The Future of Creative Europe

Towards a new generation of cultural funding

by Marje Brütt

The cultural and creative sector is the third biggest employer in the European Union being only excelled by the construction and the food sectors.[1] Besides their rather underestimated economic importance, culture and creativity build bridges between people and positively influence various areas, e.g. education, well-being or democracy. Consequently, culture contributes to the objectives of the European integration. Therefore, it is necessary to foster our cultural and political identity, to preserve our diversity and increase the intercultural dialogue as it is mentioned in Article 167 of the Treaty of Lisbon.[2]

In order to give credit to the cultural sector and to support its further development, the European Union launched Creative Europe in 2014 as the EU’s funding programme for the cultural, creative and audiovisual sectors.[3] As such it is in place for seven years (2014-2020) and consists of two sub-programmes that used to exist independently before: MEDIA and CULTURE. While MEDIA[4] is dedicated to the audiovisual sector and helps promoting audiovisual works, CULTURE covers funding for all other cultural and creative areas including amongst others performing and visual arts, literature, music, street art and cultural heritage. In total, 1,46 billion Euros are foreseen for the whole programme meaning for the whole seven years and all participating countries.[5] Related to the amount of participating countries, this amount can change throughout the years. In addition to the 28 EU Member States, interested European countries can associate with Creative Europe and thereby increase the programme’s budget. In the past years, the list of participating countries grew continuously up to 41 countries in 2018, including amongst others Tunisia, Georgia, Ukraine, Albania and Armenia, boosting the intercultural exchange in the European neighbourhood.[6] Simultaneously, countries can also leave the group as it was the case with Turkey in autumn 2016 and could be happening again with the upcoming Brexit in 2019. Continue reading “The Future of Creative Europe”

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Euroculture: a restart

After a whole year, I’m returning back to Uppsala, Sweden, with only two days to recover from the jet leg. It’s back to the classroom for Swedish classes.

Welcome back from your holiday (although, for me, it was not really a holiday, as I was working back in my homeland, Brazil), but anyway, welcome back to Euroculture, Mada!

In class, I sit next to a student from Colombia, it is time for speaking exercises. We ask each other questions in Swedish:

“When is your birthday? What do you study?”

Our group gets bigger, we are joined by a girl from Germany and a boy from Canada. It is time for the Colombian, Juan, to answer:

“I was born on the 20th of September. I am studying a Master in holocaust and genocide studies.”

I remember the Holocaust Memorial Day (January 27) and, back in America, the “Dia do Índio” (Day of the Indigenous April 19 in Brazil and April 9, the International Day of the Indigenous Peoples of the World) – two anniversaries, two different commemorations. One of the holocaust, and the other of several different genocides – in some cases an event isolated in the past, and in others ongoing genocides. These dates were created so that we do not forget, like now in the middle of class, and so that we honor their memory in our actions.

Lisa, the physics student from Germany, expresses a ‘wow’, seemingly anxious to question him further, this time in English:

“What is it exactly that you study?”

Juan tries to explain:

“I study psychology.”

Lisa is not satisfied (neither am I, I have to admit):

“But what can trigger someone to commit this kind of act?”

I am sitting between them, turning my head as though watching a tennis match (as if turning and shaking the brain would erase the memories). Juan goes on:

“Well, we study the more individual aspects, there are a few things that might trigger such actions in a ‘normal’ person, like religion…” He keeps listing other reasons, but I stop listening. Instead, I quickly think about current news headlines about Gaza, and ISIS, and the attacks on mosques, even here in Uppsala.

For me, this is Euroculture. It is being in a language class, and going all around the world in a minute, in your mind. It is caring about what goes on, knowing what is happening and looking at it from different perspectives. We meet with other students and hear stories and learn about cultures beyond Europe.

The class finishes before we can finish asking all of our questions. We say our goodbyes and I take the bus home. It’s Friday, so I get ready for some Friday evening entertainment. Music, please! The first online radio page I open, I see this:

“U2 releases the new clip for Every Breaking Wave”

 

 

 

I click on it, and watch two teens, in 1980s Belfast, a Catholic girl and a Protestant boy, who fall in love in the middle of a conflict.

Bono sings:
“Every breaking wave on the shore
Tells the next one there’ll be one more…”

 

I decide it is time to go to bed, I can only sleep hoping that Bono’s idea of the repetitive or cyclic nature of life is wrong, at least when it comes to human history. With the certainty that this last term will be as interesting as the other three were, I fall asleep

Magdalena Coelho (34) is a fourth-semester Euroculture student, currently finishing her studies in Uppsala. She has also spent semesters in Italy and Mexico. She is very interested in gender studies and hopes to take a PhD. She calms her mind through writing, swimming and watching the sea. For The Euroculturer, in the coming months she will write some pieces on her life as a Brazilian-Italian student in Europe.

