Televised Live Performance, Looping Technology and the ‘Nu Folk’: KT Tunstall on Later … with Jools Holland

Authored by: John Richardson

The Ashgate Research Companion to Popular Musicology

Print publication date:  December  2009
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754664765
eBook ISBN: 9781315613451
Adobe ISBN: 9781317041986


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Authenticity in folk and rock genres has long been premised upon what some theorists have called ‘the demonization of the visual’: 1 by this I mean the idea that the serious business of folk/rock performance should be distinguished from those – commercially sullied – forms that depend on visual reinforcement in order to court a popular following. 2 But there are limits to the disdain of the ocular expressed by rock critics. When it comes to authenticating musicianship, the question of liveness is frequently pushed to the fore, an aspect that is reinforced through the principle of ‘seeing is believing’. 3 The role played by visual reinforcement is not, of course, new or exclusive to electronic and digital technologies. As long as music has been performed, it has had a corresponding visual component. Moreover, the advent of the recording age did not put an end to this state of affairs. Just how visually codified auditory experience has been throughout the twentieth century, a time when acousmatic listening 4 has prevailed, is apparent from research into consumption practices associated with gramophone records. 5 Furthermore, traces of visual experience are frequently retained in auditory forms including: the placement of musicians in the stereo or multichannel mix; the semiotic encoding of instruments to import spatial effects (horns for wide open space,; an acoustic guitar for intimacy); the spatial qualities of the acoustic environment (as determined by natural acoustics or simulated reverb, delay and compression); and other factors relating to the tactile and visual bases of auditory memory. 6 So, despite the impetus to bury the visual dimensions of auditory experience, whether in deference to rock ideology 7 or with a view to debunking bourgeois spectacle, 8 the visual has a tendency to resurface, much like the Freudian unconscious and with analogous affective implications. Contrary to the prevailing theoretical bias, this need not be understood to be an intrinsically bad thing. Like Kay Dickinson, I am distrustful of ‘theoretical assumptions [concerning ‘the political ordering of perception’] that tend only to recognize unitary, fenced in modalities’ 9 – a theoretical line that stretches back at least as far as Eisenstein in audiovisual theory and Hanslick, in music theory, and which has been invoked in much of the subsequent twentieth-century writing.

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