Category Archives: Week 12

Intertextuality of Culture in Music: Sounds of the Blues

The dialogic contexts within music have hybridized over the course of history. Each defined genre of music has been shaped by past musical compositions as well as present cultural influences. Especially within blues, bebop and rock and roll, there has been a shift that can be identified through works of music by a variety of artists. As mentioned in my last blog, genres have molded and remixed each other. Culture and history are ways of life as well as traditions that are imperative in effecting the meaning of music today. Many times the basic for an artists’ work has to do with the echoes of the past.

Delving into the depths of blues and rock and roll, there are distinct values and combinatorial vocabularies that allow the music to emerge as a unique mix, or a hybrid. This continuum of ongoing hybridization within blues is shown within the breakthrough album, “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. Two songs that really stick out to me are “Flamenco Sketches” and “Freddie Freeloader.” I touched upon this album last week, but de-black boxing the meaning within these pieces will allow for further investigation on the formation of a different kind of blues. A blues that set the stage for experimentation and the creation of rock and roll.

To de-black box, “Flamenco Sketches,” is opening a door to the basis for rock and roll.  The layered artefacts of Miles Davis and his “Kind of Blue” album dig deep into the roots as well as present day influences of music. What’s so great about this piece is that it doesn’t have a real written melody. This is also a time period when more often than not, individuals would record their music all in one shot without cuts or sectional takes. The melody to this particular song is not prominent throughout the piece. So then how is this piece defined and deciphered?

This piece is defined by sets of chord changes within the song. But, these chord changes are improved. As mentioned last week, the chords are hovered over using modes of the major scales in various tonalities. Each musician separately chose the number of bars for each of the modal passages in his solo dependent on the key of the song at the present moment. Different “modes” or forms of the sounds within the song, are listed below:

C Ionian (natural major scale)
A♭ Mixolydian (Major with a minor 7th)
B♭ Ionian
G Harmonic Minor over D Phrygian Dominant (alternates over bass notes D and E♭)
G Dorian


Hear Flamenco Sketches Here

In the introduction, there was a slow rhythm of base notes as well as sound of the piano from Evans that sounds like chords from “Peace Piece.” The tone of the introduction is filled with low frequency sounds as well as slower tempos.

Throughout the piece the song structures a feeling of interconnectedness and flow between chords, measures and scales. The saxophone, piano, and trumpet are the three instruments that frame this “jazz” piece, and are mixed between parts. Each part has it’s own shining moment. Over the course of the song the main instrument changes from:

Trumpet – Saxophone – Saxophone – Piano – Trumpet.

Obviously these don’t go without the help of other instruments. The measures within each instrumental change throughout the song, but usually remain between combinations of measures of four and eight (an overall constant of 4/4 time is maintained). Each soloist plays a different number of bars between each mode, but there is one pattern of five modes repeated in the same order throughout the piece.

The dynamics of crescendos and decrescendos also accentuate the dynamic of this song from beginning to end. It starts with a softer sound, leading into something rising in power, and back down again by the end. Not to mention, the variation of dynamic within each instrumental as well. Lastly, the timbre is of a more gentle, rounded, flowing sound. The instruments in the background are played pianissimo while others are played mezzo-forte.

After the make of blues, and the beginnings of rock and roll, Hip hop DJs started literally remixing music in the late sixties. They took beat-mixing and turned it into beat juggling, looping and repeating sounds on two different turntables to create a unique piece. This began the literal are of appropriation through culture. As the technology grew, so did the music (and in a short time period). This began the literal copy and paste of repetitions and representations of other works of music and tweaking them a little.

This is now a prominent trait of a bulk of music created today. The repetition and representation became a common attribute of modernism, post-modernism and new media (not just music!) (Attali). This recycled use of music is what I’ve noticed to be a similar idea to the looping of bebop except across different genres. At first composers in bebop would constantly loop the same sound in a song (even some rappers are constantly doing that today). But more so now than ever, we are sampling – what seems to me an amplified form of looping – and repeating samples from renowned artists. In this way, some artists can create a unique sound by tweaking what was once a unique sound. I feel as though Davis and Evans were the stars in creating this experimental atmosphere (see Coltrane in “Giant Steps” post-Davis’ album).