India’s RIFF: “When the music is on, we are one”

This is a review of the Rajasthan International Folk Festival in Jodhpur, India. 

DSC08523
Indian folk singer Kachra Khan performs in an open-air courtyard
of the Mehrangarh fort.

Aditi Tandonadititandon05@gmail.com

As the sun sets, the daunting walls of the Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur drop their valiant stance, the soft lighting of the monument brings out the intricate designs of the structure whilst the tiles glisten like jewels. Once a year, on a full moon night, Mehrangarh puts on its evening best and warmly welcomes audiences for an experience of pure musical joy. India’s Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF) features a series of folk music traditions from local communities in Rajasthan and around the world, an experience best defined by the cliché: Music is a universal language.

Music maestros, barely known beyond their small communities in Rajasthan’s villages, and superstar performers like Manu Chao come together to transcend language and converse in rhythmic sounds. The audience is equally diverse with people from India, France, Spain, Germany, UK, USA, Israel….whilst not sharing a common language with the other, they find a way to bond in the beauty of music and the moonlit Mehrangarh Fort.

Over the four days in the melting pot of musical traditions, one thing stands out: When the music is on, we are one. Continue reading “India’s RIFF: “When the music is on, we are one””

Toru Takemitsu’s Requiem – The Aesthetic of Mono no Aware

In this article, I do not intend to frame music to its origin, or to generalise music composition into representation of a certain culture. Instead, what I wish to demonstrate is how I see Toru Takemitsu’s Requiem as a response to his personal life experience of war, as well as how the music reflects the beauty of Japanese aesthetics.

Wong Tsz Takemitsu 1

Wong Tsz

Requiem for strings (弦楽のためのレクイエム) was Toru Takemitsu’s (武満徹 1930 – 1996) early composition in 1957. It remained unknown to the world until 1958, when Igor Stravinsky visited Japan and heard Takemitsu’s composition. The music had been mistakenly selected by staff of the Japanese national broadcast station NHK as work of the Russian composer, but Stravinsky insisted on hearing it to the end and expressed admiration for the work. In a later press conference, he praised its “sincerity” and “passionate” writing[1]. Stravinsky subsequently invited the Japanese composer to lunch; Takemitsu later described it as an “unforgettable” experience[2].

“Stravinsky insisted on hearing it to the end…”

Composed as a tribute to his mentor, composer Fumio Hayasaka (早坂文雄 1914 – 1955), Requiem for strings shows the composer’s avant-garde style of composition which absorbs elements of various forms of music (namely Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern’s Second Viennese School[3]); with great resemblance to Western classical music. Requiem also shows a highly ‘non-Japanese’ commotion that audiences may find difficult to relate to anything Japanese.

In this article, I do not intend to frame music to its origin, or to generalise music composition into representation of a certain culture. Instead, what I wish to demonstrate is how I see Takemitsu’s Requiem as a response to his personal life experience of war, as well as how the music reflects the beauty of Japanese aesthetics.

World War II

“I hated everything about Japan at that time because of my experience during the war…”

Largely self-taught, Takemitsu’s first encounter with Western classical music occurred after World War II. Western music had been banned during the war in Japan. In an effort to learn music, he would walk through the city searching for the sound of a piano, whereupon he would “ask to touch the piano for five minutes. I was never refused!”[4]

Takemitsu worked for the US Armed Forces, but was soon hospitalised in 1953 for a long time due to tuberculosis. During his time in hospital, he spent many hours listening to Western music on the US Armed Forces network radio. The discovery of Western classics helped Takemitsu to recover from his terrible war trauma. “My first teacher was the radio”, said Takemitsu. The composer recalls his military life after conscription in 1944 as “extremely bitter”[5]. The composer explained much later in life that, for him, Japanese traditional music “always recalled the bitter memories of war”[6]. For many years he considered Japanese traditional music as a symbol of the horrible war. “I hated everything about Japan at that time because of my experience during the war,” he said[7].

Influenced and inspired by composers such as Debussy and Messiaen, Takemitsu rediscovers music with a modern perspective. He co-founded Jikken Kobo (実験工房Experimental Workshop) with Joji Yuasa (湯浅譲二), Katsuhiro Yamaguchi (山口勝弘), Akiyama Kuniharu (秋山邦晴), and 10 other young artists in 1951[8] and conceived electronic music, especially Musique concrete (Concrete Music). At the same time, Takemitsu demonstrated great strength in mastering Western orchestration, of which Requiem could be regarded as his earliest large-scale orchestral work.

