TLF at EMP Museum Pop Conference 2014


EMP Museum Pop Conference is like Comic-Con for people who geek out over music: The b-side collectors, the people who can tell you the what parts of a song got cut out of the 7′ version vs. the album version, the people who bore other people with talk about FLAC vs 320kpbs and so on.

At a point where TV and comic fans have a choice of in-person events to connect, chat and dig deep into their fandom with other critics, collectors, historians, musicians, etc. music fans aren’t as lucky. There are tons of industry/musician focused music events. SXSW? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA ARE YOU KIDDING NO THAT DOESN’T COUNT. Neither do any of the music festivals.

Say you want to be at an event where people talk about the history of New Orleans Brass Jazz, or wax poetic about the music of Lionel Richie or state of cassette tape preservation. To be in a place where everyone’s heard that Prince cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” so you don’t have to explain what it is before you start talking about it? As far as I know EMP is the only place for this and for that reason, it was like Shangri-La for me.

It was my first time attending/presenting, and I honestly can’t say enough about how transformative it was for me, a music geek that doesn’t always have the opportunity to be in a music geek focused environment very often, it was so inspiring and enlightening to hear great writing and insight on great music.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Mobility” and first night’s Keynote Panel with Sharon Jones, Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Meshell Ndedochello, and Alynda Lee Segarra talking about life on the road as touring musicians. With Ann Powers as moderator, there was never a lag in discussion and a quite a few moments of great insight and wisdom, particularly from Jones, who midway into the panel dropped about 2 minutes of the most REAL TALK I have heard about race and gender industry, talking about wow execs called her “too dark” and “too fat” to make it and revealing the choice she made in forgoing a life as a wife and mother to pursue music full on. It didn’t go unnoticed by me that that choice is something that never seems to be faced by rock dudes in their decisions to make a life of music. When is the last time you’ve heard a dude in a rock band talk about the choice of music over parenthood? Balance? Yes. Choice? Nope. Thing is, Jones wasn’t bitter about it at all, or regretful. But she was totally real, and it was refreshing to hear.

My presentation was on Saturday. You can read the post that inspired it here , a longer post of the actual presentation is forthcoming. I was very honored and thrilled to be on a panel with esteemed music critic J.D. Considine and Pil Ho Kim, a scholar on Korean Pop Culture whose writing we’ve covered here at TLF before. Doing a panel about K-Pop at a music critic’s conference means some of the exposition that stymies some coverage of K-Pop in other outlets was avoided here. I learned a lot from Kim’s research on “Gangnam Style” pop music and appreciated hearing Considine’s take on Girls’ Generations branding in Japan (there were some interesting overlaps in our presentations about marketing of K-Pop that I found amusing, considering that my presentation was focused much more on the U.S. market. and social media’s role)

And then! And then! Saturday night’s Critical Karaoke was a gathering of music critics reading critical essays on their picks for best and worst cover songs. It was both music criticism and live lit in action and one of the most exciting events I’ve seen in awhile. Emily Lordi’s BRUTAL takedown of Limp Biskit’s cover of “Faith” was awesome, as was the aforementioned heartfelt defense of Lionel Richie’s discography from Jody Rosen.

I am grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with music writing and writers in a way that I didn’t think I’d be able to do since I semi-retired several years ago. EMP was an inspiring weekend immersion in music fandom, and well worth the trip. – KDC

The Geography of Music Archiving Roundtable, including Timothy Anne Burnside, Charles R. Cross, Holly George-Warren, Kevin Strait, & Jessica Thompson, talking about varied aspects of music archiving, ranging from preservation of physical objects to how those left behind after the death of artists need to be respected.

The panelists range from archivists that work in museums (Strait & Burnside), to archivists that work at music non-profits (Thompson), to biographers (Cross & George-Warren). But the challenge of determining what to preserve, to keep, and to share is an issue that confronts them all. Sometimes the issues confronted in the process of archiving involve placing work within a larger cultural context, as Strait does within his work at the Smithsonian, where tracking down the physical Mothership is as important as explaining why looking to the stars within music occurred for within Black futuristic music as a means of excaping the hardships on Earth.

George-Warren and Cross discussed the difficulty in confronting conflicting narratives — the narrative of the facts with the narrative of the heart. Despite so many books being written about Woodstock, through collected recordings that have not been released to the public, George-Warren was able to correct an incorrect version of the order of the show that has persisted for forty years. And the importance of fact checking was also discussed by Cross, but also how not everything is or should be included within biography.

The archiving work that Thompson does is twofold — both in keeping the “true” version as recorded, but also in doing the difficult work in sound engineering that allows for rare live recordings to sound as good as they can. This allows for both music completists and music appreciators to get the most from recordings.

The panel as a whole also addressed the issue of whether everything related to music can or should be collected and preserved. There was agreement that this is just not possible — and that sometimes the physical object of music is sacrificed to retain the music on that physical object. Also, the issue of funding and appropriate storage was considered by the panelists to be fundamental, with being truthful to donors and funders regarding what actually would be done with the objects donated.

I thought it was interesting that while bequest contracts were mentioned during the roundtable, the issue of copyright wasn’t. Much of these musical recordings are in formats that aren’t supported anymore or degrade quickly, so by the time they are out of copyright, they won’t exist to be be listened to. The efforts of these archivists help to maintain our cultural heritage, but many won’t even consider the expensive efforts to preserve and maintain music due to being severely risk-adverse about copyright. – RL

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