culture 20 (1997): 75-83 ER

• Wk 6: October 16 Mexican World Music
Gonzales Aktories, Susana. “Lila Downs: The Voice of a Butterfly.” Lied und Populäre Kultur / Song and Popular Culture: Jahrbuch des Deutschen Volksliedarchivs 53 (2008): 153-166. ER

Unit 4: São Paulo, Brazil: Urban Jungle and Folk Music Revivalism

A City of Division and Peripheries
• Wk 7: October 19 São Paulo and Spatial Segregation
Caldeira, Teresa P.R. “São Paulo: Three Patterns of Spatial Segregation.” In City of Walls: Crime, Segregation and Citizenship in São Paulo. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. ER
Davis, Mike. “Illusions of Self-Help.” In Planet of Slums.

• Wk 7: October 21 Developmentalism and Regional Folk Music Reinvention
Davis, Mike. “Haussman in the Tropics.” In Planet of Slums.
Caldeira, Teresa P.R. “The Increase in Violence.” In City of Walls: Crime, Segregation and Citizenship in São Paulo. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. BR

• Wk 7: October 23 Drum ‘n’ Bass in the São Paulo Periphery
Fontanari, Ivan Paulo de Paris. “Globalizing the Periphery: Transnational Extensions and Local Tensions in an Global/Underground Music Scene in Brazil.” Echo: A Music-Centered Journal 8 (Fall 2006). ER

Immigration and Transnational Identification

• Wk 8: October 26 Brazilian Cultural Capital
Ortiz, Renato. “Legitimacy and Life-Style.” In Latin American Cultural Studies Reader (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 474-497. ER

• Wk 8: October 28 Regional and Folk Music and Cannibalist Aesthetics
Olson, Dale A. “Music of Immigrant Groups.” In Handbook of Latin American Music. 2d Edition. Edited by Dale A. Olson and Daniel E. Sheehy. New York: Routledge, 2007. BR

• Wk 8: October 30 Brazilian Hip-Hop
** Term Paper Proposal Due in Class (10 percent of Final Grade) **
Pardue, Derek. “Hip Hop as Pedagogy: A Look into ‘Heaven’ and ‘Soul’ in São Paulo, Brazil,” Anthropological Quarterly 80 (2007): 673-709. ER

Unit 5 Paris, France as Cosmopolis

Chanson, Parisian Electronic Dance Music and Hip-Hop
• Wk 9: November 1 Parisian Chanson and the Legacy of Colonialism
Looseley, David L. “Chanson as National Myth: The Authenticity Debate.” In Popular Music in Contemporary France: Authenticity, Politics, Debate. New York: Berg, 2003. ER

• Wk 9: November 3 Parisian Hip-Hop and Electronic Dance Music
Hawkins, Peter. “MC Solaar: A Gardiner of Words.” Chanson: The French Singer-Songwriter From Aristide Bruant to the Present Day. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000. ER
Prévos, André J. M. “Postcolonial Popular Music in France: Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture in the 1980s and 1990s.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA. Edited by Tony Mitchell. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002. BR

• Wk 9: November 5 Midterm Exam (15 percent of Final Grade)

Unit 6 Mumbai, India

Film Music Producer

• Wk 10: November 9 Mumbai as Cultural Producer
Davis, Mike. “Slum Ecology.” In Planet of Slums..
Neuwirth, Robert. “Mumbai: Squatter Class Structure.” In Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World. New York: Routledge, 2006. ER

• Wk 10: November 11 History of Bollywood and Film Music
Sen, Biswarup. “The Sounds of Modernity: The Evolution of Bollywood Film Song.” In Global Bollywood : Travels of Hindi Song and Dance. Edited by Sangita Gopal, Sujata Moorti. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. ER

• Wk 10: TBA Contemporary Bollywood and NRI Culture

North Indian Classical Music, Light Classical and Popular Music

• Wk 11: November 16 Bollywood and Classical Music
Booth, Greg. “Pandits in the Movies: Contesting the Identity of Hindustani Classical Music and Musicians in the Hindi Popular Cinema.” Asian Music (2005): 60-86. ER

• Wk 11: November 18 Non-Cinematic Popular Music in India
Manuel, Peter. “Popular Music in India: 1901-1986.” Popular Music 7 (1988): 157-176. ER

• Wk 11: November 20 No Class!

