Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Announcing Music and Social Justice, a New Series from University of Michigan Press

By William Cheng and Andrew Dell’Antonio

From Plato to Public Enemy, people have debated the relationship between music and justice, rarely arriving at much consensus over the art form’s ethics and aesthetics, uses and abuses, virtues and vices. So what roles can music and musicians play in agendas of justice? And what should musicians and music scholars do if—during moments of upheaval, complacency, ennui—music ends up seemingly drained of its beauty, power, and even relevance?

We are proud to announce Music and Social Justice, a new series from University of Michigan Press. As the series coeditors, we welcome projects that shine new light on familiar subjects such as protest songs, humanitarian artists, war and peace, community formation, cultural diplomacy, globalization, and political resistance. Simultaneously, the series invites authors to critique and expand on what qualifies as justice—or, for that matter, music—in the first place. Music and Social Justice lends a platform for writers who wish to submit traditional scholarly monographs. But we’re equally enthusiastic to work with authors and artists who prefer to unsettle the discursive norms of conventional academic prose in the name of rhetorical experimentalism, anti-capitalism, neurodiversity, alt-textuality, and radical collaboration. We urge people within and beyond academic institutions to build inclusive dialogues about how and why music matters.

An evolving word cloud of potential (by no means comprehensive) themes for the series.
So many issues of justice might seem especially pressing these days—DACA, fascism, nativism, black lives, gun violence, climate change, nuclear apocalypse, schisms everywhere. But for various oppressed groups, justice has always been fiercely urgent: no luxury of postponing the fight because the fights come to them.

[top row, left to right] Cheng, Dell’Antonio, André, Cusick, Hisama
[bottom row, left to right] Madrid, Katz, McDaniels, Oja, Redmond
We’ve assembled an Advisory Board of eight terrific colleagues who are active and activist leaders in their fields: Naomi André, Suzanne G. Cusick, Ellie M. Hisama, Mark Katz, Alejandro L. Madrid, Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, Carol J. Oja, and Shana L. Redmond. Board members have already begun working closely with us to seek out prospective authors, open lines of communication, and review submissions.

We recently spoke with these board members about music and justice. Here are their takes on issues such as Black Lives Matter, the endangerment of DACA, foster care advocacy, composer John Zorn, contralto Marian Anderson, musical nuns of early modern Florence, a South African opera about Winnie Mandela, and the son jarocho songs performed by activists on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

EDITORS (Cheng and Dell'Antonio): Please introduce yourselves—who you are, what you teach, and what you research.

OJA: Living through an era of political, racial, and economic instability, I feel an increasing drive to read and produce scholarship that connects with the turbulent world around us. The question is how to do so. My current response to that question involves a project exploring institutional racism and racial segregation in the history of classical-music performance, with the career of the famed African American singer Marian Anderson as a centerpiece.

CUSICK: [I study] music's relationships to gender, sexuality, and other categories of politicized embodiment [in] early modern Italy, contemporary North America, and the global archipelago of prisons operated by the United States’ security services during the “global war on terror.” My most recent research focuses on the economic and erotic interests that informed the figure of the musical nun in early modern Florence—an era (resonant with our own) that was characterized by the mass incarceration of one kind of politicized body (women) for the unjust economic benefit of other bodies.

REDMOND: I am a thinker, a creator, and an accomplice. I study the musical and political worlds that are imagined and made by people of African descent. I teach that history, present, and future through text, sound, and practice. My work centers the ideas and musics of the forgotten, the vulnerable, and the rebels. As such, it works against neat typologies and prevailing wisdom, highlighting how people imagine and create freedom throughout the twentieth century and beyond.

EDITORS: Why launch a series on music and social justice? Why now?

MADRID: The current political climate in the United States has forced disciplinary fields in the humanities to become more aware of their social relevance. At a moment when decades of social gains in areas like gender, race, and immigration are being continually threatened while white supremacy is systematically normalized in media and politics, it is urgent that music studies engage questions of social justice and take a stance against intolerance, bigotry, and anti-democratic practices. It is time for musicologists not only to focus on deconstructing how musical discourse and practice may have performatively helped in the reproduction of oppressive social structures and behaviors, but also to consider how musical activism may challenge these systems and the ideologies that keep them in place.

