EMP 2008 Pop Conference — Saturday panels and presentations

Oh my sleeping head. Here was the Saturday schedule. Again, here are my VERY scattershot thoughts on it all as it happened:

Kara Attrep, “She Yoko-ed the Band” — “don’t Yoko my band!” T-shirts as emblem of the destroyer of male genius. Her voice is the key and core of the metaphor of Onoism. Become a Yoko by being marginal, creative, married to another artist who often dies. Clara Schumann is an early example — someone who brought Robert “down.” Born rich, Yoko learned from Mom and went through WWII then moved to NYC and started loft shows in the sixties, was part of Fluxus, performed at Carnegie Hall, confused the hell out of the NY Times. Work was in demand and well respected, divorced and remarried and met John in London. From there her public identity changed while John felt more like a true artist with her in NYC. In 1973 she described the feeling of how other musicians regarded her as an “other” which felt strange in the “melting pot” of the studio. Dick Cavett clip is played — WEIRD dynamic, but both John and Yoko crush and twist it. She met John as “another artist.” Post 1980 accusations continued and intensified. She did benefit from the connection but still struggles to this day. Courtney Love comparison noted — no race but class issues instead, how the estate is handled. Mary Parks, Albert Ayler‘s last girlfriend, gets a lot of “blame” for his late sixties shift in sound and focus, even though the focus was on spiritual love. Adjectives listed about their voices — screeching, wailing etc. Clips of all three played — Yoko “AOS,” Hole’s “20 Years in the Dakota,” Parks (as Mary Maria)’s “Oh! Love of Life” w/ Ayler. Hearing outside of context they don’t sound as alien as their critics say. “Yes I’m a Witch” as statement of defiance (praise a wizard, burn a witch). (Q&A covers Parks a bit more, some discussion about her rare interviews).

Mina Yang, “The ‘Tsunami Song’: Hip-hop at the Vortex of an International Disaster” — entered part way through. Talking about Asian music and cultural connections to black music in America and back again. Controversy over “The Tsunami Song” and responses (including the role of Jin and the place he is forced into, compared to Eminem but stuck with bigger hurdles). “If it was any other race, the shit would have hit the fan.” But Jin remains optimistic, “hip hop brings us all together.” Protests in New York bringing together groups but highlighted institutionalized racism via the government and big business. FCC silence in particular reflected media silence or exploitation. Some firings and suspensions but even so. Much remains the same, Ms. Jones remains in the morning role, questions of aid and government and hiphop infighting remain.

Carl Wilson, “The Singing of the Disaster: Newsreels, Protests, Charidee and Shock Absorption in Popular Music” — music in background as mood music of sorts, is a work in progress. Being sober minded in the face of disaster is impossible, no matter what Adorno thinks. It will be addressed in song. People Take Warning is mentioned — resonances of the set post 9/11 comes up but has the tradition shifted to the likes of Law and Order, or is it in music still? Event songs are discussed in the mid-20s heyday, pushed aside by Jimmie Rodgers, with disaster records emerging in the 30s via race records. Just in time journalism? Surely not with the Titanic songs, for instance. Talk about the formula of songs, broadsides, disaster stories with morals in a variety of media contexts over the centuries. On the box set the newness lies with industrial accidents, while blues left out the moral in many cases. Protest songs emerge in the thirties with the left looking at things through a new lens (also the New Deal providing a new inspiration). Moving ahead post WWII to “Desolation Row” and the apocalypse song and other protest songs (Auden on disaster noted). Folk revival kicks in and the romantics have it from there. Bee Gees with “New York Mining Disaster 1941” as confection concoted for the Americans. 80s charity song — celebrities like it, so it must be important! Disaster actually left out of the songs in many cases. New form post-Katrina? Pop eventually off in its own realm while the market controls and encourages private control over public. Charity model in songs, more political hiphop songs, response from a radio station owner in LA — GAWD what a piece of horrific right wing shit, “The Battle of New Orleans” as rewritten by Malkin. New Orleans bounce tracks like “Get Ya Hustle On” takes an activist approach in its own way…another anti-FEMA song played, call and response, milder in language and don’t expect to make anything happen, disaster songs for a YouTube age, one of passivity. How much has happened in the switch from story to star?