I share with you here a notable recording of Takemitsu’s Requiem for strings, played by the New Japan Philharmonic in 1991 under the baton of the renowned Seiji Ozawa:

Mono no Aware

Despite its ‘non-Japanese’ tonality and orchestration, what I find most ‘Japanese’ in Requiem is its sense of speechlessness beyond music itself, the relatableness to traditional Japanese aesthetics of Mono no Aware (物の哀れ). First described in the Japanese novel, The Tale of Genji by Japanese philosopher Motoori Norinaga (本居宣長1730 -1801), ‘mono no aware’ exhibits an important aspect of what is seen as traditional Japanese aesthetic consciousness. The component ‘aware’ portrays sorrow or misery; ‘mono no’ points this ‘aware’ to the things of the world, taken usually in the abstract sense; often to signify a sad but ephemeral beauty which is conspicuous in traditional Japanese cultural expressions. Mono no Aware’s sad, “fleeting beauty” is most closely connected to the Japanese notion of transience (無常mujō) or sensing-impermanence (無常觀mujō-kan): “nothing in the world is permanent, that all things, both beautiful and painful, must inevitably pass away”[9].

“Fleeting beauty…

Nothing in the world is permanent, that all things, both beautiful and painful, must inevitably pass away…”

Requiem is composed in ABA format[10]; Lent – Modéré – Lent. This taut structure delivers intensity throughout the piece. Gradually magnified by muted violins, Requiem transports a beautiful but hollow, later solid homophony; surrounded by a mist of lower strings, the continuous smooth passages of crescendo and decrescendo imitate the grizzle inhales and exhales of a singer:

wong tsz figure 1

<Fig.1 Lent = 56 Bar 1-3 >

The ‘breath’ of the music is highlighted in red, one can tell from the score that it is in steady crescendo, decrescendo, crescendo and decrescendo again. Takemitsu described this use of monotonic change of one single note as a River of Sound (音の河), where a background of audio flows in contrast to the movement of motive, which is highlighted in blue. The composer recalled “One day in the year 1948, I was trapped in a tiny train carriage; I had the thought of mixing one single noise into accurate notes, to be more precise, this noise is the channel which goes through sound in our life”. He further noted that by mixing noise into accurate notes, it implies to him linking all sounds together, and thus is named the River of Sound. He finds the River of Sound on one hand exterior to the rest of notes and, on the other hand, he also finds himself exterior to the world he knows[11]. This motive is then ended by a short viola solo, relocating the homophony into a richer tonality.

wong tsz figure 2

<Fig. 2 Modéré, = 86 Bar 45-47.>

The second section is even tenser with a faster tempo and more passionate syncopations which demonstrate grievances. This is further demonstrated by the use of two violins on an octave interval (highlighted in blue in Fig.2). With the use of only two violins, the composer marked rall. (rallentando) molto, which means slowly and drastically, which is against the overall tempo of modéré, giving sharp changes to both the volume and tempo.

The last passage recalls the opening theme, which is slightly shortened. This carries a reminder of the past which brings the beauty of sadness, and in my view, implies a Samsara vision of life, which can be related to the composer’s experience of struggling for life against illness.

“Mono no Aware is a sentiment towards nature and life, that life is part of death and death is part of life…”

I construe Mono no Aware as a sentiment towards nature and life, two main themes which often occur in Takemitsu’s compositions[12]; thus, life is part of death and death is part of life. Through this sentiment, one may overcome the transience of life and uncertainty of the future. All the soreness of life is momentary, and only by fully recognising the truth and retaining a peaceful mind, can one achieve a realm of eternity. At this particular time, when the tension between Japan and China, as well as among nations in Southeast Asia, grows, the recall of such aesthetic value is sorely needed for all mankind to keep in mind the astringent memories of war and the common desire of permanent peace.

Epilogue

Requiem for strings demonstrates a heavy influence of Western classical music in Toru Takemitsu’s early composition. The composer once said that, “I used to believe that I could only compose when I am confronted with a big mirror of Western Music, only after knowing the music of my own country, I realise that mirror is not just one-dimensional”[13]. Indeed, one may find more use of local traditional elements by the composer in his later experimental works, which highly correlates with elements from nature.

Takemitsu left over 100 compositions of chamber, orchestra, and film scores after his death in 1996. My own interpretation of his Requiem serves to only glimpse into the composer’s life and his imaginary world, and I certainly wish for more listeners to carry on this discovery.

Further readings:

Burt, Peter. The Music of Toru Takemitsu. UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Siddons, James. Toru Takemitsu, a Bio-Bibliography. USA: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001.

Takemitsu , Asaka, A Memoir of Toru Takemitsu, USA: Indiana, iUniverse, 2010.


