I’ve contributed a chapter to the newly published Routledge Companion to Popular Music History and Heritage, edited by Sarah Baker, Catherine Strong, Lauren Istvandity and Zelmarie Cantillon. My chapter is entitled ‘Sounding Out Popular Music HIstory: A Musicological Approach’.
SUMMARY: While the relationship between musicology and history has shifted considerably over time, the importance of each discipline to the other remains vital. This chapter argues for a way of doing popular music history that proceeds from and reflects on musical objects, specifically sound recordings. Recordings, it is argued, afford unique insights into the popular past while constantly posing questions relevant to the present. As objects with particular roots and multiple routes, recordings encourage critical reflection on time and distance in the mediation and remediation of musics from other places and eras. In order to illustrate this, the chapter presents three strands of historical practice related to popular music and sound recording. One strand examines recordings of the past as ways of illustrating broader scholarly concerns such as nation, empire and postcolonial struggle. A second engages with phonography, posing questions about fidelity, authenticity and representation. The creative practice of those involved with phonographic archaeology – crate diggers, collectors, DJs, producers, compilers and reissue labels – constitutes a third strand, which may welcome or reject historical musicology yet which still offers a way of doing history sonically. After discussing these strands, I reflect on the role of storytelling in musicological work.
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.
A piece I wrote for The Conversation on Record Store Day and vinyl exhaustion.
On 27 June, I’ll be presenting a paper at the IASPM International Conference in Gijón. The title of my paper is ‘Listening to Europe: “Continental Records” in Britain’.
This paper examines the circulation of recordings from continental Europe in Britain prior to the Second World War, focussing on the broadcast and critical reception of recordings as found in journals such as The Gramophone. I suggest that the discourse built around “foreign” musics during this period can be seen as a forerunner of later periods of interest in international recordings, such as the Anglophone fascination with “exotica” during the 1950s/60s, the “world music” boom of the 1980s and the more recent obsession with “vinyl archaeology”. While these later periods highlight greater consumer access to foreign sounds (through tourism, world music media and access to studio technology), the pre-War period is notable for the reliance on paternalistic “experts” to mediate the sound of otherness to a relatively small and privileged audience. The period thus forms a link between what can be broadly thought of as a colonial era and an era of globalization. I analyse the desire to listen beyond the boundaries of everyday audition, the dependence on imagination and memory and desire in this process, and recordings as exemplary instantiations of the making-audible of such desires.