Are We Not New Wave?

Today I finished reading Are We Not New Wave?: Modern Pop at the Turn of the 1980s by Theo Cateforis. Cateforis focuses (among other things) on the significance of irony and of an alternative white masculinity in new wave culture, and I see parallels between that and today’s millennial-hipster culture.

Today I finished reading Are We Not New Wave?: Modern Pop at the Turn of the 1980s by Theo Cateforis.

I began the book to solidify my knowledge of earlier 1980s pop. My dissertation focuses on the DX7 which wasn’t released until late 1983. The genre of new wave, by comparison, grew out of punk and thus really begins around 1976 or so. Although new wave gets conflated with ’80s pop more generally, it’s really a “turn of the 1980s” phenomenon, as the title explains.


I’m investigating how the ’80s sound was understood in the ’80s as well as today.

Keyboard Magazine in 1986

It’s funny what we identify with and how we situate ourselves when we research an era of the past.

It’s funny what we identify with, and how we situate ourselves, when we research an era of the past. As part of my research for my dissertation, I spend a ton of time in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, looking at old magazines and seeing what performers, fans, and critics had to say about the Yamaha DX7. Right now I’ve focused on Keyboard magazine, targeted of course at keyboardists. In the process I also get a feel for what the culture surrounding keyboards in the 1980s was like.

In the April 1986 issue, many names are given on pages 6–7. The editors are Dominic, Tim, Bob, Ted, and David. Regular contributors are Richie, David, Bill, Jim, Tom, Steve, another Steve, Larry, Terry, another Bill, Allan, a third Steve, Bob, Don, Bobby, Dave, and Ruth (!). Writing letters are James, Nick, Clay, Gary, Ken, Jim, Woody, Jack, Glen, and Scotty. They’re writing about Nick, Alain, Jeffrey, Steve, David, and Joseph. Next month promises articles on Ivo, Wally, David, and Ralph. So then, we have forty-one men mentioned for every one woman on these two pages at the beginning of the April 1986 issue. 

GSIM 2016: Music and Radicalism, Radicalism in Music

The 19th Annual Graduate Students in Music conference, for which I was a co-chair with Tom Johnson, was held this past weekend (April 22–23). The conference is entirely organized by graduate students within the department of music at the Graduate Center, CUNY. The theme was “Music and Radicalism, Radicalism in Music”, and our keynote speaker was Jonathan Pieslak of City College of New York.

The 19th Annual Graduate Students in Music conference (GSIM), for which I was a co-chair with Tom Johnson, was held this past weekend (April 22–23). The conference is entirely organized by graduate students within the department of music at the Graduate Center, CUNY.

“Music and Radicalism, Radicalism in Music” was the theme of the conference, and our keynote speaker was Jonathan Pieslak of City College of New York. (View the full schedule here.)

I live-tweeted the conference in an effort to publicize the event and the presentations via social media (#GSIM2016). It was my first attempt at live-tweeting a conference and it was quite the learning experience! The 140-character limit means that you have to distill each talk to its most essential points, which are only sometimes laid out clearly by the presenter. I tried to @ people whenever I could to include them in the digital conversation, but a surprisingly small minority of people have Twitter handles.

Here’s a best-of from #GSIM2016.

MTSNYS 2016 reflections

Another energizing and inspiring conference is past: Music Theory Society of New York State’s annual meeting. This year it was held at Mannes’s new campus–beautiful space. And a lot of really wonderful papers! I actually found the conference short, I think because I only saw two full sessions, and the other was a “lightning round” of short papers.

Yesterday I presented my paper, “Following Schenker’s Lead in Analysis of Stravinsky” (handout here). It was actually one of two papers in the conference about understanding Stravinsky’s neoclassicism using tools for tonal analysis–the other presenter, Sarah Iker, approached it from schema theory! I had great discussion with her afterward.

As I expected the discussion after my paper was quite lively–maybe that’s why my paper was at the end of the conference!

Should Have Known Better

I assigned this track for analysis in my pop music seminar, and wanted to share my own thoughts on how this track relates to the concept of fragile tonic and motivic unity.

In my pop music analysis seminar last Wednesday, four of my students presented on harmony and form in four songs that I had chosen. Being a huge Sufjan Stevens fan, I couldn’t help but toss in one of his newest songs along with the more standard Beach Boys and Beatles tracks: “Should Have Known Better,” from the 2015 album Carrie & Lowell.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJJT00wqlOo

Ear Training fantasies

One of my longest-standing research interests is in ear training pedagogy. Conventional wisdom says that the point of ear training class is not to train students’ ears in the classroom, exactly—everyone realizes that the majority of work must be done outside of class (though it’s hard to convince students that this is a good use of their limited time when ear training is a 1-credit-hour course)—rather the point is instead to give students methods for practicing. But what also takes up a large portion of class time is assessment. This assessment comes in the form of solo singing in front of their peers, and dictation tests. Both of these assessment activities are not ideal, as most pedagogues will admit. So then why do they persist?

WHAT is the DEAL with TIMBRE?

After reading roughly 10,000 articles and books about the analysis of timbre, I can say with confidence this is how all of them start out. So here’s my own explanation of timbre’s DEAL. Timbre is more colloquially known as “tone color.” Imagine two different instruments, e.g., a violin and a trumpet, playing the same exact note at the same exact pitch, the same exact volume, and the same exact duration. You can still tell them apart, because the instruments have different timbres. You don’t need to have special training to tell that they are different; timbre is something that we intuitively understand.

In terms of how timbre relates to music, or specifically to popular music, it’s what gives each band their “sound.” It’s often said by music theorists that timbre is one of the most important aspects of popular music (e.g., Tagg 1982), while in classical music it’s maybe not so important. Even though this is generally agreed upon, music theorists still focus on things they focused on when dealing with classical music: pitch, rhythm, harmony, form.

In other words: even though timbre is highly intuitive, and so central to our experience of music, music theorists still don’t really talk about it! It’s my assertion that this is just because there is not a clear methodology that’s been established for the analysis of pitch, at least not one which is as accessible as theories of pitch/rhythm/form. I want to try and fill this gap with my own work.