Models of Capitalist Subversion: Hip Hop or Rock?

Tomas Vergara | May 30, 2018

On the 5th of May of 2018 Gibson, one of the most emblematic guitar manufacturers, announced bankruptcy. An interesting aspect of this event, beyond its economic repercussions on the music industry, is its cultural significance. It marks the decline of rock and guitar-based music, once the dominant musical genre. Gibson’s bankruptcy opens several symptomatic questions concerning the role of music in contemporary capitalist culture: What does this shift in musical taste reflect about the dynamics of capitalist culture? Does it signal the emergence of new ideological apparatuses no longer compatible with rock music? 

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Transcending Incidental Music: Musical Theatricality in Schumann’s Manfred Overture

Alexandra Huang | May 12, 2018
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) is a music composer in high Romanticism. His symphonic rearrangement of the dramatic poem Manfred by Lord Baron Byron (1788-1824) to this day shares the limelight with Byron’s original text. The Manfred Overture is the opening introduction set in the beginning of his Symphony Op.115, Manfred: Dramatic Poem with Music in Three Parts along with the Overture (1848). In terms of genre, the piece is the apotheosis of incidental music, music composed for atmospheric accompaniment for dramatic actions in a play. Originating from ancient Greece, incidental music is a musical practice that looms large in the nineteenth century (Oxford Companion to Music). Interestingly, Shumann’s Manfred Overture is also a critique of the genre in that the place of music is as important as the dramatic scenarios.

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Fever Ray’s Monster

Madison Pollack | March 13, 2018
There is a latent threat behind each frame of Fever Ray’s video for “To The Moon And Back:” the setting is a large abandoned building whose sparsely placed neon tubes compensate for a lack of overhead lighting. We find our protagonist encased in glass, and she is a fright to behold; her face looks to have been recently carved into, with red encircling her mouth and eyes; her skin is an inhuman shade of white, and she jolts to life surrounded by smoke in a series of twitchy, cross-eyed frames. She is Fever Ray’s Monster in the tradition of Dr. Frankenstein and his unnatural creation. Both come to life alone, abandoned by their creators, hideous in their appearance. Both wander into the dark, lacking any preparation for the world they’ve been born into, not knowing what to expect.

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Smelling the Colour Nine

June L. Laurenson | February 24, 2018
There is a phrase in the English language that is often used to express confusion and bafflement: ‘Understanding you is like smelling the colour nine’. You can’t smell a colour, let alone a number; and nine isn’t a colour. For most people, this chaotic multisensory phrase effectively conveys a deep incomprehension about a thing or a person. But to me the number nine does have a colour (although not a smell), and I am not alone in experiencing this; I am in very good company.

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I Wish I Was a Girl: Counting Crows and Clarity

Bradley Copper | 15 May 2017

The patriarchal trope of using a woman in order to explain some woeful truth about a man is of course a damagingly old one. This sexist setup, in which women are one-dimensionally portrayed so as to help a speaker come to some conclusion about himself or his world, while never honouring their experience, is a genric cornerstone that remains in so much literature to the present day. American rock band Counting Crows adopt a version of this trope in constructing femaleness or womanness—the songs are predictably not definitionally specific on this point—as a signifier of clarity. The band’s frontman and lyricist Adam Duritz imagines the women characters in his songs as being able to speak directly about their emotions in a way that he as a man cannot.

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The Siren’s Call: Mica Levi’s Soundscapes of Alien Femininity

Katie Goh | 15 May 2017

Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2014) opens with a bright white light shining into the audience, which then morphs into an eye over the span of five minutes, accompanied by a crescendo of buzzing violins. The opening is disturbing and abstract, setting the tone for the film’s sonic and visual imagery and for the alien language created by Mica Levi’s soundscape.

Mica Levi’s second film score was for Jackie (2016), Pablo Lerrain’s biopic of America’s most famous widow, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The film chronicles Jackie’s response to the aftermath of her husband’s assassination as she simultaneously processes her personal grief and works to mythologize her husband’s legacy. Both Lerrain and Glazer’s films are about alien femininity: whereas Under the Skin centres on a literal alien playing as woman, Jackie follows an alienated woman.

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Rap au féminin: What can France’s female hip hop scene teach us about identity politics?

Ellen Davis-Walker | 25 April 2017

Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 box office sensation La Haine has long been credited with propelling French hip hop on to the global stage. Drawing on original material by Ministère AMER, NTM and MC Solaar, the film’s soundtrack managed to capture the sonic traces of social unrest on the fringes of French society. Whilst France’s victory in the 1997 FIFA World Cup seemed to mark a momentary coming- together around the inclusive slogan ‘Black-Blanc-Beur’ (Black, White, Arab), the contentious and fractured question of national identity has continued to dominate the country’s musical and political landscape ever since.

The emergence of rap au féminin (female rap) over the past decade marked a significant step in the development of multi-faceted ‘French’ identity. While anglophone female artists of the early 2000s were predominantly focused on debunking “the sexual and material objectification faced by women in the industry,” this article will ask how rap au féminin has offered artists the possibility to explore both what it meant to be a woman in this period, and what it meant (and still means) to be French.

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The Song of a Poet: Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and the Boundaries of Literature.

14th November 2016 ¦ Aran Ward Sell.

‘Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in’

These lines have been quoted reverently since Leonard Cohen’s death. The maudlin yet shimmering sentiment is powerfully poetic, and no less so for being sung. Cohen’s ancient, weighty timbre does not dilute his words; it fuels them. He enters a long tradition of revered bards, from Homer to Burns, whose poetry has been performed or sung. No-one argues that because Shakespeare’s plays are performed, they are merer than Literature. And yet, when Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature 2016, an equivalent objection was raised against his songwriting.

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The Hamiliad: Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Epic Tradition

31 October 2016 ¦ Bradley Copper

Virgil’s Aeneid was an epic poem composed from 29-19 BC. It describes the mythological journey of Trojan hero Aeneas and his founding of Rome, and was immediately placed at the centre of education in the early Roman Empire. Hamilton: An American Musical, a show about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and the American Revolution (1765-83), has with similar speed entered classrooms across the United States in the year since its Broadway debut. In his poem, Virgil lauds Emperor Augustus, to whom he performed parts of it; Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man behind Hamilton, sang an early version of its first song at a White House Poetry Jam in 2009. In fact, it’s difficult to find higher praise for the musical than from the White House: recently Michelle Obama called it “a musical about the miracle that is America” (70th). Rarely do literary works get so warm an imperial reception, so what may we make of this anecdotal connection between Hamilton and the classical epic?

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‘I made lemonade’: The Female Confessional in the Twenty-First Century

31 October 2016 ¦ Katie Goh

Confession: I love Sylvia Plath. The honesty of her poetic expression, the seeds of wisdom in her journals, the technical skill of her story stories, and the fundamental relatability of Esther Greenwood. As a teenager, I was seduced.

But then I went to university. From the lecturer who dismissed Plath as ‘privileged, confessional neediness,’ to boys at parties who scorned her while worshipping Bukowski, to Woody Allen’s patronising ‘interesting poetess’ dismissal in Annie Hall. It was embarrassing to like Sylvia Plath.

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