KATZ: For centuries, musicians have used their art to call for justice and call out injustice. Music has the power to amplify these messages, to spread them, and to embed them in our memories and psyches. This series, in turn, will amplify the voices of those who study the intersection of music and justice. Given the role of music in recent social justice movements, whether Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, now would seem to be the right moment to launch this series. History, however, offers centuries worth of precedent, so this series may also be seen as long overdue. Either way, it will serve as an essential vehicle for understanding a crucial and underexamined facet of music in human life.

EDITORS: Can you describe how your own work has dealt with matters of social justice, even—especially—if the words social justice don’t always come up?

MCDANIELS: I work with a lot with foster kids in the foster care system here in the United States. While there are many great stories of success with youth who have been through the system, there are too many horrible situations that repeat themselves year after year! It’s always about 500,000 youth continually rotating through the system and when they are deprived of opportunities and privileges, these are the young individuals who fill our prisons and cemeteries. I don’t call them underprivileged children. I call them children of powerful potential! So my music and graphic novels are created to inspire, motivate, and educate. That’s why we created Hip Hop in the first place.

HISAMA: My 1993 article “Postcolonialism on the Make: The Music of John Mellencamp, David Bowie, and John Zorn,” published in the academic journal Popular Music, spurred responses from Asian American activists (including the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) to John Zorn’s representations of East Asian women. My article “John Zorn and the Postmodern Condition,” published in the volume Locating East Asia in Western Art Music, chronicles the responses from artists, musicians, and writers from the Bay Area and New York to Zorn’s work, and in the Polish journal Avant, I comment upon artists’ social responsibility in relation to Zorn’s more recent statements about his work.

ANDRÉ: I have published about teaching opera in a women’s prison that appeared in the book The Intersectional Approach: Transforming the Academy through Race, Class, & Gender. I also edited a cluster of articles in the journal African Studies about the first full-length opera by a black South African composer: Winnie—The Opera by Bongani Ndodana-Breen (premiered at the State Theatre in Pretoria, South Africa in 2011). With both of these projects—opera in prison and the South African opera on Winnie Madikizela Mandela—my first thoughts for publishing them was outside of musicology, given the lack of musicological venues for publishing on music and social justice. I have been very encouraged by the musicologists who have found these articles, and have contacted me to let me know that they have found them helpful for their own teaching and research.

EDITORS: Can you give us an example of how music or sound might embody social justice? Are there specific topics and projects you’d love to see from authors?

REDMOND: My work on the anthems of the African diaspora displays how Black activists and thinkers reinvented and performed citizenship—a citizenship that fit who they were and wanted to be rather than that which was defined for them. In that sense, the contemporary resistance to the U.S. national anthem (Kaepernick, et al.) is part of a long genealogy of Black refusal to a one-size-fits-all relationship to the nation and an important example of a social justice issue that is animated by and through music. I’d like to see work that is experimental in its approaches and that is deeply informed by community thought and practice. Collaborative projects are also welcome.

MADRID: Sound is central to protest rallies and civil disobedience. It is by conceiving and projecting a literal and metaphorical voice that individuals and communities make their anxieties and concerns known. The son jarocho songs that music activists on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border sing at the annual Fandango Fronterizo speak of the trans-border solidarity that such an event foments as well as the hurdles their communities have to overcome on an everyday basis. [I would like to see] work about music and sound in deportation centers, [and] transnational takes on sound and music in anti-globalization protests.

Rounding out the board members’ responses, Mary Francis observed: “I hope the series will include challenges to the idea that music is always and only one sort of social message-bearer. Music can and does play many roles in society, and while it often unites, sustains, and gives hope, it can also be used to signal or enact division. I hope there will be work in the series that explores just how complex music’s place truly is.”

And Shana Redmond offered these closing words on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), under threat of repeal by the Trump administration and by Congress: “Living a life of integrity—with resources and free from fear and violence—is a human right. Policy is not the end of the struggle but is an important step into better futures. Defend DACA. Defend your communities.”

Please visit the website for Music and Social Justice for more details. We look forward to your submissions!

William Cheng (@willxcheng) is Assistant Professor of Music at Dartmouth College. He is author of Just Vibrations: The Purpose of Sounding Good, Sound Play: Video Games and the Musical Imagination, and (forthcoming from Oxford UP) Why Listening to Beethoven Makes Me Feel So Respectable (and Other Vices of Musical Judgment). His writings have appeared in Critical Inquiry, Cambridge Opera Journal, Ethnomusicology, 19th-Century Music, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Washington Post, Slate, TIME, and Huffington Post. He serves on the boards of Journal of the Society for American Music, Music & the Moving Image, Women & Music, Ethnomusicology Review, Sensate, and Sound Studies.

