Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Beginning of the End(game): Promoting Avengers: Endgame

By James Deaville

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and directors Anthony Russo and Joseph V. Russo (collectively the Russo Brothers) have been notorious for their reluctance to give away anything that would spoil their films. Thus for Avengers: Endgame—title withheld until the end of the first trailer—they “almost opted for a no-marketing campaign for the movie” . When they did drop the first trailer on December 7, 2018, it was only four-and-a-half months before its cinematic release on April 26, 2019 (compared with eight-and-a-half months for the forthcoming Star Wars IX) and presented “footage from the first 15 to 20 minutes of the film.” They used this limited body of visual material, augmented by clips from earlier films, to produce fourteen film promotions: three full-length trailers, eight television spots, one “film clip,” one “special look,” and one featurette (see Table). The scant trailers and spots teased without giving away any significant plotlines or outcomes, an approach to marketing that replicates the successful strategy for Avengers: Infinity War (first trailer released on November 29, 2017, film opened on April 28, 2018).


Official Trailer                          December 7     2:25
Big Game TV Spot                  February 3         :30
Official Trailer                          March 11         2:26
Honor” TV Spot                      March 21           :30
We Lost” Featurette               March 26         1:53  [April 26: no voiceover]
Special Look                            April 2             1:00  [Tickets on Sale Now] Marvel
Film Clip                                  April 8             1:13
Mission” Spot                         April 11             :30  [On April 26… Tickets on Sale Now]
No Mistakes, Kids” TV Spot   April 15             :15  [On April 26…Tickets Available Now]
To the End”                             April 16           2:29  [In 10 Days]
Go” TV Spot                           April 23             :15  [In 3 Days]
Everything” TV Spot              April 24             :15  [Tomorrow]
Big Review TV Spot                April 25              :15  [Tonight]
Save” TV Spot                        April 26              :16   [Now Playing]

The makers of Avengers: Endgame have reason to be wary of the trailer, since as “the most important marketing tool of a film campaign,” it receives the most attention from fans, who search the footage for narrative or character information down to the individual frame. As Lisa Kernan observes in Coming Attractions: Reading American Movie Trailers (2004), “trailers both satisfy and withhold satisfaction of audience desire to know about a film’s story.”  In doing so, they “inevitably withhold more than they reveal—and the withholding can be just as revealing as what’s shown or told.”<1> Kathleen Williams designates the excitement surrounding a trailer release as a “culture of anticipation.”<2> Vinzenz Hediger has speculated about the nature of the anticipation: “trailers create a desire to see the film by showing the film as one remembers it, or rather by showing the film one has not yet seen as one would remember it if one had already seen it, i.e. as a collection of excerpts of visually and emotionally strong moments.”<3>

Those responsible for Avengers: Endgame clearly wished to foster the “culture of anticipation” by delaying or even bypassing the traditional sequence of trailers. To cultivate uncertainty and defeat expectations the studio went so far as to engage in a disinformation campaign, whereby they not only carefully curated a limited set of images that reappeared throughout the trailers and spots, but they also “used footage that’s not in the movie in order to form their trailers, favoring secrecy over marketing.” The Russo Brothers confirmed the practice when Joe Russo remarked to Josh Horwitz on his Happy Sad Confused podcast, “We use all the material that we have at our disposal to create a trailer… So at our disposal are lots of different shots that aren’t in the movie that we can manipulate through CG to tell a story that we want to tell specifically for the purpose of the trailer and not for the film.” Russo’s comments on having created separate trailer narratives that accomplish something other than showing the movie’s best bits argues for them as “unique layered texts in their own right,” in the words of trailer researcher Keith Johnston.<4>

In the case of the Avengers series, veteran film composer Alan Silvestri had created an epic trademark motive: the upward leap of a fifth followed by a downward scale over a i VI | IV6 VI VII progression in the brass and strings (my thanks to Grace Edgar for clarifying this). Fans may have expected to hear Silvestri’s Avengers theme in the December teaser trailer (“Capstone”).  In the spirit of non-revelation, however, the trailer house used the pre-composed soundtrack “So Say We All” by Harry Lightfoot, featured on the album Volturnus by production-music company Audiomachine (released January 30, 2018). The company’s track, “Redshift,” had already been featured in the final trailer to Avengers: Infinity War, and despite a few cuts for length, “So Say We All” takes up the entire trailer, sans Silvestri. The images and dialogue were edited to the music, the overall impression is one of gloom and loss (thus footage from the beginning of the film). Customary for the teaser, this first trailer features an extended scene, with Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) narrating a farewell message to love interest Pepper Potts, followed by snippets of action. Fan comments on the various trailer postings—a record 289 million views within twenty-four hours—typically do not mention the music or even the absence of Silvestri’s theme.

Perhaps to continue the obfuscation, Marvel/Disney also called the preview released on March 11 “Official Trailer,” without the benefit of a number (and you find the descriptive title “Reflections” only on mOcean’s website). Here we perceive a clearer Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) context for Endgame, but through footage from earlier franchise offerings, including Iron Man and Captain America, and concluding with Infinity War. Indeed, the Russo Brothers seemed intent on demonstrating how you could fashion a trailer with virtually no new footage. However, in contrast to “Capstone,” Silvestri’s Avengers theme leads us through images of franchise characters, with an extension of its final notes that becomes a lament for the lost and then a call to action. A wordless choir signals the climax, which leads into the Avengers logo re-assembling itself—suggesting the team’s physical re-forming--against the only full, forceful statement of the theme.

After producing the two trailers from December and March, the studio unexpectedly released a two-minute twenty-nine second promotional video called “To the End” a mere ten days before the theatrical release of Endgame. Marvel/Disney did not give it a designation other than its title, but its intent seems such that it nostalgically memorializes the characters and the films, in the final marketing push to theatrical release on April 26. This promotional “tribute” video or highlight reel may have been produced in house by Marvel/Disney, since it involves the sights and sounds from each of the story lines that make up the MCU (twenty-one films before Endgame).

