Just a quick update of some of my activities over the last month or so. So –  not in any particular order – here goes.

Firstly, last weekend I contributed to a radio show on The Alarm’s Mike Peters – specifically the song ‘A New South Wales’. For those of you who are interested – it is available on I Player for the next few days

They Write the Songs Episode 4: Broadcast on Saturday March 8th 2014 at 1.30. Hosted by Alan Thomson

Apart from sounding like a thoroughly nice guy – I was really interested in the way that Peters was interested in returning to his Welsh Identity – and done so from taking a break from international touring to simply spend time in his homeland. Strangely – a paper I had published a while back on Welsh Identity in Popular Music missed out The Alarm – and I apologise for that – they should have been included. Unlike my main work at the moment which is focusing on Sting (see below), Peters seemed to go through this process at a relatively young age – but the process of songwriters/artists returning to their roots, and the impact this has on perceived authenticity interests me greatly.

The larger project I have been involved in over the last few months is putting together a proposal for a monograph on my fellow Geordie – Sting. The good news is that I have had a publisher agree to the book – Reaktion. I am really interested in putting together a book that not only resonates in  some way with my own homeland of Newcastle – but also attempts to bridge the general readership/academic divide. So the number of ‘big words’ will be greatly  reduced in this – watch this space! Although I can not start the book until the end of June because of other projects  – I did manage to get to Ireland in February to discuss some of the ideas at a conference at The University of Ireland. Although not greatly produced – I have put together a screen-cast of the presentation below. Note – there is a section in the middle where You Tube cuts out a short audio sample I played – so you will need to fast forward here to around 15:28. If you wish to listen to the song beforehand – you can access it here.

The other main project I am involved in at the moment is researching interdisciplinary pedagogical strategies in Music, Dance and Drama. The project is funded by the Higher Education Academy

I will not post any details of this at the moment, but if you are involved in interdisciplinary higher education in either the UK or Internationally – you can assist by completing an online questionnaire

This week was the first of a series of lectures on how music REFERS meaning.  What I am interested in is any examples of how music imparts meaning using – Saussures simple dyadic model as a starting point. The question is – How does the musical signifier relate to the signified in music? As you will see in the powerpoint – I try and differentiate between the often connotative power of music – and the denotative impact of image and text. However, I do accept that if we take at face value some of Tagg’s thoughts in his new book – the meaning that music pervades can actually be considered more precise than words – an example of which I will refer to below.

In order to get students to consider some of these ideas – I initially asked them to listen to extracts of the following two pieces of music – annotating the feelings the music had on them.

After asking them to document some of the emotions and impacts the music had – I then played the following two videos.

The Goricki piece was particularly interesting. Many students stated the obvious descriptors such as ‘sad’, ‘disruptive’, ‘melancholic’ etc. Then came one answer that at first instance appeared off the wall – ‘Disney’ ! At first call – it appears that this is not an accurate descriptor. Then – one student pointed out the fact that Disney is often cited as a Nazi sympathizer – it all then begins to make sense!! As Tagg suggests far more eloquently that me – it is not the music that is conveying ‘vague’ meaning – but the words we use to describe it. It is therefore not as polysemic as we think.

Anyway – read through this – give it some thought – and message me/leave comments as usual if of interest

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/carrp/session-5-the-reception-of-music-part-1&#8243; title=”Session 5 the reception of music part 1″ target=”_blank”>Session 5 the reception of music part 1</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/carrp&#8221; target=”_blank”>Paul Carr</a></strong> </div>

Vertical Melodic Analysis

Where as my blog last week focused on horizontal  melodic analysis – this session concerned the vertical movement of melody. More specifically, the session was related to how tension and release operates when specific note types come up against a chord. These paradigms are achieved via the following techniques.

•Chord Tones: (CT) – short or long duration,. Essentially notes in the chord
•Colour Tones: (ct) ( most common 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th, Sharp 11th) Usually long in duration
•Passing Tones : ( Not chord tones and Always Short). Consists of two types:
•Accented Passing Tones (APT) On the Beat
•Unaccented Passing Tones (UPT) Off the Beat
•Colour tones and to a lesser extent accented/unaccented passing notes provide Tension
•Chord tones provide the Release

As with horizontal analysis – it is possible to engage with these techniques either aurally or visually via notation. When using the later – an indicative example could be as follows. Note – this example also has some notes that relate to horizontal analysis.