• Wk 12: November 23 Light Classical Music
** Term Papers (25 percent of Final Grade) Due!
Manuel, Peter. “Cassettes and the Modern Ghazal.” In Cassette Culture: Popular Music and Technology in North India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. ER

Unit 7 Tokyo, Japan: The "Postmodern" City

Post World War II Development, J-Pop, Karaoke, Shibuya Ke’i

• Wk 13: November 30 Tokyo Post-WWII
Atkins, E. Taylor. “Bop, Funk, Junk, and That Old Democracy Boogie: The Jazz Tribes of Postwar Japan.” In Blue Nippon: Authenticating Jazz in Japan. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001. BR

• Wk 13: December 2 Contemporary Tokyo, J-Pop and Karaoke
Shimatachi, Hiro R. “A Karaoke Perspective on International Relations.” In Japan Pop! Inside the World of Japanese Pop Culture. Edited by Timothy J. Craig. 2000. ER

• Wk 13: December 4 J-Pop and Shebuya Ke’i
Toth, Csabah. “J-Pop and Performances of Young Female Identity.” Young 16 (2008): 111-129. ER

Hip Hop, Video Game Music, and Cosplay

• Wk 14: December 7 Japanese Hip-Hop
Condry, Ian. “A History of Japanese Hip Hop: Street Dance, Club Scene, Pop Market.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA. Edited by Tony Mitchell. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002. ER
Condry, Ian. Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006. BR

• Wk 14: December 9 Contemporary Japanese Popular Music
Mattar, Yasser. “Miso Soup for the Ears: Contemporary Japanese Popular Music and its Relation to the Genres Familiar to the Anglophonic Audience.” Popular Music and Society 31 (2008): 113-123.

• Wk 14: December 11 Video Game Music and Cosplay

Final Exam TBA!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Michael Jackson Bibliography

I'm by no means an expert on Michael Jackson, but I thought I might take a stab at assembling a short bibliography of Michael Jackson studies. As with the blog compendium (blogiography?), suggestions are enthusiastically welcomed. Obviously there is a ton of writing on Jackson by journalists and fans. In my own work on pop music, I find such writings invaluable. But since they are easy enough to find, I won't include them here unless it is a real touchstone of the literature, e.g. Margo Jefferson's book. I'm also not including the standard pop music histories that might (should!) include useful stuff as well; the following list is comprised of academic works primarily devoted to Michael Jackson ETA: Now updated thanks to the help of commenter Ruyi

  • Michael Ackward. "'A Slave to the Rhythm': Essential(ist) Transmutations; Or, The Curious Case of Michael Jackson." Negotiating Difference: Race, Gender and the Politics of Positionality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. 175-92.
  • Michael Eric Dyson. "Michael Jackson's Postmodern Spirituality." Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. 35-63.
  • Cynthia Fuchs, "Michael Jackson's Penis," in Cruising the Performative: Interventions into the Representation of Ethnicity, Nationality, and Sexuality, ed. Sue-Ellen Case, Philip Brett, and Susan Leigh Foster (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995)
  • Marjorie Garber, "Fetish Envy" in October 54 (1990): 45-56.
  • Alisha Gaines, "I Can't Stop Loving You: Michael Jackson and Queer Cultural Desire." in American Sexuality Magazine (2006) [link]
  • Nelson George, The Michael Jackson Story (New York: Dell, 1984)
  • Greg Graham-Smith, "Habeas corpus: Bodies of evidence and performed litigiousness: the spectacle of Michael Jackson's trial," in Communicatio: South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research Vol.34, no. 2 (2008): 278-289
  • Stephen Hinerman, "(Don't) Leave Me Alone: Tabloid Narrative and the Michael Jackson Child Abuse Scandal." in Media Scandals: Morality and Desire in the Popular Cultural Marketplace, ed. James Lull and Stephen Hinerman. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).
  • Margo Jefferson, On Michael Jackson (New York: Pantheon, 2006).
  • Victoria Johnson. "The Politics of Morphing: Michael Jackson as Science Fiction Border Text." The Velvet Light Trap 32.7 (Fall 1993): 58-65.
  • Kobena Mercer, "Monster Metaphors: Notes on Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'" in Screen Vol. 27, no.1 (1986): 26-43.
  • Seth Clark Silberman, "Presenting Michael Jackson" in Social Semiotics Vol. 17, no. 4 (2007): 417-440. [Silberman was an organizer of the 2004 Yale conference on Jackson.]
  • Michele Wallace. "Michael Jackson, black modernisms, and the 'ecstasy of communication.'" Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory. London & New York: Verso, 1990. 77-90.
  • David Yuan. "The Celebrity Freak: Michael Jackson's 'Grotesque Glory.'" Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. Ed. Rosemarie Garland Thomson. New York: New York University Press, 1996. 368-384.

