11.06.2018 change 11.06.2018

Metal studies? Still rare among... musicologists

Dr. Andrzej Mądro from the Academy of Music in Kraków is one of the few researchers in Poland who study metal music. Photo from private archive Dr. Andrzej Mądro from the Academy of Music in Kraków is one of the few researchers in Poland who study metal music. Photo from private archive

There is no point deluding ourselves, studies of metal music will never enter the mainstream of musicology. But that`s probably good, because being an independent researcher-outsider fits metal perfectly, says Dr. Andrzej Mądro, a music theoretician who specialises in this genre.

"I study metal because, like jazz, it is a kind of aesthetic paradox: it fits into neither popular nor classical music" - says Dr. Andrzej Mądro, music theoretician from the Academy of Music in Kraków.

There are only few scientists in Poland who seriously study metal. But in recent years there have been several scientific conferences that encourage research and publishing about such music, including "Rock Culture" organized by the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń and "Metal Music Studies" at the Pedagogical University, notes Dr. Mądro.

"But for now, no one is ready to make metal music the main area of their scientific activities. The same goes for the reception and significance of metal - there is no need for any special research, it`s obvious that this music will always be a marginal phenomenon, or even a paradox of pop culture" - he says.

Dr. Mądro admits that he is treated with reserve in the musicological community. "But recently it has been changing very quickly. Even if such research is not taken seriously, it is treated with curiosity, it has the +charm of otherness+" - he says.

"There is no point deluding ourselves, studies of metal music will never enter the mainstream of musicology. But that`s probably good, because being an independent researcher-outsider fits metal perfectly" - he adds.

According to the musicologist, the metal subculture is worth exploring, because in most cases it is more interesting, "deeper" than the mainstream of pop culture. "Popular music is much more generic, standardized and +flattened+. Metal has many shades, trends, subgenres. More importantly, metal does not avoid difficult, dark subjects, ignored by popular culture" - he says.

He points out that in recent years this subject has been gaining popularity in Western Europe and the U.S. This is evidenced, for example, by the establishment of the International Society for Metal Music Studies (2012) or the scientific journal - "Metal Music Studies".

What are the problems that researchers studying metal music focus on? "The topics raised by Polish researchers do not distinguish themselves from the rest of the world. There is no single problem or a leading line of research, there is a number of them, including politics, religion, ritual meaning and performativity, sexuality, symbolism, sound, transmedia" - explains Dr. Mądro.

These threads occasionally appear in Polish studies and sociology. "For now, the interest of musicological community in metal is probably the smallest" - he believes. "But metal is fascinating from a purely musical point of view! The sound, rhythm, expression, symbolism, all this can be studied with the methodologies of the twentieth-century musicology, expanded with basic knowledge of electroacoustics and the history of metal genres" - the scientist says.

In the opinion of a musicologist, metal in the 21st century is a phenomenon so complex and internally fragmented (some of its subgenres are ideologically contradictory) that it can not be treated as a whole in terms of aesthetics. For example, the "heaviest" metallers emphasise the things most people try to avoid, not see every day: death, violence, hypocrisy of religion, media, establishment, etc. "In general, it`s outcastness, extremeness and otherness - in its various forms So we are talking about realities usually unnoticed, overlooked, even hidden in culture, but ones that exist and are important" - he adds.

Dr. Mądro says that metal is not for everyone. "It`s not even a matter of taste, but rather disposition and sensitivity. The weight of metal sound gives strength to some, but overwhelms others. Secondly - metal is always closer to art, because its key ideas are rebellion, freedom and originality" - he believes.

He points out that at the same time - paradoxically - metallers write the best rock ballads, a good example of which is Metallica`s "Nothing Else Matters".

PAP - Science in Poland

Author: Szymon Zdziebłowski

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