We’ve been busy this last week, travelling up to Leeds in order to present at two conferences.

The first was ‘The Word on Jazz’, the latest annual event held at the Leeds College of Music (it began in 1993). Andrew Dubber presented work coming out of his research with Tim Wall on jazz online as part of the now completed BBC project. Tim Wall and I were able to elaborate on the work that we have been doing on popular music histories on TV. Tim spoke about Ken Burns’ PBS series ‘Jazz’ while I spoke on the BBC’s ‘Jazz Britannia’ series. We’ll be developing these themes in further conferences and in at least two scheduled publications so watch for details. Suffice to say, our collective BCU panel was warmly received and generated some interesting observations and comments. Such instances serve to add to the rigour of how the work finally looks when (if) published.

This was my first big jazz conference and while we missed most of the practice-based sessions and live performances, research papers proved to be provocative and stimulating. The opening plenary managed to provoke us three with a rather unsubstantiated claim that the various media were in terminal decline thanks to a lack of coverage of … jazz. This formed part of a jeremiad about the decline of Western civilization, which was laid at the foot of a cultural ‘relativism’ that celebrates popular culture and its consumers (which we pedagogues seem to be responsible for in part). This all seemed to miss the irony presented by spending two days studying jazz which has itself acquired its status thanks to a form of relativism and of course has inhabited various disreputable guises in its histories.

However, there were many great papers and some intriguing research on jazz, its history, practice and representation over the two days.

The second conference, which took place over Monday and Tuesday of this week, was ‘Living Cultures’. Focussed around ethnographic methods and research projects. The theme is summarised thus:

The ever-increasing importance of the cultural to the social brings with it a vital need to investigate the processes implicated in contemporary meaning making, symbolic consumption, production and mediation. Recent scholarship from across the social sciences has sought to take up this challenge by examining the multifariousness of cultural materials-in-use, continuities and ruptures in the production/consumption of culture, the expanded purview of cultural policy and the effects of an expanding ‘cultural economy’.

(http://ics.leeds.ac.uk/sub1.cfm?pbcrumb=20th%20January%202009)

Tim Wall and I presented a paper entitled:  Ethnographic prospects: between practice and theory. Knowledge transfer, music industries and creative labour in the West Midlands. This was an instance of us reflecting upon how our work with KTF partners presents us with access to the creative industries as well as some methodological challenges along the way. Despite a relatively slight window for our paper, we offered some salient points about the lack of work in this field while noting that this conference gathered together some of the key established writers on creative industries as well as examples of new scholarship. One of the plenary speakers scheduled, but unable to make it, was Georgina Born, who has produced an ethnography of the BBC. One of the organisers and chair of our panel was the inimitable Dave Hesmondhalgh whose work is essential reading for anyone interested in theories of the creative and cultural industries. Our panel included a paper on TV soap opera workers from Eddie Brennan of the Dublin Institute of Technology which proved to be stimulating (if revealing the rather circumscribed creative prospects of the workers themselves – from actors to writers). Typically, a parallel session contained many papers on the music industries which we would have liked to have heard. Nonetheless, there was plenty of evidence to correct our complaint that not enough attention has been given to creative work since this sector became a prominent object of our collective attentions.

Oh, and the work is not done yet. I’m off to Bradford on Friday in order to talk about the work of documentarist Philip Donnellan at the sixth Charles Parker day which this year takes place at the National Media Museum.

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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