Alex Rawls, “The First Rule of Hurricanes” — Katrina in a way will not stop, projects now being demolished, trailer parks being shut down, housing being priced out, businesses going, more. He has handled songs — crappy benefit songs like a cat with a dead mouse in its teeth. “I caught this for you!” What do you tell the writers? Couldn’t praise but couldn’t pan. It was therapy but still. Wish he had kept the CDRs now but then they seemed too emblematic. Bad lines quoted — singer/songwriter trying to sum up the disaster but how they reduced it as a result. Sense from people of “wanting to do something” — really bad song played, oh DEAR. Cowboy Mouth song “The Avenue” does have some modest longing that almost works but other lines, Jesus. Good Katrina should be able to happen but it’s too big an event, requiring the listener to make the connection. Songs feel too foppish given the events. Mary Gauthier complains about the bad Katrina songs but notes the difficulties. Feelings are boiling over in moments and those are remembered. Blues comparisons don’t always work — “Katrina you bitch” But others work, personal stories as microcosms. James Andrews‘ “Katrina Katrina” has a place but there’s more in the acid funk of “One Two What You Gonna Do?” (I think). Dumpster Truck’s “Meanwhile” has a place, others wish to move on. Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke provides a context for Lil Wayne‘s “Georgia Bush” but an isolated one, not widely heard. Elvis Costello does The River in Reverse with Allen Toussaint but it’s more the performance. Annie Lennox’s “Why?” as covered by John Boutte reinterprets but still is bound by contexts — but the words are not always precious. Looking forward to a day when N O folks can hear the metaphors as such, when “Get Ya Hustle On” really gets its due as a cold response to a cold response from the government — a dark comedy. Not therapeutic, examines a complex paranoia. Songs still being made, mostly crap still.

Jody Rosen, “Girl Gone Wild: Eva Tanguay’s Madcap Feminism” — Eva Tanguay born in Quebec died in Hollywood 1947, recorded one song “I Don’t Care,” preeminent vaudeville star in its heyday, “performing songs about herself” — 15000 audience members at a show in 1912. THE star of stars, outstripped Houdini and Caruso. No biography, erased from history, autobio promised but never delivered, biopic erased her story, only passing mentions in histories if at all. Ralph Bakshi put her song in American Pop and it’s more punk rock than “Pretty Vacant!” Great stage stories, noted for backstage fights, breakthrough role in 1904’s “The Sambo Girl.” Sentiments were shocking at the time, flailing and writhing was part of the show, sung with hisses and yelps. Song played — high voice; twisted smiles evident, astounding lyrics. Act gained lots of bombastic praise for brazen sexuality, her energy, her hair! “The evangelist of joy!” Aleister Crowley was a fan and wrote some amazing purple prose, going into Baudelaire quotes, “the vulture of Prometheus!” Distinctly American — one hit called “Personality,” built her legend, employed five publicists, she would have loved TMZ. Publicity stunts, clothes horse, always in the papers, dress made from pennies! Staged feuds, trashed people in poetry in ads in Variety! Song “Give an Imitation” about the biters, “Egotistical Eva” about “I and I” More of the song has self-depracting verses (“brrrrroad!”) She did sing straight though — unironic ballads — so she knew what she was doing all the life. Tanguay is the main figure of “vocal madcapism” among others “zany new women.” A stylized speak-sing patter of which she was the queen. Recordings played showing the shift in styles as a result, from 1907 and the like. Clip of a sound film showing percussion patter on a cello! Trixie Treganza original gangsta! Yay Eva and where does she fit? Couldn’t swing but Mae West was a fan and so was Ethel Waters and it goes to Billie Holliday? Lost her fortune in 1929, scraped along to death sadly.

