Endless Caresses: Queer Exuberance in Large-Scale Form in Rock
Contribution to a Book
Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Music
Queering the Popular Pitch
Sheila Whiteley, Jennifer Rycenga
Critiques of formalism, organicism, and the preeminence given to musical form have been central to feminist and queer musicology. From Theodor Adorno through to the work of Susan McClary, Ruth Solie, and many others, Western art music’s emphasis on formal analysis has been seen as upholding dualisms, distancing music from physicality, and serving ideologies that seek to control and contain affect.1 Consider, for instance, this articulation of ideal form, from a well-known pedant of the early twentieth century, Percy Goetschius, in which he stresses the need for rational clarity: “A musical composition . . . in which Order prevails, in which all the factors are chosen and treated in close keeping with their logical bearing upon each other and upon the whole; in which, in a word, there is no disorder of thought or technique-is music with Form [i.e., good form].”2 Not only is Goetschius’s obsession with order patent, but, in the best idealist tradition, he adds ontologizing capital letters for “Order” and “Form,” giving them a status approaching Platonic ideas. Furthermore, by implication, “Order” and “Form” are allied with the “natural” and the “normal,” for Goetschius writes, one page previous, that “[d]isorder, constitutes a condition which is regarded with abhorrence and dread by every rational mind.3”
The forms music students are taught-from sonata form to A-BA song form to pallavi-anupallavi-charanam-effectively operate as hegemonies. The authority of the form reaches widely, but is upheld through an already-negotiated consent rather than by overt policing. In fact, these forms behave reproductively; they tell us that a certain musical train of events is predictable, that it resembles its parent with but small variations. These variations between parents and children can be charming or annoying: Franz Joseph Haydn seems to have created winsome formal offspring, each with his or her own quirks, while the band Def Lepperd removed all the grace in favor of unmitigated power in the forms it received from its über father, Led Zeppelin. The principle of reproducibility means that once listeners know, and have internalized, the template of a form, the (alleged) pleasure in formal listening arises from measuring the music against an abstract and absent model. With both a kind of compulsory reproductive mandate, and an imperative for abstraction, it is little wonder that feminist and queer musicologists have been concerned about the aridity and antisomatic bias of formal listening.
Jennifer Rycenga. "Endless Caresses: Queer Exuberance in Large-Scale Form in Rock" Queering the Popular Pitch (2006): 235-247. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203036266-26