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IASPM Memories 2009

June 30, 2009

I should began my memories/account of the IASPM “Centres and Peripheries” 2009 Conference at Dalhousie University, Halifax with an apology of sorts.  I had promised to blog about my experiences during the conference/shortly thereafter, but the internet connection that combated with my Sony VAIO laptop while at Dalhousie, coupled with the pseudo-maelstrom I’ve been experiencing the week after IASPM have effected my ability to sit down and lament!  So, I’ve decided to discuss a few key moments that have remained with me post-IASPM 2009!

Traveling to Halifax was a sort-of homecoming for me, as I attended NSCAD (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design/NSCAD University) in my previous incarnation as a budding fine artist from 2002-03!  I visited my old haunts (Spring Garden Rd, Public Gardens, my old house et al) and explored the city when not attending the conference. My favorite new discovery? “Pete’s Frootique”, a vegan paradise complete with organic fruit market and salad bar!

It was a great experience to return to the IASPM Conference this year, as I had first presented in 2008  when it was held at Brock University (my academic affiliation).  I was quite happy to have my paper chosen for the “Exploring Autuership” panel, which was during the first session on Friday and moderated by Peter Narvaez.  My panel consisted of  Michael Audette-Longo (University of Ottawa) and imminent Feist scholar Nicholas Greco (Providence College and Seminary) (who presented on my panel, “Interrogating the Text” last year).  Michael’s paper “Kevin Barnes-as-Georgie Fruit: The Limitations of Resistance and Co-Optation for Indie Rock Identities and the Identities of Indie Rock” was an incredible exploration of Kevin Barnes and his performance of the identity ‘Georgie Fruit’, and Nicholas’ “‘I Feel It All’: Cruising the voice of Feist” offered an interesting interpretation of Feist, the pop song hook, and Roland Barthes notion of cruising the text.  Both were fantastic papers, and it was a great experience to present my paper “All Things Change: Billy Corgan and TheFutureEmbrace (2005)” on the same panel.

Also attending the panel was Ryan McNutt, a member of Dalhousie University staff, popular music fan, and creator of the Mcnutt Against the Music blog (“Confessions of a Culture Warrior”) Ryan approached my fellow panelists and I for personal interviews discussing our conference papers et al for his blog, and it was a great experience (as well as my first interview that used a tape recorder!) to elaborate on some of the content of my paper  in this context. I really appreciate Ryan’s interest in the conference, as he asked some interesting and thought-provoking questions, and it was great to meet a fellow SP/Billy Corgan fan!  Also, my interview on his blog seems to have sparked some interest from the Smashing Pumpkins community.

Shortly after Ryan posted my interview online, it was noted on the official Smashing Pumpkins website:

upon which I was approached by Supervajra, a writer with the Pumpkins Media Militia, for an interview discussing my favorite subjects, Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins, popular music studies and academia!  I am pleased that Brock University’s MA program in Popular Culture and IASPM are also mentioned in the article:

June 21, 2009,

“Billy Goes to College…sort of”: Marlie Centawer talks with Supervajra about her academic approach to Billy Corgan.

Words cannot describe how much this experience has meant to me, as both an SP/BC fan and popular music scholar.  I am so appreciative of the opportunities provided by IASPM and, and still can’t quite believe that my name has been mentioned so prominently on the website!  Hopefully, Billy et al both approves of and enjoys my discussion/analysis of TheFutureEmbrace :-)  I’m very excited to expand my IASPM paper further, and am happy to see that there is an interest for popular music studies/writing in a larger cultural context.

While attending the conference, I had some great  discussions with fellow popular music scholars Mickey Vallee, Nicholas Greco, Michael Audette-Longo, Jeremy Morris, Alan Stanbridge, Susan Fast, Charity Marsh, and Scott Henderson.  Besides some fantastic panels, there was also a bus trip to Peggy’s Cove (with the greatest tour guide in the Nova Scotia area! “don’t step on the black rocks!”), a tour of Alexander Keith’s brewery, a Saturday evening get-together at Jacqueline Warwick’s home, and the annual IASPM meeting, which offered some pertinent insights in to the mechanics of IASPM as an organization.

