Christina Paine

Studio 3: Music is the Weapon: Performance, Culture and the Music Industry

Studio 3: Music is the Weapon

Studio brief

This interdisciplinary studio considers music, culture, identity, politics, music technology and film studies. It encourages students to investigate the contexts and politics which impact on, are reflected in, and which shape the variety of music practices which exist both now and in the pat. It accommodates a wide variety of industry-based and cultural perspectives, examining how have shaped music and its use in film and media. Issues of race, gender, class, culture and politics are fundamental: groups like Public Enemy, and singers like Nina Simone and Fela Kuti, for example, are emblematic of black struggle against white oppression. Female performers, and especially composers, have often been obscured in musical history; female opera singers in the nineteenth century, through their performing careers gained great financial and social independence, unparalleled among women of the time. Today, women in the music industry still suffer from narrow stereotyping in a male-dominated music industry, although many groups, performers and cultural practices such as Beyoncé, Madonna, Bjork, and Lady Gaga challenge these norms. Taylor Swift for example prompted wide debate concerning the downloading of music via the internet. A world view is encouraged and students have looked at music in struggle and its place in revolution, war and uprisings across the world. Themes of exploitation, gender identity, stereotyping, religious expression and cultural identity are welcomed.

There are many closely related subjects which are accommodated also such as music therapy, music industry business studies, city soundscapes - one could consider the identity of sounds connected with particular natural settings and architectural spaces or the relationship of therapeutic music to visual and architectural aspects of a hospital setting. Other topics could include the dissemination of music in the digital era, The Beatles’ legacy and heritage; musical instruments as symbols and icons; instruments and sustainability; emotion in music, media and film; music and instruments in different cultures and religious contexts across the world; gypsy jazz, hip hop, folk music; and opera, musical theatre, noise music, dance; music therapy; and states of consciousness in film music.

Although initially conceived for students of the Music Technology BSc and Musical Instruments BSc courses in mind, this studio welcomes students from all disciplines in The Cass.

Summer Preparation

Do three of the following: 

1.     Think about the kind of topic you might like to research and, after a bit of initial reading, come up with some research questions that you would like to investigate.  For example, read Nicholas Cook, Analysing Musical Multimedia (Oxford: Oxford University Press,1998) and/or David Neumeyer, 'Studying Music and Screen Media' in The Routledge Companion to Music and Visual Culture, edited by Tim Shephard and Anne Leonard (New York and London: Routledge, 2014), pp. 67-74 and consider what kind of investigation you could undertake in that field and building on the methods they use.

2.     Plan a short walk through varied sound environments, making brief notes of what you hear at several points.  On the return journey, make short (eg one-minute) recordings (it would be nice to have fancy equipment but it’s likely that your phone will do) at the same points (and others if you hear something interesting). How do your initial observations and your recordings compare?

3.     Take a well-known performer and/or genre of music and look at recordings, posters, films, books, reviews, images and consider how that performer’s musical, social or political identity is constructed. 

4.     Attend a musical performance and consider how the music is played or sung. Characterise the style of the music and consider the musical choices available to and made by the performer(s).  Assess how the performers’ identity (consider musical, political, social and other aspects) is constructed through the choices they make.

5.     Watch this video: Stuart Hall, Representation and The Media, in four parts on YouTube.

6.      Read Stuart Hall, The Question of Cultural ldentity.

First seven weeks of study

Week 1-7: will include both group sessions, in which we will consider aspects of our research field and appropriate methods of research, and a programme of exercises (in italics below) which will conduct you through planning and developing your own dissertation. Studio 3 will collaborate with Studio 15 in some sessions. This programme is indicative; it will be varied to suit the group.

Week 1: Introduction to the studio: examples of possible topic areas; ways of discovering and planning projects.  Small-group discussion of ideas and presentations of them if appropriate. Past student(s) will talk about their experience of writing a dissertation.

Preparation for proposing a dissertation topic.

Week 2: We will consider dissertation plans and the writing of proposals, individually and in small groups. Library research and sources, including Zotero training with Library Staff.

Propose an initial dissertation topic.

Week 3: Music, culture, power and meanings: We will watch parts of Music is the Weapon, a film about Fela Kuti and discuss the social and political power of music. Issues of racism, gender politics and National identity across different periods will be considered. Developing a dissertation plan: studio 3 requirements.

Week 4: How to construct and present an argument within your dissertation: an exercise based on different ways of arguing the importance of Public enemy’s ‘Fight the Power’, structuring your writing and referencing to best illustrate your arguments.  The MHRA short-title system will be demonstrated. Amplifying your dissertation plan.

