Author: tgpb

another ear, another voice. . .

Lyotard in 1979 on pop music’s modernity or otherwise.

JLT: Then I would say that there are presently few works that are modern.

JFL: Why is that?

JLT: Simply because many of the so-called modern works of today have a public that is their own. A very simple instance: pop music is not modern; it is as classical as can be, because it is addressed to a certain audience, and it just is not true that it is not known whom it is addressed to. It is still a question of pleasing and affecting.

JFL: How are you taking the term “pop music?” Do you take it as a collective term encompassing all the variants within?

JLT: Yes.

JFL: That is a lot of variants.

JLT: The term says it well: “popular music,” which means that its support and its addressee are indeed the people.

JFL: No, it means popular in the sense that in modernity there is no longer a people. Within pop music, there are elements that are popular in the romantic sense of the term. I am thinking of the rediscovery of popular musics that are not pop music but that can be very well integrated into pop music. There are many examples of this. These popular elements, in the romantic sense, refer back to ethnic traditions, both European and non-European ones. This type of search appears to carry out the same tasks as romanticism; I say “appears” because actually it does not. Because these popular musics are reintegrated into the enormous mass of pop music, as one of its variants, and since pop music itself is not ethnic music, it cannot really be considered popular music in the sense in which there would be a people that would be at once its audience, its performer, and its composer, having found within it its own canons. On the contrary, what strikes me about pop music, and it is particularly apparent in the United States, is that it is an immense, monstrous body that does no more than bring forth, year after year, new variants, new sound organizations, that previously were unheard. The variants may at times be quite far-reaching; they play upon the harmonic system, upon preferred melodic rhetorics, or upon the instrumental system used, etc. When these new arrangements are brought out, they have no audience. They will find one; they will be liked, although sometimes it does not work. Sometimes it does. One does not know at first, and the artist who sets out to do it has no idea whether it will work or not, especially since his or her work is experimental in nature. Pop music, in spite of its name, is not a music of the people, in the romantic sense of the term.

JLT: . . . to the precise extent that the people here is not the romantics’ people.

JFL: It is indeed not the people of the romantics at all. It is a kind of ocean within which there will coalesce for a while an ear for hearing the music, bodies to dance to it, and voices to sing it. And then after a while, it will disappear to reappear later, but with another ear, another voice. . . . This immense kind of thing does not have its own stable sound-filtering system.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois and Jean-Loup Thebaud (1985), Just Gaming (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), pp.12-13.


Music at Work

I have put up a paper discussing Music and Sound at Work on These are a reshuffled version of my framing comments from the stream I convened under the same title at LCCT2015. The question it arrives at is: ‘how would we recognise a specifically post-industrial work song?’

The paper can be accessed here and I welcome comments and responses to it.

I’m hoping this will turn into an emerging research theme for me. In that vein, a section of this site has been set aside to collate any future activities under that banner. Again, I welcome comments, suggestions, collaborations, etc.

Are we postsocial?: On live music, technology and the immediate

On Wednesday I was at The Hub’s One Dayer conference. This was the final event in their ‘Joining the Dots’ funding and knowledge-sharing programme around live independent music and technology. This was a programme in which I have been lucky to play a small part over the last two years. The talks and provocations over the day helped me to crystallise a few thoughts I have been having about contemporary live music in recent years, primarily as a punter, but haven’t had the wherewithal to develop. These are those thoughts.


Learning the Music Business

I have written a positioning report on skills, Higher Education and the music business for UK Music, the industry’s ‘trade body of trade bodies’. It was published online yesterday and can now be accessed at the link below.

The report has been presented to all the members at Executive level at UK Music internally, as well as to their Skills Board. It feeds into the creation of their Music Academic Partnership (MAP), which seeks to join industry with academia in a number of new initiatives covering skills, teaching, research and educational policy. It is also being circulated amongst academics working in this and related areas. The MAP is intended as a springboard to build the conversation between the sectors in the coming months and years, which I’m looking forward to engaging with.

Learning the Music Business: Evaluating the ‘vocational turn’ in music industry education

Toby Bennett, King’s College, London

Download the full report and executive summary from UK Music’s website, here.


The Awkwardness Exchange: Boy George at EMI

This video (of unknown provenance, AFAIK) of Boy George and his manager Tony Gordon going in for a meeting with Daniel Glass has been doing the rounds. It’s worth dwelling on this, watching and rewatching it, just to try and pick apart the discourse of awkwardness which so often characterises this kind of encounter.

What is it about this exchange that’s so excruciating?

The art versus the commerce? (YouTube commenter mystic23LanaD: “if this is what one has to endure to create art and music i’d rather be tortured”)  – maybe, but tedious by now, surely.

The friction of cultural norms? (Plain-speaking Brits up against the ebullient vegetable-loving MBA positivity of the US exec) – definitely some of that in there.

Something about (in)authenticity? (George: “the music starts to sound weird, it doesn’t sound as good as it did when you made it”)  – closer to the mark, I think.

There’s something there about the music – and the ‘mere artist’ (if you can describe BG as such) – displaced and out of context, that gets us.