The domestication of this noise and remix has moved across media so quickly due to our rapid consumption and obsession with musical intertextuality. We are now not only just remixing types of music, but by doing this we realize it is a mix of art, media, and especially culture. What we consider “Jamaican” versus what we consider “Jazz” or the sound of what society has deemed “Latino” music is all being remixed in combinatorial ways with other forms of culture and the appropriation of the noise and music of those cultures’ pasts. In essence, it’s important to pinpoint where remix started to rapidly increase and come out of it’s comfort zone, a comfort zone Davis and Evans expanded into the next musical era.

Works Cited

“” N.p., 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 08 Apr. 2014. <>.

“Listening Guide for Miles Davis.” Listening Guide for Miles Davis. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2014. <>.

“Musical Elements.” Musical Elements. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2014. <>.

Matisyahu’s Signature Blend

Emily Rothkopf

Matisyahu Live at Stubb’s album cover, 2005. source:

When studying cultural hybridity and genre remix in music, there may not be a better or more diversified case study than Matisyahu.  Dubbed the “Hasidic Reggae Superstar,” Matisyahu was initially discredited as a novelty act – especially among those who don’t particularly care for the reggae/hip-hop sound.  “Something about a Hasidic Jew spitting meditative verses over reggae-rock beats seemed more SNL than MTV” is how one journalist described the sentiment (Cole 2009).  But for those that get and appreciate his style and sounds, Matisyahu is seen as an innovative and inspirational artist, both musically and for what he represents – a barrier-breaking, globalized phenomenon, who has promoted peace through his music, akin to the anti-war sentiments in 1960s and 70s rock.  And his lyrical abilities just scratch the surface of what he offers musically.  Musical tastes aside, Matisyahu is undeniably a perfect example of the remixing of a century’s worth of genres (and centuries worth of cultural influences).  For almost 15 years now, he has been prolific with his original blend of reggae, hip-hop, rap, rock, pop and his signature hazzan (songful prayer) vocals (Wikipedia 2014).

“In the broader view of pop music, reggae has always been an important influence. Maybe it comes and goes, but if you look back to the ’80s with the Police and even the Clash, to the ’90s with Sublime and No Doubt, there is always some big, popular act that works within that style” – Matisyahu (Cole 2009).

One of the overarching genres in Matisyahu’s music is reggae, which is always credited back to Bob Marley.  Matisyahu, like so many others, connected with Marley’s powerful, yet melodic and soothing music.  Marley was a pioneer in blending popular Jamaican music genres – ska and rocksteady – to develop reggae in the 1960s (Wikipedia 2014).  The slow tempo of reggae is typically what stands out – as exemplified in Marley’s classic “Sun is Shining.”  Matisyahu takes this vibe and spikes it with faster-paced hip-hop/rap inspired vocals.  Repetition is also a major feature in reggae music which, as in all genres, helps elevate it to a pop music level (Irvine 2014).  And lyrically, reggae messages range from feel-good to socially empowering.  Similarly, Matisyahu with Isreali ties, sends hopeful and socially-driven messages through his songs.  He effectively carries over the reggae themes and sounds into his music, but with his own twists – the faster paced vocals and beats, rock instrumentals and the hazzan-style chanting.

“Youth” – Matisyahu 2006

Matisyahu also credits Phish, and the jam-band subgenre of rock, as one of his major influences.  This style can be heard best in his tracks that incorporate live guitar and drumming.  He recorded a live album in Austin, Texas – “Live at Stubbs,” which best exemplifies the rock element in his music.  In “Time of Our Song” from this album, the wide range of genres is shown seamlessly remixed within one five minute song.  It begins with the rock instrumental set-up (guitar and drums) and flows into Matisyahu’s classic reggae and hip-hop vocals.  The tone and accent in his voice signify the reggae style as opposed to a strictly hip-hop based vocal.  The interludes are jam-band inspired but during the longest one (at 2:25), Matisyahu demonstrates his vocal range with a higher pitched, hazzan-influenced chant.

“Time of Our Song” – Matisyahu 2005

“I’ve grown up some, and … I have broadened my musical tastes quite a lot. Reggae is not so dominant in my tastes; I also listen to a lot more rock, hip-hop, and electronic music. But I do think that reggae will always have something important to bring to pop music. And reggae will always be important to me” – Matisyahu (Cole 2009).


