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The Pop Palimpsest: Intertextuality in Recorded Popular Music (Tracking Pop)

PDF The Pop Palimpsest: Intertextuality in Recorded Popular Music (Tracking Pop) Copyright © 2018

Book author
  1. Lori Burns
  2. Serge Lacasse
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Within popular music there are entire genres (jazz “standards”), styles (hip hop), techniques (sampling), and practices (covers) that rely heavily on references between music of different styles and genres. This interdisciplinary collection of essays covers a wide range of musical styles and artists to investigate intertextuality—the shaping of one text by another—in popular music. The Pop Palimpsest offers new methodologies and frameworks for the analysis of intertextuality in popular music, and provides new lenses for examining relationships between a variety of texts both musical and nonmusical. Enriched by perspectives from multiple subdisciplines, The Pop Palimpsest considers a broad range of intertextual relationships in popular music to explore creative practices and processes and the networks that intertextual practices create between artists and listeners.

Foreword: The Intertextual Network
j. peter burkholder

as long as people have been making music, people have been remaking music: taking a musical idea someone already made and reworking it in some way to make something new. That musical idea can be anything from a rhythm to a whole piece of music, and the new creation can be anything from a lullaby to a symphony. The resulting interrelationships between pieces, all covered by the umbrella term intertextuality in music, vary widely and carry meanings that range from ob- vious to subtle and from trivial to profound, making them a wonderful subject of study.

We can observe this process of borrowing and reworking throughout the history of Western music, happening in many different ways. The liturgical songs of the Catholic Church, known as Gregorian chant, often share bits of melody, from general melodic outlines to specific gestures and formulas, showing that the singer-composers who devised these songs shared ideas and freely borrowed from each other in a tradition that stretches back centuries before musical notation was invented and continued well into the Renaissance. From the Middle Ages on, musicians have adapted these chants in various ways: by troping, lengthening the melody or interpolating new words and music; through polyphony, adding one or more melodies that accompany the chant and harmonize with it; and in genres of music based on borrowed segments of chant melody, from motets to polyphonic masses. Outside the church, poetsingers beginning with the troubadours and trouvères of France and the Minnesingers of Germany often borrowed each other’s tunes for new poems and in some cases responded to each other by quoting fragments of text, music, or both. Since the Renaissance, composers have created new settings for popular songs or hymns, imitated other composers’ works in their own, composed variations on existing tunes or bass lines, or arranged a piece for a new group of instruments or with a new accompaniment or added figuration. Since sometime between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries, musicians have alluded to musical styles with particular associations to convey meanings. More recent composers have used folk songs as themes for instrumental music, have evoked older kinds of music in modern styles, or have quoted other pieces in attention-grabbing references, again conveying meanings through asso- ciations. Such interrelationships between pieces, from the overt to the covert and from the general to the specific, are a fundamental part of what makes a musical tradition a tradition: part of what inspires artists to create and of what listeners who are familiar with that tradition listen for.

Developments in recording technologies over the past 130 years have resulted in new possibilities, many of them addressed in this very wel- come collection of studies on intertextuality in recorded popular music. As a scholar of borrowing and reworking in notated music, I am struck by how often what is happening in recorded popular music parallels earlier musics. It is not that finding parallels somehow validates these effects in popular music, for they need no such validation; rather, without any apparent direct influence from past practices, similar ways of reworking existing music into new forms appear in the new media of recording. By offering new methodologies and exemplary case studies, the essays in this volume contribute to our understanding of the many kinds of inter- textuality in recorded popular music and thus by extension to our sense of the intertextual network of music in the whole Western tradition.

Such a pursuit first requires a methodology that maps the territory, making necessary distinctions and offering a useful terminology. In the opening essay, “Toward a Model of Transphonography,” Serge Lacasse proposes a framework for describing the intertextual relations between recordings of popular music. Drawing on the work of literary critic Gérard Genette, Lacasse identifies eight categories of interrelationship that operate within three conceptual areas. In the broadest area, “generic relations,” fall the relationships between recordings created by their holding something in common, such as belonging to the same genre, sharing a style, or being produced by the same artist (archiphonography). Under “phonographic practices,” he groups various ways song recordings can be directly related: through an act of transformation, as when one recording is a cover, remix, editing, parody, or reworking of another entire recording (hyperphonography); by appearing together in a com- pilation, such as an album or playlist (polyphonography); by quoting, alluding to, or sampling another recording (interphonography); or by sharing fictional elements such as characters or locations (transfictional- ity). Finally, Lacasse describes three categories of “extraphonographic practices,” relations between recordings and nonphonographic materials: the methods of access that surround and mediate recordings, such as the album cover and liner notes that come with a CD, or the media players and software that convey the sound (paraphonography); mate- rial in any medium that is coupled with a song, such as a music video (cophonography); and critical commentary on a recording, such as a CD review, scholarly study, or comment on a website (metaphonography).

All of these interrelationships affect how we perceive, understand, and interpret individual songs as part of an intertextual network. Any of these categories may function at the level of the composition—the structural aspects of the song itself, which could be notated on paper— and thus can be applied to any works within the Western tradition. But they also apply to aspects that are unique to recordings: at the level of the particular performance fixed on the recording (such as how a performer bends pitch, shapes timbre, or manipulates rhythm) and at the level of recording and editing effects such as sound levels, reverberation, or overdubbing. Any or all of these perspectives may play a role in a particular interpretation of how two or more recordings interrelate and what meanings their relationships convey, as Lacasse demonstrates through a final example, an article by Jon Finson on two versions of Barry Manilow’s “Could It Be Magic.” And all of these eight categories resonate in the essays that follow.