A multi-layered, semiotically rich text, “To the End” falls into two parts, the first offering brief visual and musical glimpses of major characters, framed by Nick Fury’s words from the 2012 Avengers: “Heroes, it’s an old-fashioned notion… We need heroes.” In that first minute, we see footage and hear theme music from each component of the MCU: Iron Man (composed by Brian Tyler), Captain America (Alan Silvestri), Thor (Patrick Doyle), the Guardians of the Galaxy (Tyler Bates), Dr. Strange (Michael Giacchino), the Avengers (Silvestri), and Black Panther (Ludwig Göransson), with voice-overs describing each figure’s strengths. All of this is seamlessly woven into a musical narrative that climaxes on the Avengers theme. (Colleagues Bradley Spiers, Ryan Thompson, and Grace Edgar will address the film’s indebtedness to prior music from the MCU). After a brief silence, Captain Marvel sonically exerts her power, and as if what came before wasn’t adequate, we fly chronologically through the logos and moving images for all twenty-one Avengers films—this visual montage devotes only two seconds per film, but is unified by a powerful rising scale in the orchestra under lines by Vision from Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Age of Ultron. The high point is attained with Infinity War, which stops the music; Dr. Strange says “We’re in the Endgame now” (from Infinity War), we hear the metallic sound of Thanos’ snap (known as “The Decimation”), then Silvestri’s Avengers theme in full orchestral garb, with images of the team in action and under Tony Stark’s Avengers narration “If we can't protect the Earth, you can be damn sure we'll avenge it” and Captain America’s quote “Whatever it takes.” The Avengers “A” logo is again re-assembled under the sustained minor chord followed by an echo.

Quite the musical journey in two minutes, but this non-trailer does everything the studio and directors desired of it: without giving away anything of the Endgame plot, it visually and musically summarizes the franchise in a narrative that anticipates the conclusiveness of the film. At the same time, “To the End” ramped up audience expectations of seeing and hearing their favorite Avengers superheroes in a film that promised closure. Here the studio is not just selling a film, but also calling up memories from ten years of individual and collective experiences with these characters and their stories. However, as Tony Stark reminds us in the first trailer and in the film itself, “part of the journey is the end.”
1>Lisa Kernan, Coming Attractions: Reading American Movie Trailers (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2004), 71.
2>Kathleen Williams, “Fake and Fan Film Trailers as Incarnations of Audience Anticipation and Desire,” in “Fan/Remix Video,” edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9 (2012), at https://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/360/284.
3>Vinzenz Hediger, “A Cinema of Memory in the Future Tense: Godard Trailers and Godard Trailers,” in Forever Godard, edited by James Williams, Michael Temple, and Michael Witt, 141-159 (London: Black Dog Publishing, 2004), 156.
4>Keith Johnston, Coming Soon: Film Trailers and the Selling of Hollywood Technology (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009), 126.
James Deaville teaches Music in the School for Studies in Art and Culture at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. He has edited Music in Television (Routledge, 2010) and has co-edited Music and the Broadcast Experience (Oxford, 2016). He is currently working on a study of music and sound in cinematic trailers, a result of the Trailaurality research group that has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. He is also undertaking a co-edited anthology on music and advertising as one of the Oxford Handbooks. He regularly gives papers at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies and Music and the Moving Image conferences (among others), and has published on music and media in Music, Sound and the Moving Image, the Journal of Film Music, and Music & Politics (among others).

Musicology Now Avengers: Endgame Quick Takes

When Susan Thomas recently suggested the opportunity for a new Quick Takes blog series, I immediately thought of the Avengers: Endgame release, both as a major cinematic and musical event and as the ostensible final chapter in this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I quickly found a group of music scholars eager to provide their individual perspectives on this film, for whose insightful contributions I am grateful: Ryan Thompson, Bradley Spiers, and Grace Edgar. My own contribution is the following discussion of the film’s trailers and their music. We collectively wish our readers stimulating engagement with our texts and the film!

James Deaville

Thursday, May 16, 2019

“What can the AMS do?”: The Scholarly Society and the Academic Jobs Crisis

By Danielle Fosler-Lussier

Since 2008, the number of tenured and tenure-track faculty at higher-education institutions has declined by 35%. The Delphi Project reports that contingent (adjunct) instructors now teach 73% of courses (AAUP Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, p. 3; Delphi Project). Working conditions for contingent faculty vary widely; most work on one-semester or one-year contracts with no promise of renewal. The pay and working conditions for part-time contingent laborers are especially poor: pay may be as low as $1800 per course, and more than 70% of institutions that employ part-time faculty do not contribute to their health insurance costs (AAUP op. cit., and AAUP Annual Report, Appendix III). Part-time contract work is the fastest-growing part of the academic work force (Coalition on the Academic Workforce). The few musicologists who do find tenure-track jobs in the academy see increasing workloads and declining research support at all but the most elite institutions.

National data and the data collected by the American Musicological Society (AMS) reveal that racial or ethnic minorities and women are more likely to be working as contingent laborers. According to the American Federation of Teachers, as of 2007, 10.4 percent of faculty positions were held by members of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, but almost three-quarters of those were contingent positions (AFT, Promoting Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Faculty: What Higher Education Unions Can Do, p. 13). Even as we have tried to promote appropriate representation in the profession, that representation is being eroded by the labor crisis (National Center for Education Statistics, “Race/Ethnicity of College Faculty”; AMS, Report of the Career Development/Contingent Labor Task Force, p. 1-2).

Scholars are increasingly seeking positions outside the academy. Our colleagues are working as radio hosts, outreach coordinators in museums, medical anthropologists, and librarians, among many other paths. Transitioning to other work from a graduate program that focuses on training students for academic professions may be personally traumatic, involving a complete overhaul of one’s career aspirations (Erin Bartram, “Why Everyone Loses When Someone Leaves Academe”). Retraining for a new career path may also mean earning a second degree or credential after the Ph.D., often at significant personal cost in time and money. Even as the need for new career paths for scholars has become urgent, our institutions have been slow to adjust: many Ph.D. programs resolutely prepare their graduate students for the kind of academic jobs that are likely no longer available to them.

This situation is a crisis not only for individual musicologists, but also for the discipline of musicology and for the American Musicological Society.

The association of musicology with academic employment is a comparatively recent development. Early in the twentieth century, musicology was not only the province of professors. As Tamara Levitz has pointed out, the AMS of the mid-1930s was allied with the pedagogy-focused Music Teachers’ National Association. From the 1930s through the 1950s, Levitz explains, music research on a broad range of topics was pursued by people situated in a variety of roles and professions (Levitz, “The Musicological Elite,” p. 25-27). Advertisements for musicological services, like the one on this page from 1951, reveal that independent scholarship existed in a variety of forms.

Margaret McClure Stitt, Advertisement for musicological services. Official Program of the Thirty-second Annual Convention of the Ohio Federation of Music Clubs, Cincinnati, Ohio, April 1951, p. 28. Ohio History Connection, MSS 598, Ohio Federation of Music Clubs Records, 1926-1968, box 1, folder “Minutes and Convention Reports: 1948-1952.”

In recent decades, the AMS has bound itself too closely to academic employment. AMS members have relied on travel subsidies from universities to attend our meetings, and the relatively stable pay of tenure-track jobs means that AMS members in those positions could afford to pay the dues and conference registration fees that fund the society’s activities. Since the 1960s, scholars unaffiliated with academic institutions have been the exception, not the rule. Now that academic musicology is under duress, so is the discipline. Membership in the AMS and other scholarly societies is declining. If fewer people are paid to carry out the work of the discipline, how will the discipline continue? If a shrinking professoriate means a shrinking society, the AMS will not be able to carry out its mission “to advance scholarship in the various fields of music through research, learning, and teaching” (https://www.amsmusicology.org).