Andrew Dell’Antonio (@dellantonio) is Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Musicology/Ethnomusicology Division of the Butler School of Music and Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Austin, USA. He is a former Mellon Fellow at the Harvard-Villa I Tatti Center for Renaissance Studies in Florence, Italy. His research explores how different modes of listening—from the 1500s to the present—influence the social uses and cultural meanings of music. His publications include the edited collection Beyond Structural Listening? Postmodern Modes of Hearing and the monograph Listening as Spiritual Practice in Early Modern Italy. He blogs at The Avid Listener and is co-author of the textbook The Enjoyment of Music.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Quick Takes — “Still Playing Games”: Considering Musical Meaning in an Assassin’s Creed Origins Trailer

By Will Gibbons

In the years since Gary Jules’s cover of “Mad World” graced an influential 2006 teaser, covers or edited versions of popular songs have become de rigeur in video game trailers. That’s particularly the case at the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, where games debut to great fanfare, often with trailers created specifically for the event. After this year’s E3, a post in Vice’s video-game blog, Waypoint, bemoaned the ubiquity of covers and pop songs. The all-too-convenient pre-existing associations of these siren songs, the author argues, lure overworked trailer-creators into making questionable aesthetic choices. In his words: “it’s laziness. There’s a hook, the smallest one, the slightest indication of suitable association—and it’s grabbed, and tugged at, and there we go, there’s your trailer with a song that just barely works.”[1]

I tend to agree, and that’s the context in which I first watched the trailer for the hotly anticipated Assassin’s Creed Origins (Ubisoft, 2017) on the E3 livestream. Entitled “Mysteries of Egypt,” the wordless trailer (seen below) shows off the game’s ancient Egyptian setting. It also offers a few oblique hints about its plot, which appears—like many games in the Assassin’s Creed franchise—to center on the liberation of an oppressed citizenry. In this case, the “song that just barely works” is “Blood” (2015), by the Atlanta-based trio Algiers. A unique blend of (afro)punk, soul rock, and gospel, Algiers doesn’t shy away from politics; their provocative, insightful, and downright catchy songs often tackle issues of race and class head on.

There are two fairly straightforward aspects of “Blood” that connect the song to Assassin’s Creed. First, like the African-American spiritual, “Go Down, Moses” (in which the Biblical narrative of Israelite slaves in Egypt subversively reflects the status of black slaves in the United States), the trailer seems to draw connections between the plight of the downtrodden laborers seen on screen and the overt and systemic racism depicted by Algiers’ music. No doubt the trailer’s creators also found the allusions to media in the lyrics of “Blood” to be a clever twist; the references to “television coma,” images “flash[ing] across your screen,” and “playing games” allow the song to simultaneously suggest both Assassin’s Creed’s medium and its message.

Already, this use of “Blood” is troublingly insensitive. But further reflection reveals additional worrying issues at play in this particular combination of song and function. “Blood” strikes me as a fairly unambiguous warning about the harmful numbing effects of mass media on black culture. The original lyrics (softened by editing for the Assassin’s Creed trailer) are a powerful indictment of media-induced apathy. Consider, for example: “Flash across your screen/They got you in their hand/Fifteen minutes of freedom/Still 3/5 a man” or “Now death is at your doorstep/And you’re still playing games/So drown in entertainment/Cause all our blood is in vain.”

Likewise, Algiers’ official music video for “Blood” (below) juxtaposes images of the band with rapid-fire cuts of televised moments in the history of race relations in the United States. Like flipping through television channels, the images change too quickly to fully process—information overload. Before one can be contextualized, it’s abandoned, with the end result being (at least for me) a seemingly endless series of images divested of their meaning.

Even a cursory reflection on the song’s meaning casts the Assassin’s Creed trailer in a damning light that was surely not its creators’ intent. Around the time “Blood” was first released, bandmember Ryan Mahan noted in an interview that their music focuses on “engaging with the social circumstances that are repressed through the mechanisms of culture, through the mechanisms of power, through the mechanisms of pop culture, and also just by who benefits most from appropriation.”[2] Meanwhile, it’s difficult not to interpret the trailer as a dispiriting example of the kind of appropriation Mahan decries: the pop culture appropriation of music created to oppose pop culture appropriation.