[1] Burt, Takemitsu’s Works, “The Music of Toru Takemitsu“, p.71

[2] Takemitsu, Toru [with Tania Cronin and Hilary Tann], “Afterword“, Perspectives of New Music, vol. 27 no. 2 (Summer 1989), pp.205–207

[3] “Requiem – LA Phil,” Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, http://www.laphil.com/philpedia/music/requiem-toru-takemitsu

[4] “A guide to Toru Takemitsu’s music,” Guardian News and Media Limited, http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/tomserviceblog/2013/feb/11/contemporary-music-guide-toru-takemitsu

[5] Takemitsu, Toru, “Contemporary Music in Japan”, Perspectives of New Music, vol. 27, no. 2, (Summer 1989), p.3

[6] Ibid

[7] “A guide to Toru Takemitsu’s music,” Guardian News and Media Limited, http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/tomserviceblog/2013/feb/11/contemporary-music-guide-toru-takemitsu

[8]実験工房 Jikken-kobo,” アートワード(現代美術用語辞典ver.2.0), http://artscape.jp/artword/index.php/%E5%AE%9F%E9%A8%93%E5%B7%A5%E6%88%BF

[9] Mark Meli, “Motoori Norinaga’s Hermeneutic of Mono no Aware: The Link Between Ideal and Tradition,” Michele Marra ed., Japanese Hermeneutics: Current Debates in Aesthetics and Interpretation, University of Hawaii Press, pp.60-75, Feb. 2002

[10] Any single section of music consisting of phrases or other musical sections could be represented by ‘A’. This musical section can be repeated to create an ‘AA’ form. If put together with a new section, ‘B’, the musical form is then called ‘AB’, showing two contrasting musical sections. Thus, when ‘A’ is repeated (even with modification), it forms an ‘ABA’ structure.

[11] For more detailed descriptions concerning River of Sound, please refer to Toru Takemitsu’s book 音楽を呼びさますもの (Music Awakened), Tokyo: Shinchosha Publishing, 1985

[12] See: Music of Tree (1961), Winter (1971), The Spirit of Love (1979), Rain Coming for chamber orchestra (1982), Twill by Twilight—In Memory of Morton Feldman (1988), Tree Line for chamber orchestra (1988), How slow the Wind (1991).

[13]Takemitsu, Toru,武滿Essay選,朝向語言之海》(Essays from Toru Takemitsu, Towards the Ocean of Language), Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo Publishing, 2008, pp.30.

Wong Tsz new profile Wong Tsz, Contributing Writer

Wong Tsz, from Hong Kong, moved to Europe for MA Euroculture (2010-12) after obtaining his BA in Language and Translation. Currently, he’s a PhD student in Musicology under DFG Research Group ‘Expert Cultures from the 12th to the 16th Century’. Wong Tsz played in various orchestras in Hong Kong and in Europe, including the Hong Kong Youth Symphony Orchestra, Open University of Hong Kong Orchestra, Göttingen University Orchestra, Groningen Students’ Orchestra MIRA, and currently in Academic Orchestra Göttingen AOV. He’s not only keen on playing music but is actively engaged in academic research. His Master’s thesis gives an in-depth study of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde under the scope of Orientalism theory by Edward Said. His current PhD project ‘Matteo Ricci in East West Music Exchange’ gives a detailed analysis to trace the early models of music exchange between China and Europe in 16th century.

Contact: wongtsz@gmail.com

Hipster or Hipstered?

Do you follow or not? Following tendencies in society

George 3

Georgios Tsarsitalidis│tsarsitalidis@hotmail.com

Often individuals define themselves by projecting the ‘other’. In many cases this ‘other’ can be music, fashion, movie stars or even someone you see walking down the street on an ordinary day. Who did not have posters on their bedroom walls when they were young? The way you dress, what you listen to, what you say, or even what you eat transmit unconscious messages to other people about your identity or the tendencies you follow in order to formulate that identity. In contemporary society, the way you act and look becomes even more important as people can categorise you with a simple glance.

Modern hipster

George 1One category that many are put in to is the ‘modern hipster’. As ‘rock’ people define themselves through the adoption of specific behaviour, clothes and music, hipsters do the same in contemporary society. Hipsters use music and contemporary cultures in conjunction with older ones to put together the hipster look. Hipsters are ‘architects’ for putting together their look derived and defined by many subcultures, either old or contemporary. Thus they create a look which can be considered as ‘fashion mosaic’. This movement, however, has not been clearly defined due to its multicultural character. Also, in my opinion, the term ‘hipster’ is undefined by many people even though the hipster movement is here and, I think, is going to stay for a while.

