The Rise of Genre Blending

Why some of today’s musicians resist categorization

by Patrick Brogan

In today’s music, there is a trend of artists straying from traditional music genres. “Pop” music is often heard fused with hip-hop, R&B, or even country. Lil Nas X’s 2018 hit Old Town Road combined country and hip-hop in a way previously not seen to this extent in the mainstream, and it went on to set the record for the longest-ever run at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, remaining there for 19 weeks. 

The song’s immense success stemmed from bringing together these two genres – and several others – in a seemingly silly but largely unifying way. The original song was so popular that it was remixed four times, with the likes of country’s Billy Ray Cyrus, EDM’s Diplo, trap’s Young Thug, and even K-pop’s BTS member RM joining on different iterations. The music video features famous artists and other celebrities donning over-the-top blinged-out rodeo-style outfits, all dancing and having a good time.

Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus pose in the music video for “Old Town Road”

This kind of genre-blending is quite common. According to a 2019 article on the rise of genre-blurring music, “Of the 10 acts with the most on-demand streams [in 2019] in the U.S., six are known for blending styles,” says author Neil Shah. New rappers are singing, country artists are combining disco and psychedelia, jazz musicians are moving between a cappella, folk, and soul; completely redefining what it means to be a popular artist in the modern era. Despite the recency of these major successes, writer William Cahn claims that this crossing over of genres and styles reaches as far back as seven hundred years ago. The speed of progress for this movement increased greatly with the Internet and the newfound accessibility of music. Society as a whole is more diachronic today than ever before, and it has become easier and more desirable for listeners to explore diverse collections of songs that are right at their fingertips. Such access molds aesthetic preferences and allows artists to go beyond stylistic purity, granting them the opportunity to explore new regions of music-making.

Curious about the causes behind mixing genres, I conducted an interview with singer/songwriter Vincenzo Torsiello, a 22-year-old senior at the University of Notre Dame. Torsiello comes from a musical family: his mother does modern and flamenco dancing; his father began as a rock guitarist, studied classical music in college, and is now a highly skilled musician of many genres. “Everything I learned about music from a young age was just through my excitement about it and [my dad] telling me things.” Furthermore, he grew up speaking Spanish with his mother and was frequently surrounded by many different cultural and musical traditions. 

Torsiello has released two 12-song albums, Jittersplit (2020) and Estesqueleto / Thiskeleton (2021), both an eclectic mix of songs spanning numerous genres. The first album was written during the pandemic. “When I released the music, [the distributor] CD Baby asked me for tags, and I was at a loss. So, what I did was – I tried to figure out what would be the most all-encompassing way to describe it,” Torsiello recounts. He found that the best ways to describe his music were power pop, alternative, piano rock, and singer/songwriter – all entirely distinct categories. After the release of his first album, Torsiello described in an Observer article some of his music as junk, a term he coined to capture the fusion of jazz and punk present in Jittersplit’s leading track.

Within his collective discography, Torsiello finds it difficult to pin down a succinct response to the type of music he makes. “People ask me this, and I try to tell them, ‘I’m a little all over the place.’” Not wanting to box himself in nor influence peoples’ opinions before listening, he says that he generally avoids genre markers, opting instead for listeners to make their own judgments. According to Torsiello, the more you listen to his music, the more you realize that it’s not what you may have originally expected. This is especially true for Estesqueleto / Thiskeleton, whose first six songs are in Spanish and the other six in English. Torsiello finds that a sense of authenticity stems from his decision to avoid labels. “If I tell you it’s rock, and you hit shuffle on my artist profile and ‘Family Tree’ comes on and you hear soft folk…” Torsiello began, going on to express his worries about preconceived notions of his music raising false expectations.

At the intersection of musical creativity and the actual success of a song, however, an interesting dilemma appears. Looking through his discography Torsiello declared ‘Coyunturas y Huesos’ – the fifth track on his second album – as his most autobiographical yet least streamed song in total. Furthermore, his Spotify for Artists profile showed that all of the six Spanish songs (also the ones most unlike all his recordings so far) were his least played, begging the question of the correlation between straying beyond genre norms and how a song performs for audiences.

Cases such as that of Taylor Swift, who started her career only making country music, show that it is possible to achieve high levels of success in more than one market, as she is one of today’s biggest pop musicians. As researchers Yongren Shi, Yisook Lim, and Chan S. Suh have shown this level of inter-genre success is rare, however. They explored the relationship between boundary crossing and how the music performs or is perceived by audiences, finding “that genre-spanning musicians are more likely to receive lower rating on average compared to genre-specialist musicians in the market.” This pattern of penalty varies between genres, also. Genres with looser boundaries – those with more subcategories – tended to give straying artists a smaller negative impact than genres in which fewer variants exist.

Shi and her co-authors mapped the genres and subgenres as a network, visualizing the inter-genre relationships, showing which are close enough to move between without facing significant consequences.

Genre and subgenre network visualization from Shi et. al.

The colors of the nodes display the parent genre, the connections display which genres are cross-listed by musicians, and the greater thicknesses/shorter distances between subgenres represent an increased frequency of shared genres in songs. In some ways, this mapping can be seen as a sort of roadway for current artists: although it’s possible to move from one side or one color to another, it may be very difficult. Yet musicians continue to chart their own journeys, creating new genres, genre-blends, and other bodies of work that push the envelope of what exists in the musical world.

For now, it seems as though big genres will be here to stay. Though many of today’s hits do not fit within the typical norms of one genre alone, access to this kind of catalog gives artists and listeners alike the avenues through which music is created and distributed. A few breakout hits give a preview of what the distant future may look like, but until then, music’s mainstream still exists in only a handful of channels; with only some creative individuals capable of moving away from these norms.

Playlisting Your PED

How Athletes Can Use Music to Enhance Their Performance

by Will Knapke

Amid the popularization of playlists for mundane everyday activities, listening services are now overflowing with music geared towards athletes at all levels (Spotify’s “Beast Mode” playlist has almost 10 million likes): from high schoolers preparing for the Friday night lights to an Olympian gearing up to break a world record. Athletes listening to pregame music has become ubiquitous. In addition to premade playlists, anyone who has a phone can create a playlist catered to their liking. For many, including myself, this meant listening to the same 20-30 songs every game day. But are these playlists mere superstitions like wearing lucky socks? Or do they actually enhance athletic performance the way many would swear?

One of music’s greatest powers lies in its ability to be used synchronously in a workout. When deployed in this way the playlist can match various things (heart rate, strides, etc.), but for all variations the music subconsciously cues the body to move in certain ways. The most prevalent use of synchronous music comes from running. According to a study done by Costas Karageorghis, aligning the beats per minute (bpm) of a particular song with desired strides per minute (spm) lowers the metabolic cost of the movement and improves efficiency. Knowing the benefits, athletes are able to create a sequence of songs that fluctuate in bpm and therefore increase and decrease the pace of their run. 