Matisyahu at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, Washington DC, 2012. source:

Over the years, Matisyahu has shed his beard and some of his Hasidic persona, and has expanded more into pop/hip-hop with electronic sounds.  However, the cultural and musical roots remain and when you hear a Matisyahu song, you know it immediately; his sound is not easily replicated.  His new album is set to release in June 2014, which he has said will have a slightly grittier and darker vibe (Wete 2014).  Whatever the new sound is, it will undoubtedly be a remix of his varied influences, captured in his signature blend.



Works Cited

Cole, Matthew. “Interview: Matisyahu.” Slant Magazine. N.p., 29 Oct. 2009. Web. 07 Apr. 2014.

Irvine, Martin. “Music Analysis Worksheet.” Music Analysis Worksheet – Google Drive. Georgetown University, n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2014.

“Matisyahu.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 June 2014. Web. 07 Apr. 2014.

“Reggae.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 June 2014. Web. 07 Apr. 2014.

Wete, Brad. “Sundance 2014: Watch Matisyahu Perform at Park City Live. Discuss ‘Akeda’ Album.” Billboard. N.p., 18 Jan. 2014. Web. 08 Apr. 2014.

Coke Studio and Cultural Hybridity in Music

As Irvine explains, recognizing songs that we know can happen very quickly, and it happens through a “simultaneous understanding of stacked, synced and layered combinations of sounds (timbres, instruments, melodies, harmonies, rhythms) and sung or rhythmic recitation of lyrics (language and poetic forms, in songs with lyrics or words)”(Irvine). Different music genres have different sounds that we associate with them, and contemporary music often mixes these different sounds together in new ways. Certain music genres are also associated with certain cultures, and thus can symbolically represent these cultures. The mixing of these music genres (with one sound that represents a culture, and another sound that evokes another culture) is a popular form of fusion and remix in contemporary culture.

Coke Studio Middle East is a TV show that plays off this idea of cultural hybridity and mixing through music, by bringing together popular artists and sounds from different countries in the Arab world, and having these artists collaborate on songs with artists from other countries outside the Arab world. The show embraces the idea of cultural mixing, but always ensures that the songs and artists collaborating with one another are popular and immediately recognizable to audiences. Each song plays off of the popularity of a certain song, but mixes it with new sound elements, reminding listeners that the song is a remix and incorporating sounds emblematic of a different culture. The Coke Studio songs are fairly obvious in their combination of carefully chosen sounds for us to pass through our “conceptual frames that we’ve learned,” playing off the meaning of sounds in specific genres and styles in the collective ‘cultural encyclopedia’ of musical forms and their meaning associations”(Irvine 2).

Video: Nancy Ajram & Jose Galvez collaboration, “Hali Hal”

This video, featuring Lebanese pop star Nancy Ajram, singing in Arabic, is a collaboration between her and the Spanish flamenco singer, Jose Galvez. The sounds mixed in the song signal to us immediately that we’re hearing a combination of Arabic music and flamenco music. I think the rhythms in the song are distinctly flamenco, as are Jose Galvez’s vocals, while Nancy’s vocals are distinctly Arabic. The description on the song’s YouTube page highlights this fusion, and also highlights their respective “authenticity,” purity, and status:

“Oriental Music meets Flamenco Music: Nancy Ajram an icon of the Arabic pop music meets Jose Galves who comes from a pure Gypsy Spanish tradition. They come together to create a fusion where the Oriental Pop meets the Spanish Flamenco music. “

Various Coke Studio Middle East collaborations, featured on their website:

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Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 10.46.25 PM





Video: “Just a Dream” by Shereen and Nelly 

The melody and song structure of “Just a Dream” by Nelly and Shereen is obviously playing off the recognizability of the very popular Nelly song. The twist is that Shereen, an Egyptian pop singer, joins forces with Nelly on the song, and sings the chorus in Arabic. They have also changed the instrumental arrangement in the song. In addition to the live band with guitars and drums, they’ve also added an accordion (or something that sounds like one?) and string instruments, which has the effect of  making the song sound more “Arab” or “Egyptian.” The result is a song that mixes musical codes from American pop/rap/hip hop music with Egyptian pop, but mostly relies on the original “Just a Dream” to carry listeners through the hybrid mix. I believe this song, and mos,t if not all of the Coke Studio songs,  is an example of what Navas calls a “selective remix,” which “consists of adding or subtracting material from the original song”(Navas).

Works Cited

Coke Studio Middle East. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2014. <>.

