Matching Mole, Virtuality, Merthyr Tydfil Music and More

I have not blogged for over a month, so I thought I would write a quick post as a catch up of what I have been up to. The year kicked off with the publication of The Handbook of Music and Virtuality. I wrote a chapter for the book and edited another one, that featured several academics debating their perceptions around this fascinating subject. The book is edited by Shara Rambarran and the late Shelia Whiteley.

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As we moved in January, David Bowie’s demise hit the headlines. I was surprised how it impacted me – reminding me of my pre teenage years in particular. Alongside a whole load of other writers, I was asked to write a short tribute for Wales Arts Review – you can find this here.

Throughout all of this, I have been working on a couple of other projects. The first is preparing for a Progressive Rock conference at Edinburgh University in May. My paper is on Matching Mole, I have copied the short abstract below

This paper proposes to analyse the two albums released by Robert Wyatt’s post Soft Machine band, Matching Mole. A band on the periphery of progressive rock history, the paper will provide both a historical context and musicological appraisal, with a particular focus on how these factors comply with genre labelling and protest narratives. Regarding the former, Kevin Holm-Hudson, noted the tendency of progressive rock to be “notably apolitical” (Holm-Hudson, p. 11), a narrative that is not typical of Matching Mole’s catalogue – in particular the 2nd album, Matching Mole’s Little Red Record (1972). This ‘apolitical’ stance is directly related to the music industries later categorisation of progressive rock, as it ‘narrowed its borders’, becoming based on factors such as classical influences, virtuosity, intellectualism, and of course the need for record sales.

Regarding genre classification, the eponymously named first album by Matching Mole (1972), ranges stylistically from ‘O’ Caroline’, a sentimental first person ode to Wyatt’s ex girlfriend Caroline Coon, to the wordless angular vocals of ‘Instant Pussy’, to ‘Signed Curtain’, a song which presents a perspective of the predictability of popular song format – resonating strongly with Adorno’s concept of ‘standardisation’. ‘Part of the Dance’ is the first track on the album to contain ‘authentic’ ‘progressive’ credentials – although as with much of Matching Mole’s music, it leans more toward jazz-rock than progressive rock, indicating that the album is a snapshot of a genre still defining its boundaries. In 1997, John Covach asserted that ‘Close to the Edge’ by Yes “challenges the listeners sense of stylistic boundary” (Covach, 23), and it proposed the two albums by Matching Mole do the same – with the added complexity that most of the boundaries on these albums were not embraced in any meaningful way by the music industries classification of the style.

As outlined by Simon Frith – the interplay of “musicians, listeners and mediating ideologies […] is much more confused than the marketing process that follows” (Frith, 88). This paper intends to investigate this tension by considering how this small but significant snapshot of the history of progressive rock informs us about the greater whole.

I have really enjoyed working on the paper, and have been lucky enough to interview Caravan’s David Sinclair and Dave MacRea, with Bill McCormick to come next week!

The final project I have been working on is tracking the history of music making in Merthyr Tydfil from 1955 to the present day. There is too much to say about this at the end of a blog post, but I will be delivering a paper on this in Prague in November. Will post more details soon, but for now – here is an abstract of what I will be talking about.

The relationship of popular music to memory, identity and nostalgia is now well established in popular music studies, with academics such as Schulkind, Hennis and Rubin (1999) outlining how music, in particular from ones youth, can have strong nostalgic impact – evoking both general and specific memories of life events. Most importantly, the research of Schulkind et al. found a correlation between more general emotions and memory: suggesting the more emotion a song produced, the greater the likelihood it has to trigger associated memories. As I have documented in other published materials (for example Carr 2010, 2013, 2016), the relationship between music and emotion has been long contested from the time of Eduard Hanslick (1825-1904), with the polysemic nature of music meaning that a song with great emotional significance for one individual, will have little attachment for another, even if both individuals are from the same generation. More recent research from the likes of Janata, Tomic and Rakowksi (2007) and Barret, Grimm, Robins, Janata et al. (2010) have attempted to understand the means through which music can evoke memories and the conditions through which nostalgic responses occur. This paper proposes to build upon this research, although from a distinct methodological angle. As opposed to incorporating an ethnographic approach, where the researcher uses an often-anonymous community as the focus of their research, this project will overtly position the participants as `prosumers’ (consumers and producers) of a heritage based digital archive, which aims to establish an online collaboration and co-authoring space with the local community to accommodate and nourish collective musical memories in the town of Merthyr Tydfil, between the years 1955 to the present day. This multifaceted project, currently in its early stages of development, aims to investigate how memories of engagement with local, national and international popular music activity in the town, facilitates audiences and artists to negotiate their individual and shared identities and emotional responses, while also attempting to understand issues associated with articulating it. As the digital archive project develops, the community will learn how to engage with their musical history and prepare their own digital stories and materials (such as music files, newspaper cuttings, visual footage and photos). This emphasis on the interrelationship of emotion (including nostalgia) and memory, mediated through technology and musical activities such as performing, attending concerts and listening to music, is the focus of the project and the paper.

Bibliography

Barrett, F.S., Grimm, K.J., Robins, R.W., Wildschut, T., Sedikides, C. and Janata, P. (2010) ‘Music-evoked nostalgia: Affect, memory, and personality’, Emotion, 10(3), pp. 390–403. doi: 10.1037/a0019006.

BOYM S. (2001), The Future of Nostalgia, New York: Basic Books.

Carr, P (2010). ‘National Identity Versus Commerce: An Analysis of Opportunities and Limitations with the Welsh Music Scene for Composers and Performing Musicians’, Popular Music History (5/3), pp. 265–285.

Carr, P (2013). ‘The Big Note, Xenochrony and All Things Contextual: Frank Zappa and the And’. Book chapter in Paul Carr (ed.), Frank Zappa and the And: Key Essays on the Contextualisation of his Legacy. Ashgate, 2013.

Carr, P (2016). ‘The Impact of Virtuality in the Creation and Reception of the Music of Frank Zappa, in Sheila Whitely and Shara Ramarran (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Music and Virtuality, pp. 81 – 94.

Carr, P (2016). Final Thoughts on Musical Virtuality’, in Sheila Whitely and Shara Ramarran (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Music and Virtuality, pp. 613 – 625.

Carr, P. Magnetic North (2016): Sting, Place and Identity, Reverb. Forthcoming

DAVIS F. (1979), Yearning for Yesterday: a Sociology of Nostalgia, New York: Free Press.

Janata, P. (2009) ‘The neural architecture of music-evoked autobiographical memories’, Cerebral Cortex, 19(11), pp. 2579–2594. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhp008.

Schulkind, M.D., Hennis, L.K. and Rubin, D.C. (1999) ‘Music, emotion, and autobiographical memory: They’re playing your song’, Memory & Cognition, 27(6), pp. 948–955. doi: 10.3758/bf03201225.

Van Dijck J. (2006), “Record and Hold. Popu- lar Music between Personal and Collective Memory”, Critical Studies in Media Communication, vol. 23, n° 5, pp. 357-74.

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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