The past week has shaped the remainder of my honours year in a profound way.
Though my love for Prince as an artist is undying – it must now be expressed in writing for me to come to terms with the fact… he will be taking a backseat in my studies for the remainder of the year, as I have realised (inconveniently 5 weeks into my honours year) that my true research passion lies elsewhere. (ahh… relief)
My detailed research on Prince is not a complete waste however, as his contribution to the music industry will tie in with research of my new focus stream – my long-time secret obsession: the concept album.
I have spent the past week recovering from five weeks of lost potential research time by pushing myself to do as much reading and note-taking about the concept album as possible – it’s been more than a full time commitment but it has certainly been stimulating and i feel a sense of achievement.
As a member of the progressive rock band Kettlespider, who have released a concept album in 2012, and as an avid fan/concert attendee of progressive music – i have realised the great benefit that in depth studies of the concept album (a format which is inextricably linked with my beloved progressive rock above all else) will provide for my future in the music industry – both stimulating and useful.
My precursor project presentation for Media Objects class is fast approaching (Tuesday), and the pressure of meeting all of the criteria in time has provided a golden opportunity to begin mapping out the angles i can take with regards to the concept album for my extended study and thesis.
Do i focus on a particular artist? A particular album or series of albums? The effect that they have had on the music industry? Their place as ‘art’ in popular culture?
It is obvious that there are many approaches i can take with a subject such as this.. And undoubtedly, during the course of my research i will explore with much enthusiasm each of the above at length.
For my precursor project however, I want to apply some of the principles discussed in class from Ian Bogost’s ‘Alien Phenomenology’ – and to do this i have decided to assemble some ‘ontographs’.
The study of ‘ontography’, as explored in Bogost’s ‘Alien phenomenology’ (p.38) involves ‘the revelation of object relationships without necessarily offering clarity or description of any kind’. Bogost suggests the term ‘Ontograph’ as a name for a form of lists that group loosely joined items, ‘not by logic or power or use, but by the gentle knot of the comma.’ (p.38)
Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, Or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. University of Minnesota Press, 2012.
The question i am using as the basis of my precursor project (which my ontographs don’t neccesarily need to answer) boils down to something mighty simple – but vital to my further studies of the concept album…
WHAT IS THE CONCEPT ALBUM?
In order to answer a question such as ‘what is the concept album?’ – various definitions need to be explored. However, the creation of dense, comprehensive ‘ontographs’ can also offer much insight.
Two ontographs needed to be created for this exercise to work.
The first ontograph explores ‘the concept album’ in a broad sense, encouraging speculative thought from many different perspectives – mapping out as many of the terms and key ideas that apply to it as possible.
The second ontograph focuses on ‘Avadante’, by Kettlespider, my concept album. The narrower scope of this second subject forced me to cogitate even further, questioning everything that I thought I knew about this personally significant artifact. Ultimately, from thinking about the album in an open-minded and unfamiliar way over many writing sessions, I gained a lot of additional knowledge and understanding about my subject from the exercise. This echoed Jacques Derrida’s suggestion that “things are never fully present to us, but only differ and defer their access to individuals in particular contexts, interminably.” (As cited in Bogost, p.4)
While i’m at it – I’d also like to make note of some of the more concise and useful definitions of ‘the concept album’ that i have come across – for anyone who is reading this that is thinking ‘what is this Simon fellow on about with all of this concept album jibber jabber!’
Shuker, Roy. “Key concepts in popular music.” London: Routledge, 1998.
“Concept albums are albums that are unified by a theme, which can be instrumental, compositional, narrative or lyrical. In this form the album changed from a collection of heterogenous songs into a narrative work with a single theme, in which individual songs could segue into one another.” Pg.5
Elicker, Martina. Bernhart, Walter, Werner Wolf, and David L. Mosley, eds. “Concept Albums – Song Cycles in
Popular Music.” Word and Music Studies: Essays on the Song Cycle and on Defining the Field: Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Word and Music Studies at Ann Arbor, MI, (1999): Vol. 3, Rodopi, 2001.
“A concept album in popular music is an album by either one artist or a group which contains a unifying thread throughout the songs – be it musical, thematic or both.” Pg. 229
Holm-Hudson, Kevin. “Genesis and the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.” Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2008.
“The concept album – a collection of songs (or sometimes even a single album-length song) arranged around a single subject (“concept”) or narrative structure, became the rock version of the nineteenth-century song cycle. It became the vehicle of choice for exploring “deep” philosophical ideas in a sustained manner, and invitation for the listener to join in the artist’s contemplation and enter their artistic universe for a while…” “The concept album was one of the most prominent and distinctive manifestations of rock’s “art” impulse in the late 1960s and early 1970s.” Pg. 8
Finally – the following image caps off this seemingly out-of nowhere discussion of concept albums and ontographs in a somewhat fitting fashion. If only it said ‘ONTOGRAPHIC oceans’.
Try and listen to this entire record – i dare you!
I look forward to the challenge of presenting my ontographs and discussions of the key theorists in my research area with my classmates on Tuesday in the lab, and will post the ontographs here when they are complete to share them with the broader world as well!
It’s nice to feel like you’re getting somewhere!