Editor’s Message

We’re creatures of contact, regardless of whether we kiss or we wound.
—David Rakoff, Half Empty (2010)

[1] On October 12, 2019, citizens in a small section of my city, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, voted to secede from Baton Rouge and form a new city. The racial makeup of Baton Rouge was 54% African-American in the 2010 census. The new city carved from it this year will be over 80% white. In some cases, the boundaries of the new city take right-angle turns to exclude African-American neighborhoods and include affluent majority white neighborhoods. 2,000 of the roughly 5,000 white children in the school district are in the new city, which will seek to create its own school system, increasing the de facto educational segregation in the parish (i.e. county) of East Baton Rouge, where the public schools are already over 70% non-white.

[2] Because I’m a music theorist, I tend to make odd connections. Resemblances to the history of my own discipline, therefore, suggested themselves on the night of the election. As academia in general becomes more and more balkanized and different disciplines are siloed away in their splendid isolation, we are not just intellectually poorer for it—we are prey to those who would divide and conquer, disingenuously invoking criteria more appropriate to the marketplace than to fields of creativity and discovery in order to make students into customer, and those who teach into at-will employees in the gig economy. Exchanges of ideas, and shared control of the structures within which we teach and learn, is essential to prevent the further encroachment of what economist Paul Krugman has called zombie ideas in the academy.

[3] Granted, the egregious imbalance of power on display in American electoral politics—for instance, the affluent white citizens in my city declaring their “independence” from the impoverished people of color living adjacent to them—does not seem to have a parallel in academic discourse. Schenkerians and set theorists are no longer in a position to lord it over other music theorists and declare other kinds of inquiry “not real theory.” But as a tenured full professor at a university where tenure still exists, I would see it that way, wouldn’t I? My right to discourse is secure. What of my junior colleagues, teaching three times as many courses under at-will contracts, without health insurance or any meaningful job security? How secure is their (hypothetical) right to discourse? The toxic effect of creating governing structures that prevent an exchange of ideas is widely acknowledged, among the professoriate if not among our administrative masters.

[4] External threats are always easiest to identify; internally, modes of discourse that cut us off from one another represent a similar, more insidious threat. Just as gerrymandered boundaries disproportionately impact vulnerable populations that they exclude or include, gerrymandered discourse may contribute to the creation of what Tom Wolfe called artistic compounds—in-groups of artists or academics defined mainly by their ability to exclude.

[5] I like to think of Music Theory Online as an assertive protest against such tendencies. Since 1993 we have attempted to increase the width, breadth and depth of analytical and critical discourse while insisting on clarity—any repertoire, methodology, or modality of discourse is of interest here as long as it seeks to communicate with those with different perspectives, training, and priorities. An author’s work should be accessible, and provocative, to colleagues in other sub-areas and allied disciplines. One of my early contributions to this journal was a meditation on the way that conversation can happen in our field. I found it fascinating and hopeful to witness some of the great examples of long-distance and long-term communication that unfold in the pages of our field’s journals, and I still do. As so much of global society goes in the direction of exclusion and fragmentation, we must integrate, find correspondences, and make connections.

[6] This issue contributes to ongoing colloquy among music theorists and the theory-adjacent community with an essay by Nathan Martin in which he takes a music historian’s glimpse at how our field talks to itself. The three articles in this issue explore divergent repertoires— Andrew Conklin delves into the lo-fi indie music world, Elizabeth Medina-Gray explores video game music, and Garrett Michaelsen revisits a classic locus of modern jazz. All three interrogate the interplay of technical and technological constraint with the search for formal and emotional expression. A book review by John Turci-Escobar engages our sibling field, ethnomusicology, by examining Kacey Link and Kristin Wendland’s study of Argentina’s best known musical export, tango.

[7] This is the final issue with me and associate editor Jon Kochavi at the helm. I will miss working with him, and we will miss working with our colleagues on the editorial staff. We leave MTO in the capable hands of interim editor David Neumeyer, incoming editor René Rusch, returning associate editor Bryn Hughes, plus incoming associate editors Brad Osborn and Mitch Ohriner. David Heetderks and Bryan Parkhurst will share the book review editorship, taking over from Joti Rockwell and Michael Callahan. Managing editor Brent Yorgason continues to provide the technological heart and soul of the journal. It has been a privilege to collaborate with all of these capable scholars, and with our editorial board and reviewers. Thank you for reading.

Give any one thought a push: it falls down easily but the pusher and the pushed pro-duce that entertainment called a dis-cussion. Shall we have one later?
—John Cage, Lecture on Nothing (1959)

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