Hmm, that was kind of less than I thought it would be. Help me out! I did see, however, lots of ongoing work on Michael Jackson out there, especially by graduate students. Hopefully some of that work will see the light of day soon.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rage in His Feet

Cross-posted from 2'23"--it's worth checking out the smart commenters there.
One thing I've noticed about reactions to Michael Jackson's death, at least among children of the 1980s such as myself, has been the desire to recount one's initial introduction to his music. It's kind of like the opposite of the baby-boomer obsession with recounting where you were when JFK was shot. For them, the death of a president, for us the birth of the King of Pop.

My story is that I was about five years old, I think, so about 1985 or so, and I was at a neighbor's house, hanging out with my best friend. He had, presumably through his parents, a cassette tape of Thriller, and we listened to it together. The song that most stuck out for me at the time was "Beat It," Jackson's groundbreaking collaboration with Eddie Van Halen. Little five-year-old Phil went toddling around singing "Don't wanna see no blood, don't be a macho man, just beat it" for weeks afterward.

If you're the sort of person who cares about "periodicity," the study of how we organize history into culturally thematic lengths of time, or periods, a fairly simple argument to make is that Michael Jackson was one of the first great postmodern musicians in popular music. At least, that's true in the sense of postmodernism most often used in musicology, where it is largely characterized by mixing different stylistic characteristics and historical periods. Michael Jackson's work in the early 1980s took the always-already postmodernism of 1970s soul and added heavy metal, horror movies, and science fiction fantasy.

There might also, in Jackson's work, be what Fredric Jameson influentially called a "waning of affect," or a decline of the "aesthetic of expression." I don't mean this in a bad way at all. It's not that there is no expression in Jackson's music, it's that there is too much of it, so much that emotions are presented over-simplified, almost parodied, and iterated to the point of exhaustion. For example, if you or I were to grab our crotch while dancing, that gesture would most likely be read as having some sort of sexual meaning. But when Michael Jackson grabbed his crotch, the grab was so fluid and stylized, and repeated so often, that it ceased to have meaning. Or, to go back to Jameson, consider Jackson's last great hit, the 1995 duet with his little sister, "Scream."

(The video is still the most expensive music video of all time; they don't call it late capitalism for nothing.)

Consider Jameson's description of Edward Munch's Scream:
"a canonical expression of the great modernist thematics of alientation, anomie, solitude, social fragmentation, and isolate, a virtually programmatic emblem of what used to be called the age of anxiety. It will here be read as an embodiment not merely of hte expression of that kind of affect but, even more, as a virtual deconstruction of the very aesthetic of expression itself, which seems to have dominated much of what we call high modernism but to have vanished away—for both practical and theoretical reasons—in the world of the postmodern."

That's a fair description of the Jackson/Jackson scream as well, I'd say.

On the other hand: I was watching the endless loop of Michael Jackson commentary on the BBC today, and one random news anchor related a quote from Fred Astaire regarding Jackson I had never heard before. Jackson, Astaire supposedly said, danced with "rage in his feet."

