- Dark Side of the Tune: Popular Music and Violence
In Bruce Johnson and Martin Cloonan’s book Dark Side of the Tune: Popular Music and Violence, the authors provide one of the first large-scale examinations of a burgeoning, yet often underrepresented, issue in popular music research today. One of the authors’ central goals is to dispense with the view taken by many involved in popular music studies, the “pervasive and often tacit assumption that popular music is inevitably personally and socially therapeutic” (p. 1). The authors suggest that this assumption often stems from the “insider” relationship with popular music held by many of its researchers (as fans or advocates), as well as the urge to discredit the “moral panic” diatribe that assumes causality between musical subcultures and violent actions, often further propagated by mass media. Addi - tionally, while a growing amount of research has been published regarding the connection between popular music and violent cultural situations, these environments are usually thought of as foreign to most people. The connection between music and violence in such genres as Gangsta Rap and Black Metal is “comfortingly displaced from the local musicscape” for most, and the use of music in instances of war and, as more recently documented, torture (which does get some attention in this book) becomes “consolingly distant” (p. 11). To the contrary, the authors argue that the negative aspects of music are more involved in everyday life than is often assumed, and they present a wealth of information to support this claim.
The first three chapters, written solely by Johnson, help to broadly set this study in context. In the first chapter, Johnson discusses the sound of the music itself, and the various psychological and physiological effects sound can have on people, noting that while the act of listening to music involves many senses, it is the sonority, unlike non-acoustic stimuli, that has the power to “arouse and also produce organic damage” (p. 14). While this particular argument does not directly pertain to music per se, but rather to sound in general, it is shown to support a later argument that “we cannot point to any piece of music and say that it must generate violence, but nor can we say that it cannot under any circumstances” (p. 26). Most chapters include discussion of terminology, as many terms can have different connotations depending on the context. This first chapter includes three terms central to this study: popular, music/musicality, and violence. Of the three, the definition of violence appears to be the most critical, as well as, perhaps, the most contrary to popular assumption. Johnson posits that, in addition to the obvious definitions, violence can occur in many more seemingly benign forms. This lends itself particularly well to the arguments regarding popular music and violence, and is the focus of much of the discussion in later chapters.
Chapter 2 considers the coincidence of music and violence throughout history from antiquity to modernity, as well as the politicization of music in modern, urban society as a class indicator. A corollary can be drawn to some of the current issues involving music and violence. In the sixteenth century, “[n]oise came to be associated with intrusiveness in increasingly populated cities, while silence denoted refinement” (p. 41). Johnson observes that now “noise” has often come to include popular music, with many of the same class structures determining taste. Technology (chap. 3) is also shown to have played a major role in the wider circulation of popular music (and music and sound in general). Increased amplification, as well as portability, have aided in creating increased tension between people exposed to music, thus allowing music to become more of a public weapon than ever before.
The next three chapters discuss the common arguments regarding causality between [End Page 282] music and violence. In chapter 4 (“Music Accompanying Violence”), the authors find that while there are numerous instances of popular music accompanying...