Overall, I had such a fantastic experience at IASPM, and hope to attend next year.  See you in Regina!

Marlie Centawer

Brock University

Student Paper Prize Committee Report

June 16, 2009

Dr. Steven Baur, chair of the student paper prize committee writes:

First of all I would like to acknowledge and thank the members of student paper prize committee for their great work: Scott Henderson, Holly Everett, and Will Echard. The prize competition was inaugurated last year, with the idea that there would be two prizes, one for the best English submission and one for the best submission in French. This year we received only English submissions, so both prizes will go to Anglophone submissions. There were ten submissions, and I speak for the committee when I say that high quality of the student papers bodes very well indeed for the future of IASPM-Canada. As strong as the competition was, two papers stood out, and are listed here in no particular order:

One prize goes to Tara Rodgers for “Revisiting Atlantis: Waves, Tides, and Voyage in Epistemologies of Sound.”

In this paper Rodgers provides a fascinating survey of 19th- and early 20th-century technical literature on sound and its production, and she powerfully and eloquently deconstructs the epistemologies of sound that emerge from this literature. Drawing on cultural theory, textual analysis, and feminist theory, Rodgers demonstrates how our conceptualization of sound forms has been framed in terms and metaphors that reinscribe the idea of a hegemonic masculinity that exerts control and mastery over feminized materials. Just as importantly, she imagines alternative conceptions that offer potential epistemological avenues for overcoming the problematic discourses she deconstructs.

The other prize goes to Ian Dahlman for “‘A Big, Beautiful Mess’: Multitudinous Perspectives from the Centre and Peripheries of Broken Social Scene.”

Using Toronto’s Broken Social Scene as a case study, Dahlman offers a critical exploration of the collective as an alternative paradigm for popular music production. He combines skillful ethnographic research with insightful discussions of extremely well-selected recordings, all within a thoughtfully developed theoretical framework. Well-researched and beautifully written, Dahlman’s study contributes valuably to our understanding of the increasingly relevant processes of collectivity in popular music cultures.

The interviews

June 16, 2009

The first two of my five interviews from the conference are now up at my blog, McNutt Against the Music. First up is Ian Dahlman’s analysis of Broken Social Scene as a musical collective, followed by Marlie Centawer and a look at Billy Corgan as auteur.

Day 3: Farewell to Going Coastal

June 15, 2009

It’s generally agreed among academics that the most undesirable slot for a conference presentation is an early morning panel on the last day. Most attendees are usually:
1. out late the night before (as was the case at IASPM, thanks to a well-stocked party from gracious hosts)


2. off early trying to catch planes and trains back to where they belong.

This certainly wasn’t the case at for the 3rd and final day of Going Coastal, a testament to both the programming and participants. The room I was in was full and more people trickled in throughout the morning.

Pat Brennan shared some of his work on the links between a few Canadian Indie albums and the Group of Seven artists. Specifically, Pat was exploring the blurry line between citation and collaboration in the case of Veda Hille’s Songs for E. Carr.

Heather Sparling, also working at the intersection of the visual and the aural, spoke about notions of whiteness and other signifiers on Gaelic/celtic album covers (and offered a well-curated collection of album art as support)

Holly Everett’s research on the life and music of Harry Choates dealt with a different kind of “image”: the actual and constructed perception of a seminal, rowdy, and troubled early Cajun music pioneer.

The final panel, two musicological analyses of individual songs, served to loop the conference fittingly back to where it began: a consideration of songs as both objects and methods of cultural research.

For the last three days, Going Coastal served as the center that drew scholars together from their various peripheries. Let’s hope the movement between the poles and the cross-pollination of perspectives has been insightful (I know it has for me) and will stick with us until we meet again at next year’s conference. Regina, here we come.

Many thanks again to the organizers and the extended crew that help to pull this well-oiled weekend together.

