My SMT 2018 Activities

SMT is just around the corner! I hope to see many friends in San Antonio. I’m having a particularly busy SMT this season with four different activities.

A study in timbre narratives and instrumentation in 1980s pop

I’m giving a presentation drawn from my dissertation on using timbre to construct musical narratives. In this paper, I categorize sounds used in a given track into three groups, or instrumentational categories: a) core sounds, which articulate structural aspects of pitch and rhythm of the song, b) melody sounds, which are the voice and any instrument replacing the voice, or c) novelty sounds, used primarily for coloristic effects. This paper focuses on 1980s popular music, specifically, on the use of the factory presets of the Yamaha DX7, the most widely-used synthesizer of the 1980s; my categorization therefore was determined by analysis of many 1980s singles. The results of this process suggest that within mainstream 1980s pop, certain Yamaha DX7 presets were consistently paired with a specific instrumentational category. Furthermore, a correlation arises between the timbral characteristics of these presets and their instrumentational category.

xmas bells annotated.png
Spectrogram of TUB BELLS, a DX7 preset.

My paper focuses on “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid (1984) as its main analytical case study—something I wrote a post about here once a while ago. Essentially I argue that this song demonstrates a subversion of timbral norms, which in turn generates musical meaning, when the novelty sound TUBULAR BELLS becomes a melody sound. Though TUB BELLS is typically too noisy to function as a melody sound, this chorus’s communal mantra works especially well with a synthesis of two opposed textural functions.

The Dynamics of the Job Interview

My post reviewing my experience interviewing for a tenure-track position as a music theory professor is by far the most-trafficked post on my blog. While it might seem weird to take job-seeking advice from someone as new as I am to the “other side” of the PhD, I think there’s value in the fact that I just did this.

So I’m presenting from this perspective in a special session put together by the SMT’s Professional Development committee. I’m going to be focusing on the teaching demonstration, giving tips for how to succeed well. I’m going to focus on the following points:

  • reaching out to friends and colleagues for help
  • embracing the awkwardness
  • making music
  • varying activities
  • reflecting your teaching statement
  • using writing

Pop Music Interest Group meeting: small-group breakout sessions

I’m chair of the Pop Music Interest Group now! One of the most demanding duties that gives me is having to read a lot of articles and books, in order to determine who will be the winners of our two publication prizes. I read 13 new articles and (parts of) 2 new books as part of this. While it was a very demanding task, it felt great to read that much again, and to be exposed to the newest research in our corner of the field.

I’m also setting aside a large chunk of our time to break down into small groups by research interest. Tentatively, the groups I’ve chosen are lyrics, timbre, cognition, performance, tonality/modality, topic theory, corpus study, and rhythm/meter; but, these may change depending on how the groups end up looking at the meeting. I like this idea because I think it will be nice to spend unstructured time together (although I will be projecting discussion prompts so nothing gets too awkward). Many people have commented on PMIG’s occasional cliquishness; I think the small group activities will break up some of the cliques and get more different kinds of people talking with each other.

Webmasterly duties

Somehow, I’ve tripped backwards from a humble role as the operator of the SMT Twitter account into the position of Assistant Webmaster for the society. I haven’t done much yet to earn this title, but as time goes on my duties are going to increase until I fully take over as webmaster in 2020 or so. So, it looks like my time spent making Geocities and Angelfire websites, customizing my Xangas and Livejournals, and building this whole website were not all complete wastes of time!

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SMT 2017

The Society for Music Theory’s 40th annual meeting is now behind us (program available here). I was pleased that the conference was held in Arlington, VA, a 30-minute drive away from my apartment in Northern Virginia.

At the risk of revealing just how many papers I did not see, (*cough*) below summarizes most of what I did at SMT. I’ve divided my experience into three categories:

  1. Indian classical music
  2. Mentorship and diversity
  3. Popular music

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IASPM 2017

I presented at my first International Association for the Study of Popular Music conference, the biennial international one, which was held this year in Kassel, Germany at the Kulturbahnhof—the former Hauptbahnhof (main train station) of Kassel, which is now converted into an arts center—a super cool venue. (Full conference program and abstracts available here.)

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Photo from http://www.kulturbahnhof-kassel.de

 

The program for this conference was huge, with something like six parallel sessions running at once. I tended to favor panels that were music-theory-ish, dealt with music technology, or dealt with gender.

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GSIM 2016: Music and Radicalism, Radicalism in Music

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.

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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!

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