“It may be garbage, but it’s not for us to say”: memory, anxiety and preserving popular music’s material culture in amateur archives and museums
Alison Huber & Sarah Baker (Griffith University)
Popular music in its now-familiar commodified mode is a relatively young cultural form, emerging fully only in the mid-twentieth century. For this reason, issues around its cultural preservation, heritage, and place in memory, are only now coming to the attention of scholars. However, in the vernacular cultures of popular music consumption, these matters have already been of considerable concern. A growing number of amateur-run collecting institutions are being established globally, charging themselves with the task of saving artefacts from popular music’s material history. These institutions often begin as a response to an increasing sense of anxiety amongst communities of fans, aficionados, enthusiasts and collectors about the fate of private collections of material that documents popular music for cultural memory. These enterprises are largely unfunded, are staffed primarily by volunteers, and operate in parallel to national projects of cultural preservation.
A theme articulated by our interviewees at these DIY (do-it-yourself) institutions, was the motivation to save artefacts that document music culture from being declared ‘rubbish’. Stories of large volumes of popular music’s ephemera being sent to landfill, or discarded/rejected from national collecting institutions, were common. Starting your own institution, however, does not mean that questions related to what is and isn’t ‘rubbish’ are easily solved. Anxiety begins anew when, if labelled ‘rubbish’, material objects become caught up in a process of cultural forgetting. This anxiety is, we argue, part of a broader series of questions related to what it is that constitutes a memory of popular music. With such an overwhelming volume of popular music’s ephemera in circulation, decisions to discard material are pragmatic, but also draw into focus the long-held assumption that commodified popular cultures are disposable, made to be thrown away, forgotten. If this is true, then what should a memory of popular music’s culture be?
Tackling the logics of change: Notions of cultural space and memory in Australian music communities
Ian Rogers (Griffith University)
In recent years, Will Straw’s ‘Systems of articulation, logics of change: Communities and scenes in popular music,’ (1991) has become an influential touchstone for the study of popular music cultures. Broad in scope, ‘scene’ has presented scholars with a means to conduct research on a wide variety of local, translocal and virtual articulations of music-making and consumption, often drawing in ethnographies made of music communities, their infrastructure and historical development. Yet within a great deal of this work is a tendency to downplay or disregard Straw’s questions concerning longitudinal change and how the underpinning logics of musical influence morph and adapt. In this paper, I propose that the field of cultural memory has a significant part to play in rectifying this. Music scenes may be active in the present but their articulation by researchers is always drawn together from the past, and here subjective - often scattered, informally documented and detached - memories remain the key text. For the researcher, memory in this form can resemble a collection of heavily edited narratives, often divorced from the affects of sound and live performance, personal turmoil, narcotisation and various macro contexts. Drawing on almost a decade of research on contemporary music practice in Australia, I argue that for music researchers, the way forward through this problematic terrain of memory, lies with increased self-reflexivity, documentation and disclosure.