About shelleyatkinson22

I am a Music Industries Postgrad student interested in all music matters and more importantly why and how music matters.

Assignment 1: Week 5 – Virtual Reality and the future of live gigs

Virtual reality, ultimately condensing time and space and allowing music consumers to have the feeling of “being there even though, in fact, you are still here” (Duckworth, 2005, p77). With VR headsets becoming more commonplace and easily accessible, and designs on allowing people to become ‘part of the band’, as well as being in the audience at gigs for bands / artists who no longer exist, how does that affect our sense of reality? In terms of Baudrillard’s work on hypperreality and simulacra, it may be something that is damaging to our grasp on meaning and music and render the ‘real’ a long lost utopia. In terms of Benjamin’s view of art as losing authenticity and aura in a capitalist age, we are also forewarned of the loss of the unique and present that is integral to the ‘original’. If our everyday lives and realities are full of the enhanced simulation of the virtual world, will the real and authentic become something we simply dream of? How can Abba give their name to something when the avatars portrayed are merely computer simulations? Alternatively, are the new technologies and experience-enhancing music platforms coming into play simply an offering of choices that empower us as consumers. Philosophically-speaking this is a can of worms that cannot be fully analysed in 500 words, but nevertheless it is interesting to scratch the surface of a few of these debates, in the hope of briefly exploring some of the debates that we are faced with.


Using two examples of forthcoming virtual reality in music models, how can the work of Benjamin and Baudrillard prove relevant? The first example is the plan to offer consumers the chance to be in an orchestra, a heightened experience that has been tested and claims to offer a more authentic insight and more enveloping experience for the listener, who would not otherwise get the chance to fully immerse themselves in an orchestral setting. The second example is the plan to offer Abba gigs in 2018 using artificial intelligence to create a whole new live and virtual experience.

Benjamin was concerned that contemplation within art had been replaced with distraction, replacing viewers thoughts with moving images and stop them thinking. The question is, do they want to think? The parameters set up are designed to enhance feeling, condensing temporal and spacial restraints and ultimately offer experiences that accessible for all. For Baudrillard, there is a charm that is lost in the replacement of the real with ‘signs of the real’ (1983, p4) which leaves no room for the imagination. The holographic Abba characters and the holograms of the consumers are examples of cloning that “neatly puts an end to the charm and the intelligence of music” (Baudrillard, 1994 p106).
Fundamentally, new virtual ways of consuming music have been evolving since it began. On the one hand, we are offered an enhanced experience that defies temporal and spatial boundaries and get to access artists and art which would otherwise not be available at all, potentially “adding meaning to music” by making it more engaging as a commodity. On the other hand, the personal experience of the authentic ‘real’ that allows for an imaginary element is rendered less accessible.


Bibliography and references:

Baudrillard, J. 1983, Simulations, Semiotext[e], New York

Baudrillard, J. 1994, Simulacra and simulation, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Duckworth, W. & Farrell, N. 2005, Virtual music: how the web got wired for sound, Routledge, New York;London

Hann, M., 2016. Abba announce new ‘virtual and live experience’ for 2018 [online]. The Guardian. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/oct/26/abba-announce-virtual-live-experience-2018-simon-fuller

Hickling, A., 2016. You’re in the band: virtual reality’s orchestral future [online]. The Guardian. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/sep/29/virtual-reality-london-philharmonia-orchestra-esa-pekka-salonen-interview

https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/author/andrew-robinson/, 2012. Jean Baudrillard: Hyperreality and Implosion [online]. Ceasefire Magazine. Available from: https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/in-theory-baudrillard-9/

https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/author/andrew-robinson/, 2013. Walter Benjamin: Art, Aura and Authenticity [online]. Ceasefire Magazine. Available from: https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/walter-benjamin-art-aura-authenticity/

@T. B., 2016. Virtual reality may soon change gigs forever [online]. The Conversation. Available from: http://theconversation.com/virtual-reality-may-soon-change-gigs-forever-67949


Assignment 1: week 4 – Bare faced chic and going incognito – Two ways that female pop stars are counterracting Pop imagery

Madonna’s “Woman of the Year 2016” acceptance speech discusses her struggles with image and feminism, eventually accepting herself as ‘a different kind of feminist…a bad feminist”.