But nothing in the AMS’s mission statement says that advancing scholarship is only or even principally a mission for people who work in academic institutions. If the AMS wants to continue its mission, it is urgent that the society broaden its vision of the discipline and of musicological work. Musicologists hold jobs in publishing, technology startups, the music distribution industry, and more. The most closely affiliated professions, like museums and librarianship, cannot alone employ all of the musicologists seeking related careers. Academic-adjacent professions are themselves under stress, and they typically require skills not taught in a musicology PhD. Nevertheless, musicologists are finding valuable ways to use the skills and sensibilities developed in their training.

As musicologists enter a variety of professions, are they “leaving the field,” as it is commonly said? (Alex Lancaster, “Beyond the alt-ac”)  Or are they “taking the field to new places”? If the society wants to survive, it must offer musicologists ways to remain connected to the society and its mission, no matter what lines of work they pursue. And the AMS must attend to and value the contributions of these musicologists.

What can the AMS do to support individual musicologists and the continued vitality of the discipline?

Our meetings should aim to include a broader variety of topics and perspectives, both in research talks and in other formats. AMS members value many kinds of professional development—including conversations about music metadata, teaching, archiving, copyright, public outreach, and mediation technologies—and the AMS should offer space for workshops on these topics. As Leah Branstetter, Digital Education Manager at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, has noted, “People in different kinds of industries throughout music, humanities, culture can offer perspectives and resources that make academic research stronger and more relevant (and vice versa)” (personal communication). This broader view of the discipline will mean accepting research presentations on more topics and making room at the conference for formal and informal professional development in new directions, and our understanding will be the better for it.

Our society should cultivate inclusiveness in all its processes: in making the program for the annual meeting, in deciding who gets awards or grants, and on the council and board. Inclusiveness means not waiting until a musicologist seems “senior” by academic standards to invite them to serve in a leadership role; and it means paying attention to the composition of panels and committees to purposefully include musicologists who work in a variety of jobs, especially those whose employment is precarious.

Individual members of the society at all career phases should invest in a broader vision by learning what lines of work musicologists are pursuing, and by supporting these kinds of work in the society and in the discipline. By welcoming all sorts of musicologists in service to the society, by building conference panels with them, and by writing letters of recommendation for them, we can make the society attractive and invite continuing participation. By choosing to converse with people at our conferences who have unfamiliar affiliations on their nametags, we broaden our own education. By advising our students that multiple kinds of musicological work exist, we may also support the survival of our discipline.

Musicologists who are working in contingent positions typically have fewer resources for research and professional development. The AMS must find ways to support contingent laborers. Our nonprofit status means that we cannot act as a labor union ("How Not to Confront the Jobs"); but we can speak up for decent working conditions as individuals and as a society (see “The AMS and Contingent Faculty”). The recent change in the terms of the society’s Janet Levy Fund allows contingent workers to apply for the grant: an important first step. It will be a challenge to find further funds to offer, as the existing financial resources of the AMS are largely restricted to their assigned uses. But such support is essential if we are to keep precariously employed people in the disciplinary conversation. Contingently employed musicologists may have teaching loads of five or more courses per semester. Some but not all have the time and resources to engage in research; regardless, all are still part of the discipline. Ensuring that contingent faculty help determine the content of AMS meetings will ensure that the AMS is working for them and increase the likelihood of keeping them in the society.

None of the actions proposed here will make everything okay for individuals or for the discipline. But adapting to structural changes will be an essential step if we want musicologists and musicology to thrive. All members of the AMS—not only its early-career members—need to understand these changes so that we can adapt to these new conditions. The American Historical Association (AHA) has compiled an informative database that shows that one-fifth of historians are already working outside the academy (Where Historians Work) and it continues to publicize information about career paths. Through its Career Diversity Initiative the AHA has also worked to demonstrate the value of doctoral education for many kinds of employment. The AMS has begun gathering data about outcomes for PhDs in musicology over the past ten years and will use this information to make choices that support our colleagues and the discipline.

The AMS has about 2,400 members, many of whom feel a strong sense of belonging. But many people will remain in the society only if they have reason to do so—if the society welcomes them and meets their professional and personal needs. To care for our colleagues and for the discipline will require energy, flexibility, and commitment. I encourage every member of the AMS to work toward an inclusive vision of musicology.
Danielle Fosler-Lussier works part time as Professor of Music at Ohio State University. In addition to the editors of Musicology Now, she thanks Reba Wissner, Leah Branstetter, Suzanne Cusick, Alison Furlong, Kirsten Carithers, Steve Swayne, Kelly Hiser, and “Musicology Twitter” for their editorial wisdom and their advice about these concerns.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Memories of Music in Game of Thrones

By Alex Ludwig

This year is certain to test the Ironborn assertion, “What is dead may never die,” as three pillars of popular culture attempt to bring about a satisfying conclusion to their stories. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) just completed its “Infinity Saga,” after 22 films and 11 years; Game of Thrones (GoT) is in the midst of its eighth and final season; and in December, the Star Wars franchise, which began in 1977, will conclude its “Skywalker” saga.

All three of these endeavors demand a tremendous amount of time from the viewer: the nine Star Wars films will clock in at roughly 30 hours, while GoT and the MCU are nearly double that length. Given this investment, it is no coincidence that the musical design of these franchises looks for inspiration to a similarly immersive work of culture, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Wagner’s extensive use of leitmotifs, in which musical phrases represent people, places, and even emotions, is appropriated here in Game of Thrones so that people, places, and great houses all have their own musical material. Using Wagner’s Ring as a model, I examine the dramatic deployment of both diegetic and non-diegetic musical cues in a Game of Thrones episode titled, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” (S8E2).

In many ways, this episode is unusual: most of the main characters are gathered in one place, awaiting the army of the dead; and it functions like a giant anticipation, or upbeat, for the upcoming battle. The episode avoids action in favor of quiet contemplation, and reunites many pairs of characters (and swords) that have been long separated.

Ramin Djawadi’s musical score, which combines both diegetic and non-diegetic cues, enhances these quiet moments with additional layers of information. In the first scene of the episode, Jaime Lannister—known as the Kingslayer—arrives in Winterfell, despite having fought against the forces assembled there nearly his entire life. He does so at great personal risk, which only subsides once Lady Brienne vouches for him. After this point, Djawadi includes a musical reference to Jaime’s past, a direct callback to the first statement of Jaime’s “Kingslayer” theme, heard in the episode titled, “Kissed By Fire” (S3E5).

