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Metal, Rock, and Jazz

Perception and the Phenomenology of Musical Experience

Harris M. Berger

Publication Year: 1999

This vivid ethnography of the musical lives of heavy metal, rock, and jazz musicians in Cleveland and Akron, Ohio shows how musicians engage with the world of sound to forge meaningful experiences of music. Unlike most popular music studies, which only provide a scholar's view, this book is based on intensive fieldwork and hundreds of hours of in-depth interviews. Rich descriptions of the musical life of metal bars and jazz clubs get readers close to the people who make and listen to the music.

Of special interest are Harris M. Berger's interviews with Timmy "The Ripper" Owens, now famous as lead singer for the pioneering heavy metal band, Judas Priest. Owens and other performers share their own experiences of the music, thereby challenging traditional notions of harmony and musical structure. Using ideas from practice theory and phenomenology, Berger shows that musical perception is a kind of practice, both creatively achieved by the listener and profoundly informed by social context.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Series: Music Culture


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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

It is difficult for me to find the words to express my appreciation and gratitude to all of the people that have supported me in preparing this text.I must, of course, begin with my parents, Judith and Charles Berger, whose ceaseless warmth, kindness, and generosity have been the most certain foundation in my life. I also thank my aunt and uncle, Karl...

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1. An Introduction to Central Issues in Ethnomusicology and Folklore: Phenomenology and Practice Theory

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pp. 1-28

This is a study of four music scenes in northeastern Ohio: the commercial hard rock scene of Cleveland, the death metal scene of Akron, the African American jazz scene of Cleveland's east side, and the European American jazz scene of Akron. The research for the study was conducted in 1992 and 1993 and involved fourteen months of participant/observation fieldwork and more than four hundred hours of interviews and live musical recordings. Part I presents a general ethnography of the musical life in...

Part One. The Ethnography of Musical Practice

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2. Commercial Hard Rock in Cleveland, Ohio: Dia Pason and Max Panic

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pp. 31-55

In this part of the book I shall introduce the reader to the practices and experiences of the participants of four music scenes in northeastern Ohio. This chapter focuses on the commercial hard rock scene of Cleveland; Chapter 3 focuses on underground metal in Akron, and Chapter 4, on the jazz scenes. If we are to gain insight into musical perception and the political dimensions of rock and jazz, we must first have some basic vision of the...

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3. Heavy Metal in Akron, Ohio: Winter's Bane and Sin-Eater

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pp. 56-75

In this chapter, I move from northeast Ohio's commercial hard rock scene to its metal scene. As before, my dual goals are to present a general introduction to the music and to understand how both the meanings of metal and the social organization of its subcultures are the outcome of the participant's constitutive practices. While the meanings of contemporary commercial hard rock and underground metal differ greatly, their common...

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4. Two Jazz Scenes in Northeast Ohio

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pp. 76-116

My research into Ohio jazz focused on two very different scenes: the mostly European American jazz scene of Akron and the mostly African American jazz scene of Cleveland's east side. My main contacts in the Akron scene were the members of the Whisler Quartet, a group that played 19505 style post-bop; throughout 1992 and 1993, their regular venue was a...

Part Two. The Organization of Musical Experience and the Practice of Perception

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5. The Organization of Attention in Two Jazz Scenes

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pp. 119-148

In Part I, I made a first step toward understanding the diverse experiences of local jazz and rock musicians. There I focused on the medial level of social life: typical practices described in general terms, habitual settings of face-to-face social interactions, everyday situational purposes, and perceptual experiences and their meanings depicted in broad strokes. This focus fits with our most quotidian understanding of life. Everyday attention rarely lets in the rich, sensuous details of our perceptual experiences...

