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16 July 2015

Participation Over Belonging: Using Digital Methods to Analyse Digital Music Genres

Location: Meeting Room 10, 2nd Floor, JLB
Time: 12:30pm - 13:45pm
Speaker(s): Christopher Haworth - University of Oxford

This talk presents new research in genre theory and analysis using digital ethnography methods. Typically used to visualise online networks of associations that form around particular issues, controversies or debates as they play out in civil society, in this work these methods are used to map the dense assemblages of artists and musicians, record labels, journalists and bloggers, festivals, promoters, and cultural institutions that comprise the ecologies of today’s digital music scenes. The talk first describes the digital methods themselves and their conceptual grounding in actor-network theory (ANT). I argue that ANT is a valuable tool for genre analysis for two reasons: firstly, it posits groupings as amoeba-like networks of human and non-human actors, each of which is free to break off to form new groups. In this way, the network ontology formalises Derrida’s famous principle of ‘participation over belonging’ respective to genre: no actor is indigenous to a genre, and distinctiveness arises from complexity, not simplicity. Second, I argue that, in their emergence, aspects of genre can be likened to the ‘controversies’ that ANT theorists methodologically deploy to build up a picture of the networks of agents that comprise the social world. To this end, I describe the politics of categorisation in music, the role of criticism in creating genre emergence, and the bearing of these factors on the temporalities of genre. The second section of the talk moves into the analysis of the genres themselves. In the first instance, I describe microsound, a quintessentially ‘digital’ art music genre that focuses on ‘microscopic’ sounds, and that came into being at the start of the 21st Century. Following this, we move forward in time, focusing on a ‘continuum’ of contemporary genres that span from ‘popular’ to ‘art’ music - chillwave, hauntology, hypnagogic pop and vaporwave. Despite the sonic fluidity of these genres, each concerned largely with resurrecting the recent past of popular music, the maps show great distinction concerning such factors as their respective discursivity and theoreticism of the genre; their professionalism or amateurism; and the online or offline centrism of the genre’s surrounding ecology. In vaporwave in particular we encounter a very distinctive type of assemblage, as the networks of associations themselves become the site of a reflexive, anarchic play centred around the strangeness, discontinuity and simulacra of virtual life in the 21st century. These findings suggest that very different styles of association and alliance are in play to those anticipated by ANT and its attendant digital methods. Biography Christopher Haworth is currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate on the Music and Digitisation Research Group based at University of Oxford. Working with Georgina Born, he is examining changes to the boundary between ‘art’ and ‘popular’ musics in UK electronic music genres, and the way this is being mediated by increased exchange between academic and non-academic communities. Christopher has published on such topics as the legacy of Iannis Xenakis’ late electroacoustic music, ‘Extreme’ Computer Music and Noise, and the emergence of the hearing system as musical system during modernity. Genre, genealogy and time are central preoccupations, and much of his work explores how music’s technologies, socialities and institutions mediate these evolving processes. He has held research positions at McGill University, as an ICASP postdoctoral fellow; and at University of Calgary, as a postdoctoral scholar and lecturer in network arts. He completed his Ph.D. at Queen’s University Belfast in the Sonic Arts Research Centre in 2012.

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Contact: mailto:paul.piwek@open.ac.uk