This callback is made more powerful given its initial dramatic framework: in the past scene, Jaime has explained that he killed the Mad King to save the realm, draining the “Kingslayer” moniker of its power; additionally, this confession furthers Brienne’s understanding of Jaime, enhancing her admiration for him. Djawadi’s inclusion of this “Kingslayer” leitmotif here in S8E2 illustrates not only the growth of both Sir Jaime and Lady Brienne, but also the deep connection that they share.

“Kissed By Fire” is also referenced later in this episode, and in a much darker emotional context concerning Shireen Baratheon, the daughter of the fallen king Stannis. Earlier in the series, she has not only befriended Sir Davos Seaworth and Gilly, but also taught them to read. In “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” these two characters come across a young girl suffering from greyscale—the same illness that afflicted Shireen. Beneath this interaction Djawadi supplies a musical quotation of a ballad, “It’s Always Summer Under the Sea,” that Shireen first sang in “Kissed By Fire.” This quotation is non-diegetic, so Davos and Gilly can’t hear it, but its appearance here confirms for the viewer that Davos and Gilly are thinking about Shireen.

Ironically, the screenwriter for this episode, Bryan Cogman mentioned in a podcast called Still Watching: Game of Thrones that an early draft of the script called for a long, static conversation about Shireen between Sir Davos and Gilly. Transforming this conversation into a seemingly innocuous interaction with a Shireen-like cipher allows the audience to discover a subtle, yet deeply emotional, moment of recognition.  

Near the end of the episode, Podrick Payne—formerly a squire for Tyrion Lannister, now working with Brienne of Tarth—sings a mournful ballad to a ragtag assortment of men who have just witnessed Lady Brienne’s ascension to the title of knight. This diegetic cue, performed first by the actor Daniel Portman in the scene and later by Florence + the Machine during the end credits, is simple, yet powerful in its dramatic impact. The music itself betrays a modal influence: sung by a solo male voice, the melody is characterized by an initial leap upward followed by a persistent repetition of the fifth scale degree; the consequent phrase is frequently decorated by the lowered third and sixth scale degrees. The somber music emphasizes the images on the screen, as the camera finds each member of the audience. Podrick’s singing becomes a voiceover as a montage quickly shows a series of couples, ending with Daenerys and Jon in the crypts below Winterfell.

This entire sequence amplifies the emotional heft of Jaime Lannister knighting Brienne as “Sir Brienne.” It functions like an opera's aria: halting the plot, the filmmakers pause on the characters as they consider the momentous occasion; similarly, the montage showing characters outside the room reinforces the emotionally fraught moments on the eve of an apocalyptic battle. By foregrounding this piece of diegetic music, the filmmakers provide time for both the characters and the viewing audience to process this iconic moment. (For more on the lyrics and their narrative function, see this Vox explainer.) Whether this song carries a narrative implication remains to be seen.

Nonetheless, the sonic signals in Ramin Djawadi’s score for this episode — including the diegetic song and two non-diegetic cues discussed above — exemplify the musically complex and multivalent opportunities available to an extensive franchise like Game of Thrones. Whether in leitmotivic recollections inspired by Wagner’s Ring Cycle or in diegetic performances that draw on mythology of the story, musical memories in Djawadi’s score for Game of Thrones are often essential elements in creating meaning and narrative for the viewer.

Alex Ludwig is an assistant professor of the liberal arts at the Berklee College of Music, where he teaches courses on film music, pop music, and string quartets.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Three Musical Works About “Old Paris”

By Jacek Blaszkiewicz

My first time in front of Notre Dame was in 2014. I had just passed my PhD qualifying exams and had flown to Leeds to attend a conference. A spur-of-the-moment decision—and cheap European airfare—found me in Paris days later. I was just beginning research on a dissertation that aimed to uncover the parallels between Paris’s musical and urban histories during the nineteenth century. I had heard the music and read the books, but had never seen the place, so I was expecting to be blown off my feet and into the Seine at the sublime sight of Paris’s most famous sacred monument.

I resisted the urge to reach for my phone to take a picture. To do so, I feared, would be to succumb to that touristic faux pas: to see a place in order to have seen it, as art critic Robert Hughes once quipped.<1>

On Monday, April 15, a fire engulfed Notre Dame’s roof and spire, devastating large parts of the cathedral. As gruesome images flooded my social media feeds, I noticed a common theme among posts by those who, like myself, had spent time in Paris. Their photos, which they once thought inconsequential, became personal relics. These photos now bore the weight of their grief.  While the philanthropic outpouring in the wake of the Notre Dame fire is understandable and justified, it should also remind us of the sacred spaces that have also suffered destruction but do not benefit from the prestige of being urban/national monuments. Cities, in other words, must hold both the monumental and the mundane in their care.

The city of Paris has seen its share of destruction, both accidental and deliberate. Before 1860, Notre Dame was the center of a dense working-class district. As do documented by Charles Soulier’s photographs of the Île de la Cité, Notre Dame shared the skyline with a dense collection of municipal buildings and working-class housing (See image below). After 1860, Emperor Napoléon III’s right-hand bureaucrat Georges-Eugène “Baron” Haussmann oversaw the near-total demolition of the Île de la Cité, razing nearly every edifice associated with the working class and leaving only the cathedral and a few other government buildings. This is the Île de la Cité we now know, an island whose sole purpose—to tourists, at least—is to provide vantage points from which to admire Notre Dame’s monumentality at a distance.

The Second Empire did not grieve the destruction of centuries-old houses, alleys, and squares, as those structures stood in the way of the streamlined urban utopia for which Napoléon and Haussmann both pined.<2> But as aesthetic trends shifted in the 1850s from the romantic to the realistic, composers increasingly issued nostalgic tributes to Le vieux Paris, or the working-class Parisian landscape that preceded Haussmannization. Entire books were written on the subject, such as Victor Fournel’s Paris nouveau, Paris future (1865) and Amédée de Ponthieu’s Légendes du vieux Paris (1867).

Writers, musicians and artists had of course mined “Old Paris” for inspiration well before 1850: Janequin’s Voulez ouyr des Cris de Paris (c. 1530) is an entertaining example that I use in my music history classes to discuss how musicians translated the chaotic din of the city into ordered polyphony.<3>

But nostalgia for Paris’s landscape became a dignified literary trope during the Second Empire, taking a more serious, methodical tone than preceding treatments of the subject. The liminal spaces of working-class Paris became to French musicians and writers what historian Pierre Nora would call lieux de mémoire, or physical or symbolic spaces that accumulate meaning through invented traditions such as consecrations, visits, and artistic reproductions.<4> Lieux de mémoire are palimpsests, in that their perceived immortality is due to frequent additions and reconstructions over time. As vast networks of liminal spaces and lieux de mémoires, cities undergo a continuous process of destruction and reconstruction. As Michel de Certeau so eloquently put it, “the surface order [of a city] is everywhere punched and torn open by ellipses, drifts, and leaks of meaning.”<5> Notre Dame was not built to last forever, at least not in any particular version. The cultural memory of an urban space is constructed out of both material and immaterial substance: stone, wood, and glass, but also poetry, music, journalism, and literature.

