I have been invited to deliver a keynote lecture at the thirteenth conference of SIBE (Sociedad de Etnomusicología), which is taking place in Cuenca, Spain from the 23rd to the 25th October. The title of my talk is ‘Familiar Futures, Strange Pasts: Popular Music and the Art of Storytelling’.
This lecture engages with aspects of aesthetics, tradition, education and technology as encountered in the field of popular music studies. In making connections between these aspects I reflect on the art of storytelling, with its resonant associations with oral culture, education, narrative and aesthetics. There are four main kinds of stories I am particularly interested in exploring: the life stories of musicians and fans, as evidenced in biographical projects, life writing and audience ethnographies; stories about the past, present and future of popular music, especially those which connect popular music to tradition and folklore; stories passed on to others via education, with particular regard to the relationship between repertory, concepts and theories; and the various stories available to us via digital media, where we find interesting relationships between archives and narratives.
In order to explore these kinds of stories and storytelling, I will use examples from my work as a researcher and educator working primarily within popular music studies but also engaged in the intersection of this field with ethnomusicology. I will explore life writing and memoir through reference to my current research on the representation of time, age and experience in popular music. The relationship between past, present and future will be discussed by considering popular music as an ongoing event. Music pedagogy will be addressed by a reconsideration of what constitutes the musical field. Finally, the importance of digital media to all these endeavours will be highlighted by a consideration of online music archives and digital streaming services and musical materiality. The flattening of history that may be experienced with such archives can give the impression of encountering familiar futures and strange pasts. We need to consider the implications this has for our understanding of where musical discourse is in the present, where it has been and where it may be going.