Kevin Fellezs

Kevin Fellezs is assistant professor of Music with an appointment in the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University. He earned his PhD in History of Consciousness from UC Santa Cruz in 2004. He is the author of Birds of Fire: Jazz, Rock, Funk and the Creation of Fusion Music (Duke, 2011) and of several articles on black-Asian musical exchanges.



"Another Song: Contemplating Karen Carpenter's Suburban Soul Music and An Aesthetics of Mainstream Pop"

Listening to Karen Carpenter as a drummer – to take her seriously as a musician, in other words – is my perhaps perverse conceit in this paper. But by taking Karen Carpenter seriously as a musician, what might we hear? What might be the intellectual stakes involved with taking her music seriously that speaks beyond mere tragic biography? I will highlight three of Karen’s performances in order to think through the problem of mainstream pop music as a neglected site of aesthetic value. I choose to focus on the Carpenters because they have achieved a kind of iconicity for a particular type of pop rock that scholars have been loath to consider. If part of the value of studying popular music is due to the fact that it is popular, then championing obscure punk bands or hip hop crews may not answer all of the questions worth asking.

Might the siblings’ links to a certain kind of middle class whiteness and Southern California suburbia unduly influence critical appraisal? Is aesthetic worth distinct from other sorts of value? If so, do those other considerations, such as political orientation for example, trump musical and aesthetic considerations? Or can we even safely assume the political nature – and thus, the aesthetic value – of mainstream pop or more specifically, the Carpenters? Often castigated as beneath the purview of serious fandom, let alone scholarship, I want to listen to Karen Carpenter as drummer in order to think through the assumptions behind musical scholarship in which pop music’s aesthetic value is caught within particular ideological constraints.

"Feminist and Queer Studies of Race in Sound"

This roundtable convenes two fields of scholarly inquiry—critical race studies and feminist theory/queer studies—to explore the following interrelated questions: How does sound construct racialized and gendered meaning and/or prompt processes of racial subjection? How might various hermeneutics of sound enrich and/or expand current ethnic and gender studies approaches to the study of racial formation? And, building upon the theoretical insights and methodological apertures deployed within our individual research, how might we collectively forge a feminist, queer analytic for the study of racialized sound and sonic processes of racialization?

The roundtable will counterpose varied definitions that sound can assume—from musical texts and practices, to soundscapes, to an instrument of topography. Particular emphasis will be given to how the material landscape of the city and the metaphorical imaginary of the urban mediate, reflect, and shape sonic geographies of race and racial formation.