I’ll be presenting my paper ‘Across the Evening Sky: Real and Anticipated Experience in Nina Simone’s Late Voice’ at the School of Media, Film and Music Research in Progress seminar, University of Sussex, on 13 February at 4pm. I gave a previous version of this paper at the University of Huddersfield’s ‘Gender, Musical Creativity and Age’ conference in October 2012.
Popular music artists, as performers in the public eye, offer a privileged site for the witnessing and analysis of ageing and its mediation. Musical analysis allows us to posit the concept of “sounded experience”, a term intended to describe how music reflects upon and helps to mediate life experience over extended periods of time (indeed, over lifetimes). Connected to this is the supposition that phonography, understood as the after-effects of the revolution in experience initiated by the advent of sound recording, provides a rich site for exploring issues of memory, time, lateness and afterlife.
This paper discusses these issues via an analysis of the work of Nina Simone, an artist whose mid-late career offers valuable insights into the interplay of history, biography and memory. The paper will focus specifically on the representation of innocence and experience via what I term the “late voice”. “Lateness”, a concept exemplified by Simone’s work but which extends to a broad range of modern (post mid-twentieth century) popular musics, refers to five primary issues: chronology (the stage in an artist’s career); the vocal act (the ability to convincingly portray experience); afterlife (posthumous careers made possible by phonography); retrospection (how voices “look back” or anticipate looking back); and the writing of age, experience, lateness and loss into song texts.