Genre and Definition
In this mainly conceptual, ground-clearing chapter, the author develops thinking on the articulation between music and the social. This task responds to the long-standing demand issued by scholarship in popular music studies, ethnomusicology, and music sociology for clarity in theorizing the heterogeneity, the different scales and orders of music’s social mediation. But the social dimensions of music have also come to the fore in musicology in the past decade. A second goal of the chapter is to put this thinking into dialogue with the influential recent concepts of relational aesthetics and participation, which are often taken as paradigms for the analysis of contemporary art practice in terms of their welcome attempt to rethink the relation between aesthetic and social processes. A third goal of the chapter is to ask precisely how it is that improvisation as a socio-musical practice adds to or departs from non- (or less) improvised music in terms of the articulation of music and the social. Is there some special way that improvised music enacts a social aesthetics, and if so, in what form? In the last part of the chapter, Born exemplifies her arguments through two outstanding cases of improvised music ensembles with strongly developed social (and political) aesthetics: the Art Ensemble of Chicago, as it participated in the larger Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and the Feminist Improvising Group.
The Social Aesthetics of Swing in the 1940s: Or the Distribution of the Non-Sensible
In discussions of jazz within the broader history of popular music in the United States, two verities are invariably asserted: (1) that the period 1935–45 represents the closest rapprochement between jazz and popular music, when jazz, in the form of “swing,” dominated the charts; and (2) swing music, and hence jazz, lost its influence over popular music at the end of the war with the demise of many of the most prominent swing bands. This article examines these verities through an analysis of both music industry discourse and a broad range of recordings that were ranked high in charts such as those featured in Billboard. Brackett suggests that on one level—consisting of songs in the late 1940s of the greatest measurable popularity—a sense of continuity can be heard with swing-based popular music from earlier in the decade. On a subtler level, however, during this period a decrease occurred both in the number of popular recordings associated with African Americans and in the general sense of inclusiveness and pluralism found in swing.
What is “Great Black Music”?: The Social Aesthetics of the AACM in Paris
This chapter situates the performance practices of the AACM in general, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago in particular, within the modernism-postmodernism dichotomy. It shows how the AACM foregrounds the elasticity and overlap of these “movements” and problematizes them. Drawing on characteristics of both traditions, the AACM throws into stark relief the issues at play that follow from positioning oneself as music creator, consumer, or critic from either the modernism or the postmodernism camp. By recognizing that these categories themselves operate as genre terms, the author demonstrates how the AACM aesthetically thickens its works/performances by inviting their analysis from both perspectives while simultaneously critiquing them. This act of genre thickening is then compared with the goal of art as promoted by those who advocate relational aesthetics, revealing a manner in which AACM practices have a social dimension that is internal to their very status as art practices.