EMP 2008 Pop Conference — Friday panels and presentations

REDUX! So, the deal was that the EMP building is a misery of some clear posting areas and some dead ones. Yeesh. But! Taking notes was easy and I’ve got it all copy and pasted here. Read on:

Okay, here we go — note for everyone unfamiliar with EMP: there are currently four panels presented at any one time, so by default I can only attend a quarter of the entire whole. If I miss something that sounds up your alley, sorry! The full day’s schedule can be reviewed here.

These notes are VERY rough and I am skipping over tons of things. If any of the paper’s authors notice this and want me to clarify/touch up, please let me know!

David Novak, “Experiments with World Music, Vol. 2: The Sublime Frequencies of Cultural Difference” — discussing world music as collision of cultural appropriation — not the Folkways style but the Sublime Frequencies model and ambivalence in its approach, sieves from cultural detritus. What happens when we hear the music this way? “drawing from unknown sources” SF represents an experimental approach to curating and presenting. Part of the legacy of ethnomusicology but breaks from it in compiling rather than recording, willfully confusing blends — “curious listeners” will be left in the dark still, with ironic touches. The effect is to represent in a media mix — evanescent media. Not a Lomaxian loss but the cylical media loss. Sun City Girls history is discussed including presentation and packaging and the breakdown of barriers, but SF is a “blind encounter” rather than a documentation. Individual transcendence needs to avoid “respect” and simple recreation. Compensation is not a factor and is a controversy. Fan discussion covers this and the idea of reacting against slickness but also a bit concerned with the mix disc approach. Approach is an ongoing thing but is not simply gonzo, reflecting what is out there such as Phnom Penh remixes (a bit like dub?) Media is not passively created but resistance to interpretation is important — consider the loss of copyright vs the advantage of distance and piracy as aesthetic with interference.

(The next couple of presentations I caught were…dull. Skipping along!)

Franklin Bruno, “Nobody Who Was Anybody: How to Listen to ‘Ballad For Americans.’” — “this is the sound of Paul Robeson holding back” but the results still have artifice. Notes differences between versions and wants to explore which is the most authentic. “Ballad” is a patriotic cantata as officially described. Exchange between voice and others is broad and a bit goofy but hey — “nobody who was anybody” built the nation. Ethnicities and professions and more…the device of personification plus Robeson as singer makes for the charge while its stirring approach still comes off too mannered to many (middlebrow?) and too accepting of official history. Still it lies in a selfconciously radical tradition via the preWWII left and the authors (John La Touche and Earl Robinson) came out of that. (WPA Federal Theatre Project discussed.) Family roots and political backgrounds discussed…detailed but too much to say here. More on the radical left and suspicion of FDR and the New Deal, while Sing For Your Supper provided an initial context but the song was auditioned for CBS Radio and became a mid-1940 omnipresent claimed by all smash, even the GOP, but the left critics were askance and the right critics were annoyed. Lots of infighting! Song eventually became a war standard thanks to recontextualization — Bing Crosby film clip from Star Spangled Rhythm of knockoff song “Old Glory” is a mindblower and very WTF! Further thoughts on meaningof “nobody” and NYC settings while Robeson was not a nobody in the end. To achieve its effects it needs a singularity, a tension not resolved and how could it be?

Jim Mendiola, “Girl in a Coma: Straight Outta Tejas. And England. And All Points In Between” — entered while speaking showing a video “Clumsy Sky” setting in a Tejano bar, signifiers everywhere classic country into punk/emp/pop thrash, continuity from the Tex Mex past via older border bands. Three bandmembers all VERY badass. Perfect follow-on from the panel, what is identity? Tattoos and hairstyles and more! I am annoyed to have missed this presentation! Album sales up and the description in iTunes was driven by context and name.

Robert Christgau
, “Waiting on the World to Change” — entered in progress, on a tear, TV on the Radio into John Mayer — drug bust story! Mayer trashings sought via blogs and the like. Continuum via Marc Hogan! Well this is a further tear — Mayer’s publicist contacts and drops so bits are scrounged up that unsurprisingly sound more sane and thoughtful than the song itself. “Light Green” and all! Opening a dialogue went better, mild progressivism in discussion but still it is something. Xgau might be too on balance but hey. Called Hogan on Sunday and he got tongue-tied with the question and with change but does work with discussion against formalism. Political music audience share as a metric. Change as mantra for a generation, but it’s something — have the John Mayer fans as there are more of them.