There seems to be a dichotomy present in mainstream pop when it comes to the concept of female empowerment. Whilst eighties pop stars such as Madonna and Annie Lennox have used image-changing costumes, makeup and Bowie-esque gender-blurring videos to express their female identities, Sinead O’Connor went down the route of forsaking the use of image-enhancing makeup and and clothing, choosing to present herself as herself, rather than a chameleon. Looking at the images of Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keyes and Sia, how can we evaluate the image choices of female popstars in 2016?

Miley Cyrus and her “movement” documentary cites Madonna and Brittney Spears as big influences in her evolution into the ‘bad bitch that she really is’. She wants to shock, blur gender boundaries, and MTV and her diehard Hannah Montana fans are right behind her. Presented in an almost wholesome way, the documentary which accompanied her release, ‘We Won’t Stop’, showcases her journey from her double Disney alter ego to ‘being herself’. The point that this is all her own creation down to every detail, from her twerking with what look like drugged teddy bears and dwarves, to her working with top name Hip Hop producers, is reiterated throughout the documentary.

Sinead O’Connor, who is surely her polar opposite image-wise, came into Miley Cyrus’ heady mix in a rather unexpected way when she was cited as her inspiration for part of her controversial Wrecking Ball video directed by Terry Richardson. It resulted in an ‘open letter’ from Ms O’Connor to put the record straight on their artistic differences.

In stark contrast, Alicia Keyes does seem more akin to the imagerial ethos of Sinead O’Connor, choosing to go makeup free on all appearances, to let go of the constant struggle to be captured as a perfect chameleon, stating that she doesn’t want to cover up anymore. Her alternative stance towards makeup has become a counterculture, beckoning a different kind of movement that drops the disguise of the ‘contour’ generation.

Sia on the other hand has opted for full disguise, appearing live as a dress, and using giant wigs and bows to conceal her identity. Daft Punk have adopted a similar stance, but are not urged to ‘show their face’, perhaps pointing to some of the fundamental differences in expectations of male and female artists. Using dancers and staging to create visual imagery that avoids her having to show her own identity, she uses videos not featuring herself at all.

Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys and Sia’s portrayals of femininity and sexuality in 2016 are very different. Cyrus adheres to the MTV ethos, seen as liberating in the ways of sexual awareness and identity and getting everything out of the closet and into pop culture. The Daily Mail’s 2010 article, “How pop became porn” highlights Liz Jones’ exposure to watching 24 hours of MTV (Hesmondalgh, 2013, p78) I would argue that this has now become the predominant discourse in pop. The Madonna-esque boundary-pushing has has lead to the normalisation of sex in the media. Whether or not such displays of sexual liberation are a help or a hinderance to feminism is another debate altogether, with Hesmondalgh arguing that videos may be more evidential of narcissism than objectification and not necessarily the damaging and moral concerning degradation that they are presented as (2013, p79).

According to Rosalind Gill, the shift from an “external male judging gaze to a self-policing narcissistic gaze” (Hesmondhalgh, p81) is evident. Though Alicia Keyes, Sia and Miley Cyrus’ music is on a par creatively, with all three artists working with similar producers and having similar levels of success, and recording essentially love songs, their choices for how to present themselves alongside those bodies of work is drastically different, and apparently self-regulated.


Anon., 2016. Miley Cyrus’ ‘The Movement’ Documentary: 10 Things To Watch For [online]. Billboard. Available from: http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/pop-shop/5740649/miley-cyrus-the-movement-documentary-10-things-to-watch-for

Anon., 2013. Sinéad O’Connor’s open letter to Miley Cyrus [online]. The Guardian. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/oct/03/sinead-o-connor-open-letter-miley-cyrus

Elan, P., 2016. Why Alicia Keys’ #nomakeup look is not quite as ‘real’ as it seems [online]. Shortcuts. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/shortcuts/2016/oct/10/alicia-keys-no-makeup-look-not-quite-real

Hesmondhalgh, D. 2013, Why music matters, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester, West Sussex, UK