Music can also assume the role of a lieu de mémoire. It can evoke memory, interpret shared experience, and—via a programmatic association or tie to a political event—directly contribute to discourses around identity formation. Three musical works dating from the mid- to late-nineteenth century encapsulate this fusion of what Alexander Etkind would call “hard” and “soft” cultural memories.<6> Jean-Georges Kastner’s Les voix de Paris, Augusta Holmès’s Lutèce, and Gustave Charpentier’s Louise are not repertory staples, neither in the U.S. nor in France. But each work engages meaningfully with the material and immaterial forces that constituted the imagined landscape of le vieux Paris.

Kastner, Les cris de Paris (1857)

Jean-Georges Kastner (1810-67) married rich, so he did not need to compose to make a living. Today he is best remembered for his treatises on orchestration (1844) and military band music (1848). In 1857 Kastner published Les voix de Paris, a quasi-ethnographic essay on the history of street hawkers in the French capital. Kastner includes musical examples to buttress his ideas about the timbre and contour of different street industries. At the end of the essay is a fully scored, three-movement work for orchestra and chorus titled Les cris de Paris.<7> Despite the work’s humorous tone, noted critics such as François-Joseph Fétis and Joseph d’Ortigue were struck by the nostalgic tone of Kastner’s writing; indeed Kastner frequently refers to hawkers as fellow members of his musical community.<8> No recording of the work exists, but Ensemble Janequin arranged a madrigalesque version of a portion of Kastner’s work:


Holmès, Lutèce (1878)

Lutèce was the name of the Roman-era Gallic settlement on which the city of Paris was built. In the late 1860s, during a massive bulldozing of the 5th arrondissement, the archaeologist Théodore Vacquer discovered the ruins of an arena, which turned out to be the largest remaining structure from the city’s Lutèce era.<9> In the wake of its discovery, the Arènes de Lutèce became a divisive subject of debate. On one hand, it presented an obstacle to building an omnibus depot on the city’s Left Bank. On the other, it reinvigorated a preservationist movement that directly challenged Haussmann’s irreverent attitude towards the city’s historical geography.

It was in the midst of this debate that, in 1878, the City of Paris sponsored a competition for a new, large-scale musical work. Augusta Holmès (1847-1903) submitted a work titled Lutèce, a symphonie dramatique for orchestra, soloists, and chorus. Although it came in second (after first-prize entries by Benjamin Godard and Théodore Dubois), Lutèce was unanimously praised by the composers on the jury. Le mènestrel praised Holmès’s work, despite expressing surprise that it was indeed “written by a woman.”<10> The text, by Holmès herself, features themes fit for a government-funded contest: a call to battle, war, defeat, and redemption. Lutèce is a tour-de-force of stylistic hybridity, fusing Wagnerian chromaticism, leitmotivs, neo-medieval fanfares, and tightly knit choral polyphony.<11> Viewed in the context of the ongoing debates about the city’s Roman ruins, Holmès’s work was a powerful reminder that Third-Republic Paris’s self-fashioning was tied to the city’s Gallo-Roman past.


Charpentier, Louise (1900)

Louise is the story of a seamstress who navigates relationships with her parents, her neighbor Julien, and her working-class milieu in Montmartre. Scholars have explored the opera’s ties to Wagnerism and to fin-de-siècle realism.<12> But what is most striking is how Charpentier weaves street hawkers’ melodies—known for centuries as the Cris de Paris—into the orchestral fabric of the prelude to Act II. Charpentier had clearly consulted Kastner’s Les voix de Paris; the sweeping modal melody heard in the example below had been attributed by Kastner to the marchande de plaisir, a street vendor who sold candies and other trinkets to passersby in the streets. The same motive also appears in Offenbach’s Mesdames de la Halle, a one-act opérette-bouffe from 1858 that features Parisian market vendors in protagonist roles.<13> Kastner, Offenbach, and Charpentier not only drew on the same subject material, but also imbued Paris’s working-class community with musical agency. The hawkers’ melodies transcend mere couleur locale and play key structural and dramaturgical roles in the composers’ respective works. In each of these cases, le vieux Paris takes center stage.

As I have argued here, musical works, like monuments and cities, are palimpsests. Their caretakers add meaning to them, update them, reinterpret them, or slavishly preserve them. In the nineteenth century, Parisian musicians actively participated in discourses around urbanization, giving credit where it was due, but also resisting the modernist impulse to sacrifice the everyday to make room for the exceptional. The nineteenth-century notion of le vieux Paris became a revisionist ideology that expressed care for the unremarkable, forgettable, and un-monumental aspects of modern life. Rebuilding Notre Dame will add new layers to the cathedral’s rich history, not only as a lieu de mémoire, but also as a center of community.  Just as the vieux Paris narrative granted agency to everyday spaces and communities, so too should Notre Dame inspire us to think and act locally.

The Society for French Historical Studies, H-France, the Society for the Study of French History, and the Western Society for French History are collectively soliciting donations to the rebuilding effort of Notre Dame cathedral. You can read about it here.

Donations for the rebuilding of the Seventh District Baptist Church, the St. Mary Baptist Church, and the Greater Union Baptist Church can be made here.
<1>See Robert Hughes’s documentary The Mona Lisa Curse (2008).
<2>On urbanization and Second-Empire notions of utopia, see David P. Jordan, Transforming Paris: the Life and Labors of Baron Haussmann (New York: Free Press, 1995); and David Harvey, Paris, Capital of Modernity (New York: Routledge, 2005).
<3>On polyphony and the Parisian soundscape before Janequin, see Emma Dillon, The Sense of Sound: Musical Meaning in France, 1260-1330 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
<4>See Pierre Nora, “From Lieux de mémoire to Realms of Memory,” in Realms of Memory: The Construction of the French Past, under the direction of Pierre Nora, ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman, trans. Arthur Goldhammer, 3 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).
<5>Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, translated by Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 107.
<6>See Alexander Etkind, “Hard and Soft in Cultural Memory,” Grey Room 16 (Summer, 2004), 36-59.
<7>On street cries as a literary trope, see Aimée Boutin, City of Noise: Sound and Nineteenth-Century Paris (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2015).
<8>See my article “Listening to the Old City: Street Cries and Urbanization in Paris, ca. 1860,” in Journal of Musicology, forthcoming.
<9>See Colin Jones, “Théodore Vacquer and the Archaeology of Modernity in Haussmann’s Paris,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 17 (2007), 157-183.
<10>See Jann Pasler, “The Ironies of Gender, or, Virility and Politics in the Music of Augusta Holmès,” Women and Music 2 (1998), 1-25.
<11>See Mark Seto, “Luigi Cherubini and Augusta Holmes,” in Nineteenth-Century Choral Music (New York: Routledge 2013), 220-21.
<12>See Steven Huebner, French Opera at the Fin de Siècle: Wagnerism, Nationalism, and Style (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); and Emily Laurance, “Varieties of Operatic Realism in Nineteenth-Century France: The Case of Gustave Charpentier’s Louise,” PhD diss., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2003.
<13>See my chapter “Street Cries on the Operetta Stage: Offenbach’s Mesdames de la Halle,” in
Musical Theatre in Europe, 1830-1945, edited by Michela Niccolai and Clair Rowden, 63-89 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2017).
Jacek Blaszkiewicz completed a PhD in musicology at the Eastman School of Music in 2018, where he was supported by an Alvin Johnson AMS-50 Fellowship. Currently the Sorkin Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Williams College, Jacek will join the music history faculty at Wayne State University in Fall 2019.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Folk Music and Fascism: A Divisive History