There is indeed so much rage in Jackson's music, dance, and imagery. So much so that it threatens to spill out of its neat postmodern boxes. What is its source, and what does it mean? It has to do with Jackson's own body, I'd say, which more than any other performer I can think of has always been the source of constant speculation and analysis. It's hard to say anything new about it, but I do think it is fair to say that Jackson had an unusually visible relationship with his own body. Many have called it a case of body dysmorphic disorder (the same diagnosis often given transpeople, by well-meaning-or-not psychiatrists.) I couldn't say if that's true or not, or if that Jackson's situation is even particularly unusual; who doesn't have body issues? But Jackson did have a fairly spectacular response to whatever issues might have been there. There was on the one hand the constant sculpting and re-sculpting of the flesh itself: surgery, chemicals, dieting, working out, who knows what else. And then there was that dancing. Invariably described as "fluid," it articulates a vision of the human body unlike anything else I have seen. It's not Merce Cunningham, who uses a rigid anti-expressionism to force the body into new situations. A move like the moonwalk takes a recognizable element of corporeal vocabulary, and transforms it as if mechanically produced. And yet, of course, it wasn't, it's still just Michael Jackson on stage with a pair of shoes. I'm not very sophisticated at dance criticism, so I don't even know what to say beyond that. But it blows my mind, and although it might not be a product of the aesthetic of expression, I wouldn't go so far as to say that it is missing an affect.

After all, bodies, and performances, have been at the heart of many critiques of Fredric Jameson's work on postmodernism. Mandy Merck, for example, has pointed out the unnecessary binary between "real" and "artificial" that underlies much of his essay, especially when offering up the famous Van Gogh versus Warhol comparison. Judith Halberstam goes so far as to call Jameson's approach homophobic for its implicit privileging of modernism/materialism/heterosexuality over Warhol's queer critique. I don't agree all the way with Halberstam (and I like Jameson a lot as you can probably tell), but I do think he underestimates the potential of the performing human body, if he reads it at all.

What I admired most about Jackson was his sense of agency, at least at the height of his career. He made his body do what he wanted it to do,and that's no easy task under postmodernism. The sadness I feel now is that ultimately he lost that agency, just as it looked like he might have been on the verge of taking it back.

Monday, June 29, 2009

I Want You Back: A Musiceulogical Inquiry

(expanded from a post I wrote on the AMS list-serv)

While I have ended up working on Romantic music, I nonetheless grew up in a pop cultural world that was very much shaped by Michael Jackson. "Thriller" was the first album I ever owned (an Easter present!), and, like many millions of people, some of my earliest memories of being excited about and inspired by music and performance are tied to Jackson. In ways both intriguing and disturbing, he changed the way pop music is conceived of, presented, packaged, and performed. He is the first artist I can think of who achieved a kind of transcendent global fame--the first (and maybe only) artist who is known basically everywhere in the world, from America to rural villages in Africa. His extreme physical virtuosity changed the way people dance, and inspired my generation at a level that continues to surprise me (since his death, I have talked to so many people who remember taping his 1983 live performance of "Billie Jean"--the world premiere of the Moonwalk--and watching it obsessively to try to learn his moves).

There are those who scoff at the presumption of we who refer to Jackson as an "artist." While it is of course not only acceptable but preferable that not everyone appreciate an artist or a style of music, I'm uncomfortable with the idea of dismissing a 40 year career that had so much far-reaching influence just because someone was weird (and Jackson was, undeniably, very, very weird), or made music we might not personally enjoy. The racial boundaries he broke--and the fact that he clearly meant so much to so many people, especially to so many African American people, as coverage of his death has demonstrated--seems in itself enough to make a case for at least acknowledging his important and iconic status in the world, even if his music has never been meaningful to some of us.

In the days since his death, I've encountered many people who dismiss Jackson's career with a disgusted remark about how he was a "child molester." Without defending unequivocally all of his actions, I do think it's important to point out for the record that not only was MJ never convicted of any of the child molestation charges, the prosecution's case against him (which took ten years for them to finally bring to court) was so flimsy and weak and pock-marked with self-serving B-list celebrity preening that the whole case inspired disgust in more than one journalist who covered the trial. Furthermore, it is disturbing to me that other artists who are perhaps less weird in their personal identity constructions are let much more off the hook in in the collective perception when they do terrible things (R. Kelly (who was also accused of sexually abusing children, and tried for child pornography), Led Zeppelin, and Motley Crüe's Vince Neil spring to mind, not to mention Beethoven, who drove his nephew to attempt suicide after getting his sister-in-law publicly branded a 'slut').

