Systems music on Spiro’s Pole Star: Balancing Musical Experiment and Tradition in Folk Revival
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Theoretical frameworks of folk revival applied by folklorists and (ethno-)musicologists have related revival to identity formation of social groups (divided by class or race), local communities and national “imagined” communities. New theoretical models extend this framework with a transnational, post-revival perspective in which the focus lies on what happens after music traditions are revived. Instead of playing arbiter between “authentic” and imagined/reconstructed music practices, artists and scholars now re-explore creative balances between tradition/innovation, national/international, past/future, and even low/high art. Progressive revival genres have abandoned the concern for “authenticity” by merging traditional and modern musical idioms. Nonetheless, modern folk artists remain connected to an initial revival impulse because they depend on its commercial infrastructure and musical source material. In this thesis I investigate the combination of British traditional music and American minimalism through the post-revival lens. A case study of the album Pole Star by English folk band Spiro demonstrates what compositional techniques of systems music play a role in Spiro’s arrangements, and how they interact with historical melodies. The analysis exposes what musical characteristics of these opposite worlds blend together, coexist or clash with one another. The extended length and lyrical characteristic of historical melodies prove to be crucial factors in determining the crossroad between tradition and modernity in Spiro’s approach.