@flavorwire, 2013. Let’s Blame Terry Richardson — Not Miley Cyrus — For the Awful “Wrecking Ball” Video [online]. Flavorwire. Available from: http://flavorwire.com/414323/lets-blame-terry-richardson-not-miley-cyrus-for-the-awful-wrecking-ball-video

http://www.facebook.com/cheresejacksoon, 2016. The Movement: Miley Cyrus Prepares for World Domination · Guardian Liberty Voice [online]. Guardian Liberty Voice. Available from: http://guardianlv.com/2013/10/the-movement-miley-cyrus-prepares-for-world-domination-video/

Jackson, G., 2015. Please Sia, don’t show us your face | Gabrielle Jackson [online]. Opinion. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/02/please-sia-dont-show-us-your-face

Mossman, K., 2016. Sia: ‘Everyone in entertainment is insecure. We’ve been dancing our entire lives for your approval’ [online]. The Observer. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jan/31/sia-everyone-in-entertainment-is-insecure-observer-music-interview

N. B. C. T. V., 2016. Sia: “Cheap Thrills” – The Voice 2016 [online]. YouTube. Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pV_zFvqrDy

Pollard, A., 2015. So Sia hides herself? So do Daft Punk. The only difference is she’s a woman [online]. Music blog. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2015/mar/30/so-sia-hides-herself-so-do-daft-punk-the-only-difference-is-shes-a-woman

Scott, A., 2016. The real reason Alicia Keys stopped wearing makeup [online]. NickiSwift.com. Available from: http://www.nickiswift.com/24148/real-reason-alicia-keys-stopped-wearing-makeup/


Assignment 1; Blog 3: Up in smoke – the commercialisation of Punk

“Destruction is a vaguely interesting artistic concept, but it was always the most bullshit, easy-out aspect of punk. Personally, punk empowered me to create, not destroy.” – OBSERVER MUSIC (Tim Sommer • 03/25/16)


This week saw Joe Corre, son of punk fashion pioneers Malcolm Mclaren and Vivienne Westwood, set fire to the first of many pieces of highly-valued punk heritage artefacts (the rest is due to be burnt this coming weekend), claiming that it is the ‘ideas that are important, not the memorabilia’. According to Corre, “it’s time we threw it all on the fire and started again”.  This somewhat postmodernist and Foucauldian stance opposes the canonised histories and nostalgia that have evolved around Punk, which he feels defy the ethos of the movement and render it commercialised, and ultimately a nod to the McDonaldisation of society. He also claims that Punk is dead, with the exception of political activists Pussy Riot.

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Assignment 1; Blog 2: 2016 The annus horribilis of Pop?

“Thinking about how we mourn artists we’ve never met. We don’t cry because we knew them, we cry because they helped us know ourselves.” (taken from Huffington Post, 15/01/2016).

2016 has been a strange year which saw fans bid goodbye to their favourite artists like Prince, Bowie and Leonard Cohen. In the wake of their deaths, what can we learn about how their music and image are presented in the afterlife?


Words like ‘legend’ getting banded about, specials on radio and TV and a feeling of devastation being evident in social media are all commonplace when a pop icon dies. Tributes, shrines and stories that dominate the media over politics can all be seen. Death becomes a vehicle for us to outpour personal emotion en masse. The potential arises for the ‘music industry’ and media to create a narrative history and commodify an artist’s passing. Looking at Prince and Amy Winehouse as examples, how does post-mortem pop play out?

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Assignment 1: ‘Honey G’ and the X Factor identity crisis

Topics Covered: Music and Meaning; Music and Identity, Music as Popular Culture

This year’s X Factor UK’s inclusion of a contestant called ‘Honey G’ has ushered a media ‘frenzy’. Positioning herself as the ‘future of  UK Hip-Hop’, and ‘the real deal’, a mid-thirties accounts manager from ‘North Weezy’ has become a joke figure within the media. This article examines why her authenticity as an artist has been questioned, and what that potentially signifies about viewers’ expectations, both of X Factor as a TV show, and what constitutes an ‘authentic artist’.


