Monday, November 30, 2009


Yesterday was the third and final day of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music conference (Australia/New Zealand) in Auckland NZ.

I attended a number of presentations today which were fantastic, in fact I had a hard time selecting what to see because there were so many good ones to choose from.

Andrew Whelan – Free Music and Trash Culture: the reconfiguration of musical value online

Andrew spoke at length about the impact of the digital environment on music. He considered the loss of economic value and suggestions that this leads to a loss in aesthetic and affective value. Furthermore he discussed the over abundance of music and perspectives that suggest that this results in transient, adhoc and frivolous interactions with music and inturn reduces the worth of music.

Andrew also considered the potential benefits of the democratisation of music and Attali's perspective that the ability to remove art from the constraints of capitalism and ability of listeners to select their own soundscape as being a step forward.

He also went on to outline the additional consequences of free online distribution with particular reference MySpace profiles, netlabels, 'cracked' software and the quantity of material available to sample. He discussed how open licensing has in fact resulted in musical subcultures that are thriving in what many others consider to be a difficult environment.

He played examples of 'counter music' such as DJ Lovechoad who sampled and remixed Gnarles Barkley. Other examples included Butress and O'Kneel who have remixed Enya on the album Mash Up Your Ass as well as remixes of the Ass of Bass by Alex Tune. Andrew later discussed mashups generally, stating that they are essentially a redemption activity that seeks to recycle the old and reuse it in a way that enables a form of revival.

Andrew also referred to the abundance of music available on the internet through music blogs such as; and He also noted the Mega Super Mammoth mp3 Bloglist which lists all of the weblogs devoted to mp3s as a further illustration of the mass of music available on the internet. While initially much of this music was located on peer to peer networks, the development of bit torrent and weblogs has seen a steady transition onto the world wide web, enabling the music to become more accessible than it used to be. In debating the free cost of this music Andrew noted that the fact that it is free is sometimes used to depict it as being of poor quality and yet the labels in the genre that he is referring to are well respected despite the lack of cost associated with the music.

Cathrin Jaeger – The Digital Revolution and Its Beneficial Effects on New Zealand Independent Record Labels

This was a great paper that considered the reaction of independent record labels in New Zealand to the challenges of the digital environment. Interviews were conducted with seven labels who were questioned about their use of web 2.0 applications. It was found that while the independent labels retained the role as talent spotters but they are also increasingly taking on the role of the major record labels in bringing music to an international audience (distribution and marketing).

The independent labels interviewed clearly recognised the benefits of cost-free word-of-mouth promotion by fans and have embraced the use of social networking sites where news about new bands and songs can be easily accessed. This in turn results in audiences having a much broader range of music to select from and enjoy far greater exposure to a diversity of genres which assists the unique New Zealand musical sound.

She made an interesting point about MySpace being a musical encyclopaedia but also noted the increased use of Facebook. Independent labels are using Facebook to enable both communication with fans and marketing as well as market research. She stated that this architecture facilitates the building of a large number of fans in a short amount of time and that a large fan community can in turn help to attract external sponsors.

Steven Knopoff (and Graham Strahle) - What Happened to High Fidelity? Portable music, the Internet and the changed culture of listening

Steven Knopoff (and Graham Strahle) presented a paper titled 'What Happened to High Fidelity? Portable Music, the Internet and the Changed Culture of Listening' that concerned sonic realism and the changes in technology which have in fact seen a reduction in sound quality and compromises made to ensure digital files remain easily transferrable. In turn there has been an acceptance of a poorer quality product by consumers and the loss of sound quality has largely been ignored. Even CDs are seen as being of reduced sound quality despite the noise reduction this has been furthered by mp3 compression. One example can be found here:

Steven also noted that some music manufacturers are also doing what tv advertisers have done for a long time in increasing the volume of the songs when recorded/mixed in order to try to out do each other in capturing the attention of listeners. Increasingly the expectation of listeners is one of stylised naturalism for sound quality even in live performances.

The limited sound quality of iPods is not new but the portability of the songs has made a strong contribution to changes in listening behaviour (which initially began with the portable radio and then the walkman). He noted that there are a greater number of playback technologies now than ever before, however most listeners gravitate to one type (the iPod) due to social and commerce related factors rather than sound quality. The basic parameters of an acceptable mp3 player include large storage capacity, low cost as well as speakers and headphone that are good, small and cheap.

He concluded that while there remain niche pockets of people that retain the desire of high fidelity, there has been a gradual dissolution and replacement of sound goals with technological advances.  

There were many other great papers that I attended both on the final day of the proceedings and throughout the past few days that I haven't had a chance to write about. All that attended agreed that it had been a very successful conference with the diversity of disciplines and the topics of the papers, not to mention the fantastic people, being the cornerstones of a wonderful association an enjoyable and productive exchange of ideas. The discussions after each session I attended were indicative of the provocative nature of the contributors as well as the benefits of having the chance to share time with people in the same field and related areas. The next IASPM ANZ will be in Melbourne in 2010.  

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