How To Dance To Radiohead

by John Holbo on December 7, 2013

Many thanks to commenter speranza for so kindly constructing the instructional dance video I lazily requested. Really it works out wonderfully. (See earlier thread for minor musicological analysis.)



Katherine 12.07.13 at 10:06 am

It really does! That is very cool.


Unlearningecon 12.07.13 at 11:07 am

Wow, wasn’t expecting to enjoy that as much as I did.


john in california 12.07.13 at 9:20 pm

God! Makes me remeber everything good about acid!


Agog 12.08.13 at 1:37 pm

I just want to follow Uncle Ebeneezer’s mention, in the previous thread, of how great The Bends is by saying that of course while they have done interesting things since, Pablo Honey saw them at their peak. Ignoring the big hit from the album, Stop Whispering has to be the most important track in their oeuvre, and the rawness of Lurgee is still as compelling as it was way back then. I remember the scene in Oxford back then, and some of their early gigs were incredible.

(There – that’s how it’s done. NB. I didn’t actually see any of their early gigs but no doubt some of them were incredible. Though I did see them play the Zodiac in ’95. Best I’ve ever seen).


Agog 12.09.13 at 11:19 am

(For the sake of posterity I’d like to point out that I was mistaken yesterday: the Zodiac gig was in ’96. Sorry – it was a long time ago. . .)


bob_is_boring 12.09.13 at 3:36 pm

Very clever.



I don’t think that word means what you think it means — at least not in the way you’re trying to use it.

Meh; Monday morning nit-picking.


John Holbo 12.09.13 at 4:52 pm

“I don’t think that word means what you think it means — at least not in the way you’re trying to use it.”



godoggo 12.10.13 at 12:33 am

Wikipedia says, “Traditionally, historical musicology has been considered the largest and most important subdiscipline of musicology.” That’s what I think of when I hear the word, although apparently theory/analysis is a subdiscipline too.


John Holbo 12.10.13 at 2:13 am

It just sounds like bob is making a joke. I like jokes, so I wanted to know what it was.


bob_is_boring 12.10.13 at 4:04 pm

Ok, fine.

Theory/analysis belongs to a separate discipline (“music theory”); the divorce between musicology and theory was finalized in the 1970s, although the schism was evident long before that.

When contemporary musicologists engage in “analysis” (I am painting with a broad brush, here, and somewhat unfairly) it resembles literary criticism: interpretation with a side of observed phenomena. “Theorists” on the other hand (same caveat) tend to have little patience for whimsical, subjective readings, and are more interested in, well, theory and analysis.

The “New Musicology” (since about 1980) is perhaps the most extreme example of this schism, and the most lit-crit oriented, with more or less open disdain for the theoretical-analytical side of things.

(It’s probably already clear on which side of this divide I was trained.)

For 781 more musings on similar topics, please feel free to visit the academic-music-themed webcomic via the link to my nym.


John Holbo 12.11.13 at 1:25 am

Your site is funny, bob!

But I don’t quite get it about how ‘musicology’ is used, and I’m genuinely a bit curious, so take me to school.

I don’t know what you mean by ‘resembles literary criticism’ as opposed to ‘theory’ because, of course, literary criticism is heavily ‘theorized’. It all depends on what you mean by ‘literary criticism’ and ‘theory’. Let’s not discuss that. I want to know about ‘musicology’.

Do you mean there’s a divide between those who write about music in an appreciative, perhaps historicist, culturally contextualist vein but they don’t do a lot of actually ‘technical’ – I guess formalist might be the word – analysis. And those people are ‘musicologists’. Whereas the ‘theorists’ do …. ok, let’s go for an analogy here. When you read a Pitchfork review, there’s often a lot of good thinking about the band and the album. But I know I’m probably not going to read about how the use of odd chord such-and-such makes it be the case that the band is only ambiguously playing in the key of such-and-such. I’m not going to see a few key bars of Radiohead drums notated for my consideration, in a Pitchfork review. Pitchfork readers read about music without necessarily reading music. Is that sort of what you are getting at? Musicology is writing perhaps very knowledgeably about music without writing anything that you strictly need to be able to read music to read? Theory is the sort of thing that you just couldn’t read or write without being able to read and write musical notation itself. (That isn’t a definition. I’m not saying that reading music is tantamount to ‘doing theory’, obviously. And I’m not accusing Pitchfork reviewers of being unable to read musical notation.) I’m just genuinely curious how the word ‘musicology’ gets used. This is a new one on me.


bob_is_boring 12.11.13 at 6:03 am

Hi John,

You’re pretty close.

(And keep in mind that my brief analysis is both facile and biased; however, it represents the state of the field as I understand it.)

Music theorists (“theory” in this case meaning technical stuff, as you imagine: scales, chords, rhythm, meter, set theory…) are [again, broadly speaking] formalists. Or, perhaps better: music theory is formalist. Analyses explicate structures, tendencies, forms.

Musicology used to sort of mean “music history” with the attendant trappings of manuscript cataloging, reception theory, and so on. With the rise of literary criticism, musicology turned further towards interpretation (hermeneutics, what have you) — what music “means.”

It would not be fair to say that music theory, as a discipline, has escaped this tendency altogether — certainly the generation of theory professors who duly read their Foucault and Adorno in the 70s and 80s seemed to me to have extreme explicit or implicit postmodernist sympathies — theory still clings to formalism. Further — or perhaps another (albeit predictable) side of the same coin — musicology tends towards contextual interpretation, whereas theory-based analyses tend toward musical-object-as-such readings. Both sides, as it were, are at this point involved in “interpretation” of music — depending on the department and what have you.

It would be grossly unfair, however, to characterize musicology as a discipline for which it’s not necessary to read/write musical notation and have some knowledge of theory. (Ethnomusicology, on the other hand…but that’s another story.)

I might recommend the dueling essays

How We Got into Analysis, and How to Get out. Joseph Kerman. Critical Inquiry, Vol. 7, No. 2. (Winter, 1980), pp. 311-331


Agawu, K. (2004), How We Got Out of Analysis, and How to Get Back In Again. Music Analysis, 23: 267–286. doi: 10.1111/j.0262-5245.2004.00204.x

as a primer. Unsurprisingly, I side with Agawu.

(Sorry for the disparate citation formats; I was lazily copy-pasting.)

Thanks for engaging – I’m a recovering academic now, but this stuff is still dear to me.


John Holbo 12.11.13 at 7:24 am


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