Of course, it’s not uncommon for music to appear in media in ways its creators never intended. But the use of “Blood” in this trailer creates a paradoxical situation in which one or the other of the media involved must be understood in a way precisely counter to its purpose. Either 1) “Blood” helps sell the exact product that it so elegantly problematizes, or 2) the Assassin’s Creed Origins trailer explicitly discourages potential players from purchasing the game it advertises.

In either case, the “Mysteries of Egypt” trailer becomes a case study in the challenges and dangers of manipulating popular music in trailers. Without context and reflection—and without considering the ethics of our musical choices—we all risk drowning in entertainment.

William Gibbons is Associate Professor of Musicology and Associate Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Texas Christian University. He is the author of Building the Operatic Museum: Eighteenth-Century Opera in Fin-de-Siècle Paris (Rochester, 2013) and co-editor of Music in Video Games: Studying Play (Routledge, 2014). A new book, Unlimited Replays: The Art of Classical Music in Video Games, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.
[1] Mike Diver, “Dear Video Games: Please Rethink Your ‘Emotional’ E3 Trailer Music.” Waypoint (12 June 2017). https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/gypdjx/dear-video-games-please-reconsider-your-emotional-e3-trailer-music
[2] Amelia Mason, “Algiers Reclaims the Black Roots of Rock and Protests the World’s Troubles,” WBUR.com (16 September 2015). http://www.wbur.org/artery/2015/09/16/algiers-band

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Quick Takes — A Wrinkle in Sound? Teasing Madeleine L’Engle and Ava Duvernay

By James Deaville

The teaser trailer to “A Wrinkle in Time” dropped eight months before cinematic release to high expectations and apprehensions: Madeleine L’Engle’s eponymous science fantasy novel has formed such an important part of so many childhoods that it was hard to imagine what director Ava DuVernay and Disney might do with it. Pundits seemed satisfied with what they saw, and were uniform in their praise of the trailer’s visual spectacularity and a-lister cast, while at the same time only mentioning its prominent cover of Eurythmics’ 1983 hit “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” which nevertheless underscores—with interruptions—the entire trailer (the seemingly unrelated first twenty seconds are actually the newly composed intro to the song).

The song’s lyrics speak to the journey of Meg and her friends to find her father, including the hazards they will encounter along the way. The trailerized music both superimposes structure and unity onto the bewildering array of images and provides another layer of meaning to the teaser’s visual and narrated narratives, which complicates yet deepens the trailer experience for the audience. The use of “Sweet Dreams” evokes nostalgia for the song and its associations for the audience member, a hook that emotionally grounds the trailer and forges a link between past experiences of the book and the song. At the same time, the listener/viewers must mentally scramble to map faded memories of the book onto fleeting glimpses of characters and places. Press reviews of the teaser alternately describe the music as “haunting,” “moody,” and “mournful,” and several commentators observe the darkening effect of its slowing in tempo, in keeping with current trailer trends. The music’s threatening darkness—unusual for Disney—conflicts with the trailer’s visual brilliance, but it’s no coincidence that the last word of dialogue in the trailer—spoken by Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Whatsit—is “darkness” and the end credits resonate out with an attenuating “everybody’s looking for something,” sung over the characteristic synth accompaniment.

Indeed, voice in its various guises is a significant component of the soundtrack. We can readily recognize the narrating voices of Chris Pine and Oprah Winfrey, sonic hooks that not coincidentally mark the most prominent celebrities attached to the project. But who is that singing “Sweet Dreams?” The identity of the cover artist is always a difficult question for trailers, yet one that the public invariably raises in the comments to the YouTube posting. For the Eurythmics’ song, perhaps the most noted and notorious cover is that of Marilyn Manson, yet his version would be too “esoteric” for Disney. Over 60 other covers exist for the song, including 48th Street Collective (2005) and Emily Browning (2011)—indeed, upon first hearing a number of listeners have supported the suggestion of Browning as the singer, whose video version has almost 16 million views on YouTube. She may adopt a languid ethos like that of the teaser soundtrack, but a close listening reveals how the vocal stylings and phrasing differ at crucial points. A thorough search of the Internet uncovers that the trailer version of “Sweet Dreams” was the work of LA composer/producer Mark Hadley, who was brought on to “produce an intergalactic, trailer-ized” rendering of the song. His 2:38 trailer-ready track features singer Keeley Bumford, aka Dresage, and relies on languorous singing, slow tempo, synth sounds, reverb, and sonic discontinuity for its effect. That the trailer house editor completely changed the ending of his track reflects the fluidity in the making of these mini-movies.