Maurice Methot, “The Interface is the Message: Software Design as Resistance” — strategies of resistance in electronic instruments. Tech evolved quickly, symbolismof resistance in computer as folk instruments. Communities mobilized by machine design and limitations — marvelling at creations and what they meant when they were created. Theremin performance from fifties TV shown, speaking of the charm of electric power and sound, a wizard embedded in the culture who sometimes emerges. Mr Rogers and Bruce Haack! Wow! What a clip! (Can’t find the full one, but here’s a snippet.) Donald Buchla as seventies inventor, poetic and oracular systems, costly and important. From Fairlight to garage punk users of same, from Trevor Horn to Steve Lipson with Act (no conventional instruments! Huge money outlays!) Software aiming for acoustic and avoiding its own digital nature. Opposing styles of electronic systems. Reason as embracing its analog roots in its visual design and metaphor. 303 and 606 as embracing electronic folk practice via techno. Emulator II in Ferris Bueller popularizes itself and practice. Emile Tobenfeld embraces digital autonomous behaviors. Great fake news clip on Opcode Systems. Strangeness brought back into electronic music when we look at the less familiar parts of the histories. ANS photosynthesizer by Murzin clip shown — bigass crazy great machine! Scrape away emulsion and let light impact to create tones. Matmos would love this — the glissando sequence, “can’t do that with ProTools!”

David Rubinson, “Napster As Cradle of the Revolution” — witnessing and participatory panopticon is the goal. In ancient times the major labels walked the earth and demanded control of all aspects of the system. Then the geeks invented peer-to-peer and the majors tried to control it. “sell every part of the pig but the oink,” but they couldn’t monetarize it no matter how tried it. Now they disappear under their own arrogances and we can apply that to the military government media complex. The truth is not owned. Progressive blog model is old and does not work, a repackaging of past models. Control and intimidation remains in play. Peer to peer will bypass this structures, build now and monetarize later. Create more community access and local networks within the whole. Bentham mentioned, panopticon described and meant to be shared as a model. Foucault’s notes mentioned, “the unequal gaze,” uncertainity of surveillance at any given time and internalizing discipline. Suveillance, watching from below in response to control, reality TV and video cameras. Cassio: “Every citizen with a cameraphone can be a reporter.” Describes actions with Stop-loss Congress, creating video witnesses. “The whole world is watching.” Peter Gabriel‘s Witness project is good but only bidirectional but not p2p, too much control still, fantastic but still limited. Share everything in the participatory panopticon instead. Rodney King as the start, and more from there. Rumsfeld and Abu Ghraib as freakout example, Saddam’s death as another. More on the new model, a bit of rehash.

Tom Smucker, “Story and Stance in American Pop Music and Politics” — (NOTE: my notes here can’t begin to capture the freewheeling combination of images and flow of words Smucker creates in his presentations; very much another ‘you had to be here’ moment.) The Kennedy and Reagan models of presidencies loom large. Kennedy is Rat Pack plus Kingston Trio, has to promise to be secular because of antiCatholic bias. Protest voice is given some attention as a result. Inside the consensus is where it is found. Looks to new configurations, LBJ and King continue things as far as they can to complete the first phase of the civil rights movement. Collapse of consensus leads to conspiracy and paranoia in the counterculture as such. Articulating dislocation in identity politics. Southern Strategy is a step for Nixon but it feels inauthentic. Nixon reinvents but he ain’t no Neil Young or Prince. Carter and the Eagles! He loves jazz but… Reaganism leaps backwards to find a presumed media product consensus and the Rat Pack leaves Kennedy. Back to the Future! Star Wars is in the past! Right wing talk radio emerges, Bruce S is recruited by the right against his will, Jacko and Madonna self-manipulate into the future moonwalking backwards. Clintonism is the Nixonism of the left, unable to sustain itself. Bush II overrealizes Reaganism, McCain and Huckabee can thrive, Hillary is initially Stevie Nicks on a solo tour, Obama recombined Jacko and Oprah and Jay-Z! That’s it!

Steve Waksman, “This Ain’t the Summer of Love: BÖC, Green River and the Anti-Nostalgic Impulse” — Thurston Moore sez that with Green River was when prepunk music entered Amerindie, after a regular rejection after punk. Reclaiming strands could be seen as radical. Green River merged arena and punk styles, while “Swallow My Pride” was a de facto anthem that was often covered even by the band itself. Chorus progression noted for reference as well as the internal conflict musically and lyrically. Self conscious lyrics and repetition emphasized lust but the verses seem more true. Remade version has some key revisions in structure and with a female voice — this leads back to Blue Öyster Cult. Their critical reputation is discussed as well as the role of Sandy Pearlman, while Sniffin Glue considered them punk in the first issue. NME reference noted. “This Aint the Summer of Love” and its role and structure is discussed, then is played. As great as ever! It relishes the passing of an ethos, full of life, huge solo before the chorus repeats to the end. Second version of “Swallow My Pride” played, directly quotes BÖC musically and lyrically towards the end for half its length. Menace without the vocal harmonies, two-chord sequence in both songs emphasized. “LooooooooooooooVE!” as rejection of same, mocking the past and finding a new past to reclaim. A secret history pieced together.