I've also encountered those in my own discipline who insist, with varying degrees of stridency, that Jackson's music is unimportant and uninteresting. First of all, I have no idea what it takes for music to become "important." If it influences a newly-global genre of musical performance at every possible level, I would call it "important," but many people would disagree with me, so I'll leave it to the experts (whoever they are) to define musical importance. Some of these same people grudgingly allow that MJ may have been important for his skills as a "businessman," or possibly as a dancer (if you can call that dancing (where are the tutus?)), but his music? Mindless beats and thoughtless wailing. I have been frankly very surprised at the hostile reaction of so many of my peers and colleagues when MJ's contribution to music history has of late been raised. This unexpected difference of opinions has forced me to really figure out what I personally find interesting in the "Music Itself With Capital Letters" of Michael Jackson (I am truly not sure why it's so important we talk about the Music Itself and not the myriad other fascinating, ground-breaking, inspiring things about what that music did in our culture or how that music broke all kinds of boundaries or how that music was danced to by the greatest physical virtuoso pop music has ever known).

What I discovered, weirdly, is that the way I feel about his music is in some (not all, okay) senses the same way I feel about a lot of 18th century instrumental music, like a lot of Vivaldi's concerti, which I love. This pre-Romantic music is generally predictable and outlines no really profound struggle, it is repetitive, it was intended as "use-music" (music people heard in the 18th century while eating dinner or hanging out (or, you know, dancing)), and its composers, unlike the later, more privileged instrumental genre composers like Beethoven, were incredibly prolific, churning out concerto after concerto after concerto, not necessarily thinking of any of them as particularly "masterpieces." For me, none of these things diminish the music's beautiful affect or make it less interesting--either in itself, or as a cultural phenomenon. It was what it was because of its time and place, and that is fascinating to me.

In a lot of ways, the pop music of Michael Jackson is very similar. It's concerned with layers and textures, it's repetitive, it's catchy, and there's lots of it. It is intended to please and excite, not (necessarily) to intellectually challenge. And, I think it serves a similar function for its listeners. It benefits from being heard live. You're supposed to dance to it, communally, at parties.

When I listen to Michael Jackson's Music Itself--the dance hits, the Jackson 5's upbeat anthems--I am most struck by its exuberance. Its exploitation of tight, crisp percussion, very prominent basslines that are often highly complex (or "sick," as we kids call them), and surprisingly triumphant choruses that manifest an explosion of the tension built up in the verses ("Billie Jean!" "Bad!" "Beat It!" even "Man in the Mirror!")--all of these elements combine to make a powerful, purely musical, impression. I defy anyone to hear that bassline from "I Want You Back" and not be filled with joie de vivre. It's obviously not unrelated that he worked with some of the greatest producers in America, like the awesome Quincy Jones. To this day I find it difficult to LISTEN to MJ--what he makes me want to do is dance, joyfully.

But of course the most powerful element of Jackson's music was Jackson himself. That voice! What was astounding in childhood became ever-weirder and more incongruous (more "interesting," if you will) as the child aged. To many a trained musicologist's eye, he exhibited all the signs of being a castrato, and in fact it is a commonly-held theory that his father, the abusive, exploitative Joe Jackson, chemically castrated little Michael in childhood to save his amazing voice (more shades of past music history!). Poor Michael! And yet, if true, wouldn't this be at least one irrefutable proof that the Music Itself of Michael Jackson is interesting? A living castrato, singing not opera, but androgynous love songs danced to by kids. What weird feats that voice was capable of! How strangely it sounded when singing of grown-up love affairs!