Devotees of the original song may well have difficulties over this reworking, which seems aimed at (young) fans of a dark, slow, free female vocal style that has elements of “shoegaze,” “dream pop” and/or “sadcore.” We hear it for example in songs of Lorde and Lana del Rey and their respective covers of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (the film The Hunger Games Catching Fire and the trailer to Dracula Untold) and “Once Upon a Dream” (video and trailer to Maleficent). The question remains, by what measure(s) do we assess cover versions? Faithfulness to the original? Adaptation to new stylistic norms? Creativity? Hadley and Bumford’s “Sweet Dreams” certainly won’t please fans of the Eurythmics’ synth pop classic, but in the context of the trailer to A Wrinkle in Time, the lyrics about searching and the music’s darkness make sense. And in any case, if the trailer cover will encourage the public to revisit or discover the original song, then all the better, whether or not they decide to see the movie.

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).

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Quick Takes — Proud Mary: Musicalizing the Hitwoman

By Jacqueline Avila

Sony Pictures Entertainment’s trailer for Proud Mary (2018, dir. Babak Najafi) begins with a stationary shot of the sun rising quickly over the beautiful Boston skyline. This alluring establishing shot is accompanied by the slow vamp of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” The camera cuts to actress Taraji P. Henson doing push-ups and putting on make-up in concentrated close-up shots, accentuated by the song’s slow intro. As Henson slips on her black boots and black gloves, we realize that she isn’t the everyday modern working woman. This is further enhanced when a series of drawers open to reveal an arsenal of assault weapons. The song then accelerates, featuring extended brass and backup vocalists, accompanied visually by several quick and violent scenes that show Henson shooting bullets in rhythm to the music and downing Hennessy. Henson is portrayed as a skilled and merciless hitwoman for an organized crime family, until the end when the music abruptly cuts out as a little boy asks “who the hell are you?” Her response “I’m Mary.” Turner’s final cadence in which she fully articulates “Proud Mary” amplifies the appearance of the film’s title, presented in a font that is not only reminiscent of Blaxploitation films of the 1970s, but also of Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 film Jackie Brown.

This cover song and trailer harken back to earlier days of film production in which a film was created around a specific song, even taking the song’s title, a tradition to which Proud Mary clearly belongs. The song used in the trailer, however, is not the original rock version written by John Fogerty and performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1968; it is the cover song performed by funk and R&B artist Tina Turner. With her ex-husband Ike Turner in the early 1970s, Turner had originally recorded a version that quickly became one of her signature songs, but the trailer uses an edited solo version, which follows the same structure as her previous recording. The smoky and soulful voice of Turner helps synthesize the song with the character of Mary in ways the CCR version could not. In the film, Mary’s life becomes more complicated when she crosses paths with the young boy after a hit goes bad. We can only assume that this boy will appeal to Mary’s maternal instincts, highlighting a major life change for a professional woman, amplified by Turner’s cover. Movie poster taglines for Proud Mary even provide a special twist on the lyrics, revealing that Mary is “killing for the man every night and day.”

Proud Mary enters a longer list of thriller-action films concentrating on the culture of professional assassins. However, it is quite out of the ordinary in Hollywood to feature not only a female professional killer, but a Black female professional killer. In the case where a child becomes involved and changes the lives (and values) of the assassin, the list becomes decidedly slimmer. This includes, for example, Léon: The Professional (1994, dir. Luc Besson) and both Kill Bill vol. 1 and vol. 2 (2003 and 2004, dir. Quentin Tarantino), but these films feature white assassin protagonists (Jean Reno in the former and Uma Thurman in the latter). Turner’s cover, which has been labeled as a musical source of empowerment for all women, becomes even more crucial here. Proud Mary stands out as an intriguing case in which music and narrative may play out side by side. I’m curious as to whether Turner’s cover, which was so integral to the trailer and to our early perceptions of Mary the hitwoman, will be used in the film or if another artist will come up to the plate with a new interpretation for 21st century audiences.

Dr. Jacqueline Avila is an Assistant Professor in Musicology at the University of Tennessee. Her research focuses on film music and sound practice from the silent period to present and the intersections of identity, tradition, and modernity in the Hollywood and Mexican film industries. She is currently writing her book manuscript titled Cinesonidos: Cinematic Music and Identity in Early Mexican Film (1896-1952), which is an examination of the function and cultural representation of music in the Mexican film industry.     

