This site is currently being built for the 2017 conference. Data may be incorrect, incomplete, or missing entirely.

Click the icons below to access author handouts.

Studio B • Friday afternoon, 2:00–3:30

Harmony and Voice Leading in Popular Music

Daniel Harrison (Yale University), Chair

Stefanie Acevedo (Yale University)

A Functional Analysis of Chord Progressions in Popular Music

David Forrest (Texas Tech University)

PL Voice Leading and the Uncanny in Pop Music

Abstracts

A Functional Analysis of Chord Progressions in Popular Music

Stefanie Acevedo (Yale University)

This paper formalizes the harmonic norms of a popular music corpus (the McGill Billboard Corpus; Burgoyne 2012) by reconceptualizing harmonic objects as progressions, eschewing single chords or functions as the most salient cognitive entities learned through enculturation. While recent music-theoretical work uses computational methods to analyze harmonic probabilities in musical corpora and model their stylistic norms (i.e. de Clercq and Temperley 2011; Temperley and Clercq 2013; White 2014; White and Quinn, in press), it often focuses on analyzing single chord counts, chord-to-chord transitional probabilities, or common-practice harmonic functions. Given the varied role of harmony (Tagg 2014) and a preponderance of common stock progressions, like the “Doo-Wop” (I-vi-IV-V) or “Four-Chord” (I-V-vi-IV), in popular music, the progression is taken as a starting point for analysis.

Songs are segmented into entropy-bounded chord sequences, resulting in recursive loops (including nested repetitions of stock progressions). Due to key ambiguity arising from repetition or mode mixture in popular styles, the sequences are further abstracted from their tonal center and categorized only by chord quality and root-to-root intervallic distance. The analysis is, therefore, devoid of key or chord function labels. The sequences, then reduced to the smallest repeated segment or chain, are classified into prototypes, including possible variant progressions and functions, the latter couched within specific formal and metrical contexts. Representative musical examples are provided. The results’ ties to and implications for schema theory, cognitive theories of learning and expectation, and a general definition of tonality (including harmonic interaction with thematic and formal processes) are discussed.

PL Voice Leading and the Uncanny in Pop Music

David Forrest (Texas Tech University)

Richard Cohn identifies chromatic, major-third root movement as a special class of triadic progression. The contrary motion of half steps, described by neo-Riemannian labels as PL or LP, produces a perceptual paradox that simultaneously destroys any sense of background diatonic collection and forces irreconcilable interpretations of consonance and dissonance. Studies by Cohn, Richard Taruskin, and Matthew Bribitzer-Stull identify art- and film-music examples ranging from Orfeo to Star Wars that connect this type of progression with descriptions of uncanny or supernatural phenomena. This paper expands the social implications of the technique by exploring the association in contemporary pop music. Surveying over 50 songs from 1958-2016, the paper identifies six types of uncanny scenarios associated with PL and LP progressions: visions, transcending mental barriers, supernatural phenomena, psychological conditions, nonsense poetry, and descriptions of dystopia. While some songs fit neatly into one category or the other, several examples engage more than one category. In many examples the harmonic transformations occur at conspicuous moments where a word-for-word connection to the lyrics makes the voice-leading paradox particularly effective. With each category, this paper inspects one example in detail and lists others in a table. The paper also provides hermeneutic readings where the association between lyrics and harmony is less obvious. While not every PL/LP transformation evokes an uncanny experience, when the transformations are used conspicuously between adjacent or framing harmonies, the pervasive associations with the uncanny, across sub-genre and generational lines, are hard to ignore.