“It’s just so weird”.


The Vinyl Revival – Further Conversations

I got more feedback on my recent post about the vinyl revival than for anything else I’ve written.

Some of these were useful correctives to my prose style (“reads like it was written with a goatee dipped in ink”); others were a bit more constructively engaged with the content and helped me clarify and nuance what I was trying to say.

The main point is this: 

The current fetish for physical – including Record Store Day specifically and the vinyl revival more generally – is a digital phenomenon. Let’s not fool ourselves otherwise.

More waffle below.


Let’s Get Physical: Against the Vinyl Revival

Last week Jack White reached number one in the US album charts with Lazaretto, which sold forty thousand vinyl LP copies in its first week, and comes replete with format gimmicks like three-speed play and holograms.

Record Store Day is growing every year and Cassette Store Day is returning for a second year this year. The trend for record shop closures is starting to buck.

As digital streaming services gain legitimacy as much as they court controversy, every week there is yet another article about the joys of physical music and the Guardian are currently crowd-sourcing photos of people’s record collections.

This weekend there is a two day conference on the materiality of music in the digital age at Sussex University.

Conversations about physical media are thriving in the digital era – but is the ‘physical revival’ actually preventing the most interesting debates from getting through?


Adorno Incorporated

On a recent Spotify crawl, this particularly amused me.

Adorno Popular Tracks

Insert witty Adorno quote here.


The ‘younger generation’ – the concept itself is merely an ideological catch-all – seems to be in conflict with its elders and their plush culture precisely through the new way of listening. In America, it is just the so-called liberals and progressives whom one finds among the advocates of light popular music, most of whom want to classify their activity as democratic. But if regressive hearing is progressive as opposed to the ‘individualistic’ sort, it is only in the dialectical sense that it is better fitted to the advancing brutality than the latter. All possible mould has been rubbed off the baseness, and it is legitimate to criticize the aesthetic residue of an individuality that was long since wrested from individuals. But this criticism comes with little force from the sphere of popular music, since it is just this sphere that mummifies the vulgarized and decaying remnants of romantic individualism. Its innovations are inseparably coupled with these remnants.

– On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening



Joining the Dots at The Great Escape #tge14

A quick plug:Joining the Dots

I’ll be at the Great Escape festival/convention tomorrow afternoon, talking about my involvement with Joining the Dots – a funding and collaborative innovation scheme testing four new ideas for revitalising the independent live music sector.


It’s a really interesting scheme that has attracted some fascinating ideas;  I’m looking forward to having some really good conversations and seeing how the projects develop over the next year or so. Organisers the::hub are programming tomorrow’s Blueprint: Creativity in Tech day at TGE, where the funding winners will be talking about their projects alongside a host of musicians, technologists, designers, journalists, managers and myself. There’s also an intriguing-sounding ‘Samplethon’ running all day.


I’ll be on the JTD panel at 2.50, where the two app-based projects – EventBox and Challenge Off – will be presented. I’ll be talking (briefly!) about my role representing King’s Cultural Institute and the value of academic research in innovation. Come!


More about Joining the Dots

The winning projects are:

• EVENTBOX, who are trialling a new location-based app that lets you listen to listings to discover gigs and club nights happening nearby.

• Un-Convention, for OFF AXIS, an online resource that enables artists to play shows to appreciative audiences across the UK, by trading audiences and gigs with other relevant artists.

• Daredevil Projects, who’ll be trialling the potential for CHALLENGE OFF, a mobile social game played around gigs and festivals, to increase fan and audience engagement and drive up live income.

• CAFE OTO, the Dalston, London-based space for experimental music, are trialling the viability of a digital membership service, that makes available exclusive downloads from their archive of live recordings.

Our ‘gang of four’ will work with us until June 2015, and as well as financial support, will get mentoring support and regular opportunities to meet and share ideas with each other and industry figures.

They’ll also share their ideas, questions and findings with peers in independent music, via blogs, webinars and other online content. That’s as part of the sector-wide online learning and sharing we’re hoping to encourage through the project.

#musicatwork – Part 2: Consumption Music

The first part of this post collated music that soundtracked work activities. I differentiated ‘work songs’ from ‘workplace background music’. The lines drawn between these categories are a bit blurry in traditional oral cultures but, since the ‘workplace’ as such is strongly associated with industrial capitalism, they still (ahem) work. Once recorded music comes along, and we move more into white collar work, things start to get a bit messier. Though there might remain strong differences between company and worker, the dividing line between production and consumption definitely starts to fade. The company song and the corporate anthem are songs about working environments, for instance, but aren’t exactly a worker’s reflection on that work. Indeed, they seem to encourage workers to consume the idea of the company and the idea of work.

The production/consumption division also gets muddied from the other side as well, with music being an important gelling agent in retail and hospitality spaces, or circulating in intra-industry circles to strengthen a brand, for instance. The below brings together ways in which music is put to work to aid the process of buying and selling, alongside a quick survey of popular ‘songs about work’ – that is songs that comment on the nature of work more critically while themselves being offered up for consumption – or, in a pleasing return to the times of the Light Programme, played on the radio in the office background.