This playlist, created by an amateur runner, plays synchronously, pacing a 10-km run at 45 minutes. As you can see the songs are all over the place genre wise, but the bpm consistently increases. For this playlist to work the user multiplies the bpm by 2 and that sets their spm. Anecdotal evidence from the creator of this specific playlist suggests that she was able to decrease her 10-km time from 50 min down to the targeted 45 min within a few weeks . Anyone can make on these playlists using this type of model, the only important factor is aligning the bpm. There are thousands of songs all with the same tempo and therefore allows each individual to cater their playlist to personal preference.

The psychological  effects of music are also exceptionally strong. Beyond the subconscious physical resonance, the mental distraction provided by music greatly reduces the listeners perceived effort. The right side y-axis shows the associative thoughts during exercise, those are the percentage of thoughts given towards the task at hand. The x-axis shows the intensity of the exercise. The percentage of associative thoughts present with music proves significantly lower than those without music. In the Handbook of Sport Psychology, Gershon Tennenbaum notes that he music “partially inhibits the interpretation of internal sensory cues during exercise.” This allows us to be distracted despite exerting our bodies to what would otherwise be uncomfortably levels. 

The physical testing numbers also back up the mental ones. Subjects in a test done by Kelly Brooks scored significantly higher on grip strength when listening to “arousing” music as opposed to “sedative” or no music. This suggests why so many need to wait for the “right song” before attempting a new max. While they may just be doing it because they prefer a Pharrell beat over one made by Timbaland, the science backs up their seemingly superstitious actions.

As one may predict, a workout leads to high levels of adrenaline and often requires a cool down period. Just as the first playlist shown uses bpm to increase the speed at which a runner runs, playlists can also be utilized to slow down one’s body following a high intensity workout. In this case instead of matching the tempo to a stride, we match with our own heart rate. Beginning with high tempo, simulating what one may feel immediately following a workout or run, and descending until we reach 55 bpm, close to the average resting heart rate of a healthy adult. Whereas high tempo music gets us out of our regular mindset into a physically active one, slow music allows us to return back to our normal state.

The idea of mood regulation through music proves exceptionally powerful. Music at its heart elicits emotion from the listener, so it’s no secret it can be used tactfully to conjure up specific emotions for a task. Most powerful in combat and contact sports, music can be deployed to shift a listener from a sedative headspace into the aggressive and violent one required for their sport. The music boosts the ego of the athlete in a sport where they must believe they can impose their will on another human, risking injury and defeat if they cannot (Karageorghis). And while all athletes can, and most do, utilize pregame music, the unordinary mindset required for combat sports makes music all the more important.

The strength of music goes beyond the individual, properly selected songs enhance feelings of unity and teamwork. Often only a single song needs to be used to generate these feelings. Just as music was used for centuries within communities to bring people together, coaches pick a handful of songs that act as an anthem and a rallying cry for their players. The players are conditioned to react positively to the song and hearing it alerts them to be alert and ready to play. Coaches are even able to take advantage of songs mid game, just as one west coast high school football coach did. His team was losing late in the 3rd quarter and thought his players were sluggish and tired. Needing a miracle he brought a speaker and blasted Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”. His players showed an immediate response on the sideline and they went on to win the game in dramatic fashion.

For this coach he took advantage of one of music’s best traits, the ability to unite people. There’s nothing intrinsically motivating about Queen, other than the fact that the players loved it and it brought them closer together. Their unification propelled them to success. While it may take time for old school stubborn coaches to adopt such a practice, power lies within experiencing music together, and harnessing that power can lead to real results on the field.

The introduction of music to sports serves as another evolution of the question: what is the purpose of music? Athletes utilizing music in the ways they do gives an entirely new purpose, and that is to enhance the body. As more research goes into this new functional use for what has traditionally been entertainment, we will see more and more effort be put into optimizing playlists and songs for different workouts and sports. Our society has become obsessed with the idea of self-optimization, that is optimizing everything in one’s life, and music seems to be another facet in that obsession. 

There is no foreseeable future where both amateur and professional athletes stop using music. The psychological and physiological benefits are astounding and allow for competitors to gain the small edges that so often decide competitions. Whether deployed pregame to summon up the right mindset, or to meticulously pace a workout to match with songs, music may very well be a key to unlocking the potential of the human body.

Loops Around the Snake Pit

How EDM has swept over one of racing’s greatest parties: The Snake Pit

by Matthew DiDonna 

300 miles, 500 laps; the Indy 500 is one of racing’s greatest spectacles. Beginning in 1911, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) has held an annual race that attracts fans from all over the world. Indy cars zoom around the track reaching speeds that are well over 200 miles per hour. The race is home to many traditions. The fastest driver drinks milk after crossing the finish line and Hoosiers tune into the playing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” preceding the race. However, the tailgating, crashes, and pre-race festivities are not the only attraction at the IMS. 

Introduced in the 1950s, the Snake Pit was a rowdy party that was full of heavy alcohol consumption and shameless behavior. Inside the IMS racetrack, thousands have gathered over the years to partake in the extraordinary event. Over time, there have been several attempts to shut down the Pit due to its craziness. For example, in 1981 the area was replaced by more seating for the race to cut down on the obstreperous practices. Despite these efforts, the youth would never take no for an answer. The unhinged jamboree has continued well into modern day. 

Snake Pit Photos

In 2011, the Snake Pit was transformed from an unruly celebration to an electronic dance music (EDM) concert where some of the industry’s greatest artists perform every year. This year, the snake pit–now located on turn 3–is expected to hold well over 35,000 fans. EDM disk jockeys Subtronics, John Summit, DJ Diesel (aka Shaquille O’Neal), and Jauz will rile up the crowd from sunrise to the late afternoon. While the Snake Pit is certainly a one-of-a-kind experience, EDM festivals have grown well outside the perimeter of the IMS. 

As of 2019, 1.5 billion people around the world have enjoyed EDM–making it the 3rd most popular genre around the globe. But what makes this genre so popular? According to researchers at the University of Central Lancashire, EDM is a modern genre that made the shift from song to track—and back to “song” (even when electronically DJ-ed), with its appearance at more mainstream venues. EDM is closely related to other forms of music, most notably jigs, polkas, and mazurkas, that are primarily instrumental. These types of music are not supposed to be played in solitude, but rather in public places. Compared to other genres, like rock, the focus of EDM is not the performer but the listener. EDM’s purpose is to induce bodily movements of its listeners in raves, clubs, and more recently, festivals. EDM’s unique instrumentals excite crowds which makes the genre perfect for party scenes like the Snake Pit. EDM is just like racing, it gets the body moving fast. 

But EDM was not always as popular as it is today. In the 1990s, EDM was an underground form of music that was played at small venues, like raves, all over Europe. The genre sparked the creation of countless sub-genres like drum-n-bass, house, and techno to name a few. Recently, EDM has evolved to resemble popular hit songs. The inclusion of popular themes, such as juvenile love and happiness, make the songs catchy, relatable, and easy to remember. As a result of this new trend within the genre, the cultural landscape of EDM has completely changed. In the 2000s, local governments in Europe saw the widespread popularity of EDM as a profitable opportunity. They started allowing EDM events in attractive destinations for youth listeners in areas like sports arenas and large public spaces. Other countries saw their success and shortly after, massive festivals, such as Love Parade in Germany and EDC in Las Vegas, started emerging throughout the world. When social media was introduced in the 2010s, the industry exploded. Mass culture events were being streamed on several platforms which brought the popularity of EDM to new extremes. This is why the rave could become part of the race.

