Sonic utopia and social dystopia in the music of Hendrix, Reznor and Deadmau5
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Twentieth-century popular music is fundamentally associated with electronics in its creation and recording, consumption, modes of dissemination, and playback. Traditional musical analysis, placing primacy on notated music, generally focuses on harmony, melody, and form, with issues of timbre and postproduction effects remaining largely unstudied. Interdisciplinary methodological practices address these limitations and can help broaden the analytical scope of popular idioms. Grounded in Jacques Attali's critical theories about the political economy of music, this dissertation investigates how the subversive noise of electronic sound challenges a controlling order and predicts broad cultural realignment. This study demonstrates how electronic noise, as an extra-musical element, creates modern soundscapes that require a new mapping of musical form and social intent. I further argue that the use of electronics in popular music signifies a technologically-obsessed postwar American culture moving rapidly towards an online digital revolution. I examine how electronic music technology introduces new sounds concurrent with generational shifts, projects imagined utopian and dystopian futures, and engages the tension between automated modern life and emotionally validating musical communities in real and virtual spaces. Chapter One synthesizes this interdisciplinary American studies project with the growing scholarship of sound studies in order to construct theoretical models for popular music analysis drawn from the fields of musicology, history, and science and technology studies. Chapter Two traces the emergence of the electronic synthesizer as a new sound that facilitated the transition of a technological postwar American culture into the politicized counterculture of the 1960s. The following three chapters provide case studies of individual popular artists' use of electronic music technology to express societal and political discontent: 1) Jimi Hendrix's application of distortion and stereo effects to narrate an Afrofuturist consciousness in the 1960s; 2) Trent Reznor's aggressive industrial rejection of Conservatism in the 1980s; and 3) Deadmau5's mediation of online life through computer-based production and performance in the 2000s. Lastly, this study extends existing discussions within sound studies to consider the cultural implications of music technology, noise politics, electronic timbre, multitrack audio, digital analytical techniques and online communities built through social media.
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