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Listening to ‘difficult albums’: specialist music fans and the popular avant-garde

  • Chris Atton (a1)

Difficulty is most often associated, not with popular music, but with the avant-garde. How do popular music listeners listen to albums that present compositional, performance or conceptual elements from the avant-garde? This paper explores where difficulty lies for listeners when they listen to, situate and evaluate albums that sit on the intersection between the popular and the avant-garde. The paper focuses on the online collaborative discourse of readers of a British music magazine (The Word), to explore how, while ‘difficult albums’ might be considered sui generis and dislocated from the norms of popular music, the aesthetic discourse of The Word's readers shows that to engage with difficult albums is to explore how they are able to be connected with a range of musical histories and practices, as well as to multiple personal experiences of popular music.

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E.F. Clarke 2005. Ways of Listening: An Ecological Approach to the Perception of Musical Meaning (Oxford, Oxford University Press)

J. Demers 2010. Listening Through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music (Oxford, Oxford University Press)

T. DeNora 2000. Music in Everyday Life (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press)

D. Hesmondhalgh 2007. ‘Audiences and everyday aesthetics: talking about good and bad music’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, 10, pp. 507–27

D. Novak 2008. ‘2.5 × 6 metres of space: Japanese music coffeehouses and experimental practices of listening’, Popular Music, 27, pp. 1534

M. Paddison 1993. Adorno's Aesthetics of Music (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press)

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Popular Music
  • ISSN: 0261-1430
  • EISSN: 1474-0095
  • URL: /core/journals/popular-music
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