Blogging the conference 3: morning becomes eclectic

June 14, 2009

Sadly, Saturday morning was my last at the conference – I had another engagement on Sunday. As with the day before, here are my takeaways:

Session 1C: Gender & Sexuality in Popular Music

  • I really enjoyed how Barry Promane (University of Western Ontario) addressed the personal dynamics of Freddy Mercury’s unwillingness to disclose his sexuality and medical condition, especially in relation to the political and social norms at the time. It’s easy to second-guess after the fact whether Mercury could have done more for AIDS awareness by outing himself, but reality is always a bit more complicated.
  • Speaking of complicating things, Cindy Boucher’s (University of Alberta) “Theorizing Queer Music” was a solid overview of the struggles of defining a genre of music separately from traditional sonic distinctions.
  • I was interested in Mark Laver’s (University of Toronto) paper mostly because I saw the name “Springsteen” in the title. I was expecting a broader analysis of the artists in question, but was pleasantly surprised at the paper’s use of a single performance to highlight four very different masculine images.

Session 2A: Centres and Peripheries in Mediation and Dissemination

  • Though it was mostly anecdotal and narrative-based,  Cory Thorne’s (Memorial University of Newfoundland) paper on pirated CDs in Cuba was still thought-provoking, in particular the exploration of how this trade constitutes a new folklore of sorts. Very interesting.
  • Corporate sponsorship is a tricky beast, especially when dealing with independent music scenes that consider “authenticity” as capital. I thought that Gillian Turnbull (York University) did a great job exploring some of these issues in Calgary’s music scene, along with some of the more interesting side-effects of CRTC radio licensing.
  • Once again, my awful French was a hindrance in getting the most out of Sandria Bouliane’s (Universite Laval) paper,  but I still enjoyed listening to and analyzing how some of the songs of the 1920s were translated into French for Quebec audiences.

Well, that’s my recap over and done with. Once again, my thanks to conference organizers for a really great conference and lots of food for thought. My work isn’t quite done, though. Starting tomorrow I’m going to be posting interviews I conducted with some of the attendees…stay tuned…

Day 2 – Hard Rockin’ Peggy’s Cove

June 13, 2009

After the official conference presentations (and the unofficial official dinner and drinks downtown), Day 1 of Going Coastal ended with a metal show at local dive Gus’.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the gig turned out to be the perfect set-up to the second day of the conference. The morning panel I attended, “Querying the Boundaries: Politics, Aesthetics and Judgements”, centered on two papers about heavy music. Although 9am on a Saturday morning isn’t exactly an ideal slot for a metal set, the panel had no problems waking everyone up. Erik Smialek’s paper on timbre and the voice in extreme metal was a refreshing look at a genre that musicologists often neglect. Using a spectrograph as an alternative to notation-based analysis, Smialek reinforced one of yesterday’s keynote themes: the tools you use to analyse a song (and music in general) depend on the questions you’re asking and the song you’re looking at.

Hélène Laurin followed up with an insightful paper examining the rock music press’ love hate relationship with heavy metal. While, typical accounts of this relationship hold that rock music critics dismissed metal at first and only came to respect it after punk had broken down some barriers, Laurin argues the reality is a bit more nuanced. Critics’ attitudes towards heavy metal have always been mixed, but the status of the genre and the way critics talk about it has changed over time. In its early stages, metal tended to be treated as silly or immature rock (by critics and artists alike) but this discourse gave way to a metal as a more serious art form after punk (but one that was still polarizing for critics).

Both presentations reminded me that Metal seems to oscillate consistently between the periphery and the center. Although metal and its listeners never allow themselves to make it all the way to the center, the genre’s canon is littered with bands that continually drag people out towards the peripheries, changing the composition of both mainstream and margins in the process (current examples include bands like Mastodon, or Toronto’s own Fucked Up).

IASPM participants got the afternoon off to explore Halifax and/or Peggy’s cove (a different genre of rock). Sessions resume tomorrow morning. Whether another pre-session will happen at Gus’ tonight, or one of Halifax’s other fine musical establishments, I’ll just have to wait and see.

Blogging the conference 2: Friday takeaways

June 13, 2009

Because I compare everything to music, concurrent sessions at a conference always remind me of a multi-stage rock festival: the more exciting the options, the more difficult the choices. There are many, many presentations that I would have liked to have seen today – most of which would have been well worth my time – but here’s what I came away with on day one.

