13 Apr 2015

Chapter 2.3: What is Music? (Three Deterritorialisations)

This post is part of my series on Pop, Power & the Vocal-Subject

The previous chapter in this series used a single moment from Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ to discuss the concept of musical power as it is exercised by the vocal-subject. ‘oo heaven knows’: this is the moment when the voice takes control of the surrounding instrumental forces and begins to use it for her own devices. In the terminology that I set up earlier in the series, this is also the moment when the ‘track’ becomes a ‘song’ – the becoming-song of the music.

In these next two chapters, I will focus even closer on this moment, in order to test some of the implications of the framework that I have so far constructed – vocal-subject, objective instrumental forces, song, track, music – for ‘I Feel Love’ and for vocal pop music in general. This is particularly important because of the potentially fraught political and ethical implications of following such easy cleavages (between subject and object, voice and instruments, individual and society), when the sort of Adorno-inspired hermeneutics described in earlier chapters have been so extensively challenged in recent decades by more radical, and more optimistic, bodies of theory. To these ends, I will attempt to embed my analysis more deeply within the highly political aesthetics of Deleuze and Guattari, and thence to confront it with the scholarship that arose from the UK rave movement in the ‘90s (Simon Reynolds, Jeremy Gilbert & Ewan Pearson, Drew Hemment), which was so clearly informed by their philosophy from its inception.

4 Apr 2015

Chapter 2.2: Power and Agency in Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love'

This post is part of my series on Pop, Power & the Vocal-Subject 

The first part of this essay series was about ‘vocal-subjects’ who could resist but never redirect, overpower, capture or possess the ‘objective instrumental forces’ that, along with the vocal-subject, constitute the power division of each ‘songworld’. These were vocal-subjects caught in the dominating and structuring grid of beats, or the oppressive gravitational pull of a particular groove. Giorgio Moroder’s epochal synth groove, which rolls inexorably through the heart of Donna Summer’s 1977 hit ‘I Feel Love’, might seem to function in a similar manner. A pioneering moment in the shift in beat technology from virtuoso disco/funk ensemble to icy electro automation, ‘I Feel Love’’s groove seemed to remove something of the plasticity of the disco beat, alienating it from the act of its production.1 Like the tracks discussed in Chapter 1.3 (following the distinction that I make between ‘tracks’ and ‘songs’ in that chapter), ‘I Feel Love’ features a deeply coercive, regulatory beat – drilling home an unchanging, driving Moog pattern which would seem to predetermine what is and isn’t possible for the vocal-subject to perform, in terms of melody and rhythm.

However, from the perspective of the vocal-subject (i.e. as the song is experienced, rather than as we ‘know’ it to have been created), I will argue that ‘I Feel Love’ works in a very different way to the tracks previously analysed, even that it qualifies as a ‘song’ rather than a ‘track’. This is predicated upon the agency that Donna Summer’s vocal-subject displays in shaping and producing the ‘terrain’ of the songworld. She performs her control over the beat through a series of ‘high-power musical actions’, which will be the main object of analysis in this essay (already discussed briefly in the previous chapter).