By Ross Cole

Folk music is near synonymous with the left. This union is so apparent and longstanding in the Anglophone world that we rarely ever think to question it. Haunting the revival of the 1960s, the archetype of a folk singer is beholden to legends such as Woody Guthrie, his guitar emblazoned with the phrase “This Machine Kills Fascists” (now available online for $4 a piece).

Although folk music was employed in the service both of communist state propaganda (vividly illustrated in Paweł Pawlikowski’s recent film Cold War) and in support of the Third Reich, our concept of folklore has tended to remain wedded to a proletarian or progressive vision. Folk music partisans, themselves frequently stalwart Marxists or card-carrying Party members, were at the vanguard of the most iconic political struggles of the twentieth century, from the Industrial Workers of the World and the Popular Front to the civil rights movement, CND, and the movement for reproductive rights.

In the public imagination, the folk revivalist is a dyed-in-the-wool radical, an activist whose commitment to the betterment of the common woman and man was forged in the furnace of anti-capitalist hostility. The frivolous offerings of the commercial music industry only serve to compound this opposition to the marketplace and its profit-hungry moguls. And so the folk singer rages against commerce and decadence with songs of social injustice, their roots firmly grounded in the topography of home.

But this tradition of thought is built upon a paradoxical foundation, one that casts a disconcerting shadow on the vision of folk music as a tool of resistance.

Folkloric thinking echoes what Raymond Williams saw as a form of “idealist retrospect” – a way of measuring change and resisting capitalist injustice nevertheless in danger of reinforcing undemocratic hierarchies “in the name of blood and soil”.<1> Might folk music share a common history with the very forces it has strived so hard to resist?

Indeed it does. Looking back at the work of the most influential and indefatigable British song collector Cecil J. Sharp brings this strange correlation into focus.

Sharp, a Fabian socialist with strong nationalist leanings (he was a member of the imperialistic Navy League), believed that folk song should be used to combat an ostensible erosion of white, English identity. Writing in 1907, he claimed that
Our system of education is, at present, too cosmopolitan; it is calculated to produce citizens of the world rather than Englishmen. And it is Englishmen, English citizens, that we want. How can this be remedied? By taking care, I would suggest, that every child born of English parents is, in its earliest years, placed in possession of all those things which are the distinctive products of its race…If every child be placed in possession of all these race-products, he will know and understand his country and his countrymen far better than he does at present; and knowing and understanding them he will love them the more, realize that he is united to them by the subtle bond of blood and kinship, and become, in the highest sense of the word, a better citizen, and a truer patriot.<2>

Although many of his contemporaries fought vociferously against such ideas, Sharp’s vision of revivalism emerged triumphant on both sides of the Atlantic, pairing a commitment to organic nationalism and racial hierarchy with a socialist resistance against cultural degeneration and the ravages of industrial capitalism.

On the surface, these political commitments may seem baffling––what Dave Harker describes as a “bizarre mixture of radical and reactionary”.<3> But they are by no means inconsistent. As the Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell has argued, such a confluence must be seen not simply as the precursor to fascist regimes but rather as a powerfully attractive nexus of ideas circulating throughout Europe at the fin de siècle predicated on a revision of Marxism in which a “revolution of the spirit” trumps revolution proper.<4>

This ideology sought above all to unify a class-ridden society through the idea of the nation viewed as a racial community with sacred ties to the soil. “Before it became a political force,” Sternhell affirms, fascism was “a cultural phenomenon”.<5>

Our conception of folk music from Somerset to Appalachia is indelibly marked by this moment largely as a result of Sharp’s interventions. As the collector Lucy Broadwood wrote in a personal letter to her sister in 1924, Sharp elected himself “King of the whole movement” and “was by the general ignorant public taken at his own valuation”.

What’s surprising is the extent to which his ideas—deeply conditioned by extreme nationalism, racism, misogyny, and xenophobia—have managed to circulate without having their political meanings fully scrutinized.<6> In this sense, he has been supremely successful: such ideas reverberate silently and all the more powerfully within objects and cultural practices that, for many people, exist as innocent tokens of the past.

Sharp, in other words, holds a profound sway over public memory. Even within academic circles today, the term “folk” is often employed in its Sharpian guise without due attention paid to the broader discursive ecology that afforded its emergence and proliferation. Instead, it is taken as a given and hence becomes a blind spot.

Lurking under the surface of folk culture’s celebration of the past is a call not to international solidarity, equality, and brotherhood but to blood and soil nativism. This contradiction plagues the folk revivalist project, its songs and dances always endeavoring to reconcile the conflicting pull of history and locality with human unity.

In the current political climate it is worth pausing to reflect on how many ideas, assumptions, and institutions are indebted to the same patterns of thought as was Sharp. His ugly ideology rears its head as the mouthpiece of white supremacy when the majority feels under threat, from Paddy Tarleton’s noxious “Charlottesville Ballad (War is Coming)” to neo-Nazi investment in the mythology of Celtic music. To what degree, we should ask, can folk song escape this darker aspect of its intellectual heritage?
<1>Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (London: Chatto & Windus, 1973), 35–6.
<2>Cecil J. Sharp, English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions (London: Simpkin & Co., 1907), 135–6.
<3>Dave Harker, Fakesong: The Manufacture of British “Folksong”, 1700 to the Present Day (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1985), 175.
<4>Zeev Sternhell, Neither Right nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France, translated by David Maisel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 272.
<5>Zeev Sternhell with Mario Sznajder and Maia Asheri, The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution, translated by David Maisel (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 3.
<6>Notable exceptions include Georgina Boyes, The Imagined Village: Culture, Ideology and the English Folk Revival (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993) and Daniel J. Walkowitz, City Folk: English Country Dance and the Politics of the Folk in Modern America (New York: New York University Press, 2010).