Douglas Wolk
, “Silver Wings and Stranger Things: The Special Force of ‘The Green Berets’” — biggest 1966 pop hit was “The Ballad of the Green Berets” and a TV clip with Barry Sadler is shown. Very stiff and soldierly in looks but a warm enough voice! Folk choral martial smoothness. Death porn! How could this song be so forgotten? Green Beret history discussed, Sadler was injured in Vietnam, wrote song with fifteen verses! RCA signed him and song became big hit. “National theme for the Vietnam War.” Protests emerged soon but covers also swiftly appeared. Answer song by Nancy Ames: “He Wore the Green Beret,” yeesh what a weeper but what a musical gear shift too. Practically “Leader of the Pack”! German cover versions were number one hits too — spooky clips shown with frozen faced singers, but also with antiwar lyrics! Comic book bits are amzing! “Ballad of the Yellow Beret” is also pro-war, mocking American draft-dodgers. “High heeled boots,” jeez! Raveup at the end — and the singer was Bob Seger! Military folks parodied it, Spanish version played next. John Wayne film mentioned, Hershel Gober song mentioned, Norwegian adaptation discussed, Sadler disenchanted, Rhodesian military loved it. 1978 saw Sadler arrested for murder, suspended sentences, started the Casca book series. 1988 shot, died following year, murky circumstances. Vague afterlife at best, why? Not feelgood, can’t be sentimental about dead soldiers or even talk about dead soldiers in an American context at all, only deathless super Green Berets.

Tobias Carroll, “’I’ve Got A Name’: AK Press, Radical Politics, and Music” — entered presentation in progress, talking about Chumbawamba and the Ex and their connections to AK Press and the feeling of DIY activism, with the Ex noting they were not happy with being called anarchist as such. Scritti Politti and Crass then discussed. Other small presses discussed like Arbeiter Ring in Winnipeg and other things. A bit of a quiet catalog of detail so I zoned a bit here, nice enough overview. [EDIT — Tobias has put together a supplemental overview of links of interest related to his presentation.]

J.D. Considine, “If This Note Could Vote” — the politics of music– what is it? Lyrical, spoken texts, things done to evoke meaning. Nothing inherently political in the notes. Sometimes a cause is used as the hook. But not the music… “Born in the USA” as an example of Copland style construction that was widely misinterpreted due to the “open” sound. [EDIT: JD kindly wrote me some days later to clarify this part further: “It wasn’t construction so much as harmonic and melodic vocabulary. If I’d had time, I’d have been more specific, mentioning how many of Copland’s pieces (Appalachian Spring, Hoedown, A Lincoln Portrait, etc.) draw elements from American traditional music, particularly the open-fifth drone of double-stopped (that is, two strings played at once) fiddle as well as the hexatonic (i.e., six-note) scales of old-timey tunes. Instead, I merely cited “Born in the USA”‘s open fifth synth harmony and hexatonic melody. I might have unpacked that a bit more…” No worries, and thanks for the update!] Wagner as partially tarred by association… “it’s just music” or is it? Polyphony as too radical for tradition but two centuries later it was standard. Liberalism and conservatism is down to change and its perception. Then in music? Sticking to a norm or not but what is the norm? Rapid turnover in the charts so what is consensus — averaging songs? Mathematical analysis? What is the data sample? What are Americans listening to? Polls vs voting is a key point. So bring on Billboard and its imperfect metric. 50 songs analyzed for musical content (number of chords, meter, instrumentation, chart weighting). All very sly, this exercise. Is country conservative? Etc. Was there a perfect bell curve? A is guitar favorite while E flat is for synth, G is “liberal” in comparison. Miley Cyrus as “soundtrack,” etc. Gets pretty involved from here but the whole thing is really entertaining and well observed. Again like Jesse Fuchs you had to be here! Shifts into chord discussion, harmony not correlated with that number, cross cutting cleavages in a poli sci sense if you like. “Cyclone” and “I Remember” played in contrast, both extremes against a middle in a conservative context. Further noncorrelations noted, political comparisons, all great!

