Cult Musicians Versus Technology: Transcending Notions of Popular Music as Commodity.

John Encarnacao
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The White Stripes proudly proclaim that their hit album Elephant was written, recorded, mixed and mastered entirely in the analogue domain. The new Stephen Malkmus album bears a hand-written “no pro-tools” seal of authenticity. Can artists on the fringes of popular music create work that constitutes a challenge to the dominance of technology in our culture industries? This paper will look at particular independent musicians who challenge, sometimes unwittingly, dominant paradigms in the music industry through the rawness of their performances and recordings as well as unusual song structures and musical arrangements.

Tony Grajeda and Samuel Jeffries have both written about the phenomenon of “lo-fi” and the way in which certain independent musics set themselves in opposition to what is perceived as the mainstream. I will take these ideas further to situate the recordings of performers such as Smog and Scout Niblett as embodying a rejection of not only industry standards but by extension the notion that the latest technology is necessary to make an artistic statement relevant to the present day.

This idea will also be examined in the context of Adorno’s distinction between commodity music and critical, self-reflective music as discussed by Nicola Dibben. If these oppositional performers can be defined as critical and self-reflective, does it follow that popular music forms that reject technological advances can, in Adorno’s terms transcend the category of commodity?

Keywords: Rejection of Technology, Music As Commodity, Lo-Fi, Fringe Culture
Stream: Human Technologies and Useability
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Cult Musicians Versus Technology

John Encarnacao

Music Lecturer, Associate Lecturer in Music, University of Western Sydney

John Encarnacao lectures in Music Performance at the University of Western Sydney. His background is as a performer and composer of a variety of musics that range from pop and rock to improvisatory contexts and chamber music. His writings on music have been published in the Sydney Morning Herald amongst other publications. His current primary creative outlet is as singer-songwriter in the group Warmer. Every week he presents Crooked Tunes for 2SER-FM, featuring new and historical currents in cutting edge rock and pop music. A work in progress is a chapter on Australian punk music for a book to be published by Black Swan Press in 2006.

Ref: T06P0081