I will be presenting a paper at the 18th biennial IASPM conference in Campinas, Brazil, on 30 June. My paper is entitled ‘Excavating “Coimbra”: Genealogy, Nostalgia, and the Material Life of a Portuguese popular song’ and the abstract is below.
This paper uses the story of a particular song, the Portuguese fado ‘Coimbra’, as a way of exploring the relationship between representational distance, ‘prescribed’ or ‘instant’ nostalgia and history. ‘Coimbra’ began its life as a musical representation of a city but later became, as ‘April in Portugal’, an international representation of a country and of a more general sense of nostalgic longing. Telling this story chronologically will encourage a focus on the twists, turns and mutations that occur during the life of a much-performed song, tracing in particular the way in which this song’s inherent representational distance grows into ever more distanced , displaced and distorted configurations. This journey will travel from Portugal to Brazil, from France to the USA, as well as many points in between. The second part of the paper reverses this historical chronology by focusing on the chronology of the research process, on the unearthing, excavation and genealogic processes involved in historical song studies. What can be understood from having all of these ‘Coimbras’ available to us, not least on digital platforms such as Spotify, YouTube and iTunes? Here, notions of the archive, of media archaeology and of the material life of music become paramount and impact on the questions of nostalgia and temporal displacement with which this panel is engaged.
My article ‘Time and Distance Are No Object: Holiday Records, Representation and the Nostalgia Gap’ has been published in the French popular music journal Volume! in an issue devoted to popular music and nostalgia.
ABSTRACT: Whether temporally or spatially focussed, nostalgia results from a division between what is longed for and the moment of longing. This article examines this ‘nostalgia gap’ alongside the analogous gap found in representation. The relationship is highlighted via an analysis of ‘holiday records’, a genre of recordings that became prevalent in the 1960s. The genre intersects with the more familiar genres of exotica, mood music, easy listening and ambient, but is distinguished by its emphasis on a particular form of spatial reminiscence and imagination. Using the example of ‘April in Portugal’, a song that started life as a Portuguese fado and subsequently became an international hit and mood music staple, I address a set of questions that illustrate the nostalgia gap. What is being remembered or imagined in the song? Can we distinguish between described and prescribed nostalgia? How is saudade, the specifically Portuguese ‘grammar of nostalgia’, related to nostalgic languages found on other holiday records?
More information here and here.
Is that what music has been doing all this time, making the extremities of human feeling tolerable, bringing them into line? Tone and cadence mark the limits of what can be supported. By following the note to the end of its journey you could even learn to disappear and love it. The truly exotic, the music that doesn’t remind you of music you’ve already heard, seems to make possible a glimpse of the kind of creature you have been all along. This is the sound that is made when you confront the only home anyone can finally claim, the edge where flat sea meets black rock.
Geoffrey O’Brien, Sonata for Jukebox, 288