Wendy Fonarow, “Singing About Love When All You Want to Do Is Strangle Someone: Musician Jokes and Pranking as Mechanisms to Relieve Conflict” — musician jokes are plentiful and she offers up chupacabras and matchsticks and an iPod with a fake radio station and DJ and more! It’s how they deal with road stress and boredom and the like — having a laugh. Cramped quarters, drugs and their lack, cheating, journalists and all that creates the stress and more examples are provided, an open marriage without sex. So jokes provide the retribution and a moral cover for immoral acts. Never leave a crew alone too much! Testicle-infused wine is the least of it. Fake record company calls, unplugging phone chargers…pranking is simply essential. Often spontaneous but there’s the musician joke cycles (no girlfriend = homeless, etc!), allowing for safe cover and the power of stereotyping in specifics (thus drummers as noted). Various examples given, lead singer syndrome in particular, narcissistic and produced as such, no matter how ordinary they are. Thus the jokes keep them in check. Guitarist jokes show competitiveness in action. Bassist jokes show them as superfluous, drummers as stupid as hell and not really musicians. Crew jokes abound around the division of labor (soundman versus the crew). Lots of examples, great stuff. Drummer jokes show a deeper anxiety all around with an iconography drawn out of the sick joke cycle. Cadbury ad supposed to be shown but link busted at the time (Daphne found it later, though). Gorilla plus Phil Collins and gorilla does the drumbreak! Primitivism and cruelty and imbecility at play. Anxiety — why? Percussion, the tribal and African element — a proxy for a deeper tension of racism. Therefore assert Eurosupremacy in the telling of the joke, knock rhythm in favor of harmony. Racism as tool to understand things (Cadbury chocolate…skin color?) But it’s not just about racism but a general anxiety over being an animal, a primate, so externalize and project. And music critics? They’ll always complain because they can’t do it themselves!

Daphne Carr, “Getting Closer: Extreme Loudness and the Body in Pain/Pleasure” — up goes the black hood, in an attempt to avoid metaphors in talking about noise, specifically East Coast styles. Elements and sources detailed — Providence! What noise does is the goal. Loudness is psychological, physical and temporal and more. Details provided (amplifications over drums in predominance). Amplifier proximity is very key. Noise performance takes note of the enclosed spaces and other location factors. Technical details discussed — hertz levels and more, comfort levels. Earplugs block the excitement. Exaggerated gestures showing musical and compositional change. But is there limitation in the formal approaches to noise? Complaints noted. Reacting to noise as cathartic — cannot be done at home, communal but singular. Fan reaction can include solitary pressing against amps, avoiding others, being a signifier. Elaine Scarry‘s Body in Pain quoted. Hard to measure reaction, diagnostic questions are metaphors of weapons, aggression on self. Musician as s/m enthusiast sharing with others. Those who stand near ask for pain as service weapon. Motionless or spasming amid pain loudness. Male dominance noted, is failure gendered, is success? Desire for punishment to allow for pleasure, is sexualized, beyond reproduction. Sex as negotiating power through pleasure, music as having a role. Suzanne Cusick (“Towards a Lesbian Relationship With Music”) quoted in re: new ways of listening. Noise fans choose the passive in contract. Worthy of dignity against other models. Powerpoint presentation from Scott Reber aka Work/Death combines slogans and quick pace. Performance in starkness, literally black and white, countdown to noise in darkness (kinda calm really but I had earplugs!).