Roger Castonguay’s essay, “Genettean Hypertextuality as Applied to the Music of Genesis: Intertextual and Intratextual Approaches,” ana- lyzes an example that bridges Lacasse’s categories of interphonography, hyperphonography, and polyphonography. “Los Endos,” the last track on the album A Trick of the Tail by the progressive rock group Genesis, includes reminiscences of themes and passages from earlier tracks, creating a relationship between tracks that parallels cyclic form in nineteenth century instrumental music and leitmotives in Wagnerian opera. In every case, the material is transformed in significant ways, often in two or more dimensions simultaneously. Such a transformation reflects the multidimensional character of music, which involves not only linear elements such as melody, rhythm, meter, and form but also vertical elements such as harmony, timbre, volume, and style. Castonguay shows how hypertextual theory, Genette’s approach to the transformation of existing material, may be applied not only between pieces (intertextually) but also within a piece (intratextually); here, relationships that are intertextual when songs are considered separate works become intratextual when the album is conceived as a whole, with individual tracks functioning like movements in a symphony or numbers in an opera. Castonguay’s ultimate point is that Genette’s notion of hypertextuality (Lacasse’s hyperphonography, when the object under study is a recording), because it focuses on the manner of transformation, can be applied within a text as well as between texts.

From this perspective, the development or variation of a theme with- in a piece, one of the traditional concerns of musical analysis, is part of the same musical universe as the variation of an idea taken from a track that appears earlier on the same recording or from another work entirely. The relations between parts within a text thus can be analyzed in the same ways as the relations between texts. This blurring of intra-textuality and intertextuality makes great sense, and it applies both to recorded pop music and to earlier notated music. It can be just as eye- opening to compare one variation to another within a variation set as to compare pieces by different composers based on the same source, such as two Renaissance masses based on the same chanson or two settings of the same chorale tune. Experienced listeners are just as likely to draw connections to that source and to other pieces that transform it as they are to recall earlier statements or variations of a theme in the piece they are hearing, using comparable strategies of listening both for similarities and for transformations.

In “The Bitter Taste of Praise: Singing ‘Hallelujah,’” Allan Moore uses Lacasse’s category of metaphonography (commentary on a record- ing) to examine issues related to the category of hyperphonography (transformation)—in this case, covers of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” by John Cale, Rufus Wainwright, Jeff Buckley, and others. Each cover recording suggests different emotional resonances or meanings for the song because of changes in various parameters from lyrics to vocal tone. Moore explores these various meanings through his own interpretations of what effects matter in each recording. He then widens his analysis to incorporate comments by students in classes he has taught and by Internet commentators who argue the merits of one recording against another. By examining these reactions, he shows the varieties of discourse and of expectations surrounding commentary on the song. The result is an illuminating example of how performances can alter or influence the emotions or other meanings conveyed by a recording and how the same gestures can be perceived quite differently by different listeners with diverse tastes, as when Buckley’s high, light tone is heard as “angelic” by some and “semi-whiney” by another.

Such changes of meaning have parallels in the notated tradition as well, not only in different performances that may assert contrasting moods but also in arrangements and transcriptions that create new perspectives. Examples include Leopold Stokowski’s highly Romantic orchestration of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which changes the virtuosic display and stylized affect of a Baroque organ work into a symphonic drama, and Igor Stravinsky’s recomposition of eighteenth- century works into his ballet score for Pulcinella, which replaces the direct emotions of the original with modern detachment by overlaying the borrowed music with distinctive markers of Stravinsky’s own dry, dissonant, modernist style.

In “The Electric Light Orchestra and the Anxiety of the Beatles’ Influence,” Mark Spicer takes up Harold Bloom’s notion of the anxiety of influence as an approach to interphonography, the intertextual relations between particular tracks. Bloom sees influence not as a be- nign flowing of ideas from one artist to another but as a struggle to create space for one’s own work by reframing the work of a predecessor. After noting numerous Beatles recordings that were influenced by other artists—borrowing a bass riff, chord progression, or vocal gesture— Spicer examines songs by the Electric Light Orchestra and its creative leader, Jeff Lynne, that draw on specific Beatles songs in a wide variety of ways and often in several ways at once. Usually there is a twist, created by mixing direct borrowings with deliberately contrasting gestures, as in “Mister Kingdom,” which evokes “Across the Universe” through similar melodies and vocal timbre and a shared fragment of lyrics yet uses very different harmonies that echo unorthodox chord progressions from other John Lennon tunes. By simultaneously evoking a specific model and diverging from it, in accord with Bloom’s theory, ELO both establishes its lineage and asserts its independence. As Spicer observes, this is exactly the stance musicians in earlier traditions took toward their strongest pre- decessors, as in the myriad ways nineteenth-century composers of symphonies reflected and overcame the influence of Beethoven.

Walter Everett’s “‘If You’re Gonna Have a Hit’: Intratextual Mixes and Edits of Pop Recordings” uses the term intratextuality for the relations between different mixes or edits traceable to a single source recording, a subcategory of hyperphonography (compare Castonguay’s usage).
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