Conference Agenda

The Online Program of events for the 2023 AMS & SMT Joint Annual Meeting appears below. This program is subject to change. The final program will be published in early November.

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Session Overview
Harmony in Popular Music
Thursday, 09/Nov/2023:
4:30pm - 5:30pm

Location: Governor's Sq. 15

Session Topics:

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Pivot Sonority Markedness as Bass-Chord Disjunction in Pop and Rock

Matthew Allan Bilik

Anderson University

This paper investigates how pivot sonorities are marked for listening in pop and rock due to disjunction between the bass and the sounding chord. These “weird transition chords” catch the attention of the listener because they 1) exhibit an incongruence between bass and chord content and 2) appear as stratified, or layered, sonorities that stand out in an otherwise triadic texture. Using songs from the 1970s and 1980s, I synthesize past and present literature on multi-centric complexes (Ferrandino 2022), sectional tonality (Capuzzo 2009), and markedness in music (Hatten 1994) to demonstrate how these unique pivot sonorities punctuate formal boundaries and have the potential to smooth modulation between verse and choruses in different keys. Specifically, their bass-chord disjunction furnishes a dual harmonic function that artists utilize to bridge formal sections. By unpacking the content and context of each sonority, I hope to demystify why these transition chords sound so strange yet work in favor of each song.

Interpreting Chromaticism in Pop Chord Loops

Brad Osborn

University of Kansas

This presentation analyzes a link between chromaticism in popular music chord loops and marked lyrical, formal, and timbral features that appear concomitantly. Two recently theorized types of chromatic chord loops are investigated: the dual leading-tone loop (Osborn 2021) and the triple tonic loop (de Clercq 2021).

Just as dual leading-tone loops (DLTL) contain leading tones for two keys (major and relative minor), lyrics in DLTLs often concern being pulled in two opposing directions. This is exemplified in the opening seconds of Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream it’s Over.” The progression Eb–Cm–Ab–G contains leading tones for the keys of Eb major and C minor, and is used to animate the lyrics “there is freedom within/there is freedom without.”

A triple tonic loop (TTL) contains both major and relative minor tonics, and also draws chords from the parallel minor. Songs may reserve their darkest lyrical themes for chords drawn from the parallel minor. For example, early lyrics in Deafheaven’s song “Black Brick” describe beauty, and the harmonic vocabulary is limited to a DLTL on F major/D minor. But in the final, terminally climactic section (Osborn 2013), a comparatively dark lyric is screamed violently against a new, darker loop that borrows from the parallel key of F minor for the first time.

That such chromaticism is often reserved for sections that only emerge later in the song suggests a link with form. The terminal climax of Frank Ocean’s “Self Control” is marked not only chromatically (a new TTL on Ab/Fm/Abm), but also timbrally, through a choir of multi-tracked voices that thickens the texture relative to everything that precedes it. In Tool’s “H,” the final chorus is re-harmonized using a darker Phrygian mode, which is also timbrally marked by a thicker texture (triple-tracked guitar chords) and a new half-time feel in the drums.

While recent research on pop–rock harmony has done much to expand our monotonal view, this presentation highlights the ways in which artists use these expanded tonal palettes in combination with marked gestures in lyrics, form, and timbre.

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