Postmodernism had a huge impact on academia in the humanities, of which music theory is a part. This week involves some philosophy as you learn about Roland Barthes’s essay “The Death of the Author.”
Table of Contents
Introduction video: Barthes
This video introduces the concepts of intertextuality and postmodernism and articulates their significance in academic music studies. Works cited: .
Note: This video uses interactive technology. The picture-in-picture can be swapped or even viewed side-by-side. The video also uses a menu so you can quickly navigate to certain portions of the video. For more explanation, see this video from Kaltura.
Christine Boone’s article on mashups does not explicitly reference the concepts from the introductory video, but her analysis is a great demonstration of what postmodernism and the freedom to create your own interpretation can allow, analytically speaking.
Grad school tip! Classes have a lot of readings. If you don’t have time to read all of it in detail, you can fake it by making sure you understand the gist of it, and read at least one analysis closely. • Articles typically begin with situating their work amongst that of other scholars—this often won’t be that interesting to you, and because it’s up first, it can discourage you. Skim through all of that. • As you should see citations becoming less frequent, you’ll find more about the author’s own contributions—don’t skim that! (In , Boone is outlining her work the most in paragraphs 1.4–1.6 and 2.6. These are important paragraphs.) • When you get to the analysis section of the article, start reading more carefully. Look out for the analytical technique and make sure you understand how it works before proceeding. • In a theory article, always check the examples—pictures often contain the most important information. • Skim all the analyses, and then pick one or two to read closely. • Finally, jump to the conclusion and read that closely.
Due Thursday: Response
In the Reading Responses channel on Teams, post a message with some type of response about the readings/videos. You may either make a new post or reply to someone else’s post (both count for this participation grade). You can approach this in a bunch of different ways! You might ask clarifying questions about the reading, summarize an important bit of it, share a related personal anecdote…anything counts, as long as it relates to the reading in some way.
More on response essays
A response essay is your personal take on the readings, and thus you shouldn’t be trying to write the “right answer,” but rather your opinion and reaction to what you’ve read. Remember that these are graded pass/fail, so anything you write is valuable in that sense. Feel free to use I/me pronouns and to freely express yourself (while remaining professional) and your opinion of the reading.
Here are some optional prompts for your reading response:
Why is composer intent given so much importance in performance settings (private lessons, ensembles, etc.)? Why is this so different from how academia treats composer intent?
One common underlying assumption in composer-intent-based analyses is that the composition is reflective of the composer’s life—but of course, composers write music for many reasons. Give examples of other kinds of inspiration for compositions (or any other creative art) that are not based on lived experience. It might be helpful to note specific pieces.
“Fan theories” are kind of like the sort of literary criticism Barthes’s work makes possible—fan theories are fun to read even though they may not have anything to do with the author’s intent. Do you have a fan theory about a well-known movie, book, TV show, etc. that you enjoy even though it’s not “canon“?
How does Boone talk about the original artists that made the songs being mashed up? How does the way she handles their role relate to Barthes?
How does Boone talk about the artists that created the mashups themselves? How does the way she handles their role relate to Barthes?
Due Sunday: Analysis assignment
Following Boone’s article, you will analyze a mashup that is one of my favorite ways to mess with people at karaoke: “AC/VC.”
Listen to the two original songs first if you don’t already know them. You might find it helpful to look up the lyrics and read along with them.
Boone lays out a schema for interpreting the mashup by paying attention to the relationship between the melody and the accompaniment. This can be seen in her Example 1, where she bolded the top right square to interpret “Eminenya.”
Which square best fits “AC/VC”?
3. Identify genre blending
In paragraphs 1.4–1.6, Boone discusses a continuum between “slick” and “raw” production values, as emblematic of a disparity between genres. How is the slick/raw opposition working in this mashup?
4. Analysis and Interpretation
Having identified these more-or-less factual elements of the mashup, now work toward an interesting interpretation of those facts. Try to narrativize the power relationships and genre blending occurring in this mashup, as Boone does in her analyses. This is your opportunity to really implement what you’ve learned about intertextuality—there is no one right answer here (although some answers may be better than others).
For your analysis, write a mini-essay (500 words maximum!) that summarizes your findings in the previous steps:
What is the power relationship in “AC/VC”?
What is the resulting effect of the genre blending (slick vs. raw, production elements)?
Given the above statements, what does this mashup suggest to you in terms of a deeper meaning?
It may feel silly to take a mashup like this seriously, but this is part of the intertextuality exercise—it’s okay to take things seriously even if the Author didn’t take them seriously!
Please respect the 500 word limit on the mini-essay. I have to read a lot of these! If you want to have additional discussion, I’m happy to do this over video chat.
You will be assessed on the following concepts:
Understanding of power relationships
Understanding of slick/raw continuum in genre blending
Compelling discussion of meaning, supported with the facts about the music
You will be given detailed feedback through the rubric. Click “View rubric” in the gradebook to access this.
Assignments are always graded pass/fail, with a threshold of 70% to pass.
Submit only your short essay.
Submit your assignment on Blackboard.
Upload your assignment as a .pdf attachment. Please do not use other file types.
If articles are not available online, you should be able to find them in the Readings folder on Teams.