BCMCR were well represented at the recent IASPM conference, held in the fantastic grounds of University College Cork. IASPM is the International Association for the Study of Popular Music and the biennial conference brings together key scholars and early career researchers across the broad scope of popular music studies.

The theme of this years conference was Worlds of Popular Music and took place over three, long, intense but stimulating days with the keynote, by Professor David Hesmondhalgh Music & the Affective Turn, particularly challenging and thought provoking. In opening his address Hesmondhalgh made reference to attending his first IASPM conference where Simon Frith was the keynote speaker. He said it took him years to fully understand Frith’s talk that year, so rich, deep and provocative that it was. I feel the same about Hesmondhalgh’s talk. But at essence what Hesmondhalgh was eloquently arguing for is a deeper philosophical approach to the study of music and role of emotion in our  relationship to music.

BCMCR had a strong showing at the event.

Simon Barber gave a quite brilliant paper in the Defining the Singer-Songwriter panel: The Brill Building: Professional Songwriters and Creativity Under Industrial Conditions Dave Kane and Craig Hamilton complimented each other in the The Past and the Present: Online engagements with Pop panel presenting Then and Now: Investigating Fan Engagement with online Music Resources and The Harkive Project and Communities of Interest in Online Music respectively, focusing on ways individuals and communities come together online to talk, share and listen to music.

I had to amend my own panel at late notice. Sarah Baker from Griffith University in Australia and I had submitted this panel abstract around music heritage practices:

Investigating Popular Music Archives

This panel brings together practitioners, academics and professionals drawn from across the spectrum of popular music archive and heritage activity. The papers presented will consider a range of approaches and methodologies to the collection and preservation of popular music.

Around the world, a large number of collaborative, participatory heritage practices are emerging, alongside ‘authorised’ institutions, in recognition of the pressing need to archive, preserve, celebrate and share the material remnants of popular music so as to safeguard the national and local histories of this cultural form. Alternate popular music histories are developing in online and physical community-based sites of archival practice. Created, curated, and populated by public history makers and activist archivists, these sites, we argue, challenge the traditional gatekeepers and ‘authorised’ sites of popular music heritage, as well as dominant popular music historiographies. The everyday ephemera of popular musics material culture, ranging from photographs, ticket stubs and flyers to recorded media, instruments and costumes, are increasingly being captured, archived, shared and exhibited in do-it-yourself (DIY) archives and museums in physical spaces that tend to be un(der)-funded, enthusiast-led and volunteer-run and by activist archivists in the digital environment. Such practices, and the communities that form around them, are ‘cultural frames for recollection’ that ‘do not simply invoke but actually help construct collective memory’ (van Dijck, 2006) and they therefore raise some interesting questions about who participates in the making of popular music worlds, and what kinds of power dynamics are involved.

Furthermore it raises questions about our complex relationships with popular music in the twenty first century as well as questions about the value of the music archive, of history and heritage.

The panel consisted of Sarah, myself and Andy Linehan Curator of Popular Music at the British Library Sound Archive’s Curator of Popular Music. Unfortunately Sarah had to stay in Australia so Andy and I conducted the panel and I gave the following jointly authored paper, written with Sarah:

Sustaining Popular Music’s Material Culture

The proliferation of sites dedicated to the preservation of popular music’s histories in physical and online environments points to the value of popular music in the everyday lives of individuals and communities (Baker & Huber 2013, Collins & Long forthcoming). In developing a typology of this activity we have come to categorise these sites in a way that indicates distinct types of practice: Physical – Authorised, Physical – Do-It-Yourself, Online – Institution and Online – Community. Whilst approaches and practices differ across the range of sites we are studying all have a common issue at the heart of popular music archiving – sustainability.

In this paper our interest is in do-it-yourself and online communities of popular music preservation and their approach to, and understanding of, sustainable archiving. We examine this firstly from the perspective of volunteers running physical community archives in which the struggle for sustainability is on two fronts: what happens to these music archives if there is no-one to take over once the founding members can no longer do the work; and how do you get younger musicians to deposit items into an archive which they don’t yet see as relevant. We then move on to discuss sustainability in digital archives namely: what happens to content uploaded by activist archivists in online community music archives which are forcibly closed down because of IP infringement or posted to sites such as You Tube and Facebook who, as Garde-Hanson (2009) has argued, may seek to exploit such content for financial or ideological gain? Secondly, such is the rapid change in new technologies, are current digital archiving formats in danger of becoming obsolete in the near to mid-term, placing in danger huge amounts of the material culture of popular music’s past?

In the event the panel was a really good session (despite the Sunday morning 9.30 start!) with a lot of discussion about the role of DIY and ‘authorised’ institutions in the preservation of popular music’s history and heritage. The discussion highlighted the fragility of popular music archives and how this affected both DIY and national collections. There was also a discussion of how DIY and ‘authorised’ organisations could work together to create best practice guides that may aid in sustaining  such endeavours.

As with all conferences, what you get out of them is directly related to what you put in. I heard some great papers about fascinating research projects and met many good people who I’m now in contact with in connection to possible research projects, collaborations and general plotting!

Here is an audio recording of my paper and the discussion that followed. (Annoyingly I didn’t have space to capture Andy’s presentation and the continuation of the discussion with the audience).

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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