University Of Tasmania
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Toward an Ontology of Pop music

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posted on 2023-05-27, 08:25 authored by Acres, SG
To arrive at an ontology of pop music this project considers what is constant as regards the concern of works, not merely sound or composition. This being the case, individual works are apprehended prior to their being absorbed into a socio-cultural/historical context, such that the in-itself of the work is the domain of this project, which by way of the works being autographic, speaks to a singularness and deliberateness in their construction. This aspect of autography is reflected in the method used to analyse such works, and in doing so leaves to history and sociology the historical and sociological, which is a departure from conventional modes of analysis. The originality of this project lies firstly in its aim and secondly in the method used to achieve that aim. It seems that a disproportionate amount of popular music analysis‚ÄövÑvÆby ignoring for example Backstreet Boys or Boy George‚ÄövÑvÆsuggests implicitly that pop music is either unpopular, or unworthy of an academic exploration. It is this paradoxical oversight, or unwillingness to engage with pop music‚ÄövÑvÆperhaps by way of a high/low split within popular music studies itself‚ÄövÑvÆthat renders this study of pop music original. Central to this project is the observation that since any analysis of sound is in the first instance an analysis of what can be remembered, the method employed must seek to address this issue. As such, the formulation of a detailed internal map of a work on the part of the analyst is required. This process and its inherent limitations are explicated herein. This entails that a distinction be made between what we can hear‚ÄövÑvÆwhich itself is determined by playback technology, circumstance, and direction of attention‚ÄövÑvÆand the information that that sound is derived from, such that each work comes to be known through the conveyance of information committed to some medium. It is to this specific arrangement of information by way of its being made audible that the analysis is directed. That pop music sounds different at different points in history leads to the observation that there can be pop music in any number of ways. To extrapolate: pop songs are pop songs to varying degrees, such that a particular pop song could be said to be symptomatic of pop music proper, so that a pop song is considered to be a token in light of the type, pop music. The distinction is crucial. This study provides an analysis of how pop music arrives at its shifting sonic palate; how this palate is manifested in a way different to that of its source, and why this is so; and how this adoption and reconfiguration pertains to pop music's fundamental nature in light of a planned obsolescence. Key notions for this project are: Stockhausen's conception of the Moment, framed here in such a way as to become an analytical tool; ideas about a 'sonic surface' and its link with the identity of the pop song; the connection between the condition of the jingle and pop music; the importance of the single‚ÄövÑvÆfrom the 7‚ÄövÑvp to the digital download‚ÄövÑvÆand a concomitant concern with the present that speaks to the notion of a planned obsolescence. Considering that the findings of this project pertain the fundamental nature of pop music, they are able to be fed back into more traditional methods of popular music analysis, given that what is fundamental to pop music should be constant under any method of analysis. Additionally, any study that takes music as its subject is an inherently musicological one, even though this study treats pop music sonico-structurally: without recourse to musical scores, lyrics analysis, or sonograms. The works under consideration are treated as merely sound over some duration, since to consider them otherwise is to provide scope to overlook their temporal nature. It will be clear to the reader, then, that this project does not seek to expand outwardly from the existing pop music discourse, rather it seeks to extend inwardly to the minutiae of sound's being organised in specific ways. Frith's sociology, Gracyk's aesthetics and Middleton's reading of musicology mark the outermost limits of the territory covered, and it is with these as delimiters that a conceptual triangulation is able to occur at finer and finer resolutions. Paramount is the notion that any observation, be it drawn from an abstract arithmetic or from some interstitial magnification, is in the first place able to be heard. So it is by a gradual process of exclusion‚ÄövÑvÆby in part reversing those claims made to support rock music as against pop music‚ÄövÑvÆsimultaneous with the explication of the method herein, that we come to fully understand the concerns exhibited by particular works that align with what it mean for a song to be a pop song. For this, certainly, is beyond sound and the organisation thereof.


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