Surrealism in Icelandic Popular Music
John Richardson [+]
University of Turku
In this chapter I will explore the cultural significance of glitch aesthetics in recent Icelandic popular music, focusing especially on music by the band múm, but also including music by other well-known Icelandic acts, such as Sigur Rós and Björk. Like Nick Prior (2008), I understand glitch aesthetics as representing an experimental sub-field within the broader field of cultural production (Bourdieu) that is designed to comment critically on the mainstream. This is implicitly a position of agency, independence and outsiderness. However, more detailed scrutiny reveals how each of these categories is complicated through sonic as well as social actions and interactions, not least the question of agency, which technological mediation and a collective approach to musicking distill into something that hardly resembles heroic narratives of creative agents. I will additionally explore an aspect of naïvism in the music, which prioritizes first-hand experience (bright tones, playfulness, childlike voices, optimism, an interest in sonic objects over song narrative, the prioritizing of background detail over the ursatz (fundamental structure) of song, and consider how this is related to the concepts of cultural and collective memory. Naïvism does not in this case imply a traditional dialectical relationship to technology by reaffirming the Nature/Culture divide (see Dibben 2009a). Rather, glitch itself becomes an aspect of this innocent exploration of materials that is of its essence childlike, a form of play in the Gadamerian (hermeneutic) sense that is reparative more than overtly critical in tone (Sedgwick 2003). I will additionally explore the relation of glitch to gender politics. While glitch has previously been thought of as the exclusive realm of male specialists, there is evidence to support an alternative reading in which the glitch (or mistake) can be understood as a way of queering conventions, ‘the queer art of failure’ (Halberstam 2001; also Jarman 2011), while partaking shamelessly through the element of naïvisim and sentimentality in the music of what Jack Halberstam calls ‘silly culture’ (Halberstam 2012; also Morris 2013).