Sunday, 9:00–10:30 am

Transgression and Divorce in Rock and Metal

Chair: Mark Spicer (Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center)

  • Further Thoughts on the Melodic-Harmonic Divorce
    Drew Nobile (CUNY Graduate Center)
  • Sonic Transgression in Recent Extreme Metal Music
    Will Mason (Columbia University)
  • Program

    Further Thoughts on the Melodic-Harmonic Divorce

    It has been noted several times that the relationship of melody to harmony is looser in popular music than in common-practice tonal music—so much so that Allan Moore (1995) has dubbed this the “melodic-harmonic divorce.” Several studies mention the divorce, especially Temperley 2007, who attempts to enumerate the specific conditions under which the divorce occurs. What is missing from these studies, however, is a systematic method of interpreting the melodic-harmonic divorce: since the traditional rules of counterpoint do not apply in these situations, what processes, if any, are governing melodic and harmonic structure?

    To answer this question, I will outline three situations in which the melodic-harmonic divorce occurs and give a different voice-leading interpretation of each of these. In addition, I will demonstrate that melody and harmony often “remarry” at a significant moment of a song, such as the chorus (as Temperley suggests) or a cadence. This shows us that the divorce is not just a structural feature, but can have expressive effects as well.


    Sonic Transgression in Recent Extreme Metal Music

    This paper examines extreme metal music from the perspective of music cognition and rhythmic theory. Building off of recent extreme metal scholarship, including Kahn-Harris (2007), Pieslak (2007), Forshaw (2011), and Phillipov (2012), I demonstrate the overlap between the musical surface and structure of extreme metal, its cognitive impact on listeners, and the ideology of the extreme metal community. In his definition of extreme metal music, Kahn-Harris (2007) argues that what makes the genre of extreme metal so “extreme” is that it is transgressive, and he defines three sub-categories: sonically transgressive, discursively transgressive, and bodily transgressive. My paper applies ideas set out in London (2004), Lerdahl and Jackendoff (1983), Rothstein (1989), and Roeder (1994) to examine sonic transgression in extreme metal, which Kahn-Harris sketches only briefly and which are ultimately of secondary interest in his larger project. In particular, I deal with issues related to tempo and meter in the music of Dillinger Escape Plan, Vital Remains, and Liturgy, discussing the ways in which tempo and meter force us as listeners to engage with the upper limits of our faculties for metric detection, often causing some degree of physical discomfort by forcing us out of a comfort zone grounded in psychophysical preferences.