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6. The Organization of Attention in the Rock and Metal Scenes

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pp. 149-173

The comparison between the two jazz scenes in the previous chapter proceeded in a fairly straight-ahead fashion. With the introduction of the rock data, however, things become significantly more complex. Not only do we now have the potential for many more direct comparisons, we have an additional level of comparison: jazz as a whole and rock as a whole. Further, because rock and jazz are more different than Cleveland jazz and Akron jazz, comparison across the scenes is more abstract. And because of the vagaries of fieldwork, I was less able to find players of similar roles within the two different rock scenes; for example, I cannot directly...

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7. Tonality, Temporality, and the Intending Subject (I): Chris Ozimek and "Turn for the Worse"

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pp. 174-199

We now turn from the organization of the entire field of experience to the more narrow topic of the player's constitution of the musical phenomenon. An entire dissertation could be written on one type of musical phenomenon experienced by one player in one genre, and a trilogy would not be enough to scratch the surface of any single genre...

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8. Tonality, Temporality, and the Perceptual Subject (2): Dann Saladin and "The Final Silencing"

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pp. 200-241

The discussion of Chris Ozimek's "Turn for the Worse" illustrated how tonality, seemingly an inherent aspect of the musical sound, is actually an effect of the subject's practices of perceptual engagement. But the complex dynamics of tonality and the endless variety of temporal forms in experience can be better appreciated if we explore some musical experiences from a different scene. To that end, I now turn to a music that is as far away as...

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9. Conclusions: Perceptual Practice and Social Context

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pp. 242-248

The previous chapter explored the perceptual practices by which the retentions and protentions of notes and chords in the living present are constituted to form meaningful tonal phrases. This inquiry serves as a case study of a more general question: How are the various facets of individual musical experiences organized, and what is die relationship between particular facets of an experience and the experience as a whole? Each type of musical phenomenon is defined by such a set of relationships, and Husserl's notion of the synthesis of identification...

Part Three. Music, Experience, and Society: Death Metal and Deindustrialization in an American City

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10. Death Metal Perspectives: Affect, Purpose, and the Social Life of Music

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pp. 251-275

Taken in conjunction with the data on the metal performance event in Chapter 3, the foregoing discussion of affect and musical structure has moved our ethnography of death metal to the edge of the situated context itself. If we are to share, in part, the participants' experiences, however, we must do more than describe their situated contexts, perceptual practices, and experiences of musical affect. As the link between musical structure and broad social and historical context, emotion is more than a beating heart and churning stomach; likewise, musical activity is more than playing guitar or organizing perception in the performance event. Any momentary...

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11. A Critical Dialogue on the Politics of the Metal Underground: Race, Class, and Consequence

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pp. 276-294

With this celebration of the death metal scene in place, we have the main outlines of Dann's vision of the underground. Discussing death metal with historian Stuart Svonkin, I was reminded that community is an essentially neutral term. Small-scale communities may be convivial and supportive, but they may also be mean-spirited and provincial. Massive bureaucracies will not be found in a society of two hundred, and neither can face-to-face social interaction occur among everyone in a society of...

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12. Conclusion: The Scope of Ethnomusicology

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pp. 295-297

In the final days of my stay in Cleveland, I began to think about how I would conclude this ethnography. While driving to a final interview or doing some other repetitive task, I kept thinking in terms of dramaturgical or cinematic tableau. In a dramaturgical tableau Chris Ozimek and Al Ricci would be set in a standard scene performing some characteristic activity like writing a song in the practice room or posting flyers at a club. Posed and blocked, they freeze at some critical moment that is both typical and...


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pp. 299-310


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pp. 311-313

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 315-323


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pp. 325-334

E-ISBN-13: 9780819571823
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819563712

Page Count: 350
Publication Year: 1999

Series Title: Music Culture
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OCLC Number: 49569024
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Metal, Rock, and Jazz

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Music -- Social aspects.
  • Jazz -- Ohio -- Akron -- History and criticism.
  • Jazz -- Ohio -- Cleveland -- History and criticism.
  • Musical perception.
  • Music -- Philosophy and aesthetics.
  • Rock music -- Ohio -- Cleveland -- History and criticism.
  • Rock music -- Ohio -- Akron -- History and criticism.
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