Michael Jackson's voice is astonishing in its timbre and register, but also for the tight control he exercised over it. His trademark "ooh"s and "ow"s were as deliberate and precise as those crazy triplets from the "Queen of the Night." Furthermore, his voice was aligned constantly and inextricably with his body--not only because of the dark shadow of possible castration, which would make his strange voice manifestly tied to a man-made physicality--but because of the way he used his two instruments--voice and body--together. Each "ooh," each "ow," each strange mid-verse utterance, was accompanied by similarly precise and deliberate physical moves or poses. Resting abruptly on the tips of his toes like a ballerina, mic held ritualistically in front of his face; precisely-calibrated spins that exactly fill the tiny space in between two words; head-tosses; crotch-grabs. Since MJ's music grew up with MTV, and since his videos are inextricable from his music, we can all picture these poses, and feel them happening even when we listen to a recording. Thus his vocal performances became profoundly physical, linked always with his very particular and unique body.

To me, all of this is interesting. Most interesting of all is the fact that I, a trained musicologist who studies Romantic-era instrumental music, somehow continue to be intensely moved and excited by Michael Jackson's music. As I learned more about Beethoven, Jackson's music did not diminish in comparison, but rather became enriched with my increasing knowledge of music history--the beautiful, vastly-varied field of humanity's musical expression stretching all the way from Beyoncé back into the lost darkness of history...all the myriad influences that led to Jackson, all the myriad influences he continues to have on the rich, living world I inhabit.

Maybe you had to grow up listening to MJ's albums, copying his dance moves, getting your mind blown at "Captain Eo" when you were eleven, and tacking that cool tiger poster from "Thriller" up on your closet door to really appreciate the impact he had on so many people. If so, I can understand it. But I don't think anyone can (or should) argue that Michael Jackson was unimportant, or that his Music Itself was uninteresting.

A Michael Jackson Blog Compendium

An incomplete list of academic-y blogging about Michael Jackson. I'll be updating this continuously; if you know of good posts put 'em in the comments.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Musicological Michael Jackson

Your loyal hosts here at Musicology Matters would like to propose a sort of blog colloquium. The subject is Michael Jackson. The importance of Jackson, to those of us who care about music in the late twentieth century, is difficult to overstate. Few other figures have been at the center of so many fundamental changes in our relationship with popular music.

So although a surge of actual musicological scholarship on Michael Jackson, of the published, tenure-gettin' kind is no doubt lurking in the near future, it seems worthwhile to get some preliminary thoughts out there, informed (hopefully) by the critical thinking and analytical detail that musicology ideally might be able to offer to the discussion. For examples of what we mean, see excellent recent blog posts by Jason King and Ryan Banagale.

We're aiming for a post a day, from ourselves and from some friends, continuing until we run out. If you're interested in contributing something yourself, get in touch! Or, write it on your own blog, and we'll link.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How To Be a Musicology Adjunct

Okay, here's a useful topic to blog about here: How to be an Adjunct. Adjuncting, or becoming "contingent labor" as it sometimes delicately put, is not a very fun life. The pay is not much, rough commutes are often involved, and the work is sometimes dispiriting. But in these Tough Economic Times, and in an era of shrinking tenure-track prospects, adjunct work can help fill the gaps. Or if you need to be located somewhere specific because of family reasons, or are trying to keep your hand in the game while raising kids or whatever, adjuncting can be great. I've been oddly successful at this, and as I've talked many of my friends through the process, I thought I would share some thoughts with you, dear reader.

How do you acquire adjunct work? Well, obviously, usually these hires happen informally, with a phone call to a friend who recommends someone. But say you've moved to a new city where you have no connections. What do you do? It is perfectly acceptable to cold email the appropriate person at local institutions. Don't harass them, and I wouldn't recommend telephoning, but nobody minds a random email out of the blue.