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Week 4 – Music and Meaning

Ed Geater‘s EP launch , on a rainy Thursday evening at the end of October, in Digbeth, Birmingham, saw him as the ‘headline’ act, with ‘support’ from Lady Sanity and Alex Rainsford. I was asked to go and do a review for Brum Radio, so it seemed like an excellent opportunity to go and attend a gig as an ‘observer rather than a participant’, and write a further blog using Alfred Shutz’s essay, Making Music Together, to explore how performers and audience members made the music meaningful.


I hadn’t seen Ed Geater perform before, but there was a palpable anticipation building from the moment the doors opened. Mama Roux’s, a venue designed to emulate the jazz-driven dive bars of New Orleans, is three-tiered and around 300 capacity. The room started to fill up with Ed’s friends, family, fans and fellow musicians from Birmingham’s various ‘scenes’, as well as photographers, video makers, bloggers and pluggers. This was to be an archetypal ‘launch’ gig, a special occasion, a celebration of a ‘release’. An attentive crowd began to build throughout the first two sets, with both performers showcasing original material, Alex Rainsford doing an acoustic alternative rock set and Lady Sanity doing Hip-Hop / Grime.  As the star of the show came out, the audience, who are by now already warmed up from their ferocious clapping during the first two acts, offer a rapturous applause. The emotion of the performer is obvious, mirrored by the crowd in this interplay of ‘outer’ time communication, happening between songs.

Geater is obviously known to the majority of the ‘beholders’ / listeners, and they offer support and communication through a system of gestures and semantic expressions throughout. The ‘mutual tuning in’ process, the meshing of a ‘we’ reaches a climax in the headliner’s set, though it has been developing throughout the evening. There is a communication which ‘presupposes the existence of some kind of social interaction’ (Shutz, 1951, p78) between sets manifesting in the audience chatting as a collective, despite varying levels of anonymity. There is a feeling that the performers / composers and listeners are co-participating in ‘quasi simultaneity’ (p90). Using the idea of  durée, the listener and performer interact in ‘a meaningful arrangement of tones in inner time’. The listener co-performs in the sense of participating in an interplay of ‘recollections, retentions, protentions and anticipations, polythetically (step by step). This ‘outer’, or ‘measurable’, clock-lead timeframe which music must also operate in (with set times, breaks, audio etc.) is coupled with an ‘inner’ time, the essence of music, leading to a ‘pluridimensionality’ (p94). The ‘Making Music Together’ study by Shutz also highlights the multi-dimensional, ‘fragmented’ communication process that occurs between co-performers; negotiating between the ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ temporal spaces, whilst simultaneity listening and performing is even more complex dimensionally-speaking than that of a soloist. Overlapping streams of consciousness occur between performers and beholders that are symptomatic of the ‘musical flux’ that is unfolding (p96).


Shutz’s somewhat poetic emphasis on the inner time created in music, and the concept of ‘duree’, is, by its very nature, immeasurable. We can assume, however, by the reaction of the audience, and the emotion expressed by performers, that an interplay between streams of consciousness and dimensions was indeed happening. The synchronization through music of time and space, as discussed by Shutz, set in the parameters of how a ‘launch’ should play out, and the semantic systems and communicative processes within that, renders performer and beholder integral to each other. The ‘mutual tuning in’ process and presupposition of a ‘we’, creating a vivid present that, as Shutz put it, is no different to reading a book, listening to a record, singing in a choir or watching an orchestra. Ultimately, the meaning derived and social process of establishing that meaning is the same.


SCHÜTZ, A. 1951, “MAKING MUSIC TOGETHER: A Study in Social Relationship”, Social Research, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 76-97


Week 3 – Birmingham’s Musical Roots & Heritage

When trying to deal with the collection, preservation and display of popular music culture(s), and ultimately representing groups or regions, we are often faced with a conundrum. ‘Traditional’, ‘authorised’, ‘institutional’ and ‘mainstream’ heritage sites are being hampered by many issues, including advances in technology, the tendency to offer a ‘representative’ or ‘canonized’ collection, budgetary cuts and human resources. It feels like we’re in an age of more music being produced than ever before, but on formats which hamper the act of being able to archive it. The anxiety caused by the potential loss or forgetting of history is as applicable to music as any other area of life.