Lauren Onkey, “’No Carnival in Britain’: Black Immigration and the Rise of Rock & Blues in 1950s England” — re British black and musical experiences in the 1950s. Visible only as such and as the outsiders. Beatles photo with Lord Woodbine, a contextual dissonance via the construction of the UK as white. Idea of not being able to “see” color (used to integrated bands?), but plenty of slurs abounded in the press (Josephine Baker in psych). Labor shortages prompted the immigration…new changes in port towns but left outside of accountings of rock and roll. A way to avoid confronting changes at home? Liverpool made by the slave trade, integrated communities via intermarriage and shipping employment, as well as distinctions in generations. Record exchanges via black GIs and other connections, mixing in clubs. Beatles not really asked about something that “didn’t exist” but should have been aware of it. Alan Williams ran a club that the band played at as well as a steel band that Woodbine played in and ran another club, and the two helped get the Beatles going to Hamburg. Still bitterness among the generation who was there, Woodbine’s death dismissed. Derry Wilkie went to Hamburg first, a showman who made the Beatles step up some. Chants band noted, contemporaries but not lover by Epstein.

Peter Scholtes, “Hi Yo Silver, Purple Rain: The Color of Minneapolis Rock and Roll, From Integrated Bands to Segregated Clubs” — rhetorically: “what’s so cool about racial integration” among a younger generation is different from the past, where older musicians saw “comfort” in the integration against the problems of the past. Three scenes in Minn: r’nb prePrince postPrince and hiphop. 1st Ave audience versus other audiences — Purple Rain audience is the early eighties one, the Dirty Mind audience, where race is not an issue in comparison to the clubs now but which can be felt in moments. “HiYo Silver” as first Minn rock and roll single, a mix of influences and backgrounds with Augie Garcia as showman, then “Surfin’ Bird” as the pop explosion to bring a scene into being. The Ravens moved but it must have seemed like a closed shop. Only integrated room — the Bathroom of the Flame. But things started to semigel though dealing with white fright. Black groups kept dealing with stereotypes and fears of too much blackness so integration happened by the desire to play within this limit while black bands played outside the downtown. Prince transcended this by kicking against this and 1st Ave opened it further thanks to the owners and bookers. But hiphop and violence still exist in tension while Slug gets an overwhemingly white audience. But hiphop and skateboarding brought the younger kids together now…

Barry Long, “‘We Insist!’ Popular Music, the Civil Rights Movement, and King’s ‘Urgency of Now’” — King and civil rights, the urgency of now — straightforward but good enough. Jazz as motivator — a dialogue and engaged. Dizzy Gillespie: jazz “the only thing we have to offer the world” But also had an integrationist core and a music of freedom (thus Sonny Rollins). King in Berlin 1964 on jazz as conveying a more complicated existence. Bebop as composite, also dominated by blacks at the time, but seen as a meritocracy. In combination with civil rights, the results were strong, noting Max Roach‘s work and King’s approval. “We Insist” as representative work. Noting the beats and its variations and how they move and transform. Mingus noted, further connections back to King, a bit technical. Softens a bit towards the end, oh well!

Mike McGonigal, “Freedom Highway” — about the original 1965 Staple Singers vinyl album (NOT the 1991 CD reissue) of the same name. Starts with a twang of guitar and a breakdown of gospel styles in the “golden age.” Staples were a hybrid of styles , country blues guitar mixing with the floating vocals. Notes the changes in style over the years but thinks that the early fifties sides capture “gospel in space.” Dylan and the Staples are discussed, with the latter covering “The Death of Emmett Till.” Notes the use of code in slave culture and the tension of Christian belief, with recorded gospel bringing these elements together. Civil rights in gospel from the start, Mahalia Jackson as supporter of King and part of the myth. Pops Staples as being inspired by an encounter with King to write protest songs — “Freedom Highway” then played, produced by Billy Sherill! Says Pops was a “cool guy.” It is recorded in a rudimentary but clear style and ties it all together. Highlight is “We Shall Overcome” which with the gospel choir finally making it work after all the grime and bad covers. Various freedom songs were takes of gospel traditionals, then more Staples stories. The 1991 reissue is not the same album and while it does make researching an adventure it is indicative of a poor treatment of gospel by the industries.

Jesse Fuchs, “The Record That Eats Itself: Form, Content, and Subversive Recursion” — locked grooves and endless songs and hidden tracks! Too quick to sum up here, but brilliantly shifting all over the place. Song and object as various combinations, recursive and wonderful. You had to be here!

Debra Rae Cohen
& Michael Coyle, “’The Only Band that Matters’?: Citation as Struggle in the Punk Cover Song” — the Clash covers Junior Murvin’s “Police and Thieves” and while I still can’t care about the band it’s a good breakdown of the song’s production and interplay of meaning between the versions.

