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Studio B • Thursday afternoon, 3:30–5:00

Reconsidering Genre

Eric Drott (University of Texas at Austin), Chair

Thomas Johnson (The Graduate Center, CUNY)

#genre

James Donaldson (McGill University)

‘...and a melodic re-invention’: Lyricism as Structure in “Post-Spectral” Music

Abstracts

#genre

Thomas Johnson (The Graduate Center, CUNY)

“Genre is dead!” The sentiment resounds throughout current popular-music critic-fan and artist discourses, as developments like predictive algorithms, professional playlist curators, and ubiquitous access all throw wrenches into traditional machines of musical categorization. Recent sociological work on the increasing eclecticism of musical tastes appears to support this perspective, flattening conventional boundaries between kinds of music and classes of people.

But in this talk, I argue that such omnivorousness of musical proclivities doesn’t obviate popular music genres; instead, it hints at a deeper shift in genre ordering. To address this change, I explicitly theorize the work genre does in the smooth and striated spaces of popular music with a new concept I call “#genre.” Essentially, #genre captures the adjectival quality and in-between-ness of the seemingly-flattened stylistic world of popular music categories by exploring clusters of related artists, genre tags, and playlist constituency.

My methodology approaches this topological change by excavating the kinds of linear genre-fabric that Spotify weaves through its platform, investigating relational algorithms and proprietary metadata. To do so, I use original Python scripts to access and parse Spotify’s metadata, quantitatively assessing the various kinds of connections that the streaming service generates. I compare these results to demographic biases to problematize notions of a “post-genre” musical landscape, nudging genre discourses away from conventional phylogenetic cartographies or nested hierarchies and towards lateral and multiple models. My methodology and conception of #genre show how classification continues to guide all parts of the 21st-century popular music machine, demanding a renewed investigation.

‘...and a melodic re-invention’: Lyricism as Structure in “Post-Spectral” Music

James Donaldson (McGill University)

In 1998, Gérard Grisey contemplated a shift away from the sound-based construction of Spectral Music and towards the ‘establishing [of] new scales and – over time – a melodic re-invention’. This statement appears counter to the original manifesto of l’Itinéraire, that ‘we are musicians and our model is sound not literature, sound not mathematics, sound not theatre, visual arts, quantum physics, geology, astrology, or acupuncture’ (Grisey, 1982). Yet melody is an increasingly common occurrence in Spectrally-influenced works, provoking wide-ranging implications, necessitating organization in a starkly contrasting manner to the now canonic works from the 1970s. As a result, the sound-as-foundation polemics of l’Itinéraire’s manifestos are increasingly secondary.

This paper focuses on Vivier’s Zipangu (1981), Saariaho’s Sept Papillons (2000), and Haas’s de terrae fine (2001). Each adopts melody in a complementary manner whilst rooted in Spectralist aesthetics. Developing Pousset’s (2000) ‘Post-Spectral’ postulation, I show how melody can act (1) rhetorically, engaging with the historical baggage of melody, (2) narratively, that the implications of a lyrical line within a vertically-conceived form can elicit agential readings, and (3) structurally, that shifting away from harmony and timbre can fundamentally revise the large- and small-scale formal devices common to earlier frequency-based works. In each instance, these works demonstrate a reaction to the early Spectralists’ “predictable” methods of composing in a scientific manner, and increase the level of the composers’ expressive input—indeed, their own agencies as producers—into the creation of their work.