Ross Cole is a Junior Research Fellow in music at the University of Cambridge.

Whither “Musicologist”?

By Jacques Dupuis

Apple’s June 5, 2017 Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) keynote presentation was, by many measures, a fairly standard, very polished Apple production, full of the usual slick visuals and catch-phrase styled language that reflects the company’s famous, tightly controlled image. Toward the end of the keynote, CEO Tim Cook brought Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, Phil Schiller, to the stage to launch an announcement of Apple’s latest product, the HomePod, a product Schiller positioned primarily for listening to music. Amidst his delivery of Apple-typical claims of reshaping the world, Schiller enumerated three key innovations of the product: 1. high quality speakers; 2. adaptive spatial acoustic functions; and 3. a musicologist.

Reactions were immediate as Schiller announced that the “built-in musicologist”—working with the virtual assistant, Siri, as something between an AI disc-jockey and a fact finder—would “help us hear the music we love, or discover the music we’re going to love” through the music streaming service, Apple Music. While many people reacted to the company’s high aspirations or the product’s functionality, others were struck by the word “musicologist.” On Twitter, some users were enthusiastic:

ചെർപ്പുളശ്ശേരിക്കാരൻ (@mathi_dili), June 5, 2017: #musicologist

     #HomePods‬. Apple comes with such cool or strange Names !!

Others were critical:

Shawn Dessaigne (@satansrobot), June 5, 2017: I'm not sure Apple knows what a
      musicologist is or does.

Bronson Foster (@bronsonfoster), June 5, 2017: Still trying to get over @Apple‬'s incredibly
      incredibly ignorant use of the word "#musicologist‬." Feeling bad for my colleagues now
      dealing with it. 

Gene De Lisa (@genedelisadev), June 5, 2017: @Apple‬, N.B. "Musicologist" is an actual
      profession and the majority of them hold PhDs. What HomePod is doing is not
      musicology. #WWDC17

Jacob Daniels (@senatordaniels), June 5, 2017: Siri is not a musicologist.

Still others were skeptical the word exists:

Matt LaForest (@mudetroit), June 5, 2017: “Musicologist” is not a word
      @Apple‬ not a word

Looking slightly beneath the surface, a common theme in these responses is uncertainty of what the word “musicologist” is actually doing here, a question that some musicology scholars also grappled with, albeit in a slightly different way. Following Apple’s late-January 2018 announcement of the HomePod’s February shipping date, Linda Shaver-Gleason noted in a good-humored but nevertheless incisive post on her blog, Not Another Music History Cliché, that responses from academics had varied between humorous and self-deprecating:

Gabrielle Cornish (@gcornish91), June 5, 2017: I'll believe Apple's HomePod
      is a musicologist when I hear its response to "Hey Siri, how do you feel about John

Sam Blickhan (@snblickhan), June 6, 2017: I'm a musicologist who works in handwritten
      text transcription. @Apple‬ came for both my jobs this week but it's cool. #WWDC17

Greg McCandless (@gmccandless), June 6, 2017: "Hey Siri, please explain the influence
      of post-structuralism on this artist's oeuvre via a semiotic analysis." #HomePod

While some were decidedly neutral:

William Gibbons (@musicillogical), June 5, 2017: Am I the only musicologist unperturbed
      about this Apple thing?

As many recalled at both the WWDC and release date announcements, however, this was not the first time a music streaming service had adopted the term “musicologist” to address the limitations of algorithm driven music recommendations. Pandora Radio has long employed a team of curators it calls “musicologists” for its Music Genome Project whose goal is effectively to develop stronger metadata for the platform’s algorithms, which select music that “fits” together for automated, personalized radio stations. In September 2012, Nokia introduced an ill-fated streaming service for the similarly ill-fated Windows Phone, where “consumers [could] stream music from a suite of over 150 exclusive playlists that are curated and kept up to date by an expert team of US based musicologists.” And in 2014, Warner Music Group’s music cataloguing and marketing arm, Rhino, issued a call for the individual user to “become a Rhino musicologist,” and “share their superior musical taste with the world,” in the form of playlists submitted via its application within Spotify. In method, Pandora tends more toward machine learning, with a distinctly individual-centered and ephemeral result, while Nokia and Rhino leaned more toward human, static outcomes. And in procedure, Rhino’s crowd-sourced method acts as a foil to the in-house approaches of both Pandora and Nokia.

By the time Apple announced its HomePod, ample precedent had been set for “musicologists” in the music streaming industry, even as there remains conceptual ambiguity in individual idiosyncratic usages of the term by different companies. Still, there are some overarching implications in these usages beyond pretenses of neologism or rebranding established practices. To twist the earlier question toward historical terms: why can the word “musicologist” do any work in this situation, at all? What basis is there for marketing teams at these companies choosing it in the first place?

Nick Matarese (@nmatares), June 6, 2017: “They focused on making Siri a "musicologist" instead of a better generalist. T-shaped assistant.”

When a Google product designer, Nick Materese, tweeted this concatenation on the morning after Apple’s WWDC announcement, he gestured toward a possible interpretation of Silicon Valley’s adoption of a term that seems superficially pretty foreign to the tech industry. Matarese humanizes Siri qua musicologist in her HomePod morph by characterizing her as T-shaped, capable of many things with deep specialization in one. The description is apt, especially accounting for the other functions she performs, but rather than cast Siri as a startup team member, as “T-shaped” connotes, I would suggest that Materese’s reference to generalists invokes, intentionally or not, a historical context of yearning for guiding lights and experts amongst wider publics.

Around the turn of the twentieth century in the United States, intellectual atmospheres were in flux, particularly within the college-educated, white, middle to upper class, where emphases on broad-based knowledge lost value to deeper understanding of specific subject areas—from breadth to depth, from generalism to specialism. This philosophical evolution did not simply expunge nineteenth century genteel culture’s generalism for greater sequestration in subfields; rather, significant overlap occurred and gentility lingered well into the time when university curricula began catering to greater depth in ever more insular majors. As Joan Shelley Rubin details in The Making of Middlebrow Culture, this tension contributed to the rise of “the middlebrow,” a historically contingent category that includes products and activities intended to stimulate cultural or intellectual elevation for consumers.<1> Very often, these products bore names like “A Brief History of…”, or the “Five-Foot Shelf of Books,” intended to “furnish a liberal education to anyone willing to devote fifteen minutes per day to reading them”.<2>

Among figures like Will Durant, John Erskine, Stuart Pratt Sherman and Irita Van Doren that Rubin describes, Henry Seidel Canby supplies us with an interesting and demonstrative case. Canby’s origins and education align him closely to genteel generalism as he progressed through studies at Yale, eventually earning a PhD in 1905 and a faculty position there in 1908. Becoming restless with materialism’s specializing influence on curricula at Yale as students sought well-paying jobs over well-roundedness, he eventually left the academy and became editor of Literary Review for the New York Evening Post, a publication intended to inform its audience’s reading choices. Before long, he landed on the Board of Judges for Harry Scherman’s Book of the Month Club, founded in 1926.<3> Canby’s Ivy League pedigree and personal intellectual philosophy made him well-suited to serve as a guiding light before a wider public, part and parcel of an industry partially reliant on this sort of personality for its legitimation.