Tom Kipp, “’I Never Heard a Man Speak Like This Man Before!’: Song, Horror and Tragedy in Jonestown, and a Convincing Simulation of Hell” — entered in progress, recordings from Jonestown being played. Unsettling and then some. Again, you need to be here, the presentation is key. Powerful stuff, delivered calmly — Tom’s great gift. Talking about being haunted by a singing of a hymn soon before the end, a psychodrama beyond easy description, “I Never Heard a Man” (traditional song, version here from Five Blind Boys of Mississippi) as passion play for self sacrifice. Jones tears into one who wished to leave, calling it blasphemy. Terrifying. Father cares indeed… Few willingly drank it, and the phrase is now in currency when it should be rejected. There is love, devotion, pathology. No songwriter could have conveyed it, “Never Heard A Man” is just too perfect for the whole horror, theatrical and diabolical. But all they sang was the chorus, the endless repetition. Jim Jones like Elvis cannot be solved, no matter what. But we can learn from it and what helped produce it, though nothing has receded. Tom then sings the chorus — a powerful end.

Elijah Wald, “Mexican Murder Musicals: How Youtube Has Revolutionized the Narcocorrido” — entered in progress (Robert Christgau has a more detailed overview of the full presentation which I heartily recommendation). Video as tool of unofficial tribute of cartel deaths. Valentin Elizalde killed after giving concert — because of the video? Just a rumor and yet. Videos can get very grisly and are widely viewed. Wald has had work forced on him because of his research but he notes that crime and music have far longer roots on both sides of the border. Some logic to the death connection exists but there is no definitive word. Two musician deaths in December are noted — but in the States this was given massive coverage and undue connections were made, “who is killing Mexico’s musicians?” Context — 9 out of 4000 actual drug crime deaths in that time but the stereotypes overwhelm, lyrics are twisted. There are some genuine stories here — the rise of corridos, the rise of crime, the use of YouTube — but there is massive conflation and only one possible death where drugs are a factor.

David Ritz, “Divided Byline: How a Student of Leslie Fiedler and Colleague of Charles Keil Became the Ghostwriter for Everybody from Ray Charles to Cornel West” — a fine and considered testimony as he puts it, and much as I would like to report on it, it’s better just to enjoy it. 🙂 More tomorrow!


10 Responses to “EMP 2008 Pop Conference — Saturday panels and presentations”

  1. david schwarm Says:

    Ned, these reports that you are providing are amazing! Sitting home in Irvine, I am at information overload–I cannot imagine what it must be like there…I cannot wait for the analysis!

    I had been thinking about Green River because of Susu’s Win (which I heard was a Sonic Youth record, and it is–but there is some Seattle mixed in there somewhere); and I wikipedia’d them and saw this which I had not heard:
    #begin http://tinyurl.com/3mfvpx
    According to a story released to Reuters in October 2007, Stone Gossard confirmed rumors that Green River will reunite for one show in the summer of 2008. [http://tinyurl.com/3ljpsw]

    Thanks, David S

  2. Alex Rawls Says:

    What a project. I’ll look at this more closely when I get out of EMP mode. FYI – “Bute” is John Boutte.

  3. Ned Raggett Says:

    Thanks very much to both of you! Alex, thanks very much for the correction and the earlier help.

  4. daphne Says:

    Hey hey – this is amazing! Suzanne Cusick is the scholar who writes about new ways of listening. “Towards a Lesbian Relationship With Music” is a crucial mindmelter. Shall I send it to you? The PP of flashing words and also the stellar noise was by Scott Reber aka Work/Death.

  5. Ned Raggett Says:

    Thanks Daphne! I’d v. much like to read that, and thank you for the clarifications and corrections.

  6. Kara Says:

    Hey! Thanks for coming to the paper and thanks for the great summaries! Wonderful.

  7. Ned Raggett Says:

    Thanks very much! Too kind of you!

  8. Frothy Afterbirth Says:

    Wow, it’s interesting to read the differences of everyone’s writing style. And I thought I took quite a bit of notes at the conference then wrote allot on my blog. Too much I think. But then again at the ‘Singing the Disaster’ panel, there was this heavy set guy with a full size notebook writing notes into whole-thick paragraphs!

    Great introspectives Ned. There’s an amusing poem written by Labi Siffre that I put on my blog that addressed everyone attending the conference.

  9. Ned Raggett Says:

    Good stuff, that poem — I mentioned it elsewhere but in retrospect that is the presentation I most regret missing. But your transcription on the blog was very helpful — much thanks, and thanks for the kind words!

  10. V.E.G. Says:

    Eva Tanguay is of French and Breton origin. Her cousin, the hero and saint, Craig A. Pepin!

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