In that respect, EDM’s history is comparable to several other genres. Researcher Fabian Holt, associate professor in the Department of Communication and Arts at Roskilde University (Denmark), brings up an interesting conversation: the soft shell theory. The theory differentiates between the hard and soft shell of a genre. The hard shell of a genre is its original roots while the soft shell describes how the genre has moved away from its origins to become more mainstream. Independent vs corporate and local genre radio vs national top 40 are two examples of characteristics that differentiate the hard and soft shell. The hard shell of EDM was the underground raves where the genre first emerged. These gatherings took place at small venues and had a niche group of listeners. The soft shell is how EDM has transformed from these small gatherings to mass culture events where listeners use the music as a vehicle to party. The genre is now being played on hit radio stations, at massive festivals, and on a multitude of streaming services. The new relatable themes (explained in the preceding paragraph) of EDM have facilitated this transition. In regards to the Snake Pit, the festival is a prime example of EDM’s soft shell. The crowd of bobbing heads knows every beat drop and lyric to these admired songs.

However, are there any aspects of EDM’s hard shell still present at the Snake Pit? From EDM’s beginnings, drug use has always been a part of the genre’s culture. Researchers, Philip Kavanaugh and Tammy Anderson, from the University of Delaware studied the hard shell rave culture of EDM. They explain that drugs like LSD, ketamine, rohypnol, and ecstasy were easy to get your hands on and were extremely popular in both the United States and United Kingdom as early as the 1990s. Certainly law enforcement has cracked down on drug usage at EDM events by now, right? In 2022, Researcher Edin Van Dyck from Ghent University and his colleagues conducted a study evaluating party-goers’ motives behind going to EDM concerts. While they found that fun, music, and dance were the top motives that brought people to the scene, there seems to be correlation between these motives and substance usage. Of their participants examined, 95% used alcohol, nearly 60% used cannabis, over 40% used MDMA, and roughly 25% used cocaine. With this knowledge in mind, it is certain that the EDM scene is full of alcohol and drug use which gives partygoers the energy to party all day and all night. EDM, in conjunction with substance usage, has made the Snake Pit just as egregious as it was 70 years ago. While many aspects of EDM have changed since the 1990s, hard drugs and partying are certainly still present at events like the Snake Pit–showing that some facets of EDM’s hard shell still prevail. 

As EDM continues to grow, it strays further away from its core. The emergence of hip-hop sub-genres of EDM has completely changed the cultural landscape of the music. While partying and drug use are still present at EDM events, there is nothing small or niche about these massive festivals-like the Snake Pit-popping up throughout the world. With its origins becoming increasingly distant, the question arises: has EDM become a sellout? Nonetheless, the presence of EDM at the Indy 500 truly makes it the “greatest spectacle in racing.”

The Power of Words

Why National Anthems Have a Greater Impact with Lyrics

by Oscar Bernal

What makes national anthems so impactful? Despite ideological differences within a country, these compositions have the power to unite citizens, instilling a sense of pride by giving countries a unique identity. Furthermore, the addition of words amplifies their potency tenfold by evoking sentiments of patriotism, valor, and devotion. The reason why such verses elicit intense emotional reactions can be traced back to their historical importance for countries. National anthem lyrics often depict the struggles and sacrifices made by previous generations to secure the freedoms that modern-day citizens enjoy today. These inspiring words serve as torches guiding future generations in upholding those same values. Consider “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which recounts Francis Scott Key’s experience during one of America’s most dangerous times – The Battle at Fort McHenry. This tune is unique because it showcases resilience through adversity as America seeks to defend their freedoms from British attack in the war of 1812. Its inspiring melody paired with powerful lyrics has made it an indispensable part not only of sporting events but also of political rallies or celebrations where Americans gather to honor their shared heritage. To understand why national anthems with lyrical content hold more weight than purely instrumental versions we will examine different key factors.

An intrinsic aspect of a country’s identity is its national anthem – a vital tool for promoting unification in diverse societies. National anthems’ lyrics have the potential to instill shared values, history, and aspirations that unify people under one common purpose. According to Barradas (2022), national anthems can elicit strong emotional responses among citizens, evoking patriotism and pride in one’s country. Using a melody by the composer Joseph Haydn written as a hymn to the Austrian Emperor, The Deutschlandlied holds a critical place as Germany’s national anthem since its adoption in 1922, playing an important role in shaping German nationalism. The power of words should never be underestimated because they hold a significant impact on history and society. For instance, during World War II, German soldiers sang their national anthem while charging against the enemy; this employment of music and rhetoric served as propaganda that aimed at boosting morale during wartime. The original text had three stanzas, of which the first praised the country “above all” and imagined a  country so big that it could serve as an incentive for imperialist expansion. After the Third Reich had been defeated, the lyrics of the Deutschlandlied were changed to only include the third stanza of the original, invoking “unity, justice, and freedom” in the first verse, thus playing an instrumental role in signaling the need for reunification for Germany after years of post-World War II division and dictatorship under fascism. In addition, it was a way for Germany to move away from the terrible fascist beliefs of Nazi Germany. The contemporary and altered verses embody Germany’s unwavering dedication towards democracy and unity both within their borders and globally. The use of language in a national anthem plays a crucial role when it comes to effective symbolism of national identity; it is intertwined with historical references that serve as reminders of past struggles and victories alike. Meaningful lyrics within national anthems play an integral part in forging collective identities by invoking emotions such as pride or nostalgia – sentiments capable of overriding individual differences among citizens. The evolution of  the Deutschlandlied provides us with just one instance from history where music was employed towards this end as it remains a potent symbol today.

The significance of lyrics in national anthems is often overlooked, yet they play a crucial role in representing the cultural and historical identity of a nation. A comparison between Spain and Paraguay anthems highlights this importance. While both countries’ anthems share similarities in their musical structure, the content carries vastly different messages. According to Moreno-Luzón (2017), the Spanish anthem emphasizes loyalty to the king and country while expressing militaristic ideals without including lyrics, he said: “Rather than a national anthem conceived to draw citizens together and mobilize them in a participatory system, the Marcha Real was a piece of music that indicated respect for authority.” In contrast, Paraguay’s anthem focuses on its heroic past battles for independence against foreign powers using lyrics but without showing any hatred towards these foreign powers. Anderson (1991) stated “Even in the case of colonized peoples, who have every reason to feel hatred for their imperialist rulers, it is astonishing how insignificant the element of hatred is in these expressions of national feeling.” 