 Henry Seidel Canby<4>

Closely resembling these printed products, educational entertainment also appeared on the radio in the 1920s and 30s, with programming featuring an intellectual guide leading discussions or lectures on classic or contemporary literature. Eventually, universities supported radio lectures by their professors, in a role akin to the work of today’s university extension course lecturers. In products legitimized by professorial experts like Canby, what buyers purchased was as much the opinions of the experts as it was the Book of the Month.

What I want to spotlight here about the figure of Henry Canby and middlebrow products is the strong customer appeal of the guiding expert. Products like the Book of the Month and radio lectures by university experts took shape from a demand for cultural cache, not unlike human or algorithmic curators of streaming music playlists and radio stations. While tech companies’ adoption of the term “musicologist” came as a jolt of humility to those of us who lay claim to that title professionally, offering a patina of expertise and pre-packaged access to elite culture is the actual work that the word “musicologist” does for Pandora, Apple and others. This resonance with historical middlebrow products, I would argue, is a primary reason the term carries any significance at all. Consumers buying legitimacy buy the supposed privilege of being in the know, much like the connoisseur outlets of Pitchfork or Fanfare Magazine.

Taking a step back, applying the term “musicologist” to a digital assistant puts the face of an expert on the thing; more simply, it puts a face on a thing, humanizing and warming it. It seeks to resolve a problem that in March of 2018 Washington Post pop music critic, Chris Richards, saw in platforms like Spotify, where “algorithm-generated playlists often feel like mix tapes made by bots,” which they are. The appeal of humanity explains why, when devising the Book of the Month, Harry Scherman’s decision to cultivate images of personalities to sell his products rather than curate a faceless catalog listing worked as well as it did. Humanization sells.

While streaming services’ adoption of expert “musicologists” puts consumers in the know, it also contributes to platforms’ generation of communities. Generally speaking, individuals who follow an expert (middlebrow or other) form a virtual community akin to Benedict Anderson’s imagined communities, where readers gather in common consumption of literature, or slightly adapted, follow the ideas of an expert.<5> In the case of music streaming, literature can be substituted by playlists, which can be curated by “musicologists” (experts). Spotify, as a prominent example, plainly exhibits other markers of community, as well: if they choose, users register by linking a social media account, subsequently follow their contacts’ activities, and even make collaborative playlists with them.

Other features generate not only communities, but what can be termed publics. Literary critic Michael Warner, in his influential essay, “Publics and Counterpublics,” gives a number of criteria required for an entity to garner the status, “public.” Most significantly, Warner revises the all-encompassing and much-critiqued formulation of “the” public from Jürgen Habermas’s The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere into a nimbler, more flexible configuration of multiple publics. His criteria for whether an entity is “a” public include: 1) self-organization, 2) a relation of strangers, and 3) constitution through mere attention.<6> Determining whether music streaming users constitute a public, individuals voluntarily become users, qualifying them as self-organized. Linking to one’s Facebook friends on the platform could disqualify certain regions of Spotify from being a public, per Warner, but users can subscribe to and consume Spotify’s algorithm/musicologist-curated playlists. Such subscriber groups bring together individuals who otherwise would not know one another, creating relations between strangers. Though Warner thinks primarily of written media in his prerequisite of “mere attention” (that is, multiple strangers’ simultaneous consumption of the same piece of writing), sociologist Georgina Born cites Benedict Anderson in positing that music performs the same function: “Music animates imagined communities, aggregating its listeners into virtual collectivities or publics based on musical and other identifications.” Music streaming services do similar work to the online piracy communities Born elsewhere references as facilitating “the virtual or stranger alliances and collectivities generated by the mediation circulation of music and sound.”<8> If these parallels work only as implied evidence of the virtual communities to which streaming services’ “experts” contribute, to a self-consciously literal, nominal extreme, there is even a message board, the Spotify Community, which fulfills one other of Warner’s rules for “a” public: ongoing, reflexive discourse. Surfing alongside all of this is the “musicologist,” with its expertise and curated playlists.

Lest we dismiss these elements as menial or incidental, the proliferation of black markets for playlists shows that there is big business in fostering a healthy community or public, whether in music streaming or in middlebrow cultural products. Realistically, all of these communal features are profit-minded, exploiting the dopamine-inducing potential at the heart of social media’s allure. Nevertheless, each contributes some element of community or public. In reflecting upon what music streaming services do when they adopt a term like “musicologist,” parsing the user experience gives significant insight into why the fictional figure of the music streaming musicologist has any impact, at all. Just as the Book of the Month and university-supported radio programming catalyzed middlebrow publics, music streaming services are the platforms for their publics, to be legitimized and partly constituted by the likes of a Canby or Siri-musicologist.

As a closing thought, Apple’s lexicographic influence is not immense, but it is far from negligible, accounting for the ubiquity of the “i-” on consumer electronics packaging. Terminology (such as “musicologist”) plays an important role in the company’s branding strategy, which is to say that language is carefully selected and crafted. Without flattering ourselves too much by claiming the pushback on Apple by academic musicologists alone swayed a transnational company, it is worth noting that at the time of the HomePod’s release, Apple’s webpage for the product featured this description:

Today, it reads:
To paraphrase another public intellectual, Leonard Bernstein: whither “musicologist”? If a behemoth like Apple has forgone the word for one reason or another, it is difficult to guess if or how the word will surface again. But in this case, what may have felt to some critics like a naive co-opting of a term was actually a shrewd marketing decision connected to history, and for Apple is right at home with the Smart Keyboard, Genius Bar, and myriad Pro models meant to make customers feel in the know.
<1>Joan Shelley Rubin, The Making of Middlebrow Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992).
<2>Rubin, 28.
<3>Rubin, 94.

<4>Norman Borachardt, “Sketch of Henry Seidel Canby,” Current Opinion 72 (January-June 1922), 381.
<5>Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (New York: Verso, 2006).
<6>Michael Warner, “Publics and Counterpublics,” in Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), 65-124.
<7>Georgina Born, “Introduction - music, sound and space: transformations of public and private experience,” in Music, Sound and Space (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 32.
<8>Born, 35.

Jacques Dupuis is a PhD candidate in historical musicology at Brandeis University, writing a dissertation on Robert Schumann and early 19th-century popular theater genres.