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Quick Takes — Run The Jewels and Roll The Credits: Borrowed Music in the Black Panther Trailer

By Loren Kajikawa

The trailer for Marvel’s Black Panther, scheduled for release in February of 2018, makes use of a “trailerized” version of “Legend Has It,” the third track on rap duo Run The Jewels’ 2017 album, Run The Jewels 3. This musical selection works well on a number of levels, helping the trailer’s brief narrative take shape, emphasizing the film’s importance as the first Marvel film with a black lead, and connecting Black Panther to a number of possible audiences.

As James Deaville explains, to be successful a trailer needs to function as a “mini-movie” unto itself. The Black Panther trailer begins slowly, using an interrogation scene to introduce the fictional country of Wakanda, a place that we are told is akin to the mythical city of El Dorado. We do not see the actual Black Panther character until nearly halfway through the two-minute trailer, and “Legend Has It” is withheld until this moment for dramatic effect. Thus, the song’s entry serves as a release of tension—like a bass drop in EDM—pulling viewers into the flow of imagery as it increases in intensity.

Fans of the Marvel films can interpret the borrowed music literally. As El-P raps, “Step into the spotlight!” over a grandiose-sounding beat, he might be referring to T’Challa (played by actor Chadwick Boseman) taking center stage after his father T’Chaka’s death in Captain America: Civil War. But even for those unfamiliar with the film’s backstory, the song works equally well as an announcement that a new title character has been added to the Marvel roster.[1]

Without a doubt, “Legend Has It” was chosen and expertly edited for the trailer because it sounds good and conveys a feeling of excitement about the film’s upcoming release. On another level, however, the borrowed music also associates Black Panther with hip hop, a genre that continues to serve as a sonic analogue for blackness. In 1966, the original comic was the first to feature a black superhero, and the Marvel franchise shares a name with the militant political party coincidentally founded that same year.[2] Choosing a song from Run The Jewels 3, which New Yorker critic Hua Hsu interprets as a protest album in the age of Trump, puts a contemporary edge on these historical signifiers of blackness.

At the same time, Run The Jewels is an interracial affair (rapper El-P is white and Killer Mike is black), and the duo has gained a reputation not only for their artistic integrity and independence but also for making “hip hop for people who don’t like hip hop.” In fact, El-P and Killer Mike have demonstrated their crossover appeal with successful appearances on NPR’s “Tiny Desk” concert series as well as the NPR quiz show “Wait, Wait! Don’t Tell Me.” They even announced the release of RTJ3 with a cameo appearance on the television show Portlandia, the sketch comedy series that manages to make the demographically challenged Pacific Northwest city look even whiter than it is. In other words, the decision to use “Legend Has It” could be interpreted as an appeal to the widest (and whitest?) possible audience.

Finally, for close followers of the most recent Black Panther comics written by author Ta-Nehesi Coates (or for hardcore fans of Run The Jewels), the music of the trailer probably comes as no surprise. Last summer, El-P and Killer Mike teamed up with Marvel to create an animated recap of Coates storyline set to a Run The Jewels soundtrack. Thus, the trailer’s use of “Legend Has It” represents a nod to the franchise’s most devoted fans that builds upon an established convergence of hip hop and comics.

The fact that this brief excerpt of borrowed music operates on so many different levels testifies to the thought that goes into the production of movie trailers. “Legend Has It” works on the local level, providing just the right “vibe” for the trailer’s action-packed cinematography. Its booming beats emphatically remind viewers that a black superhero is finally coming to the big screen. And finally, for those who might recognize Run The Jewels and their brand of underground hip hop, the borrowed music reaches out to a diverse target audience, including some of Marvel’s most devoted fans.

Loren Kajikawa is an Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology and Musicology at the University of Oregon. He is the author of Sounding Race in Rap Songs (University of California, 2015), and currently serves as editor for the Journal of the Society for American Music.