Defining hipster

George 2Hipster is a subculture movement of recent young, urban, middle-class people who listen to independent or non-mainstream music and are characterised by their alternative, liberal and bohemian fashion. Generally they are considered to be free spirited and open to new ideas, and adopting of an alternative lifestyle by utilising contemporary technological gadgets. Photography is their habit and their ‘chill-out’ way of behaviour becomes their motto. Hipsters are considered to be relaxed, outgoing people and sometimes look as if they live in their own world.

Hipsters are young adults who put tuck trousers inside their leather boots. In winter they have big, thick scarves and in summer they wear open V-neck t-shirts with colourful frame Ray-Ban sunglasses. They usually wear tight blue or white shirts with suspenders, and you can usually see their striped white socks under their tight black short trousers.

When it comes to music, we can say that they usually listen to Mumfords & Sons (song: “Little Lion Man”), Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (song: “Home”) or Fun (songs: “We Are Young” and “Carry On”) while they are using their smart phone to upload cool photos on Facebook or Instagram. Hipsters are considered to be sensitive, open-minded and interesting. In Europe, Scandinavian countries like Sweden, especially in its capital Stockholm, are considered as capitals of the hipster movement due to the bohemian and relaxed attitudes of young adults there.

Who are hipsters? When asked MA Euroculture 2011-13 students in Bilbao…

rashid fb small Rashid Munir

“Hipsters are the devil-may-care attitude people, mostly young, urban middle class, who have a distinct taste in indie music and film, liberal politics, and careless fashion. The entire attitude is taken up to show that they don’t care about following the mainstream rules.”

peter Peter Zwart

“Haha. Not entirely careless of fashion I would say though. They have this big like in ‘retro’ stuff, and the male-versions tend to dress pretty much ‘metro’, don’t they? And don’t forget they always have an iPhone and/or iPad.”

mayra fb small Mayra Lopes

“Oh, I would say they just don’t know how to wash their expensive brand clothes and that’s why they look old and it seems that they don’t care. Often confused with homeless people.”

stephanie Stéphanie Stehli

“I agree with Peter’s description, that’s exactly what I would say! Plus they have an iPod with trendy headphones (not earphones, never ever).”

olga fb small Olga Kuchynska

“Hipsters are young folks who want to stand out of the crowd and hate to be part of social mainstream, right? But it’s so funny, because while they want to escape the mainstream, the number of hipsters is growing to the extent that I can conclude they are becoming some kind of an alternative mainstream – nihilism and fuck-u-all and I-couldn’t care less attitude to many society-related issues) isn’t that cool now?? It’s becoming fashionable to be a hipster. Should I also assume the hipster’s mantle? I wonder where my grandama keeps her vintage frock…”

What’s your definition of Hipster? We welcome your comments!

If you want to watch ‘Hipstered’ Music videos:

(Sources of the pictures used for the article)

The first photo: http://www.treksinscifi.com/trekdaily/?p=3250

The second photo: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/modern%20hipster

The third photo: http://lexpress.fr

georgeGeorgios Tsarsitalidis, Trend Editor

George was born in Stockholm but was raised in Greece. Since 2008, he has lived again in Sweden. He has a Bachelor (Hons) in English Language and Philology from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. He completed a two-year MA in American Literature and Culture at Uppsala University has studied MA Euroculture in Uppsala, Bilbao and Indianapolis and is now back in Uppsala to finish his MA thesis. George speaks five languages (Swedish, Greek, Italian, Greek Sign Language, English) and is currently studying Spanish and Arabic. He has presented his work at more than seven international conferences and has received more than five scholarships. He has published his work in the Athens Institute of Education and Research. He loves swimming, painting, and writing and he enjoys living ‘in-between’ Greece and Sweden.

Gangnam Style – Decoding Transculturalism in Pop Music

In this article, I wish to demonstrate a comprehensive overview of how “Gangnam Style” reflects certain phenomena of Transculturalism. One thing I find most intriguing in music is precisely the ‘invisibility’ which gives immense space of imagination. I do agree that with visual aids, certain messages can be notably transported to an individual audience, but it may also undermine the musicality.

© Marcus Yeung
© Marcus Yeung

Wong Tsz│wongtsz@gmail.com

The YouTube 2012 super-hit “Gangnam Style” brings new perspectives of how transculturalism can be interpreted in the context of the modern pop music industry. To understand transculturalism in music, one must first differentiate different models of musical exchange. Ethnomusicologist Krister Malm summarised musical exchange into four categories, which musicians could be directly engaged with[1]:

1. Cultural exchange: a phenomenon which allows newly emerging musical expressions during the process. This often occurs on a person-to-person level.

2. Cultural dominance: the process when a powerful society or group within a society imposes its values on another in a formally organised fashion.

3. Cultural imperialism: occurs as cultural dominance, often increased by the transfer of money and resources from the dominated to the dominating cultural group.

