06 May 2007

over and over and over and over and over

i felt like there was something else to say about EMP, since i didn't really offer any general comments on my experience. like carl wilson, i didn't find it to be nearly as mind-blowing as
last year's conference, although it was plenty enjoyable.

of course, as my second exposure to this curious, ad-hoc community, there was less of a transcendant sense of new and unexplored possibilities. but there also just weren't as many papers or panels that stood out as really engaging and provocative (as, for instance, the girl-group panel and carl's own celine dion paper did last year.) somehow, there didn't seem to be many papers that addressed areas of directly relevant interest to me, though i don't understand how that's possible. i definitely felt like the expansion to four simultaneous panels diluted the energy and cohesion of the conference, and - although nobody else seemed to complain about this much - i found there to be strikingly little adherence to or concern with the con's decidedly vague "theme."

i guess this didn't bother folks because the theme is something of a red herring - the true theme is always simply "pop music," and the point is overwhelmingly to bring together the best and most prominent writers/thinkers on the music to share some of their work, rather than to enact a large-scale discussion around a set of more specific topics. which is certainly reasonable, given that this is really the only event of its kind. but it's also a shame, i'd say, since there are certainly a range of very potent and significant ideas to be explored even hewing quite close to this year's ostensible theme - the relationship between music, time, and place - which could have enhanced cross-resonances throughout the conference if more of an effort had been made to draw them out as the focus. it would have made it easier to come away with a sense that something particular had been discussed, considered, and, perhaps, in some small way, explained.

i don't mean to keep bringing this up - because i really don't want to complain about it -
but if my paper had been included (it was evidently not aided by the increase in accepted submissions - though it was, by-the-way, abso-bloomin-lutely on-theme) ... well, golly it would have been nice - i feel like i would have gotten a lot more out of the conference. not just for the obvious reasons, but simply because it would have given me more of an entree into the "hallway" conversations that form a lot of the substance of the conference. as it was, i didn't really end up talking to that many people. because i'm shy, but more because i didn't have anything particular or urgent to say to anybody there, even though obviously there are all kinds of things i could fruitfully discuss with most of them.

also, since i had friends to hang out with and things to do in the evenings, i didn't need to or attempt to join any of the myriad social activities that went on outside of but connected to the conference, such as what i'm sure was an awesome party at m. matos' house saturday night. i did end up going to lunch on sunday (after the big wrap-up discussion, which has been described/discused/dished on in detail elsewhere) with carl, ned raggett, tom kipp, and several others - most of that conversation was about the idea of creating something (a web forum? an online magazine? a print publication?) to carry forward the spirit and substance of emp throughout the rest of the year - an idea that despite some big talk has unsurprisingly not led to even subsequent e-mail dialogue (unless it has and i was weeded out.)

anyway, thanks to the lovely mr. kipp, who, like me, is what carl calls a "thinker without portfolio" (even though his 'folio does now include four popcon presentations, and mine stretches to fit some academic and some periodicalized pop writing.) at the end of the conference, he made some discouraging comments about the prospects of ever getting a paper accepted at there without some significant credentials. of course that's not entirely unexpected - but i'd previously have thought that the selection process would weight the quality and relevance of the proposal at least somewhat substantially against the "brief bio" and acknowledged insider status. kipp's doubtful about that, and he's probably in a position to know (himself standing as one of the few perennial exceptions, since "once you're in you're in.")

coming after the intense but inspiring final roundtable talk - on the fraught subject of "the future of thinking about music for a living," which left me musing optimistically about academia (as the academics were on the whole way more positive about said future than the journo-types) - that comment was a tiny buzzkill that brought me down to thinking about my future for living about music, period. which is to say, my position with respect to this group of people who inhabit emp-world. because, once more, i'm left feeling like these are my people, at least rightfully, but that i don't quite belong to/with them, at this point anyway. despite lots of rhetoric about inclusiveness and intermingling, i still end up on the outside. which is something i do to myself, more than anything. and i'm trying to figure out how not to.

one thing i want to do is to start focusing (on) my writing here; making an effort to create something more potentially accessible and reader-friendly. which means, mostly, to just write better. and also shorter, and maybe less erratically. we'll see. i've got a few several loose ends to tie up, as always, but i'm going to perhaps be playing around with format here in the coming weeks/months, to see if i can sculpt this blog into something more emphatic, deliberate...something with a stronger sense of itself. eh?


Dave said...

Ross, disheartening to hear ya so disheartened. You might be interested in F-Kogan's "Department of Dillettante Research" project chronicled at his LiveJournal and a few other places.

The spirit of EMP seems like a good one, but only in a rock/pop criticism environment that has no other alternative to it -- the downside is that there's a lot of privileging "names," a lot of shunning of ideas that might fundamentally rub things ("the spirit") the wrong way (there's no rooms for bullies, or probably for my own idea, tho it was admittedly a relief not to have to write it!). It might be a little TOO academically congenial, without enough possibility of confrontation (and the possibility of resolving the confrontation) -- when confrontation does happen, it's interpreted as very unpleasant, like the Amy Pfork exchange.

It seems to me like there's a lot of talk about the "future of criticism," but not much attempt to find a future for EMP within the conference itself, e.g. expanding it, challenging it, changing it, making it "stick" instead of having it be an exception to a rule. (I think that "rule" might be, simply, let's start a conversation that isn't "utterly retarded," to quote F-Kogan.)

I could be way off base here. But I'm as deeply skeptical of EMP as I am generally glad and excited that it exists -- esp. if it continues on in isolation without really bothering to let the rest of the world in (and of course one problem that might arise is: maybe the world doesn't WANT to come in, and then we have other questions to ask ourselves, like who's "the world" exactly and why aren't "they" interested in coming in?)

Dave said...

Rather, I think the exception to the rule is what I said. The rule is "utter retardation."

Ross said...

hi dave. i like when you comment on your own comments.

i didn't mean to sound so dispirited. the conference (or at least the final discussion) definitely served to show/remind me of ways i could/should be directing my efforts, much more than it discouraged me. it's just that in some ways the con itself was disappointing, which i think was mostly a fluke for this year.

there is plenty of room for confrontation and controversy at EMP - indeed, it's anticipated and savored - there just wasn't so much of it this year, which was some of the problem. also, there's lots of talk about the future of the conference - on the one hand, whether it will be able to happen again (at this point its short-term future seems pretty secure, though you never know) - but on the other hand plenty of discussion of ways to extend the work (the "spirit") of EMP beyond the constraints of the conference itself, through a print mag, webforum, or what-have-you (apparently a forthcoming issue of the believer will feature content from the conference.)

as for how this type of thinking and conversing fits in with "the world" ... that's a big complicated question that underscores most of the conference meta-discussion.

Dave said...

Yeah, I don't want to project my own issues onto EMP, having never attended (and generally liking what I hear of it). Guess ya had to be there...

Ned said...

Fear not, no weeding out done, we just need to get more of an e-mail response in place from other folks!

Jeni Q said...

I think it sucks when you feel left out by the very people with whom you feel most at home.