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Technomusicology and Popular Music Studies

Wayne Marshall
Davison Seminar Room
Friday 10am-12pm


This seminar explores the possibilities of doing popular music studies through the forms of popular
music itself. In addition to querying the notion of the "popular" and surveying key texts in the scholarly
literature, from the canonical to the experimental, we will grapple with the central issues of pop music
studies by producing audio/visual works that themselves tell musicological stories. Using audio-
production software (Ableton Live) students will explore new techniques for publication and pedagogy
by composing a series of etudes, or studies in particular techno-historical media forms (including
mashups, DJ mixes, video montages, and podcasts), which audibly address the interplay between
popular music and technology since the dawn of sound reproduction. No prior experience with the
software is required, but a willingness to work through the learning curve will be necessary.

We will approach the subject of popular music in a broad and curious sense, querying the category and
aiming to understanding the history of the phenomenon and the field. Accordingly, we seek to take in a
range of stylistic approaches to writing about popular music, appraising the constraints and affordances
of different registers and forms of public address. Noting the various shapes popular music studies take
will inform our own experiments in novel methods and forms for telling musicological stories.

When we turn our hands to producing projects in this vein, we will learn techniques that translate
directly into teaching, into publishing, presenting, and circulating our work, and which can be applied
to other domains of music studies beyond the popular, as well as to our own art practices. Once we
begin the project-oriented portion of the class, be prepared to present your projects every other week, in
substantive but succinct terms, during our “workshop” sessions. These will alternate with theoretical
and practical discussions that will flow from our individual and collective responses to readings and
audio-visual examples.


1) Reading Responses 20%

2) Études 50%
3) Peer Review / Participation 20%
3) Final Project 10%

Attendance and participation, timely submission of assignments, and constructive peer review are
crucial to the class's success. As a project-oriented course, we will spend a fair amount of time
workshopping projects together, in realtime during class and asynchronously online. Completing études
on time and providing feedback to classmates are essential duties and a significant part of the overall
grade. All students are expected, in this manner and otherwise, to contribute to good faith, encouraging,
constructive, and critical exchanges with their peers, online and in class.
Études, which should generally be between 1-3 minutes, will be graded according to a rubric that
places emphasis on both conceptualization and contextualization as well as effort and execution. Prose
descriptions should explicate the poetics guiding the piece and making any relevant citations to class
readings or other pertinent references. Each étude will be assessed according to the following criteria:

1) Thoughtfulness in concept, and demonstrated research in selection of subject, site, or sources

2) Contextualization, i.e., attention to historical, aesthetic, and other contexts along with an
articulation in terms of class discussions and/or relation to other works
3) Formal execution
4) Demonstrated effort


Most of our readings will be available as PDFs and URLs on the course site, but there are two books at
the Coop, or on reserve here at the Loeb, from which we will be reading several chapters:

Clayton, Jace. Uproot: Travels in Twenty-First-Century Music and Digital Culture. New York:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.

Katz, Mark. Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music. Berkeley and Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 2004.

Aside from the readings, the main course “material” is the audio production software Ableton Live,
which is available on 6 workstations in the Music building (4 in the Sound Lab and 2 in the EthnoLab)
as well as on a computer in Lamont Library. The software is also available at Ableton.com for
purchase, and they offer a 30-day free trial version.


Week 1 / Introduction to Technomusicology

January 27

Week 2 / UNIT 1: The Musical Soundscape of the Audio Age

February 3
Middleton, Richard. “'Roll Over Beethoven': Sites and Soundings on the Music
Historical Map.” In Studying Popular Music, 3-33 (esp 3-16).
Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1990.

Katz, Mark. “Causes” and “Making America More Musical.” In Capturing

Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music, 8-71 (ch. 1-2). Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2004.

Suisman, David. “The Musical Soundscape of Modernity.” In Selling Sounds:

The Commercial Revolution in American Music, 240-72. Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.
Schafer, R. Murray. “The Music of the Environment.” In Audio Culture, ed.
Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner, 29-39. New York and London:
Continuum, 2004.

Gould, Glenn. “The Prospects of Recording.” In Audio Culture, ed. Christoph

Cox and Daniel Warner, 115-26. New York and London: Continuum,


Sterne, Jonathan. “Sounds like the Mall of America: Programmed Music and
the Architectonics of Commercial Space.” Ethnomusicology, Vol. 41, No.
1 (Winter, 1997): 22-50.

Aubry, Gilles. The Amplification of Souls. Hamburg, Germany: Adocs, 2014.

(and Ismaiel-Wendt, Johannes S. “The Sonic Materialities of Belief.”)

Marshall, Wayne. “Love That Muddy Ether: Pirate Multiculturalism and

Boston’s Secret Soundscape.” Cluster Mag. December 2011.

Due: Reading Response #1

Week 3 / UNIT 1: Soundscape Workshop

February 10
Étude #1: Compose a soundscape from your own local recordings. Give
particular consideration to framing the presence of popular music and/or
recorded sound as a common if not “keynote” feature.

Week 4 / UNIT 2: Ethics and Aesthetics of Digital Sampling

February 17
Katz, Mark. “Music in 1s and 0s: The Art and Politics of Digital Sampling.” In
Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music, 137-57 (ch. 7).
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

Schloss, Joseph G. “Sampling Ethics” and “Elements of Style: Aesthetics of

Hip-hop Composition.” In Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-
hop, 101-168. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004.

