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Categorizing Sound

Genre and Twentieth-Century Popular Music

David Brackett (Author)

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Categorizing Sound addresses the relationship between categories of music and categories of people, particularly how certain ways of organizing sounds becomes integral to how we perceive ourselves and how we feel connected to some people and disconnected from others. Presenting a series of case studies ranging from race music and old-time music of the 1920s through country and R&B of the 1980s, David Brackett explores the processes by which genres are produced. Using in-depth archival research and sophisticated theorizing about how musical categories are defined, Brackett has produced a markedly original work.
David Brackett is Professor of Music History/Musicology at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University. He is also the author of Interpreting Popular Music and The Pop, Rock, and Soul Reader: Histories and Debates.
"With Categorizing Sound, David Brackett has given us a clearly written, cogently argued treatise on why genre matters. By focusing on the ways we produce genres rather than on the content of those categories—that is, by linking musical sound to social practice—Brackett’s nuanced analytics impart meaningful insights beyond musicology."—Kevin Fellezs, author of Birds of Fire: Jazz, Rock, Funk, and the Creation of Fusion

"In Categorizing Sound, David Brackett provides what will be the definitive account of popular music genre. No mere abstraction, it is embedded in a deeply rich historical narrative based on prodigious archival research. This is one of the most important books on North American popular music to have appeared in the past decade and promises to have a substantial impact for many years to come."—Bernard Gendron, author of Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant-Garde

"Since the publication of his landmark study, Interpreting Popular Music, David Brackett has established a trailblazing career as a preeminent voice in popular music studies. Categorizing Sound builds on this reputation through a lively and masterful discussion of the social life of the genre idea in music. Grounded in sonic detail and cultural analysis, Brackett’s singular and comprehensive command of the shifting historical, musical, social, and material aspects of various genres throughout the twentieth century is nothing short of astonishing and will be used as a model by the next generation of popular music scholars for years to come."—Guthrie Ramsey, author of The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop and Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop

"David Brackett, in this magisterial and compelling study, marries profound historical scholarship with the subtlest and sharpest innovations in cultural analysis, tracing the evolving fortunes of the key genres of American popular music over the course of the twentieth century. He has given us not only the definitive work on music and genre, but also a fundamental contribution to historical musicology and to sociocultural theory."—Georgina Born, Professor of Music and Anthropology, University of Oxford

"Categorizing Sound is a fascinating account of how the music genres we now take for granted in the U.S. were shaped over time in a process that was anything but “natural,” involving not only differing musical styles, but also the emergence of new technologies, laws, immigration patterns, and social attitudes. Beautifully written and impeccably researched, Brackett’s work will stand as an indispensable resource for any serious scholar, musician, or fan who wants to understand how and why we have come to label certain musics—and people—as we have."—David Ake, author of Jazz Cultures and Jazz Matters: Sound, Place, and Time Since Bebop

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