New Riffs on the Old Mind-Body Blues: “Black Rhythm,” “White Logic,” and Music Theory in the Twenty-First Century

Perchard, Tom. 2015. New Riffs on the Old Mind-Body Blues: “Black Rhythm,” “White Logic,” and Music Theory in the Twenty-First Century. Journal of the Society for American Music, 9(3), pp. 321-348. ISSN 1752-1963 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Contemporary music historians have shown how taxonomic divisions of humanity—constructed in earnest by European anthropologies and philosophies from the Enlightenment on—were reflected in 18th and 19th-century theories of musical-cultural evolution, with complex and intellectualized art music forms always transcending base and bodily rhythm, just as light skin supposedly transcended dark. The errors of old and now disreputable scholarly approaches have been given much attention. Yet scientifically oriented 21st-century studies of putatively Afro-diasporic and, especially, African American rhythmic practices seem often to stumble over similarly racialized faultlines, the relationship between “sensory” music and its “intelligent” comprehension and analysis still procedurally and politically fraught. Individual musical sympathies are seen to be undermined by methods and assumptions common to the field in which theorists operate. They operate, too, in North American and European university departments overwhelmingly populated by white scholars, so this article draws upon and tests concepts from critical race and whiteness theory, and asks whether, in taking “black rhythm” as its subject, some contemporary music studies reinscribe what the sociologists Tukufu Zuberi and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva have called “white logic”: a set of intellectual attitudes, prerogatives and methods that, whatever the intentions of the musicologists concerned, might in some way restage those division practices now widely recognized as central to early musicology.

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Music > Popular Music Research Unit


11 August 2015Published

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Date Deposited:

24 Nov 2015 16:31

Last Modified:

10 Jun 2021 08:21

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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