Clayton, Jace. “Cut & Paste.” In Uproot, 3-25, 141-68 (ch. 6). New York:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.

Due: Reading Response #2

Week 5 / UNIT 2: Beat Workshop

February 24
Étude #2: Compose a sample-based beat using the breakbeat provided and
additional samples from one other recording of your choice. Please limit
all samples to one second or less.
Week 6 / UNIT 3: Mashup Poetics
March 3
Katz, Mark. “Listening in Cyberspace.” In Capturing Sound: How Technology
Has Changed Music, 158-87 (ch. 8). Berkeley: University of California
Press, 2004.

Sterne, Jonathan. “The MP3 as Cultural Artifact.” New Media & Society, Vol. 8,
No. 5 (2006): 825-42.

Clayton, Jace. “How Music Travels” and “How to Hold On.” In Uproot, 58-86,
219-55 (ch. 3, 9). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.
(See also: http://uprootbook.com/listening-guide)

McGranahan, Liam. “‘It Goes Beyond Having a Good Beat and I Can Dance to
It’: Mashup Aesthetics and Creative Process.” In Mashnography:
Creativity, Consumption, and Copyright in the Mashup Community, 35-
70. Ph.D. dissertation, Brown University, 2010.


Marshall, Wayne. “Mashup Poetics as Pedagogical Practice.” In Pop-Culture

Pedagogy in the Music Classroom: Teaching Tools from American Idol to
YouTube, ed. Biamonte, 307-15. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010.

Due: Reading Response #3

Week 7 / UNIT 3: Mashup Workshop

March 10
Étude #3: Make a mashup using 2 (or more) recordings related by musical
structure or some other apprehensible set of features.

Week 8 / Spring Recess

March 17

Week 9 / UNIT 4: Montage in the Age of Social Media

March 24
Jenkins, Henry. “If It Doesn't Spread, It's Dead.”
<http://henryjenkins.org/2009/02/if_it_doesnt_spread _its_dead_p.html>

Driscoll, Kevin. “Soulja Boy and Dance Crazes.” In Spreadable Media, ed.
Jenkins, Ford, and Green. New York: NYU Press, 2013.

Turner, David. “Inside Atlanta's Booming Hip-Hop Dance Scene.” MTV News,
23 March 2016. <http://www.mtv.com/news/2798081/inside-atlantas-
Giorgis, Hannah. “Black Users on Vine: Celebrating Blackness 6 Seconds at a
Time.” The Guardian,17 May 2015.


Gillespie, Tarleton. “The Politics of ‘Platforms.’” New Media & Society 12:3
(May 2010): 347-364.

Tagg, Philip. “The Milksap Montage” <https://www.youtube.com/watch?

v=vzYqBcUipok> and “Harvest Song from Bulgaria”

Due: Reading Response #4

Week 10 / UNIT 4: Supercut Workshop

March 31
Étude #4: Create a video montage that illustrates a particular story of musical
circulation and/or relationship. Help us to behold the social life of a
particular song and dance as represented/archived at YouTube. Try to
include at least 6-12 examples.

Week 11 / UNIT 5: DJ Practice & Mini-Mega-Mix as Form

April 7
Katz, Mark. “Mix and Scratch—The Turntable Becomes a Musical Instrument:
1975-1978.” In Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-hop DJ,
43-69. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Fikentscher, Kai. “‘There’s Not a Problem I Can’t Fix, ‘Cause I Can Do It in the
Mix’: On the Performative Technology of 12-Inch Vinyl.” In Music and
Technoculture, ed. René Lysloff and Leslie C. Gay, 290-315.
Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2003.

Clayton, Jace. “Confessions of a DJ” and “Tools.” In Uproot, 3-25, 169-198

(ch. 1, 7). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.
(See also: http://uprootbook.com/listening-guide)

Due: Reading Response #5

Week 12 / UNIT 5: Mini-Mega-Mix Workshop

April 14
Étude #5: Produce a brief DJ-style mix guided by some logic of musical,
cultural, and/or historical connection between the recordings involved.
Make efforts to use blends, cuts, and other edits strategically and
Week 13 / UNIT 6: Susurrous Scholarship? Podcast-Era Sound Design
April 21
Mitchell, Jonathan. “Using Music.” Transom.

Hudelson, Joshua. “Listening to Whisperers: Performance, ASMR Community

and Fetish on YouTube.” Sounding Out!, 10 December 2012.

“Susurrous Scholarship.” <http://soundboxproject.com/project-sonifying.html>

Walker, Benjamen. “1984 (The Year Not the Book).” Theory of Everything. April
2014. <https://medium.com/@benjamenwalker/1984-the-year-not-the-

Due: Reading Response #6

Final Projects /
May 4
Draw on the various forms and techniques we've explored in order to present an
audible, sonically-crafted “research paper” as a final project for this course. The
subject of the paper/podcast and the format is up to you, as long as it falls within
the realm of “popular music studies” (broadly defined). But you should work and
play within the conventions of contemporary podcast production. Aim for a 15-
minute, sound-designed audio piece. Depending on the subject, style, and scope
of the piece, it could involve your own narration, actors, interviews, foley, and
both diegetic and non-diegetic music, including your own edits, mixes, remixes.