Irvine, Martin. “Popular Music as a Meaning System.”

Just A Dream — Shereen & Nelly,Š S02E01.” YouTube. N.p., 25 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Apr. 2014. <>.

“Nancy Ajram & Jose Galvez, Hali Hal, Coke Studio , S01E01.” YouTube. N.p., 11 Apr. 2012. Web. 04 Apr. 2014. <>.

Navas, Eduardo. “Remix: The Bond of Repetition and Representation.” Remix Theory. N.p., 16 Jan. 2009. Web. 04 Apr. 2014. <>. 

A Conductor of Acoustical Resonance

Left free to my own devices, I ruminated over which artist I would examine to understand dialogic meanings and music hybridization in contemporary culture. The first to come to mind was Moby, whose lush and rich textures seduce the listener with layer upon layer of dense auditory bliss. I also considered Radiohead, mostly because I think they’re the quintessential alternative rock band and the first “real” band many kids in my generation started listening to in college cleansing themselves completely of pop and radio friendly rock.


Instead, no other artist represents this notion of hybridity dialogic meanings better than Jack White. White is best known as the enigmatic leader of The White Stripes, formed in 1997 with then-wife Meg White (Handyside, n.d.), but also as the founding member of two following bands, The Raconteurs, formed in 2006, and The Dead Weather, formed in 2009. In addition, White has released his own music to much critical acclaim. The White Stripes were at the forefront of the lo-fi indy rock movement that began in the late 90s as a reaction to mainstream rock and the post-grunge scene that formed after the deaths of Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley and the decline of Pearl Jam and the breakup of Soundgarden.

posterThe White Stripes not only looked different, a two piece band dressed in Meg’s signature peppermint coding scheme, but they sounded different. Melding garage rock and blues in a raw visceral way, the band rose to prominence with a string of hit records, including the cult-favorite De Stijl (2000), White Blood Cells (2001) and Elephant (2003). Of those early albums, AllMusic wrote, “Jack White’s voice is a singular, evocative combination of punk, metal, blues, and backwoods while his guitar work is grand and banging with just enough lyrical touches of slide and subtle solo work” (Handyside, (n.d.)a.). Later in the same article, the author Handyside bemoans, “All D.I.Y. punk-country-blues-metal singer/songwriting duos should sound this good” as he clearly had difficulty in describing the band’s unique sound. Even when the band broke up, they did it differently, no lead singer marching off to soar or fail as a solo star, no tabloid level brouhaha, just a quiet end to a remarkable run. “The White Stripes do not belong to Meg and Jack anymore. The White Stripes belong to you now and you can do with it whatever you want. The beauty of art and music is that it can last forever if people want it to. Thank you for sharing this experience. Your involvement will never be lost on us and we are truly grateful” (Greene, 20011)

jack_whiteWhile Jack White’s haunting guitar work made a name for himself, Rolling Stone ranked him No. 17 on their list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” (Rolling Stone, 2013), it was a combination with the naiveté of Meg White’s drums that often made their work so distinct, (which he strongly defended (, 2010), and true to the lo-fi aesthetic. Jack could have probably played the drums for the Stripes as well he does for The Dead Weather, which had one critic raving “Perhaps it’s time for the hobby to become the day job” (Aizlewood, 2010).

Just as Janelle Monáe has her influences, one could say that Jack White has his “influence-ees.” White has collaborated with such music luminaries as Beck, the Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, Alicia Keys, and even the legendary Bob Dylan. In 2004, White produced Loretta Lynn’s Grammy winning Van Lear Rose, and later in 2011, revived the career of the “Queen of Rockabilly” Wanda Jackson who enjoyed her first ever charting on the Billboard Hot 200 with The Party Ain’t Over after a near 60 year career in music. He even found time to produce a live comedy album for Conan O’Brien in 210.

Florida and Jackson (2010) investigated the economic geography of music, why certain places produced certain kinds of musics and what cultural and economic factors played a role in those creations. “Detroit has one of the most legendary rock music scenes around because of its status as the home of innovative and highly influential rock bands like The MC5 and The Stooges, as well as Motown, techno, and other musical styles—a robust pool of musical and business talent. White himself hails from Detroit and built the White Stripes’ sound and brand on that city’s musical legacy. The three other musicians in The Raconteurs are all originally from the Rustbelt— singer, guitarist, and songwriter Brendan Benson is White’s long-time associate from Detroit, while drummer Patrick Keeler and bass player Jack Lawrence are from a Cincinnati band, The Greenhornes. The question this article asks is: what factors and forces underpin this kind of relocation? Students of business location might say costs—perhaps Nashville offers a less expensive place to produce and distribute music” (Florida & Jackson, 2010, p. 310).