[1] Coincidentally, the producers of the 2017 NBA Awards on ESPN also used this same excerpt of “Legend Has It” to introduce the nominees for the “Sixth Man of the Year” award, hoping to convey the feeling associated with a player who comes off the bench and gives his team an immediate boost on the court—a superhero of another sort.
[2] Although younger viewers today might easily conflate the two, interpreting the comic as an homage to the political party (or vice a versa), the naming of both was entirely coincidental. In fact, as political tensions escalated in the late 1960s, Marvel Comics briefly introduced two short-lived alternatives (first “Panther” and then “The Black Leopard”) to try to distance its superhero from the controversial political party.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Quick Takes — Trailers for Coming Attractions (2018), or: The Trailer and the Cover Song

The trailer is one of the few forms of mediated advertising that the public actively seeks out, and, on occasion, even enjoys. When effectively constructed, trailers create anticipation of and desire for the completed product, all within a closed media form of only two minutes and twenty seconds. Music, image, and narrative must join forces to communicate a story and deliver emotional impact in a very short time frame, which dictates an extreme economy of means—music bears the burden in this collaboration because of its comparative efficiency in signifying and its ability to set the pace for the other elements. In the hands of a skillful trailer editor, these components can be brought together into an organic whole, one as satisfying and impactful as the film it advertises, if not more so (think of the first trailer to Suicide Squad). The ideal trailer blends commerce and aesthetics, craft and creativity, manipulation and inspiration in a mini-movie that pleases the audience and entices them to buy tickets (or a game) and engage in word of mouth.

A few quick facts about trailers:
  1. Film studios don’t produce trailers; rather, they are created by boutique trailer houses that typically compete for the contract;
  2. Trailer music is very rarely from the film, since the music for the film is almost never finished when trailers are released. One exception is the use of the “Dies irae” from the Verdi Requiem in studio Trailer Park’s teaser to Mad Max: Fury Road, which George Miller liked so much that he had it incorporated into the film score.
  3. Trailers have traditionally relied on production or library music, pre-composed tracks that are written and selected for use by virtue of the affect they elicit.
The most recent trend in trailer music is the use of cover songs or songs that have been “trailerized” (tracks edited for use in a specific trailer). In these versions, the originals are typically slowed down, fragmented, and occasionally reversed in meaning (e.g. “What a Wonderful World” in the teaser to disaster film Geostorm). The trend of covers even extends to the confusing world of video game trailers, where the industry produces trailers for every stage of a game’s development.

The use of existing music in cover or trailerized versions unites the four Quick Take posts on trailer music, which illustrate the diversity of quotation styles. Jacky Avila discusses race and gender in the trailer to Proud Mary, which features Taraji P. Henson as Mary and uses the eponymous song by Tina Turner (sans Ike). Loren Kajikawa reviews the trailer for the highly anticipated Marvel release, Black Panther, situating the song, “Legend Has It,” by Run the Jewels within recent hip hop discourse. In contrast, Will Gibbons problematizes the trailer “Mysteries of Egypt” for the video game Assassin’s Creed Origins because of its exploitation of the song, “Blood,” by the band Algiers. And I discuss issues of vocal style and identity in the cover of “Sweet Dreams” used in the teaser trailer to A Wrinkle in Time.

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).

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Musicology Now Welcomes New Editors

We are excited to announce that two new editors are joining the team at Musicology Now!

Brandi Neal is a reformed band nerd and originally from Sumter, SC. She received her BA in music from the University of South Carolina and later her MA and PhD in historical musicology from the University of Pittsburgh. A lecturer at Coastal Carolina University, her primary research interests are sacred vocal music from the renaissance and baroque eras, with a particular emphasis on the music of Nicolas Gombert, the semiotics of golden-age rap music, and musico-theatrics of popular music in the post-Trayvon Martin era. She has a rescue diva dog named Daisy.

Marysol Quevedo, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. She received her Ph.D. in musicology with a minor in ethnomusicology from Indiana University. Her research interests include art music in Cuba after the 1959 Revolution and more broadly the relationship between music composition and performance, national identity, and politics in Latin American music scenes. Quevedo’s chapter, “Experimental Music and the Avant-Garde in Post-1959 Cuba: Revolutionary Music for the Revolution,” will appear in the forthcoming collection of essays Experimentalism in Practice: Perspectives from Latin America from Oxford University Press, and she has written numerous entries for the second edition of the Grove Dictionary of American Music and is a contributor to Oxford Annotated Bibliographies.

At Musicology Now, the content we ultimately curate is driven by you, our readers. As always, we encourage you to share with us your research, your insights, your innovative pedagogy, and reflections on the profession. If you have a piece you’d like to share or just an idea that you’d like to run by us, you can contact the team at musicology-now@ams-net.org.