Regina Arnold
, “Rock Crowds and Power: The Early Years.” — 2nd Lollapalooza, Ministry played and the place was destroyed, big mosh pit and Chris Cornell asked “You look like some kind of army…whose army are you going to be?” So what is the gap between crowd rhetoric and reality? The goal here is to look at pre-Woodstock festivals and how they are more fraught with conflict as well as a place catering to an elite. Raced and gendered attendees have their own contexts. Aquarian Family Festival near Stanford is the focus and the archive is slim. Three months before Woodstock, held at SJSU and near another festival, the 2nd Northern California Folk Rock Festival, half a mile away (with Hendrix). Big week for news and San Jose is in its own media world. Lots of snarky press coverage but no mention of an underlying dispute, and lots of oral history that is up in the air. Festival was a near spontaneous response to annoyance with the folk guys and misrepresented band bills. So Hendrix was on the folk bill but the Aquarian festival goes on because the PCP carers were peeved with high handed treatment. Bills were identical but Aquarian was for free — bread baked, place to sleep. Music had to be continuous, lots of area bands. Hells Angels as security! Lots of ego bruising. Free and paid tensions still plays out while lots of Angels were causing some nasty crime, the fuckers. Yet it was called “peaceful” though the festival was banned for decibels and lovemaking. Black performers were made the other while two black attendees were killed. Women also objectified (all the men remember the naked women there, no women attendees yet found for an interview). Social violence around, festival was not peace and love. Bias in social histories since…

John Street, “Performing Politics: from Rock Against Racism to Live8” — Rock Against Racism to Live8 was part of a study of nongovernmental political action in the UK — how are these stories written, how do we give an account? What do musicians contribute, can the movements be explained without music, and if music is important, how do we explain it? Quotations shown to illustrate these questions and tensions — accounting in different ways. RAR has its background in the Powell ‘rivers of blood’ speech and the Clapton comment plus Reading fan actions attacking reggae bands. Letters to the music press propose a musical movement against the “poison” culminating in 1978 with 300 gigs and festivals. Live8 grows out of struggling debt relief campaigns with Bono providing the initial spark in music following with Live Aid Trust coming on with the concerts. RAR is written out of musical histories — various what ifs are discussed, concluding with the Thatcher effect. Live8 gets many critics of Geldof’s hijacking and the writing out of African voices. How to assess competing stories?How to frame it? Music matters in what contexts? A list of “music as…” options are discussed, from organizer to source of moral energy, followed by a summary of means of retelling the stories. Final slide notes how RAR gave new bands a chance in a new context yet not without controversy. But there’s notes from Live8 attendees showing that passions on issues can and do occur — infrapolitics in James C Scott’s sense.

Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman, “’Lollapalooza Every Day, Every Year’: Music, Multiculturalism, and Whiteness in the 1990s” — Lollapalooza 2008 seems to have a brand name and a middle-class audience to share with the past. Reclaiming an urban space for families with a certain nostalgia yes, but this is a critique of how it was first understood in a 1991 and on context in terms of multiculturalism and giving many white kids a “safe” context for it. Multiculturalism was a then powerful buzzword and there was much marketing at play — and most of the attendees were targeted by race as well as monetarily. A spectacle for mass consumption and semiotic significance at play (photos and discussion of the Sly cover by Perry and IceT follows — mocks or reestablishes boundaries, not to mention the audience). Lots of comments about Perry as core figure and leader as such from the press, who in turn marginalizes Ice-T and barely discusses women. 1992 brought the LA riots and a fantasy of the happy metropolis being trashed. Lollapalooza was frequently called a “riot” and its represented self got more elevated and inflated as well as the “big summer throwdown” for a surging audience, a sanctioned and contained example of “power to the people” (thus the handwritten Spin story plus the various crowd stories, a wash of whiteness and masculinity, the tolerant and the tolerated). Crossings are fraught and limited as Ice Cube and Michelle Ceros (?) noted…

Laurel Westrup, “When Subcultures Collide: The New Travellers at Glastonbury 1978-2005” — Glastonbury has been around for a long while and has survived at balancing out capitalism with counterculture. Julian Cope stuff piles on…anyway this attracts “alternative types” and has so in the sixties the ley lines crowd goes nuts. 1971 and the free 1972 festivals provides town/gown tensions… tuned out here, I was just too tired!

7 Responses to “EMP 2008 Pop Conference — Friday panels and presentations”

  1. s woods Says:

    This is great, Ned… look forward to the rest.

  2. Ned Raggett Says:

    Thanks, will try my best! Saturday reports are probably not going to be posted until early Sunday morning at this rate…

  3. Lito S. Says:

    Which presentations did you find dull? That’s just as interesting/revealing as those you rave on.

  4. Ned Raggett Says:

    A fair comment — during the time of the presentations in question (I can say that they were not on the same panel as the first presentation listed), I was focused on trying (and mostly failing) to get an Internet connection of some sort…ANY sort…to at least report the delay I was experiencing to potentially interested readers. The papers that were soundtracking this were fair enough but not holding my split interest much so on the one hand they were a bit eh (and I’ve heard some separate praise for them elsewhere) and on the other hand I was not in a position to transcribe them with due attention.

  5. Still…recuperating « Ned Raggett Ponders It All Says:

    […] and to pages on various subjects and people discussed, including YouTube clips where possible. The Friday entry is mostly complete on this front; hope to do both Saturday and Sunday […]

  6. Gina Arnold Says:

    Hi Ned – thanks for a good recapitulation of my paper!

  7. Ned Raggett Says:

    You’re welcome, and thanks for stopping by!


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