Here are the two articles I think it would be good for everyone to read:
This article in spin "debunking" the Radiohead myth: http://www.spin.com/node/56100
And this disgustingly florid review of Kid A from Pitchfork; my favorite line is "Comparing this to other albums is like comparing an aquarium to blue construction paper." http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/6656-kid-a/
The following should also be helpful for providing us with a common vocabulary to use in the musical discussions we have in this class:
When thinking about music, especially popular music, we can divide our discussion into two main categories. I apologize if some of these terms are too basic, but I’m not sure what background you all have in music training. Most of this stuff is taken from classes I’ve had with Guy Ramsey, and to borrow from Guy, a good question to keep in the back of your mind at all times is, Why is Radiohead making this music in this place at this time? And additionally, Why (and how) are people listening?
1. Formal Qualities: What do you hear?
Melody – a succession of pitches; pitch being the “highness” or “lowness” of the note
Rhythm – how music moves through time; when pitches occur (or don’t occur)
Harmony – two or more pitches sounding simultaneously. Harmony falls out into three major categories:
•Monophony – a melody without an accompanying harmony
•Homophony – a melody harmonized with one or more additional pitches which form chords. These chords move more or less with rhythmic uniformity. A series of chords strummed on the guitar, where each note is played for the same duration between moving on to the next chord, would be an example of homophony
•Polyphony – a melody harmonized with one or more additional pitches which move with rhythmic independence. A song sung in “round,” like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” where one person starts, then another joins in later but starts from the beginning would be an example of polyphony
Timbre – the quality of the sound; also known as tone quality or tone color. It’s used to describe the way a trombone and a piano could play the exact same pitch but you can clearly hear them as different instruments. The timbre of the piano note could be described as clear and cold whereas the timbre of the trombone note could be described as warm and robust. The same timbral distinctions can be applied to the way a note is played on the same instrument, particularly in reference to the human voice. Bob Dylan’s vocal timbre is thin and nasally, while Luciano Pavarotti’s vocal timbre is powerful and resonant.
Form – succession of musical events. For example, most pop songs employ verse-chorus-verse, or “strain” form. Blues employs the 12-bar form.
Texture – layering of sound
2.Cultural Criticism: What does it mean?
Whereas examining the formal qualities of a piece of music is an objective exercise, cultural criticism focuses on subjectivity, the characters involved. Think about the way that music is consumed. Who controls its distribution? Who gets the money for the work being done? What addition work is being done besides the writing and recording of the music? This is where we recognize that music does not exist in a vacuum. It takes people to create it, to capture it, to market it, to sell it, and to consume it.
There are power structures that exist that dictate who we listen to and when, and who gets a cut and how much. With the advent of the internet and an explosion in the last 10+ years of the means available to an artist to self-promote and self-distribute, we see a shift in power away from the record companies and towards the artists themselves, and the consumers. With internet and satellite radio and the digital music revolution we as consumers get to vote with our dial and our dollar (or our illegal download) with a specificity that we were never able to before when there were basically 4 or 5 radio stations (hard rock, top 40, country, hip hop/R & B, wash, rinse, repeat). This issue is particularly pertinent to what we will study in this class. Radiohead is emblematic of a popular music culture where the underground has risen up to a place where it is closer than ever before to converging with the mainstream. The line between the two is blurrier than ever before with the almost limitless access we have to music in the internet age.
In addition, we can think about the ways that the internet allows one to brand oneself, and to be branded. Dialogues are exchanged communities are formed across national and ethnic boundaries based solely around the cult of personality that coalesces around a musician or group. The music you listen to is a marker of consumer identity. How much control do musicians have over these identity markers? To be more precise, how many of the ideologies or viewpoints that we as a global music consuming culture attach to Radiohead were propagated by the band themselves, and how many are projected on them by their fans?
Finally, think about the three “discourses” I mentioned two days ago. I say discourses instead of categories because they should be thought of as fluid. These don’t define pieces of music in and of themselves but define the way that people talk about music and what they’re really saying when they use these terms. For example, what are people really getting at when they refer to Radiohead as “art music?”
Art – revolves around providing a “transcendent experience.” However only those with the right training can experience the real meaning of “great” music. The music has little to do with the social world. It stands on a pedestal of greatness by itself – it is universal and appropriate for all, providing moral edification. It is not, cannot, and was not intended to be understood by the masses. It achieves this status through an exclusionary process of canonization. It is a work of rare genius, deriving its worth from its inherent value, not from any historical or societal sanction.
Pop/Mass – created by and organized around the industry – musical and monetary value are equated, and sales charts are the yardstick by which “good” pop music is measured. We think of this music as accessible – it is meant to be understood and enjoyed by all.
Folk – revolves around providing an authentic experience of community. These communities (at least in the past) are typically designated by race, ethnicity, minority status, class-status, or nationalistic boundaries. Connection to a common historical past is generally cited.
So, think about the ways Radiohead navigates, challenges, and sometimes transcends these discourses.