In a response to these challenges, and the ultimate shortfall of heritage sites in sufficiently offering archiving and access to communities, there has been a proliferation in community archiving. Physical archive sites, based on ‘DIY’ cultures, rather than ‘authorised’ ones (Baker and Collins, 2015, p2) and online ‘community’ sites, rather than ‘institutional’ ones are becoming more widespread. Looking at the challenges faced for these community sites, and indeed more ‘prestigious’ heritage institutions, in regard to sustainability, preserving the cultural materials and the cultural meaning they convey and ultimately in positioning themselves as relevant for the future, present and past is also a conundrum. Heritage and the archiving of it is no longer a clear cut affair. How do we tackle these challenges? Does it help to look at examples of physical and online popular music archiving in Birmingham?

City of Colours – ‘Our Musical Roots’ project

In my last blog post, I discussed City of Colours as an example of a multi-media, interactive annual festival taking place in Birmingham. As well as celebrating street art and local music culture, they have expanded this year to include a project and exhibition entitled, Our Musical Roots, an exploration into the dub and reggae musical heritage of Birmingham. Run by City of Colours, St. Basil’s Youth Centre and Jez Collins, its aim is to, “try and increase awareness of Birmingham’s Musical Heritage”, following an engagement project which revealed 89% of under 16s “could not name a single Birmingham artist”. This is not only an archiving exercise but a project. The physical archiving of  “reimagined album artwork (see image below), vinyl collages, a lyrical installation and a timeline of Birmingham’s musical heritage”, will be showcased across the city in various venues on certain dates, and represents a clear development in non-traditional approaches. The nods to the past are obvious, with the image below representing The Beat’s seminal eighties tune, but the project also involved nods to the present, with artists like Lady Sanity, a big hit at this year’s Glastonbury festival also getting an inclusion. The need for cultural heritage to be passed on to the next generation to preserve its future is also evident. One issue arising is the lack of a permanent space and ongoing volunteers or a committee to house or ‘home’ this collection and the use of a ‘representative’ and summarised approach, rather than a comprehensive one. The permanence and materiality of the project seem secondary to the cultural action of curating, educating and expressing, though, and in that sense, this seems like a worthy and innovative archiving endeavour.



The West Midlands Pilot Project

The Pilot Project is an example of the epic challenge of sustainability faced by curators and enthusiasts, even when a bonafide and prestigious institution like The British Library get on board. Set up by a passionate advocate of Birmingham music, Robin Valk, the Pilot Project aimed to preserve the swathe of mp3s being produced in Birmingham into the British Library for posterity. The need for this is the digital age, which has beckoned a decline in physical sonic archives, as well as a disregard for the ‘charts’ and mainstream, as a consequence of the changing music industry. After finding a set of curators across the West Midlands involved with many genres from the well-known to the more obscure, the project’s aims were to provide a website that collected, showcased and preserved the work of artists across the region. The site was to be updated annually and offered the chance for artists and fans to fill in any gaps and be accessible all in one place – online.


Unfortunately, the sustainability was hindered not by the intentions and energy of the founder and curators but by the British Library who, after the first pilot and the chance to make the project nationwide, declined to fund it for a second year, or indeed again.

In summary

Both of these examples show the ‘spectrum’, ‘continuum’, ‘levels of intentionality and professionalism’ and the  challenges of sustainability outlined by Baker and Collins (2015). The defining categories of archiving are fluid and all challenged by financial, spatial and human resources. Resources in general are the biggest threat to archiving our culture successfully. Relationship-building between community enthusiasts and professional archivists can prove fruitful, but not always possible. I cannot answer the predicament and conundrum of how to get round these challenges, but do strongly feel that involving students (of all ages) and volunteers (look at the difference they make to the National Trust!) might be one long-term solution, though I personally feel expert guidance and people who have spent their lives in the ‘business’ should not be disregarded by community archivists. The combination of the two and a new platform / media by which such memories can be displayed and harnessed would be great. Academics, scholars and community leaders may be crucial in getting this mobilised, but many hands make light work and the ‘Do-It-Together’ mentality may be our best hope in preserving our musical heritage.