4. Transculturalism in music: a result of the growing transnational corporations and global marketing network in music industry. Transculturalism involves the merging of different elements from different kinds of music taking place in an industrial environment. Transcultural music is therefore an industrial product without roots in any specific ethnic group.

“Gangnam Style”, along with other pop music videos (MVs) available online, gives a valuable overview of the current development of the pop music industry in a transcultural context. What can we tell from “Gangnam Style” in the scope of Transculturalism in music? I note a few aspects which may serve as analytical perspectives:

1. Music for free. The conventional revenue of the music industry relies on music sales; the listening or viewing of MVs online at no cost, especially on YouTube, has proven that the phenomenon of sharing music through a mature social media worldwide has changed the shape of the music industry, where the music industry may eventually profit from the bottom-up popularity spread by individual internet users. (Further reading: Christopher Cayari, “The YouTube Effect: How YouTube Has Provided New Ways to Consume, Create, and Share Music”[2].)

2. Beyond Lyrics. With visual context, more than singing along, the audience may also ‘dance along’; the ‘horse dance’ for instance proves this by the immense quantity of “Gangnam Style” replicas on YouTube produced by individuals. The ‘horse dance’ may immediately correlate viewers into the context of “Gangnam Style”. Although dancing along with music in an unified gesture is not new in the history of pop music, (one obvious example would be the Village People’s “YMCA”)[3], the main difference I note here is that the ‘horse dance’ has no direct connotation to the lyrics but, on the contrary, it associates with other visual contents in the music video. One may find Roland Barthes’s Semiology theory useful in decoding the meanings of signs; ‘horse dance’ could be taken as once example. At the beginning of the MV (at 0:18), PSY walks into a stable full of horses and start waving his wrists in crossed arms, making a direct connotation to horse riding. (Further reading: Paulo Emanuel Novais Guimarães, “What did Barthes mean by ‘semiotics’? How useful is his account for social theory and for accounts of ideology?”[4].)

3. Three-minute music. The common ABA or ABACA[5] format of popular music can be well-observed in “Gangnam Style”. The 3:39 duration coincides with the common length of pop songs, or so called three-minute music. I note that the attention span of the audience is no longer limited to an audio media, but to a visual one as well. Academic research on the same issue has indicated the cause and effect relationship between the popularisation of pop music and its influence on teenagers’ attention spans, which is also around three minutes long[6].

4. Overcoming the language gap. “Gangnam Style” is composed mostly of Korean lyrics, with very little use of English. The role of the lyrics in the song is thus less prominent to the non-Korean audience yet, on the visual level, the body language (dance), together with the easy to remember melody, compensates the language gap. Similar examples of such a module, especially among non-English language pop songs which gained huge popularity worldwide, are:

  • “The Ketchup Song” (“Aserejé” in Spanish)[7], 3:29, ABA form, also with similar hand movements and key phrase “Aserejé, ja deje tejebe tude jebere…”
  •  “Dschinghis Khan”[8], 3:30, ABA form, similar hand movements (a different horse dance), and key phrases “Hu! Ha! Hu! Ha…” and “Dsching… Dsching… Dschinghis Khan! He, Reiter; ho, Leute; he, Reiter, immer weiter…”
  • “Macarena”[9], 3:50, ABA form, a repetitive set of body movements which coincides with the key phrase “Heeeeey Macarena!”

I identify here three key elements among the given examples which gained success worldwide: 1) easy to remember lyrics (key phrase) and melody, 2) simple and memorisable body language, 3) dance melody.

5. Gangnam Styles. Gangnam Style was quickly reinterpreted in many different languages and derivative works: from lip-dup to various translations and adaptations of the lyrics. Most videos are produced by ordinary internet users, although the quality of such videos varies, it is one noticeable trend that by re-creating and instantly sharing such derivative works, pop music videos no longer serve as a one-way communication channel in the context of social media: the involvement and reaction of audiences to certain MVs may give new perspectives of understanding the reception of pop culture in a wider scope. A pop song which gained success in one market could therefore be quickly transformed and gain success in others. German pop song “Dschinghis Khan”, for example, was translated into 10 different languages in Europe and Asia and gained worldwide success; which is more feasible when the copyright of a work is controlled by a big record company. (Further reading: Gill, Phillipa, Arlitt, Martin; Li, Zongpeng; Mahanti, Anirban, “YouTube Traffic Characterization: A View From the Edge”[10].)

6. Music as a product vs. The star as a product. When an artist (or the music industry) finds more profit and opportunities in commercial settings, one may also argue that the artist (the star) is also a commercial product or, at least, a representation of certain products/brands (such as Madonna’s Pepsi commercial in 1989[11]). This phenomenon is not entirely new in the pop music industry: long since Elvis Presley, record companies find it extremely profitable to cast singers in films, usually low-budget productions, and embed their music into the film[12]. How such representation could eventually effect music production itself is another topic worth exploring.