This has been of focus of debate in Spain, in which certain citizens argue that the lack of lyrics could contribute to a lack of emotional connection or attachment. As Winston (2017) stated “Lyrics matter, and without them you may not understand the meaning of the song. Music allows the artist to connect with the listener, affecting their mood, vibe, or spiritual energy.” This notion emphasizes the importance that words have in fostering community and shared identity. Without them, it becomes difficult for individuals to forge meaningful connections with their nation’s history and culture. In Spain, this issue is especially pertinent as music plays such an integral role in its culture. It is worth noting though that many Spaniards take pride in their instrumental-only anthem. They argue that this allows everyone to interpret its meaning freely without being constrained by specific words or phrases. However, there are still troubles surrounding the national anthem as there are people who do not feel represented by the anthem. Lack of words can lead to lack of unity, an example of this can be found in Spanish soccer. Bairner said “football fans of Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona CF drowned out the music to assert their Basque and Catalan identities.” Some people may find comfort in interpreting music purely instrumentally; however, others might struggle emotionally when there isn’t any text available, which is evident with Spain’s national anthem which lacks a narrative or message to rally around. 

The national hymn of Paraguay is a clear instance of how anthems can yield compelling symbols that embody the values and history of a country. The lyrics convey potent messages about freedom and sacrifice, encapsulating Paraguayans’ most treasured ideals. The hymn commences with an alluring verse that evokes past struggles: “A los pueblos de América, infausto tres centurias un cetro oprimió” (The peoples of the Americas, unfortunately, were oppressed for three centuries by a scepter.) This phrase captures the very essence of Paraguay’s battles against foreign invaders who endangered their independence. Subsequent verses eloquently express bravery in combat and affection for one’s homeland – notions that resound deeply within many modern-day Paraguayans. The sheer poetic beauty blended with emotional depth sets this anthem apart by stirring emotions not only as an expression of love for one’s nation but also as motivation to aspire towards greater things. Galeano (2009) once noted: “The Paraguayan anthem invites us to choose between the republic and death.” While listening to this moving hymn, I cannot help but feel profoundly connected to my collective heritage and shared past as Paraguay’s National Anthem serves as an exceptional illustration of how impactful a song with profound significance can truly be: “Paraguayans! Republic or Death!” This line reverberates throughout this emotionally moving masterpiece reminding the listeners about freedom and sacrifice – something every person cherishes wholeheartedly.

In the Mood for Color

Film music and cinematography triangulate your emotions

by Nguyen Nguyen

The alignment of film music and cinematography has a substantial effect on how audiences perceive emotions. There are countless  films that take advantage of this effect, often in very different ways for different purposes. To start out, let’s take a look at the opening scene of Arrival. Louise, the main character speaking in voiceover, is reflecting on the memories and loss of her child and we see this from her point of view

The dark and cold color grading arouse feelings of melancholy and mental abstraction(Siddiqui). Max Richter’s  elegiac strings—his famous 2004 track “On the Nature of Daylight,” expresses and thereby enhancess these feelings. Upon the entrance of a child, the scene transitions to subdued and lighter color grading but the plaintive music continues. There is now a hazy contrast between the colors and the music during this part of the scene. The colors are more evocative of tranquility and comfort, while the still-elegiac and contrasting score mixes in and takes these positive feelings away. Through this mixture of music and color, melancholy becomes mourning—to use a famous essay by Sigmund Freud.

Throughout the entire scene, we perceive a variety of complex emotions through a single score and simple changes in color grading. And this effect has pushed Arrival into critical acclaim.

The basis of a film’s acclaim often derives from its delivery of emotions. But what even aids this delivery? To name a few contributors, character and story writing definitely matter. But many may overlook the impact of the score because film music (as Claudia Gorbman famously put it) is unheard. More viewers might  dismiss the subtle or even drastic effects of certain cinematographic choices such as lighting or color grading. In combination with music, cinematography melds and shapes the emotional impact of films in ways that could not be done otherwise. As such color works hand in hand with music, creating sustained moods or more frequently changing emotions.

Let’s further explore how this all comes down to color and its connection with music. In the late 19th century artists and scientists discovered that some few consciously experience colors when listening to music. This experience was called music-color synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which listening to music involuntarily leads to the experience of colors (Ward). Some musical pieces are even intended to project colors. Synesthete and Russian composer Alexander Scriabin composed several pieces that attempt to portray color through music and his perhaps most famous work in this regard is Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, Op. 60 (1910) which includes a clavier à lumières or “Chromola” (a color organ). 

To be sure, the music-color connection doesn’t begin or end with synesthetes. Nonsynesthetes may also have  similar experiences. As Kelly Whiteford and colleagues have has shown, in a study using a series of surveys and music samples ranging from different genres, that associations are made between colors and certain genres of music The tempo and key (major or minor) were recorded as well as the valence and arousal of the participants’ emotions. One finding was that participants associated yellow colors with faster music in major mode. These connections appear to be mediated by emotions. For example, happy sounding music is associated with happy looking colors. The pairing of these “happy” stimuli emphasize positive emotions. When music and color converge on the same emotion, they intensify it. Beyond being redundant, music and color create complex moods together. These effects are especially common in film. 

In addition to being used in Arrival, both of these effects appear in the opening scene of Katsuhiro Otomo’s iconic anime feature AKIRA (1988). The film is a critique of humanity, where the central character Kaneda embarks on a journey to save his friend, Tetsuo, from a government project (Tangirala). To color this critique, the opening scene is canvased with dark metropolitan shades and accenting neon orange and red hues. 

The beginning of the clip features more of those dark shades and rubble lying around and a dystopian, dreary, atmosphere emanates from the picture. To create this feeling of dread, the music and picture converge at a point of chaos and dismay, magnifying their impact. When the colors change as Kaneda and his friends are driving through neo-Tokyo, however, the emotions of the music and color start to diverge.

The brighter color grading within the shots of the skyline evokes urbanity, vastness, and a still lingering sense of unease given the beginning of the clip. But this time, the music and colors diverge: the tribal-esque congos in the score adds a societal aspect to the scene placing emphasis on humanity. Combined with the colors, the diegetic music subtly immerses the viewer into a somewhat chaotic world by portraying neo-Tokyo as an urban “jungle”(Zhang). The cinematographic and musical choices neither strengthen nor weaken each other. Instead, they compound like adjectives to project a very precise and complex emotion. A feeling that isn’t just chaos. It’s not just neo-Tokyo being run down by biker gangs. There’s more to it and we wouldn’t know without layering the colors with music. We feel an alluring sense of trepidation.

These examples display the powerful effect  of aligning music and colors in film. But how do you know what colors to use given a score, or vice versa? According to Whiteford, for directors, intended valence and arousal levels can lead to certain colors. If the story calls for high valence and arousal emotions, the director can look towards bright reds, yellows, or oranges. Intuitively, low valence and arousal emotions will lead them to dark gray and blue colors. However, as soon as the intended emotion becomes more complex, capturing it starts to get difficult. But meeting this challenge is what separates good and great directors. The intensification of emotions through appropriate use of colors and music creates vicarious experiences generally resulting in critical acclaim. 

Come back to the powerfully moody beginning of Arrival and Max Richter’s “On the the Nature of Daylight” recently described by Alex Ross (music critic at The New Yorker) as a “ six-minute juggernaut of wistfulness” — a perfect example of Richter’s “doleful minimalism.” Wistfulness is a complex emotion, more sad, but it does have a tinge of happiness, a cousin of nostalgia that is more happy (because of the nice memories) tinged with sadness about the unrecoverability of the past. The medium for turning melancholy to mourning is the complex mood of the music combined with color.

