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What can we learn from ‘unpopular’ music and its audiences?

Atton, Chris


Chris Atton


The sociology of popular music has tended to eschew conventional musicological approaches and instead to locate the listening experience as one rooted in social uses and pleasures. Where musicological analysis is employed, it tends to reinforce the commonality of pleasures by proposing a reading of music that can be mapped on to listeners’ social experiences. Such studies risk presenting static and predictable accounts of listening.

Instead, we can examine the development, consolidation and renewal of audiences’ approaches to listening, and explore the tools and processes they use, such as music journalism, amateur writing, rituals of collecting; in short, an ethnomethodological approach to the array of musical analysis used by listeners themselves, not by sociologists or musicologists.

A rich site for such research is what we might term ‘unpopular’ forms of popular music, such as avant-garde rock, free improvisation and Noise. These styles comprise a largely unconsidered field of music where explicit ideologies of experimentation, exploration and ‘progress’ can render genres unstable and where musical practices challenge dominant accounts of the social, the authentic and the ‘real’ in popular music.

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name Studying Music: An International Conference in Honour of Simon Frith
Start Date Apr 10, 2014
End Date Apr 12, 2014
Publication Date 2014-04
Deposit Date Apr 16, 2014
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords Popular music; musicology; listening experience; music journalism; avant-garde rock; improvisation; Noise;
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