Volume! (www.seteun.net) a French peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of popular music seeks contributions for a special issue on listening. This issue will explore the premise that a focus on listening can be a fruitful basis for the analysis of popular music, one that can enrich our understanding of aesthetic relationships and signifying practices. Any scholarly essay on popular music and its listeners or how it is listened to is welcome. Here are some examples of approaches that have generated interest in our editorial discussions:
Listening practices: how do we listen to popular music?
We know that listening occurs across a wide range of contexts, involving different social rites and different technologies, from the jogger with an iPod to huge concerts in stadiums. How do these contexts shape the activity of listening? What forms of listening exist, and what assumptions, methods, goals, practices tend to characterize each type? We might also consider listening to encompass a range of subject positions or listener identities (the musicological, the sociological, a variety of aesthetic stances, etc.) A single individual may employ different listening approaches at different times, or create his/her own hybrid way of listening to “scrutinize” the music (s)he appreciates or analyzes. What effects on the listening experience do such choices create? How do sets of listening practices work to form communities that validate and may even entrench these auditive identities? How do these communities in turn shape listening practices?
The seeing ear and the listening eye.
Another productive approach might be to consider listening as a synthetic or synesthetic faculty, the imperialist ear also looking for what does not belong to the order of sounds, or the eye infringing upon the ear’s prerogatives. In popular music, visual elements have long been a key part of many artistic presentations, and this has been both increased and transformed in the internet and multimedia age. Auditory attention can be grafted onto a network of correspondences between the senses: what effects do looks, styles, gestures, images, dancing have on listening? What would Elvis have been if we could not have seen him? How do the representations of “race”, gender or style influence our perception of a specific band or musical genre? While musical emotion may always depend in part on musical factors (quality of the performance, of the sound reproduction etc.) it is also typically conditioned by extramusical circumstances. How then do the environment, the historical context, the collective or individual moods, the listener’s personal history inform the perception of a specific musical moment? How has our perception of music evolved, and could we write a “history of our ears”?
Ears under surveillance: perceptions and identifications of auditive communities.
Listening can become the base for a discourse focused on the meaning of music and music use, for example, the influence that certain forms are expected to have on the taste, emotion and attitude of youth (Satanist proselytism in extreme metal, sexism and crime in “gangsta” rap, violence in punk etc.). Discursive attacks from the outside (moral, political, scientific authorities) are typically countered by discursive defenses or celebrations from the inside. While some listening practices may be valued for promoting activity, creativity or originality, others are stigmatized for engendering passivity, vulnerability, or even servitude or perversity. What type of listening subject is thus constructed? How can we analyze the issues raised in these debates from a scholarly perspective informed by research and/or theory? What can we learn about listening itself and the uses and meaning of popular music in general by studying these discourses, their moralized aesthetic prescriptions and proscriptions, their ideologies?
Other, more general, possible categories:
- listening practices, uses of
- listening and technology, multimedia
- the musical experience
- musical education via listening
- listening on stage, interactive forms of listening
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