Paper Session
Nov 21, 2021 12:00 Noon - 12:50 PM(America/Chicago)
20211121T1200 20211121T1250 America/Chicago Black Identity, Technology, and Timbre AMS 2021
“If I Back It Up”: Viral Circulations & Representations of Contemporary Black Independent Music-Makers
Individual Paper 12:00 Noon - 12:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 18:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 18:50:00 UTC

In February 2020, music producer Cookiee Kawaii's 90-second Jersey club music track, "Vibe" went viral. Within months, her song and its accompanying music video garnered millions of social media views and inspired the popular "If I Back It Up, Is It Fat Enough" TikTok dance challenge. However, despite the song's virality and what she calls "a trying journey" to gain greater recognition, Kawaii has remained relatively unknown and under-compensated for her work. Several journalists and critics have attributed her lack of credit to TikTok's algorithms which tend to decouple creators from their works. Drawing from critical race and performance studies theories, I argue that her struggle to benefit from the viral success of "Vibe" is not just a consequence of TikTok's algorithms. Rather, the song's viral circulation offers a view of the distinct racial tensions and cultural politics contemporary Black independent music-makers must navigate as they engage with do-it-yourself methods of music dissemination and promotion.

In this paper, I trace the viral circulation of "Vibe" in relation to Kawaii's continuing efforts to disseminate the song on music streaming and social media platforms, earn greater recognition, and build an independent music career. I draw upon in-depth interviews with Kawaii and audio/video analyses of "Vibe" and its many permutations, to show how the song exists within a complex web of racial tensions reinforced by cultural gatekeepers in the music and streaming industries, cultural appropriators claiming credit for her work, and racially biased social media platforms like TikTok that often silence Black creators. Most importantly, I narrate Kawaii's relentless fight to be recognized and properly compensated while establishing paths and infrastructures for other Black independent music-makers to achieve success in the commercial music industry.

This work seeks to challenge existing independent music-making studies that heavily focus on white musical identities, experiences, values, and genres. By centering the experiences of Black independent music-makers, and thus decentering whiteness in independent music studies, I expand our understanding of what independent music-making can mean for marginalized identities and the systemic barriers these music-makers face.

Jasmine Henry
Rutgers University
Identity, not Genre: Embodied Composition and the Solo Music of Pamela Z
Individual Paper 12:00 Noon - 12:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 18:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 18:50:00 UTC

The musical output of U.S.-based composer/performer Pamela Z (b. 1956) is diverse, but she is best known for solo performances incorporating voice with live electronics. Z, trained in the bel canto style and an early adopter of live electronics, is acutely aware of the longstanding cultural assumption that singing is the most readily available path for women in art music, and that electronic music is historically celebrated as the realm of the white, male academic.

Scholars such as George Lewis and Herman Gray have rightly claimed that Z's work challenges the boundaries of these presumed gendered or raced areas of competence, although Z's own statements defy the notion that this is one of her explicit goals. Similarly, though her work does not explicitly invite it, Z is often sought after for demographically-programmed performances and recordings, emphasizing her female or African-American identity. While Z acknowledges the importance of these discrete spaces for amplifying marginalized voices, she often resists those critics and analysts who would describe her as a spokesperson for feminism or racial justice.

In this paper, I argue that Z's multiple and intersectional positioning creates a space in which she, through her own body in the act of composition and performance, challenges and resists the essentializing tendencies of categorization as a Black or female composer, while still embracing those identities. Through interviews with the composer and analysis of live and recorded performances, I attempt to determine what might more readily be deemed essential to her work and identity. I examine two frequently performed pieces from Z's solo repertoire, "Badagada" and "Quatre Couches," to demonstrate the ways that Z's engagement with electronic instruments has evolved along with technological innovation. Focusing on her approach to composition as primarily performance-based rather than notation-based, I identify her instruments as crucial tools for exploring embodied composition. The ways the tools shape her musical output, and the methods by which she synthesizes her classical vocal training with experimental approaches, create a more wholistic picture of the artist and provide context for Z's career, output, and attitude toward gendered and racialized discourse.

Rachael Lansang
The New School
Roots, Routes and Ruptures: Timbre and Techno Across the Atlantic
Individual Paper 12:00 Noon - 12:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 18:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 18:50:00 UTC

The amplification of the conversation around systemic racism in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd reignited long-standing debates surrounding questions of ownership in the electronic dance music (EDM) scene. A stream of think-pieces in the EDM press attempted to reckon with the white-washing of Techno's roots and the continuing marginalisation of artists of colour (e.g. Brown Jr. 2020; Chauhan 2020). These discussions have shone a harsh light on the racial inequalities pervading the global scene, recognising the insidious underrepresentation of non-white voices in media roles and coverage, and raising the historical consciousness of younger scene participants. Yet the outcomes of these talks once again appear inconclusive, and the European scene finds itself at an impasse regarding how to recognise its racial failings whilst retaining the integrity of its own origin myth.

In this paper, I argue that this impasse is the result of a foundational tension in EDM aesthetics between its utopian, posthumanist aspirations and its profound historical and geographical situatedness. I revisit the work of British theorists who set EDM's discursive agenda when imported records from the US first catalysed the rave movement, and suggest that the temporal extensity underpinning their ideas of EDM history as a 'continuum' born of a radical rupture with the past (Reynolds 2009) renders any subsequent attempts to establish continuity with its roots redundant. This formulation, which hears EDM as an 'Unidentified Audio Object with no ground [and] no culture' (Eshun 1998, 131), at bottom does not allow for the genre's Afrodiasporic origins to be seen as relevant to its ongoing evolution. To move beyond this, I propose a 'topian' (Olwig 2002, 24) model of EDM history as a circuitous process of place-making by tracing the recycling of specific instrumental timbres in EDM which tangibly reinscribe their ongoing connection to the scenes that nurtured them. Ultimately, I argue that recognising timbre as a form of 'vital relationality' (Elferen 2020, 190) can move debates around ownership beyond essentialised notions of stunted roots, and towards a better understanding of the tangled and lived routes of EDM culture's self-actualisation.

Maria Perevedentseva
Goldsmiths, University Of London
Rutgers University
Goldsmiths, University of London
The New School
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