Pictures are able to create somewhat vicarious experiences on their own. In art, colors give direct and intuitive feelings and attempt to recreate something as close to an artist’s imagination as possible as researcher Qiurui Wang has shown in a study on emotion arousal. Music has a similar story. This time, the artist’s or composer’s imagination is imitated through musical theory. Separately, music and color do nearly create the same vicarious experience compared to if they were paired together. Watch the opening scenes again, this time on mute. Then play them again, this time without looking at it. The difference in experience is extremely apparent. And we don’t realize until we isolate the stimuli.

Guided Listening 

How Streaming Services Automate the Curation of Playlists

by Marcela Wolf Couto

How much of our daily listening is guided by big companies – Spotify, Apple Music, etc?  Audio streaming services have transformed the way we consume music, and their recommender systems play a significant role in shaping our listening habits. These systems use complex algorithms to suggest songs, artists, and playlists based on our listening behavior. There is a growing concern that algorithms may only recommend a narrow spectrum of music genres and artists – limiting users’ exposure to a diverse soundtrack. An occurring issue, since a diversified music portfolio can broaden one’s musical horizons by exposing them to sounds they may have not otherwise discovered, leading to a more enriched experience and appreciation for music. So how much control do users really have over their musical experience, and to what extent are their choices influenced by algorithms? 

Spotify is the world’s largest music streaming service, but how come more than 480 million people are attracted to its recommender system? Spotify’s algorithm developer, Erik Bernhardsson, explains how this streaming service system is based on user behavior and preferences. A combination of machine learning techniques analyzes listener data and suggests music that is likely to be of interest. This information is combined with the user’s playlist history, the number of times they skip a song, and the length of time they listen to a particular track. This data is then analyzed by a collaborative filtering algorithm — which uses data from other users who have similar listening habits — to make suggestions. 

This recommender system is effective, but only for listeners interested in the same genres and not diversifying their musical taste. The personalized approach can result in a feedback loop, where users are presented with recommendations that reinforce their existing preferences and limit their exposure to new genres and artists. 

The loop is supported by the use of guided listening and automated curation. Guided listening refers to the way in which audio streaming services present users with curated playlists, that are often categorized by genre or mood; developed by algorithms that analyze users’ listening habits to identify patterns and generate recommendations that are tailored to each individualized preference. Let’s say that you are in the mood for some relaxing music, but you’re not sure what to listen to. You might go to the “Chill” or “Relaxing” playlist curated by the streaming platform, which contains a selection of songs that are known for their soothing and calming qualities – a guided listening in which the platform provides you a pre-made playlist based on your mood. This approach, however, can lead to a suggestion of a narrow spectrum of music, as the algorithms prioritize songs that are similar to those the user has previously listened to. Automated curation, on the other hand, refers to the way in which audio streaming services generate playlists using machine learning. These algorithms analyze vast amounts of data, including songs metadata, user feedback, and external factors such as time of day and location. When you first sign up for Spotify or Apple Music, the platform asks you to select artists and genres that you like, and based on that, it will recommend songs that it thinks you’ll enjoy. Your location is also used as a means to suggest songs that are contextually appropriate and relevant in the environment you currently are – an automated curation where the platform uses data to create personalized recommendations. But this approach can also lead to listeners being presented with a limited selection of music, as the algorithms prioritize songs that are likely to be appealing based on previous listening history. 

Keeping users from diversifying listening habits is not the only issue within recommender systems: algorithms may also not be fair to emerging artists in the industry. Since these musicians have fewer streams and less data available, they may be overlooked by the recommender systems in favor of more well established artists. As a consequence, the same popular performers are recommended over and over again; monopolizing the industry, thus limiting users’ freedom of choice. In 2019, the British artist Jade Bird, criticized Spotify’s algorithm for failing to include her music in their popular playlists despite having a significant number of streams – likely because her career has not yet reached a well-known parameter. Such matter makes it difficult for new artists to gain exposure on the platform. Another example is the controversy surrounding leading streaming services, where Spotify and Apple Music have been accused of being dominated by major record labels. Arising concerns that the algorithms may be favoring certain artists and genres over others, which may be limiting the diversity of music that is suggested. 

Not only that, but there have also been cases where emerging artists have used various tactics to manipulate the algorithms to gain more exposure. Musicians have resorted to buying streams or using fake profiles to artificially inflate their play counts, skewing the system in their favor. While these tactics are unethical and can result in penalties from audio platforms, they highlight the importance of fair and transparent algorithms that are designed to promote diversity and equity in music recommendation. 

Additionally, recommender systems are often designed with a narrow focus on user needs, rather than taking into account broader social and cultural factors – language, religion, ethnicity, etc. The algorithms prioritize songs that are likely to appeal to individual tastes rather than promoting cultural exchange. In 2020, for instance, Spotify faced backlash from artists and listeners alike for allegedly promoting the same popular songs on its playlists, leading to accusations of bias towards major labels and established artists. The algorithm was accused of promoting music based on its commercial success, rather than promoting underrepresented artists. This controversy led to the “Loud and Clear” campaign, in which artists called for more transparency within compensation for their art. Another example is the issue surrounding the “Discovery Weekly” playlist on Spotify, which has been accused of promoting formulaic music and not introducing users to new musicians – all illustrations of the consequences promoted by guided listening and automated curation. 

Artistic innovation is essential for a thriving music scene, as it encourages experimental and new sounds that push the boundaries of what is possible in music. Consumer demand, on the other hand, plays a significant role in determining which artists are successful, as listeners ultimately decide who they want to support. By promoting competition and preventing monopolistic behavior, antitrust laws can help ensure that a diverse range of artists and genres have a fair chance of success. This can help the promotion of innovation and creativity in the music industry, while also providing consumers with a wider range of options to choose from.

While audio streaming services have revolutionized the way we listen to music, their recommender systems may have unintended – and sometimes intended – consequences. The use of deep learning algorithms within the music industry can lead to guided listening and automated curation. The narrow focus on user needs and poor consideration for social and cultural factors can lead to a lack of variation. Such issues raise important questions about the ethics of music streaming platforms. As we increasingly rely on these services to discover new songs, it is crucial that companies take steps to address these concerns and ensure fairness in the industry.

Envoicing Introverts

How Shy People Can Learn to Speak Up

by Athena Iglesia

In a society that favors extroverted people, introverts are often not seen because they are not heard. The shy, reticent, and withdrawn are overshadowed by the outgoing, talkative, and uninhibited. Often considered a deficiency, introversion is not a disability, but it can be debilitating. That this doesn’t have to be the case is the subject of a recent book by Susan Cain: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. In a world where introverts are often told to “speak up” what power does she possibly mean?

Trait vs. State

Despite their efforts to try and break out of their shell, introverts sometimes simply can’t prevail. This, in fact, comes down to three factors: genetics, biology, and our environment.

