Thursday, October 29, 2009

generally, I've tended to be skeptical of the musicological approach when applied to popular music… perhaps because there's often a bias within the discipline towards complexity …. An idea that more complicated = better… People doing this often seem to be doing to prove the magisterial brilliance and profundity of Rush or Zappa or Spock's Beard or something… somehow I imagine these kind of tools and techniques being used to "prove" that Buzzocks's "What Do I Get" or Ray Keith's "Terrorist" are "boring" pieces of music…

another doubt is the fact there's an imputing of intrinsic properties to the music that will have infallible effects on all listeners… this downplays the ability of listeners to over-ride these properties of the music owing to other, socially-driven factors (their general antipathy to a style of music, say, or a visceral response to its more surface qualities: noisiness, angriness, etc). I always think of Susan McLary's famous book on pioneering musicological analysis, a great read, but often there's a moment like where she's breaking down what's going on with harmonic language and the musical structure etc in Madonna's "Live To Tell", talking about how the structure of it creates apprehension and tension -- all stuff that completely bypassed this listener! Similar analysis is done of a Whitesnake song ("Here I Go Again", I think) with a section of it deemed to signify a dizzying plunge into the threatening abyss of female sexuality or something -- could have fooled me!

A final point worth making is that a musicological approach is an extreme form of formalism/genreology/auteurism, it is formalism with actual skills and technical jargon to back it up. but it it has little to say about affect or vibe, nothing to say about scene-oriented aspects of the culture, about the wider resonances.

i wouldn't want to go all the way towards a consumer-makes-meaning, social construction of taste/ affect / meaning /reception is all-powerful type argument.... i believe music has intrinsic powers, but they seem to affect certain classes and groups of people more powerfully than others, and there must be a social dimension to why that it is, and why other people respond with aversion or indifference.... some are ripe to be mobilised by the music's intrinsic powers, some not...

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