What I have not mentioned here is how to discuss the tension and release. It could range from color coded notes – which could then be backed up with more in depth discussion.

So – as last time, I am interested in comments. This is also something that will result in a published paper at some point relatively soon.

This weeks musicology lecture examined  ways in which it is possible to analyse popular music melody – specifically from a horizontal perspective. As will be seen in the PowerPoint and the audio stream of the lecture – I get some of these ideas from traditional music theory – while some are considerations of my own that I have developed over the years. To begin with – I have found the following techniques/descriptors to be useful for analysing melody.

  • Motif
  • Question Phrase plus  Answer Phrase = Sentence
  • Sentence plus Sentence =  Section
  • Sections (For example verse plus chorus) build up to form Structural Form (for example AABA) and eventually Compositional Forms

Firstly – here is a Spotify playlist of the music used in the lecture.

A large part of the lecture was given over to considering how Question Phrases relate to Answer Phrases, and/or how Sentences relate to each other. For this – I devised the following vocabulary – please see the PowerPoint and audio stream for more detail – in particular for indicative musical examples.

  • Rhythmic Sequence: Where the rhythm stays the same but the melody changes
  • Tonal Sequence: Where the melody is repeated up or down a pre determined pitch.
  • Direct Repetition: Where the Question Phrase is simply repeated
  • Contextual Placement: Where the melody stays the same but the harmony changes.
  • Rhythmic Displacement: where the melody is repeated, but commencing on a different beat.
  • New Material: Where the Question Phrase is different to the Answer Phrase.

For me, much of the discussion centres on how many  songs mix repetition with new material – something which is arguably an intuitive process for established songwriters/composers. If there is too much ‘sameness’ the work it would be boring – or if there is too much variation it could sound disjointed. These are generalizations of course – not hard and fast rules.

Once these techniques are more fully developed – I am going to spend some time considering (via a journal article) how they resonate with particular artists, styles, genres, etc, but in the meantime, I am interested in any comments, in addition to any interesting musical examples anyone may have. Also  – are there any techniques that I have not covered in terms of the relation of Question Phrase to Answer Phrase?

More on this next week

I read an article the other day which asked the question, somewhat problematically for me – ‘Is Christian Music Dying’. Inspired by another, much earlier post by Michael Gungor – it focuses upon the relationship between using Art as a message to reflect the Gospel (Christians making great music) – or what Gungor originally described as ‘formula driven music’ – which has the potential to lack authenticity due to a potential disjuncture between the words of the music and the ‘emotion’ of the singer. I am writing this as a Christian, who performs and listens to the music being criticized – so am sort of sitting on the fence on this one – asking for other opinions.

What I would suggest, is that when considering this, one needs to be clear regarding the distinction between the multiple instances of a recorded piece of music being sung in the local church (which according to my own experience is in the main very authentic) – and that of the Christian music industry – and it’s potential, like any industry, for incorporating mediation in order to sell product. I have to say that I have personally found the songs themselves to be genuine conduits in leading a congregation into the presence of God. However, I do concede that like all music – some evangelical songs have a tendency to be more ‘formula driven’ than others: but is it an equatable thing to assert that ‘worship music’ as an entity is riddled with inauthenticity – I would suggest not, although I do understand (in places) where Michael Gungor is coming from.

I would also suggest that some music written by non Christians can also act as a conduit to God. For example, I was listening to Supers Ready the other day by Genesis – a piece that has always impacted me on this level – which was made more profound when I  recently discovered it was inspired partly by the Book of Revelation. I would be interested in examples of other pieces of music that has had this type of impact on people.


I have just returned from a great couple of days in Nottingham – giving a keynote address to coincide with Geoffrey Farmer’s amazing sound sculpture – Let’s Make the Water Turn Black. Alongside my two colleagues –  Prof. Richard Hand and Dr Richard Hemmings – we each discussed a pertinent angle of how Frank Zappa’s music resonates with the sculpture – before opening the discussion up to the floor. A full recording of the event can now be accessed below

It was fantastic to see so many people interested not only in the sculpture, but also the ways in which Farmer used Zappa’s creative processes as a template for the work. Aside from the more obvious indicators such as cactus plants, pumpkins and a penguin – the relationship between the two artists was very subtle. I think what fascinated me the most was the sound track consisted of over 60 hours of recorded material – so each time you visit the ‘event’ –  the combination of sculpture, sound and lights is different!

So – enjoy the discussion. Here are a few other pics that may also encourage your appetite to visit the work. It is open until early January.






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