When we talk about transculturalism in music, it is always tempting for composers, musicians, and music producers to look for new elements in other cultures. The presence of transculturalism is particularly noticeable in visual media; when MVs are mostly available in pop music nowadays, the effect of transculturalism is more understandable than in music without visual elements. How and why certain visual images were adopted in the “Gangnam Style” MV is, however, a different issue; for example, why the ‘horse dance’? It might be something to do with the horse racing culture in the Gangnam area, one of the richest districts of Seoul where people can afford such an extravagant hobby, but it is highly doubtful how far such an embedded meaning could be decoded by an audience without any background knowledge of the particular culture. Perhaps this brings a call of more awareness of indigenous culture in music, especially in the dimension of social media.

Despite the limited textual and musical analysis in this article, as I mainly focused on Transculturalism, I wish to demonstrate a comprehensive overview of how “Gangnam Style” reflects certain phenomena. One thing I find most intriguing in music is precisely the ‘invisibility’ which gives immense space of imagination. I do agree that with visual aids, certain messages can be notably transported to an individual audience, but it may also undermine the musicality. From “Gangnam Style”, I find a lot of similarity when I compare it to some earlier examples of MVs. If one believes that music is the common language of mankind, in modern times where music is getting more and more ‘visual’ and less merely ‘audio’, more reproducible and sharable, I ask: are we closer to ‘music as a common language’, or is it actually ‘music videos as a common language’?


[1] Krister Malm, “Music on the Move: Traditions and Mass Media,” Ethnomusicology 37,3 (1993): 340-343.

[2]  Christopher Cayari, “The YouTube Effect: How YouTube Has Provided New Ways to Consume, Create, and Share Music”, International Journal of Education & the Arts, Volume 12 Number 6 (2011). http://www.ijea.org/v12n6/v12n6.pdf.

[3]  “Village People Set “YMCA” World Record at the Sun Bowl,” [n.d.], video clip, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAYHQWz3i7I.

[4]  Paulo Emanuel Novais Guimarães, “What did Barthes mean by ‘semiotics’? How useful is his account for social theory and for accounts of ideology?”, IDEATE: the Undergraduate Journal of Sociology, University of Essex 8 (2012): 1-7, available online: http://www.essex.ac.uk/sociology/documents/pdf/ug_journal/vol8/2012sc301_pauloguimar%C3%A3es.pdf.

[5] On different forms of music please refer to “Music Theory Blog”, available online: http://musictheoryblog.blogspot.de/2007/02/musical-form.html.

[6] Michael Z. Newman investigated the attention span of pop songs on teenagers in “New media, young audiences and discourses of attention: from Sesame Street to ‘snack culture'”, Media Culture Society  32 (2010): 581,  available online: http://mcs.sagepub.com/content/32/4/581.

[7] “Ketchup song original and full,” [n.d.], video clip, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5D5N8TgBFw.

[8]  “Eurovision 1979 Germany Dschinghis Khan Dschinghis Khan HQ SUBTITLED,” [n.d.], video clip, YouTube,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAEUrp2V4ss.

[9]  “Los Del Mar – Macarena (Live 40°),” [n.d.], video clip, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41DyPamC1_M.

[10]  Gill, Phillipa, Arlitt, Martin; Li, Zongpeng; Mahanti, Anirban, “YouTube Traffic Characterization: A View From the Edge”, Technical Reports, HP Labs, HPL-2007-119 (2007), available online: http://www.hpl.hp.com/techreports/2007/HPL-2007-119.pdf.

[11]  “MADONNA – LIKE A PRAYER PEPSI COMMERCIAL,” [n.d.], video clip, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8qtsUaoVak.

[12]  Elvis Presley made 31 movies between 1956 to 1969, other notable singers in movie includes: The Beatles – ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (1964), David Bowie – ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ (1976), Madonna – ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ (1985), Deborah Harry – ‘Hairspray’ (1988), Whitney Houston – ‘Bodyguard’ (1992). All these films featured singers’ song(s), and eventually boosted the sale of records.

Wong Tsz new profile Wong Tsz, Contributing Writer

Wong Tsz, from Hong Kong, moved to Europe for MA Euroculture (2010-12) after obtaining his BA in Language and Translation. Currently, he’s a PhD student in Musicology under DFG Research Group ‘Expert Cultures from the 12th to the 16th Century’. Wong Tsz played in various orchestras in Hong Kong and in Europe, including the Hong Kong Youth Symphony Orchestra, Open University of Hong Kong Orchestra, Göttingen University Orchestra, Groningen Students’ Orchestra MIRA, and currently in Academic Orchestra Göttingen AOV. He’s not only keen on playing music but is actively engaged in academic research. His Master’s thesis gives an in-depth study of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde under the scope of Orientalism theory by Edward Said. His current PhD project ‘Matteo Ricci in East West Music Exchange’ gives a detailed analysis to trace the early models of music exchange between China and Europe in 16th century.