Session 1: Popular Music Studies: A Dialogue Across the Disciplines

  • Boy oh boy, was this non-academic ever grateful for a broad, multifaceted introduction to the weekend. If we had dove straight into the groove, I’m sure I would have run out of my first session screaming out the names of random, obscure theorists in a state of panic.
  • Lest I think that the nomenclature of “Finnish ambient techno chant” would be the genre’s most interesting feature, Beverley Diamond’s (Memorial University of Newfoundland) analysis of Wimme Saari’s “Texas” got me interested in exploring the music itself in more detail.
  • In my undergrad I read quite a bit about music and culture in the 1940s and 1950s, but never really got the chance to go any further back. David Brackett (McGill University) made me want to start reading about the rise of “race” and “hillbilly” music as soon as humanly possible.
  • My favourite part of Line Grenier’s (Universite de Montreal) presentation was near the end, where she briefly touched on the idea of the recorded piece being replaced or challenged by “the event” at the centre of the musical cycle. I’ve noticed that my own favouite musical moments seem, in recent years, to be less and less influenced by the record and more and more by associations with a record (or with the live performance), so I see exactly where she’s coming from.

Session 2B: Exploring Auteurship

  • Michael Audette-Longo’s (University of Ottawa) discussion of Kevin Barnes’ controversial alter-ego Georgie Fruit got me thinking about how a racist, misogynist portrayal could meet such acceptance among the modern indie music community. Is the subculture’s eagerness to embrace irony at fault?
  • I really enjoyed getting to talk with Marlie Centawer (Brock University), as I share her fascination with Billy Corgan. I wish we’d had the chance to share with the group our subsequent chat about the resurrection (and, I would argue, the horrific deconstruction) of the Smashing Pumpkins, because I think those developments are every bit as fascinating as psychoanalyzing TheFutureEmbrace.
  • Nicholas Greco (Providence College and Seminary) hit on something quite interesting with his discussion of “the hook” in Feist’s “I Feel It All.” If pop music is about the relationship between the surprising and the familiar, the parts of the song that are, as he puts it, “repetitive” are every bit as important as the more compelling vocal lines.
  • My favourite idea to come out of this panel actually emerged in the subsequent discussion, when a spectator asked a pertinent question: if auteurship is the application of a vision to an object, what is the object of popular music? I think we concluded that the artist himself/herself is the object, which complicates much of our discussion.

Session 3C: Beyond the Local: Music Scenes Across Canada

  • Great to hear Henry Adam Svec (University of Western Ontario) talk about Old Man Luedecke, one of the breakout stars of the Halifax music scene over the past couple of years. I found his discussion of Luedecke’s pastoral utopia quite interesting.
  • I’m an epic failure as a bilingualist, so I was glad that Johanne Melacon (Laurentian University) provided a cheat sheet for us embarrassed Anglophones. I’ve only recently begun reading articles about Quebec’s music culture, so exploring Francophone artists outside of that scene was a new and interesting perspective for me.
  • I’ve never missed an opportunity to see Broken Social Scene live, and Ian Dahlman’s (Ryerson University) presentation gave me food for thought as to why: their collectivist model allows the shifting membership modify the songs through the personalities on stage, keeping every performance balanced between the familiar and the novel.

Session 4C: New Centres, New Peripheries?: The Roles for Digital Technology & Cyberspace

  • A lot of the digital metadata that Jeremy Morris (McGill University) talked about replaces information that we gathered from other sources, like the liner notes of a record. But his talk got me thinking about those that are unique to the digital age – the play count of a particular song, for example – and how they change our listening habits.
  • I kind of felt that Barbara Ching’s (University of Memphis) response to my question about valuing “the catch” over “the song” in songcatching ended up outing me as having an obsessive collector’s personality. She’s not wrong.
  • I’m glad that Tom Artiss (Memorial University of Newfoundland) got back to his questions about whether platforms like YouTube can substitute for oral history,since exploring the value of social media is a key part of my day job. Does “oral history” require real-time interaction, or is the time-delayed interaction of online comments/responses suffice?

I’ve also started to conduct a number of quick one-off interviews with certain presenters. I did three today, hoping to do another three or four tomorrow. I’ll be posting them over at McNutt Against the Music next week, and cross-posting them here as well.