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Musicology Colloquium: Eric Drott, "Music, Sleep, Social Reproduction"

Thursday, February 7, 2019 at 4:30pm

Lincoln Hall, 124
Dept of Music, 101 Lincoln Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-4101, USA

Eric Drott is Associate Professor of Music Theory at the University of Texas at Austin. He is author of Music and the Elusive Revolution: Cultural Politics and Political Culture in France, 1968-1981. Current projects include a book on music streaming platforms and The Oxford Handbook of Protest Music, co-edited with Noriko Manabe.


In July 2014 the streaming platform Spotify unveiled an addition to its browse page. Alongside familiar musical genres like “Indie” or “R&B” was a new playlist category: Sleep™. Spotify’s active promotion of music to sleep to was part of a broader shift then underway within the streaming music industry, one that increasingly defined music in terms of the moods, contexts, and activities it might accompany. But Spotify’s sleep-oriented playlists were representative of other developments taking place beyond the virtual space of its platform. Above all, the platform’s characterization of sleep as a necessity for life, and music as a privileged means of inducing it, held up a refracted mirror to sleep’s parlous status at present, as the demands of what Jonathan Crary has dubbed 24/7 capitalism run up against the “profound uselessness and intrinsic passivity” of this human physiological process.

This paper interrogates how Sleep™ (the playlist category) figures into the efforts of Spotify and other streaming platforms to overcome the limits placed upon capital accumulation by the “profound uselessness” of sleep (the physiological process). In particular, it sees in Sleep™ and other contextual playlists a symptom of how streaming platforms have increasingly sought to figure music as a technology of individual and social reproduction. To make sense of music’s role in such activities, this paper puts into dialogue two seemingly antithetical approaches to thinking music’s relation to the social. One is historical materialism; the other is work informed by the “practice turn” in music sociology, exemplified by Tia DeNora’s studies of music as a “technology of the self.” By taking seriously the proposition that music may function as a technology, and by reframing this proposition along materialist lines, I hope to shed light on the way music, by helping individuals reproduce themselves, also helps to reproduce them as labor power. By simultaneously driving down the cost of music and normalizing its therapeutic, prosthetic, and self-regulatory uses, technologies of digital music distribution have come to cast music as a cheap resource that can be harnessed to replenish the cognitive, affective, and/or communicative energies strained by the contemporary crisis of social reproduction.



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Lecture, Music


Department of Music


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