Susan Cain and journalist Sarah Keating highlight a study that traces personality and temperament down to genetics. The study compared the personality traits of identical twins and fraternal twins. Based on the correlation of the personality traits within each pair, the study suggests that traits do have some genetic basis. As Keating notes, about 30% of introversion as a trait can be attributed to genetics.

Susan Cain also highlighted another study, which suggests that personality is influenced by our biological makeup, specifically pertaining to our brain. The study followed the lives of infants to adolescence and found that infants classified as “high-reactive” tended to be introverts whereas those classified as “low-reactive” tended to be extroverts. “High-reactive” refers to infants that reacted with a fuss and “low-reactive” refers to infants that showed little to no reaction. Infants that reacted with dramatic pumping had an easily excitable amygdala (“the brain’s emotional switchboard [that] signals the rest of the brain and the nervous system how to respond”) and therefore reacted more intensely to something new and stimulating. Since introverts have a sensitive amygdala, they find more comfort in solitude than in situations that overstimulate their nervous system. Being placed in group settings or at the center of attention can make an introvert shut down. It’s not that introverts aren’t sociable, they just need to be placed in the proper stimulating environment.

We can see how this poses an issue in our society.

Speak Up vs. Shutting Up

“The Extroversion Ideal,” as Susan Cain coins it, was a product of the United States’ Industrial Revolution. This new lifestyle birthed a cultural evolution that now focuses on personality and how others perceive someone. The new economy requires, “a salesman, a social operator, someone with a ready smile, a masterful handshake, and the ability to get along with colleagues while simultaneously outshining them.”

Those that do not meet such a standard often do not make the cut. Self-help books boomed which catered to those seeking to improve their first impressions. Advertisements promoted their products by connecting it to this “Culture of Personality” and claiming only their products can save them from the judgment of society. One such advertisement can be seen above. Perhaps not that much has changed in the age of Instagram. With a society that is centered around such a strong preference for sociable and outgoing people, or extroverts, the soft-spoken individuals are left shut out, unable to display what they have to offer. 

But, why are introverts typically soft-spoken in the first place? In a study that focused on the vocal function of introverts and extroverts in a psychological stress reactivity protocol, it was found that “vocal functioning may be less efficient in individuals defined as introverts, especially during stress.” This study collected sEMG (surface electromyography) data from two extralaryngeal sites: submental and infrahyoid. Laryngeal muscles are responsible for sound production. The data showed significant results regarding the infrahyoid, which is a muscle involved in movements of the hyoid bone and thyroid cartilage during vocalization. The researchers found that introverts had greater extralaryngeal activity, particularly with the infrahyoid muscle. Greater variation of activity in this muscle may require more energy for speech production. Thus, this may demonstrate why introverts are quiet.

As explained before, introverts are more easily overstimulated than extroverts. Part of this overstimulation includes auditory sensitivity. In a study about personality attributes and noise sensitivity, it was suggested that introverted individuals have more sensitive auditory thresholds than extroverted ones. This may explain why introverts find what they deem is their normal speaking voice to be louder to themselves than to others. Speaking at what others hear as normal may sound, to introverts, like they are yelling. Therefore, their voices tend to be softer than what society prefers.

Power vs. Powerlessness

So, returning to the question in the opening, what power could soft-spoken individuals possibly hold? Introverts have a lot to offer if society actually lets them showcase it. 

For one thing, introverts are more creative than extroverts, which is vital for innovation. Susan Cain highlighted a study that researched the nature of creativity which offered that more creative individuals tended to be independent and individualistic. She also mentioned numerous studies that showed how working independently led to better results, qualitatively and quantitatively. As she said in her Ted Talk, “solitude is a crucial ingredient often to creativity.” And how many extroverts actually crave solitude?

Contrary to popular belief, introverts make great leaders and actually produce better results than extroverted leaders. Susan Cain explains this is because they are more careful and less likely to take outsize risks. Also, being that they prefer listening over talking, introverts are more willing to let employees run with their ideas as opposed to extroverts who tend to place their own input on other people’s ideas.

Overall, when introverts speak up, it is all the more meaningful and powerful. They are hesitant to voice their opinions in the first place, so when they make their voice known, it is “because they had no choice, because they were driven to do what they thought was right.” If introverts are super passionate about something, they will let it be heard. It takes a special spark to ignite introverts into speaking up.

Unless society grows to accept the power introverts hold, they can’t stay quiet forever. To help introverts speak up, Patricia Weber’s Communication Toolkit for Introverts highlights the one solution that may enable them to do so: embrace who you are. “People can’t change their personality but they can choose different behavior to get results they want.” By capitalizing upon your unique strengths, talents, and gifts, you can increase your self-confidence to gain the courage to speak up and showcase such unique qualities to the world. Use your heightened listening skills to understand what others are saying and craft a response that is deep and meaningful for “the less you say, the more someone else will remember what you say.” Use your planning skills to organize what you want to present to others and to have answers to questions you may anticipate. Use your preference for solitude to turn your creativity wheels and produce innovative ideas that are valuable. Use your authenticity to cultivate deeper relationships and strengthen your personable skills. Be the introverted person you truly are, unashamed, because the power you hold radiates and the world is simply missing out.

Bach’s Ascension (Rhetorically Speaking) 

A brief look at the Thomaskantor’s reconciliation of text, music, and meaning   

by Reece Connors

Composers of songs and other vocal genres have long had a special relationship with the text: when setting words to music they have to make choices about which lyrics are most important and which deserve special musical emphasis and illustration. Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach created more than two-hundred cantatas, three passions, and many motets whose words were based on or adapted from biblical texts.  Bach’s relationship with his texts tended to be more complex, as he often chose when and when not to depend on words. Examples include the Chorus “Wenn er soll es doch geschehen,” the closing number of the Ascension Oratorio, BWV 11, depicting Christ’s arrival in Heaven, and enthronement at the right hand of God the Father. By examining the final chorus within the oratorio, we can better appreciate how Bach was able to amplify and transform the meaning of the event by presenting its text in a special, nuanced way—something now known as musical rhetoric.

Music historians associate the beginnings of musical rhetoric with the early Renaissance. Composers such as Palestrina, de Victoria, and de Wert adopted various techniques in hinting at verbal meaning, often famous for continuously blurring the thin boundaries between description and demonstration. These techniques were adopted and further developed in the early Baroque Period by German composers who studied this repertory. In his book Musica Poetica: Musical Rhetorical Figures in German Baroque Dietrich Bartel explains how composers during Bach’s time and region refined the techniques with which they expressed the meaning of text, specifically by drawing on compositional elements of the music written to accompany it (Bartel 19). 

Much of the purpose behind musical rhetoric is to generate an emotional essence along with the text. As musicologist  Bettina Varwig notes in her book One More Time: J. S. Bach and Seventeenth-century Traditions of Rhetoric, a composer may use rhythmic emphasis or dynamic modulation in order to outline the context with which the word is to be perceived (Varwig 7). For example, if a word was understood as describing something dark and foreboding, one might set the lyric to be held out over several beats and a decrescendo. Likewise, suppose a phrase was describing a joyous event. In that case, it may be appropriate for each word of the phrase to be placed individually upon an eighth note run to equally distribute emphasis and exhibit lightheartedness towards the textual subject. These techniques were recognized as rhetorical figures in music, similar to figures of speech.

