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The Hauntological Turn: Genealogy, History Making, and ‘the Contemporary’ in Electronic Music

Haworth, Christopher (2016) The Hauntological Turn: Genealogy, History Making, and ‘the Contemporary’ in Electronic Music. University of Leeds. [Dataset]

This item is part of the Alternative Histories of Electronic Music collection.

Dataset description

“Categories strain, crack and sometimes break, under their burden - step out of the space provided” Nurse With Wound. The 1979 debut album by Nurse With Wound is perhaps less famous for the music it contained than an accompanying text printed on its inside sleeve. Dubbed the ‘NWW List’, it is a collection of 292 outsider artists and bands (‘electric experimental music’) that inspired NWW; some known, most obscure, and a few potentially fictional. Providing fans and collectors of experimental with an unofficial road-map-cum-shopping-list of rare, visionary and exotic music across ‘art’ and ‘popular’ styles, its fame has accumulated such that, today, items sell on Ebay for upwards of a thousand pounds. Yet the significance of the list is not only as a spirit-seeker’s handbook. More than this, it has come to represent a shift in the praxis and self-understanding of underground music culture relative to history, where passive notions of ‘influence’ and ‘inheritance’ are displaced by the more active and performative concepts of ‘genealogy’ and ‘history making’. In today’s electronic music, these processes are everywhere: in the creative practices of individual artists, the curatorship of record labels, the texts of record stores and music critics - even in the individual sounds and technologies. Without the recovered historical signifiers and uncharted paths that thread throughout and mark the terrain of contemporary electronic music genres - J.D. Emmanuel’s new age-meets-minimalism masterpiece Wizards in Noise; the production sound on Don Henley’s Boys of Summer in Hypnagogic Pop; the Radiophonic Workshop in Hauntology - their very separateness as genres is compromised. How do we theorise this acceleration, diversification, and individuation of genealogy in electronic music today, accounting for the multiple conflicting historical paths that are threaded by artists, labels, genres, and institutions, and that are performed through texts, sounds, artefacts, and other mediums? Music criticism on the subject has so far been nugatory, resorting to well-worn end-of-history narratives of crisis, decline, and malaise in popular culture. Drawing on the NWW list, and informed by the concept of ‘the contemporary’ as a distinct moment of historical-time consciousness, a first aim of this paper will be to argue against this intellectual trend, figuring the ‘hauntological’ turn, not as a symptom of crisis or inertia, but as part of a reflexive expansion of what constitutes the aesthetic object. Central here is the role and function of the Internet in today’s electronic music genres, and the aesthetics of the archive that has emerged in relation to it. The second aim of my paper will be to consider the implications of these actions for music studies in general. If there is a ‘musicological’ intent to these acts of curation and history-making, augured by the expanding archive of popular music housed on the Internet, then how can musicology-proper utilise them in productive ways? This section will draw on Branden W. Joseph’s 2008 study of Tony Conrad, and Georgina Born and Nicholas Cook’s recent statements on the notion of ‘relational musicology’, for methodological and theoretical support.

Subjects: W000 - Creative arts & design > W300 - Music
W000 - Creative arts & design > W300 - Music > W310 - Musicianship/performance studies > W316 - Electronic/electro-acoustic music performance
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures > School of Music
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Date deposited: 27 Jul 2017 19:07



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