Favourite European Songs : “Dickes B reminds me of my adventures in Berlin”

Most of Europe’s popular music is made in either the United States or Great Britain, or is at least influenced greatly by American and British popular music, if only for the fact that a lot of popular music in non-English-speaking Europe is, nonetheless, sung in English. Some countries even try to battle this trend: the French government, for instance, passed a law in 1994 for a Francophone quarter where at least 40% of the music played on the radio must be sung in French.

Albert Meijer | albert_meijer@hotmail.com

Whether it’s Bach, Beyoncé or the Backstreet Boys, music is important in everyday life: to listen to, to dance to, to identify with, and to think about. Listening to a certain kind of music can be a great influence in the (sub) culture you identify with, be it punk, folk, or jazz.

Music transcends borders. Take hip hop, for example. With roots in African rhythms, Caribbean sound systems, call-and-response songs of slave workers, political speeches in the era of the American Civil Rights Movement and jazz, it has flown over from the American ghettoes to the poor and rich neighbourhoods of European cities, to the islands of Japan and even to the icy plains of Greenland, where Inuit rappers use hip hop as a medium of protest against Danish language hegemony.

While some politicians stress the importance of a pure, unified culture, the truth is that this ‘pure’ culture has been tainted by foreign influences for centuries. In the case of music, the strongest example is the Americanization and Anglicization of popular music. Most of Europe’s popular music is made in either the United States or Great Britain, or is at least influenced greatly by American and British popular music, if only for the fact that a lot of popular music in non-English-speaking Europe is, nonetheless, sung in English. Some countries even try to battle this trend: the French government, for instance, passed a law in 1994 for a Francophone quarter where at least 40% of the music played on the radio must be sung in French.

At The Euroculturer, we thought we would follow the French idea to reset the focus of popular music on European songs, although non-English language is not required to make the list. We asked several MA Euroculture students for their favourite European songs.

Polish student Beata Brozèk’s favourite European song is “To Ostatnia Niedziela”, by Mieczysław Fogg, meaning “This is the Last Sunday”. It’s a Polish tango from the 1930s, and is also known as ”The Suicide Tango” because of its morbid lyrics. “It was my grandparents’ favourite song. They would always listen to it during dances and dates. It was my favourite song when I was a child. Now that I am married, I understand more and more why it is so powerful”, she says. The song is about a person begging his/her loved one to give him/her the last Sunday before they will part forever. “In Poland, Sunday was the ultimate day for dates, where you would usually have coffee, a long walk, and maybe a kiss”, Beata tells us.

Sheila Pilli from Italy suggests a hip hop song with reggae-influences from Germany: “Dickes B” by Seeed. The song is about Berlin, which is evident in the video, in which the rappers and musicians walk through many Berlin hotspots. “When I went on a trip to Berlin, I met a guy in a club. We spent some time together, and he showed me the video for this song. I love the song and the video, it reminds me of my adventures in Berlin”, Sheila says.

Nokchachom Cheskhun, a student from Thailand who is better known as Pippa, chose her favourite song as “El Rey de Francia”, sung by Savinna Yannatou. If any of these songs are ‘truly European’, it is this one: the singer is Greek, the song is an 18th century traditional from Asia Minor, it is sung in Ladino (a Jewish language close to Spanish), and it is about the daughter of the King of France who dreams about love. “A Spanish friend hummed the tune, and I asked him what song it was. I looked it up and fell in love with the sweet melody and listened to it every day. It soothes my busy soul”, Pippa says. “It’s a dreamlike poem. I wish to sing this song one day”.

Swedish-Greek student George Tsarsitalidis also picks a Greek singer, Eleutheria Arvanitaki, as one of his favourites. “She is really famous in Greece, but also in other countries. She sings melancholic songs, and she is amazing”. Another favourite of his, well-known pop star Robyn, is from the country of his other nationality: Sweden. “Robyn is really famous in Sweden. I like the song ‘Dancing on My Own’, because it’s a good song to dance to”.

Albert Meijer, People’s Editor

Hailing from Osaka, Japan, Albert writes about the student body of the MA Euroculture programme. His academic interests lie in the fields of (sub)cultural studies, music science, sociology, and gender and queer studies. In his spare time, Albert likes writing and singing mediocre songs, walking through typhoons, making video blogs and getting stuck in difficult yoga positions.