What to do:
1. Find a list of schools in your area. This might seem like an obvious point, but remember that no matter how long you have been an academic, there are schools you have never heard of. The key here is not to limit yourself--get in touch with every random Catholic/military/regional-state/for-profit/whatever school within your commuting distance. I recommend going to Wikipedia, where there are lists of schools for each state.
2. On the school's website, figure out who you should email. At smaller schools, there will often not be a music department, so you might need to look for a "Performing Arts" department or some such, maybe even just a general "Liberal Arts" department.
3. Email a nice polite message that says something to the effect of, "I'm here in town, can teach anything you want, so please keep me mind if you need any classes covered. Here's my CV just in case."
4. Remember, people qualified to teach music history are in shorter supply than you might think. This might be less true in Boston or New York, but if you are in some area without a local musicology graduate program, you might actually find yourself in demand, especially if you are finished with your doctorate.
5. There are usually two phases of hiring: in the beginning of the spring semester, when the schedule for next year is being finalized, and in the summer, when previously arranged classes suddenly need a teacher for whatever reason. Emailing around these times is a good idea.

What To Expect:
1. If you went to some fancy-pants university for your graduate degree, you will quickly learn that there are many things you have been taking for granted. This might include free parking, access to a functioning copy machine, an office, motivated students, etc. Don't be snobby. Welcome to the real world.
2. To be an adjunct at many schools is to be like a small child in certain households: you are there to be seen, not heard. By this I mean, don't expect any hand-holding. Some schools have adjunct orientations where they explain how to submit grades and whatnot, but that is uncommon. You will have to figure out most logistical things yourself, and adapt yourself very quickly to new and different student cultures. You'll need to be flexible and independent.
3. You're not going to get paid much, you realize? Good. And certainly you're not getting health care, unless you are lucky enough to be in a unionized environment like the Cal State system.
4. Enjoy yourself. Given the previous three points, this might seem counter-intuitive. But adjuncting is also an opportunity to hone your teaching skills, a chance to experiment with different techniques in an environment that is relatively hands-off. Go crazy; these teaching evaluations won't appear in your tenure file.

This post obviously just represents my own experiences in one area, and at a few schools. If you have any tips or suggestions, post 'em in the comments!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Moribund blog?

This blog ain't seen much action lately, so I'll try to revive with a question for any readers it has left.

So you all know about Pandora, right? The whole Music Genome Project? I find it moderately fascinating. I love putting in an artist and seeing who the "similar artists" are. I also adore the bizarrely opinionated artist descriptions: "Definitely the most talented and arguably the all-around best jazz vocal group of all time, the Boswell Sisters..."

Really? The Boswell Sisters!?

Obviously, since I get artists like the Boswell Sisters, I'm not using Pandora the way its creators may have expected. I listen to "The Andrews Sisters Radio." And in exploring the complicated constellation of artists-my-grandmother-sings-along-with-on-the-car-radio-in-her-blue-Buick-with-the-padded-steering-wheel (do a Google Image search for grandma car, and the first hit is exactly the car she drives), I've noticed something odd.

Christmas carols. Tons of Christmas carols. Buckets and buckets of them. Every fourth or fifth song, some days. Pandora's hipper cousin, Last.FM, does the same thing, but even more so!

Does this confluence of "oldies" and "Christmas" point to a nostalgia that automatically associates nuclear (white) family, holidays, the forties, the "Good War," and similar It's a Wonderful Lifeiana? Or is there something else? Were Christmas recordings simply more popular in the Bing Crosby era, before all those dangerous non-Christians and evil secularists attacked America?

I really want to know what this all means. I have a suspicion that the nostalgia surrounding Christmas has allowed songs in styles otherwise considered quite dated to remain in the public consciousness. I mean, who the hell listens to "Drinking Rum & Coca Cola" anymore? But everybody knows "Winter Wonderland!"

Okay, I still listen to "Drinking Rum & Coca Cola." I find its blatant colonialism problematic and fascinating.

Now, if you're still out there, discuss!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Stepping Away

Cross-posted on Rebellion on Two Wheels

There is a ton to blog about. I'm completely serious, and I have a lot to say. But there's also this nagging thing called my dissertation that has to get done very soon. And while I have been almost done for quite some time, I'd like to finally be done done. So forgive my absence in the blogosphere, but I have to step away for awhile. I'll return once I have a Ph.D next to my name, I promise.

In the meantime, rest assured that I will still ride my bike, think critically about sound in urban space, and contemplate the larger meaning of musicology (my chosen profession) and the new administration. I just won't be writing about it.

'Till then.