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<<  -- 2 --  Peter Dale    REALITY OR INVENTION?


Essentially, I think it runs something like this: Western Art Music is only of minority interest (and, statistically at any rate, a shrinking minority too) but nevertheless until quite recently it still enjoyed generally unchallenged intellectual and aesthetic stature. You might not have listened to it, but you didn't cavil at the respect that traditionally it was afforded. On the other hand, it is argued, Popular Music ought to deserve at least as much serious academic attention, not necessarily because it's any good (that's one toe down isn't it?), but because, unlike so much art music, it's there. It's there in almost everyone's aural lives. It's self-evidently there in the market place. It's there -- like it or not -- as the indispensible aural cosmetic applied to so much of the visual imagery that clothes, entertains, informs and lubricates post-modern life.

Notoriously, however, the trouble with Popular Music Studies is that it's often a struggle to find anywhere nearly as much to say about the music itself, as it is about the context of the music. You can find masses of material -- peripheral material, as it may be -- to develop and write up into your thesis. For example, the politics of music (the Blues, the struggle of ethnic minorities, and the host of allied matters -- absolutely legitimate objects of study, but not intrinsically and essentially musical topics). Or it might be electronics, or youth culture, or (cynical?) commercial manipulation, or dress, or body language, or (let's face it) just sex. They're all exhaustively interesting topics in their own right (if you like), and popular music certainly exemplifies and illustrates them. But what of the music itself, as music? All too often, that's exhausted as the subject of serious study before your book's pages reach double figures.

No-one in this book comes anywhere near to stating the issue as bluntly as that, and quite rightly so too because it's not that simple. But the contributors do address themselves, at least obliquely, to why it's not that simple, and therein lies the book's interest. When you apply to Popular Music analytic processes and habits of mind which are conventional in the study of Art Music you soon find yourself stumped.

As tools, these processes and habits don't fit, and the fault is not so much that the object of your studies is unworthy of your scholarly attention as that the analytical methods themselves are inappropriate.

Sovereign among those traditional scholarly tools is the idea of the piece of music as A Work. Once you call it that you infer all sorts of other conceivably inappropriate, indeed arguably illegitimate, things too: a single author, that it can exist independently of the performer, that it is a closed, discreet thing, entire of itself; that it is original; that being a Work confers upon it the nimbus of canonicity, status, etc. None of these fit easily upon Popular Music, so there is a problem. This book addresses it.

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Copyright © 12 January 2003 Peter Dale, Danbury, Essex, UK


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