Several prominent examples where Bach applies rhetorical emphasis come from his Saint Matthew Passion, specifically within the parts of the “Evangelist,” the role of narrator. One instance comes at the part of the last supper, immediately prior to Judas betraying Jesus. As the character of Jesus speaks in recitative form, the words “Menschen Sohn (son of man)” suddenly descend within a major arpeggio, meant to signify the sudden and tragic downfall of Christ to human betrayal (Paun 59). Another example might come from the recitative describing Christ’s actions in praying before the distribution of bread, with a notably extended high G on the first syllable of the word “dan—ke-te”(meaning “thanks”), articulating the last two syllables in an arpeggiated descent. This serves as an acknowledgement of the common Christian belief that a prayer objectively rises to Heaven and is subsequently heard and acted on by God the Father looking favorably down on us (Paun 59). In gaining perspective on Bach’s rhetorical methodology within The St. Matthew Passion, we learn that the composer not only relies on emphasis to display human pathos but also organizes directional movements to sonically illustrate physical motion. 

This approach is further taken and established within BWV 11 (original manuscript shown below tagline).         


When shall it happen,

When will the dear time come,

That I shall see Him

In His glory?

O day, when will you be,

When we will greet the Savior,

When we will kiss the Savior?

Come, present yourself now!

English Text to Closing Chorus of BWV 11 (Dellal)


Consisting of an opening chorus, two arias, and several lines of narrative dialogue by an “Evangelist,” the Ascension Oratorio is a longer cantata composed as a fitting tribute to the event marking the end of Christ’s life on Earth. Even more so, the closing chorus does exceptionally well in providing a final resolution. Originally, the chorale “Wenn soll es doch geschehen?” (“When will it finally happen)” served as the seventh verse to the hymn “Gott fähret auf gen Himmel”(Dellal). It was not uncommon for Bach’s librettist to insert excerpts of traditional anthems into cantatas and oratorios, as church goers were often familiar with them and could sing along. It did, therefore, become all the more critical for the composer to lend his craftsmanship in enriching the bland melodies and simple texts of a congregational hymn. As a testament to this, Bach chose to construct a rather unusual variation in D major for the B minor Chorale. In juxtaposing a minor melody with its major relative, Bach adopted an approach described by Bartel as the musical loci topici (Bartel 79)—a method whereby a composer institutes an alternative theme to an already existing piece of music, so as to change the piece’s general pathos. In this case, the primary motive of the method would be the rhetorical device of emphasis and enrichment, forming the product into something much grander and more complex. Additionally, when Bach countered a piece in solemn B minor with a variation in festive D major, he worked to successfully imitate the mixed emotions felt by the disciples as they said goodbye to their master and teacher, knowing that he was ascending to his rightful place of glory. 

But there is more. The violin motif accompanied by the trumpets and timpani boasts an ascending progression with growing dynamics. These elements hint at a phenomenon classified by Bartel as an anabasis, the musical phrasing used to imply an upward oriented movement through chromatic climbing, but also written to leave a memorable impact on the listener in the face of drab text. Bartel noted this in Musica Poetica, describing the “Et Resurrexit” from Bach’s famous and monumental Mass in B minor (setting the Latin mass text), specifying how the listener is both aided in the visualization of the resurrection and emotionally moved by the explanation of the theological text through the accompaniment. (Bartel 179). 

Musicologists speculate that Bach’s variations within the chorales may have been written with a much more “objective” standpoint rather than the expression of subjective (i.e. the composer’s) feelings, focused ideally on technical mastery, as explained by Peter Williams (Williams 10). Consequently, Bach’s use of musical rhetoric remains among musicology’s more contested subjects. As for myself, the final chorus of BWV 11 serves not only as a ‘grand finale’ to Bach’s long and complicated oratory of Christ’s life, but goes further in providing profound imagery as to how that biblical occurrence felt, appeared, and sounded. In doing so, Bach gives us hope that humanity can find a meaning in music that transgresses words and blurs the boundary between past and present.

Percussionizing The Cahón 

 How one simple wooden box can do it all

by Rino Monteforte

    What if I told you that a small wooden box could have the same musical functioning ability as every $1000 + drum set, to play music from across the world— and across the world because you can carry that box in your backpack. Well, it can and I have done it over the last 3 years after becoming obsessed with the common tempo setting instrument that is the cajón. When I play it, I feel that I am able to add life to the music of any group I am playing with. Percussionization is a term that is undefinable by sources online. I believe it is the ability to use percussion instruments to enhance music on the fly.  But, how can the cajón do this better than any other percussion instrument? 

 First some history.  Many sources, Including articles from X8 Drums and Percussion and Ipassio, believe that the cajón “originated in Peru, when African slaves, brought to Peru from Angola, began using fruit crates as percussion instruments.” These crates were replacements for their native drums that they no longer had, after being brought to the Americas. “In Cuba, small dresser drawers were used for the same purpose.” Over the years, the instrument has been refined and has become an important part of Cuban and Peruvian Cultural music. The cajón was strictly isolated from all other musical genres “until the 1950’s when Afro-Peruvian artist Nicodemes Santa Cruz popularized” Peruvian music around the world. A group called Perú Negro that still plays today also popularized Peruvian music, bringing the music of the cajón around the world. Outside of the world of Peruvian and Cuban music, cajóns can be heard around the world in numerous genres of music. All of the different playing styles make it so attractive to musical artists everywhere. La La La with Sam Smith and Naughty Boy is a great example of this.

  Let’s talk $$.  A cajón is made in the shape of a rectangular box and this can be simple plywood $25 max, a little more with a hardwood upgrade.. Although cajóns vary in sizes, the average drum is “around 12 x 12 x 18 inches.” The box has six sides with five of the sides being non playable, made out of “sheets of hardwood that are ¾ of an inch thick.” The playing side or striking side of the box is known as the tapa, which is translated into top. The tapa is much thinner than the other sides. The back non playing side includes an open circle that can range in sizes based on the manufacturer. This open circle or sound hole serves to amplify the drums’ sound. Also depending on the maker, different metal and tin materials will be put inside of the drum, up against the opposite side of the tapa, to create different sounds. To make the metal or tin materials pressed up and heard when striking the tapa, screws are used to hold the tapa in place.

   How to play. There are three different so-called tones or techniques that can be played on the cajón. First, the base tone which is when you strike the middle of the tapa with both your palm and fingers. When playing a base tone, you let your hand bounce off of the drum immediately after striking. The bass tone gives off a very “warm and full tone.” Playing in the high tone entails striking the upper quarter of the tapa with your full hand. When you let your hand come off right away, it gives off a snare drum type of sound. One source describes the sound created as “the ‘slap tone’ ” popular in Latin drumming. The last way is called the pressed tone. Playing this way is very similar to the high tone with the only difference being that instead of letting your hand come off the drum after striking, you leave your hand pressed against the tapa. The result is a short, staccato sound. These three ways of playing the cajón are used in the most common and traditional context where you strike the drum with your hands. Although, over the years, many percussionists have played the drum with various tools such as sticks, mallets, or brushes that are used on other percussion instruments.

