Karl Hagstrom Miller
Associate Professor of History, The University of Texas at Austin
Karl Hagstrom Miller is Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow (Duke). He is currently writing a book about the history of amateur participation in commercial pop music.
"I am Sitting in a Room: The Private Pop Experience"
Alone in a room with music--reverberations fill the space. The outside world arrives only as echoes, and the echoes take on lives of their own. Slowly they eradicate the sonic source and replace it with resonant frequencies: the sound of this place, the sound of listening to this place, the sound of the listener in this place listening.
The aesthetics of private music can differ from what we often ascribe to pubic performance. Both musics can be about pleasure and identity—building social meaning through organized sound. Yet while public music is often about communication and community, about expertise and intention, private music is often about imitation, error, and repetition. Private music is also the most common music we have.
The vast majority of music listening occurs in private. Private listening has been the primary business model of the record industry since it began pushing talking machines into people’s homes in the early twentieth century. Most musical performances also occur behind closed doors in bedroom, parlor, or garages.
This talk reaches across time and genre to survey a range of instances and invocations of popular music as a private, if not always solitary, endeavor. From the Beach Boys and Led Zeppelin through art music composers Alvin Lucier and Rhys Chatham, from photographer Lauren Greenfield and authors Ralph Ellison and Roland Barthes to Broadway’s Ethel Merman and bluesman Robert Johnson, I will chart some of the musical, visual, and literary representations of private music and get lost in the harmonious dissonance of the sounds bouncing around the room.