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Research Themes


Recent scholarship on voice has attempted to find ways of describing vocal quality and to link those qualities to cultural and political meanings. Our research in this area begins from this position but looks also at how the voice can operate both as a site for the construction of discourse and as a carrier of subjectivity. And yet, in both these (conflicting) characterisations of the voice, its location in the body is missing. The group is therefore also very much interested in song as a set of practices: not only why do we sing? but how do we sing? and what do these two question have in common? We are therefore also interested in the voice as a site for exploring some of the ways in which creative practice and critical reflection meet.

Popular music, nostalgia and modernity

Popular music is usually associated with the new, both in terms of the breathless turnover of fashion and in terms of its overall links with modernity: pop is often thought to begin with the 20th century. But along with this stress on novelty (which actually can be traced back at least to the 19th century) has gone an interest in tradition, in lost musical worlds; the 20th century was a period not only of musical fads but also of revivals, and nostalgia, far from figuring as opposite to modernity, turns out to be part of it - a conjunction now institutionalised in the phenomenon of 'world music', and throughout epitomised by the important role played by new technology. Our research in this area focuses on developing theories to help us understand this, on the face of it rather strange, feature of contemporary cultures, and on applying these theories to a range of particular cases - blues, folk musics, fado, flamenco, Neapolitan song, bolero. A symposium on the subject was held in 2003 and several publications deriving from this seminar are forthcoming.


Rafael Basurto Lara of the legendary Mexican trio Los Panchos, performing a bolero at the first Latin Music Conference at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC (November 2002) with the young Colombian band Los Tri-O.

 World Musics

Most popular music studies have tended to concentrate on Anglophone musics: rock, pop and other popular forms from Northern Europe and North America. Whilst this group has a very strong track record in research into these musics, we are also very keen to emphasis the global dimension of popular music in the twenty-first century. To this end several members of the network work on non Anglophone world and popular musics, notably Latin America, the Caribbean, South Africa, Southern and Central Europe, China, Central Asia and the Middle East.

Identity politics

Identity has been figured invariably in traditionally literate and philosophical discourse as linked to the progress of the subject and subjectivity in the broadest sense and their connectedness to place, class, gender and ethnicity. This group seeks to radicalise approaches to identity by stressing the complexity and fluidity of identity as a intellectual and political category in the negotiation of our own identities as listening/dancing subjects, composers and performers.

Abdurehim Heyit performing impromptu in a stringed instrument shop in Kashgar, Xinjiang, China (1996)


Gender and sexuality

The complexities of music's implication in the construction and reshaping of the cultural imagination of gender and sexuality are well documented. The research network in popular music at Newcastle brings to this theme a set of unique orientations. We are interested not 'simply' in the ways in which musical materials might be said to rehearse and/or project certain core cultural assumptions about gender (or, indeed, how they subvert such assumptions), but also how people use music as a resource in negotiating with those assumptions.  Figured in this 'culturalist' way, music can be understood in a number of ways: as a materially specific site for the working through of particular gender and sexuality tropes; as a way of expanding and intensifying the gender and sexuality work of other specific cultural materials; as a way of thinking about gender and sexuality at the limits of discourses that subsist in language. The group has published widely in this field, from Richard Middleton's book on popular voice, to Vanessa Knight's work on the bolero, Ian Biddle's work on gender and musical subjectivity and Paul Attinello's wide-ranging work on music and sexuality, to name but a few.

Music and other media

Performance in King's Hall, NewcastleThe interaction between music and other media is a relatively new but fast expanding field of interdisciplinary research in which Newcastle is gaining an international reputation through a number of collaborative projects involving members of this network. These include a conference (organised by Knights and Powrie, 2000) and  two subsequent edited volumes on music and film, the Carmen project which includes the authoring of a critical monograph (chapter on music in the films by Biddle), an edited volume on music in the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer (currently in preparation by Attinello & Knights) and ethnomusicology film festival (Music & Film: The Mediterranean). This is an area of fruitful synergy between researchers in the Film & Media  and Popular Music Research networks.

Performance practice

Within the field of popular music studies, references to performance as an object of study are much more common than in, for example, classical music studies. However, these references have tended to emphasise the scholarly figuration of performance as part of the textual process or as integral to the 'meanings' of the recorded object. We are committed to continuing these approaches but also to thinking about and participating in the making of music and the issues that relate to performance outside overtly academic concerns.