 Percussionize?!  The versatility of the cajón, as well as the expediency and efficiency of creating sounds otherwise, requiring many different instruments may suggest a new verb: let’s call it percussionizing. Here’s how this works in practice: I am playing at a church service with my worship band. They do not have a drum set, or congas, or shakers, or cymbals, not anything. I come in with my cajón and have to play along and make the music sound good, giving not just a beat, but also accents and flourishes that make the music whole. I do this without any sheet music and interpret the nature of each song while in motion or progress, that is, on the fly. I believe that when I do this, I am percussionizing the music by adding the intense element that is some sort of percussion. Percussionization is something that I truly believe is beautiful and can take all different genres of music to a whole new level.

Seemingly simple, percussionizing the cajón is more efficient and error free than playing other instruments in the percussion family.  The cajón has a bass drum in the middle section of the tapa(base tone), a snare drum in the upper part of the tapa(high tone), a high hat in the upper part of the tapa while playing the pressed tone, and many different tom-toms by hitting the tapa in its many different sections. Being able to enhance music with a small box that has one striking plane has a lot less margin of error than attempting to percussionize with a set that can have 8–16 striking planes. The ability to play the cajón with your hands in comparison to sticks also causes for a lot less margin of error with percussionists physically controlling the power of their hands in comparison to sticks that require special technique to play with and could possibly fall out of your hands and mess up a whole song. Taking both of these things into consideration, how can you say that a drum set can be as easy and flexible as the cajón? The overall ability to control the controllable and not ruin the music with loud dynamics makes the cajón the most percusionizable percussion instrument of them all! 

A street drum— for the people.  The cajón is also much more accessible to musicians of all backgrounds worldwide.  When I was in the eighth grade, my mom bought me an expensive drum set that had all different elaborate drums and cymbals that I was very grateful for. Although, when I first encountered the cajón, I realized that this $100 dollar box can do all of the same things the $1000 set could do and even more!  There are also many people out there that cannot afford to buy expensive drum sets and end up playing on crates and buckets on streets of cities nationwide. The cajón gives them the opportunity to percussionize music with the same passion and power as people who can afford expensive percussion instruments. The cajón offers a level playing ground for people from all walks of life to further percussionize our world today.   Call it a democratic drum adding beats to the voices of the people.

Genre Skipper?

Taylor Swift Continues to Surprise Her Fans

by Victoria Hopkins

Taylor Swift can’t yet let go of the hold that country music seems to have on her. In an article entitled “ Taylor Swift Proves She Can Do It All” Clare Jones writes “…Swift never fully shed her country roots. It proved that she can effortlessly glide from country to modern pop without sacrificing one for the other.”  Country music continues to make an appearance in her newer music. Since Swift started her career out as a country music singer this is not surprising. Before Taylor switched over to pop music, she was well known in the country music industry, but she also never stayed within that box. She was always drawn to the style of pop music which  seemed to come naturally to her since the awards her songs would win were mostly  for pop artists.  In her book Taylor Swift: Country Pop Hit Maker Robin Nelson lists examples of Taylor’s Billboard top. 40 hits—again typically featuring pop singers. It wasn’t until listeners and agents  demanded that she chose a direction that she finally gave up on country music. In Taylor Swift Veers From Country Roots but Fans Stay Keely Gould writes At a certain point, if you chase two rabbits, you lose them both. Swift decided to go all the way and lose the country reputation that has been following her around to chase a new pop reputation.” in.  Although many critics have said that she chose pop for the wrong reasons and that she was risking her career in music by making such a big change, switching genres has allowed Taylor to be recognized  for her catholic taste and musical talent. 

Switching over started with a pop song in her album ‘Fearless’, then half of an album being pop in ‘Red’, and finally a full pop album found in ‘1989’— also a tribute to her birth year. Some saw this as a new beginning. Since the album  solidified her position in pop music, Swift was able to not only grow as a musician but also grow her star power  as a pop artist  eventually rising to become one the best pop singers in a  generation. But was that enough for Taylor? Is being in pop really what she wants to continue to be doing?

Taylor answers these questions with her albums Evermore and Folklore. In these albums she mixes many  different genres together into music. Some may even see it as a homage to the music itself:  the way of Swift saying that there are too many different ways to make music for people to just define it as one genre. While these albums also  showed how she had grown as an artist, she  also added songs that were distinctively country . These songs draw on Taylor’s past as  a country singer and bring out the best in her voice. Bringing  out the banjo again allowed many of her pop music fans to experience genres they would never listen to . 

 Evermore and Folklore albums also include  more alternative , indie rock folk/folk-pop tracks— genres that typical pop artists don’t tend to interact with because they don’t believe their fans will follow. But Swift has been able to not only swiftly change genres, but bring her fans along for the ride. She not only made old fans stronger fans, but allowed for newer fans  to look at her  as an artist for the first time. Since the most popular songs on these two albums both happened to be country songs, some fans started speculating that she would be coming back to country music. Wondering whether Swift was “mulling a country return,” Beth Garrabant writes “No Body, No Crime,  with its even larger hit potential, could lead to a mighty return atop the country charts.”

Swift swiftly quelled  these rumors with another pop album that showed a completely different and new side with a heavy focus on techno and afro beats.  This showed longtime listeners that Taylor is experimenting with all different kinds of music and that she wants to be known for such newly-found versatility. Whether or not that involves another new genre remains to be seen. Since if you go back to her music throughout the ages you will start to see how she is always at least incorporating another genre in her music. For her earlier stuff it was country and pop. For her newer stuff it’s pop and rock. The reasoning for this is yet to be found.

Since Taylor is such an exceptional artist she is probably challenging herself as a musician to see if she could do all these different styles of music and to see where our own limits to music are. Especially since with each genre that becomes a big break she herself becomes more confident in her music and her fans ability to appreciate the music she makes. The real question then lies in will Taylor Swift ever meet her end or will her fans have artist loyalty throughout her career?  Indeed, fans are a very important aspect for artists to consider when they switch genres, since they are the ones buying and listening to the music. That is why most artists try to make fans loyal to them and not loyal to the genres. Some fail and some succeed. In the case of Swift she has been  successful in keeping her fans loyal and getting newer fans involved. That seems to be a skill you need to switch and mix genres. Mixing genres is not something that a lot of artists tend to do. Since it tends to not allow themselves to be categorized. This sometimes makes it hard for fans to find the music they are looking for when they look based on a genre. That’s why what Taylor Swift is doing is not only crazy but in a way unachievable by many. But not the queen herself. She is doing what many before her have failed to do. She is allowing her lyrics to speak for her. Jp writes “…combining wider musical influences… will not only sound unique within a specific genre, but it will also more closely represent your authentic voice as an artist. Win-win.”, about the way good artists mix music in Making and breaking genres in your music.  In this sense she is able to assemble people who like to listen to different genres to all listen to her music. This is really genius of her because she is able to bring people together under one umbrella instead of making them feel separated like what the world does.