White left the confines of the Motor City for Nashville in 2005. Of the move, he said, “(Detroit) was so super-negative. It was draining me, I had to get somewhere where I could breathe again” (Associated Press, 2006). Florida and Jackson (2010) suggest “… the Detroit scene, which had fueled the emergence of the White Stripes signature stripped-down rock sound, had become too one-dimensional and constraining. It did not offer the broad range of sounds, genres, and mix of talent available to White in Nashville” (p. 319). The move did not predicate a complete overhaul of style or a complete country/bluegrass/folk buy-in. “The band dedicated an album to bluesman Blind Willie McTell and covered Son House’s classic “Death Letter” blues, but the two live in fear of having their authenticity evaluated. Says singer Jack White, “We’re white people who play the blues, and our problem was how do we do that and not be fake” (Filene, 2004, p.64).

It’s not just that White’s talent is so prodigious or prolific, with The White Stripes I witnessed him  individually play five different guitars, a piano, the mandolin, marimba, tambourine and a set of bongos. It is the fluidity of White as an artists to float seamlessly through disparate genres, styles, and sounds that will always stick with me. Just look at the first three tracks on 2005’s Get Behind Me Satan which starts with “Blue Orchid” whose unique sound is produced by playing a guitar into “a Digitech Whammy WH-4 with an octave-up setting, and an early Electro-Harmonix POG” (Rae, 2010). “The Nurse”, next, “combines marimba, lyrics evoking Dylan at his trippiest, and occasional bursts of drum wallop from Meg” (Walsh, 2005). The third track, “My Doorbell” was nominated for a Grammy, and can best be described as “a strutting piano soul number” (Murphy, 2005) and how it “marries the fizziest of pop melodies to a soulful ’60s Motown shuffle” (Walsh, 2005). Amazingly, that’s just the first three tracks.

In conclusion, White can best be described as a modern day Nikola Tesla, whom he mentions in the 2003 film Coffee and Cigarettes. In chapter nine, “Jack Shows Meg his Tesla Coil,” while relating the importance of Tesla’s discoveries, Jack states “He perceived the Earth as a conductor of acoustical resonance” (Jarmush, 2005).

Since I couldn’t decide which to show, I put two of my favorite videos from “Blunderbuss” below. Enjoy.

Jack White – Freedom At 21

Jack White – Sixteen Saltines


Associated Press. Jack White leaves “super-negative.” (2006, May 25). USA Today. Retrieved from

Aizlewood, J. (2010, June 29). Jack White bangs the drum for mighty, meaty rock in Dead Weather. The Evening Standard. Retrieved from

Florida, R., & Jackson, S. (2010). Sonic city: The evolving economic geography of the music industry. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 29(3), 310-321.

Filene, B. (2004). O Brother, What Next?: Making Sense of the Folk Fad. Southern Cultures, 10(2), 50–69. doi:10.1353/scu.2004.0025

Greene, A. (2011, Feb 2). The White Stripes announce their break-up. Rolling Stone. Retrieved from

Handyside, C. (n.d.). The White Stripes: Biography. Retrieved from

Handyside, C. (n.d.)a. Review: The White Stripes. Retrieved from

Jarmush, J. (2005). Coffee and Cigarettes [DVD]. Espanya: Araba Films.

Jurgensen, J. (2011, Jan 21). The queen of rockabilly returns. The Wall Street Journal, D8.

Murphy, M. (2005, June 5). The White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan. Pitchfork Media. Retrieved from

NME. (2010, March 18). Jack White defends Meg’s drumming skills. NME. Retrieved from

Rae, K. (2010). JACK WHITE of The White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather. The Big Muff π Page. Retrieved from

Rolling Stone. (2013, Dec 7). 100 greatest guitarists: Jack White. Rolling Stone. Retrieved from

Scaggs, A. 2008. Murder ballads and southern grooves: The Racon- teurs are back. Rolling Stone. June 12. http://www.rollingstone .com/news/story/20980717/

Walsh, B. (2005, June 11). The White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan. Slant. Retrieved from