Week 5: Visits to British Film Institute, National Gallery (to see the musical paintings), concert or soundwalk, followed by discussion of it in the following session. Submission of your dissertation plan (topic, rationale, methods, sources, initial time-plan).

Week 6: Lecture and seminar with visiting speaker, to be arranged when topic areas are clearer. Discussion of issues and thoughts raised in the week 6 visit. Presentation of your dissertation plan to the group.

Week 7: Planning individual topics: you will have time to discuss your dissertation individually and in groups. 

Refining your week-5 dissertation plan.

Lectures and seminars will be tailored to the interests of the group.

In week 14 there will be a dissertation conference in conjunction with Studio 15.

Reading list

  • Nicholas Cook and Mark Everist (eds.), Rethinking Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)
  • Georgina Born, Music, Sound and Space: Transformations of Public and Private Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)
  • Richard Middleton, Voicing the Popular: On the Subjects of Popular Music (London: Routledge, 2006), pp. 40-51   
  • John Baily, Ethnicity, Identity and Music: The Musical Construction of Place (Oxford: Berg, 1994)


Tutor Christina Paine

Tutor biography

Christina Paine

Tutor on the BSc (Hons) Musical Instruments, BSc (Hons) Music Technology (Sound for Media) and BSc (Hons) Music Technology (Music Production) courses

Christina teaches on the Musical Instruments, Sound for Media, and Music Production courses in the Cass, chiefly Critical and Contextual Studies, and supervises BSc dissertations.

Dissertation Studios

Studio 1: Another India

Harriet McKay

Studio 1: Another India will examine, reflect upon and critique the historic use of "exotic" motifs in design.

Studio 2: Contemporary Ecology

Nabil Ahmed

In Studio 2 we will explore environmental topics through the lens of art, architecture, spatial practice, media and design disciplines.

Studio 3: Music is the Weapon: Performance, Culture and the Music Industry

Christina Paine

Studio 3: Music is the Weapon: Performance, Culture and the Music Industry is an exploration of race, gender, class and more in music.

Studio 4: Not allowed

Emma Davenport

Studio 4: What Not to Wear? will investigate the roles that dress and fashion play in our workplaces.

Studio 5: Imperfect Theories

Ektoras Arkomanis

Studio 5: Imperfect Theories allows you to critically examine any work that can be seen as theory or presents an interesting relationship with theory.

Studio 6: Curating as a Spatial Practice: From the Wunderkammer to Installation art

Nico de Oliveira

Studio 6: This dissertation studio is designed to help students who are interested in curating as a broad subject, as well as those who wish to contextualise their own practice within the scope of displaying art.

Studio 7: Souvenir

Dr Lesley Stevenson

Studio 7: This studio is concerned with those objects that are lent a particular enchantment because of their relationship with the past.

Studio 8: Post – card

Edwina Attlee

Studio 8 will look at one element of that system – the picture postcard – from a number of different perspectives.

Studio 9: ‘The Form of the Text’

Danielle Hewitt

Studio 9: Together we will explore the space of criticism; acknowledging our point of encounter with objects, places, sites and processes and the relationship between text, writer and reader.

Studio 10: Constellating

Sinead Evans

As creative practitioners we digest and produce images every day – as citizens of the digital age we consume between hundreds and thousands of images each day. This dissertation studio will slim down your daily diet to one image.

Studio 11: Science Fiction Futurity

Luke Jones

Speculative descriptions of the future reveal a magnified — or distorted — reflection of the fears and desires of the present.

Studio 12: Alternative Fashioned Modernities

Lezley George

Much is happening in the world today that foregrounds questions pertinent to our identities in a globalised world.

Studio 13: Desire, Trauma, History

Jonathan Whitehall

How does the relationship of memory to fantasy affect history? What are the links between desire, sexuality and trauma? How are these relationships played out or negotiated in visual and written practice? These questions will form the beginning of our enquiries into artworks, films and literature.

Studio 14: Design and Nature: Forms of an Entanglement

Gabriele Oropallo

We will look at how the idea of nature has been constructed over time and place, and study its impact on design practice in an age marked by the sustainability imperative.

Studio 15: Music, Technology and Ideas

Lewis Jones

Studio 15: Music, Technology and Ideas encourages you to explore how and why we make music, including its origin, relationship to technology and more.

Studio 16: Narrative and Storytelling

Jon Baldwin

Studio 16: Narrative and Storytelling will see you produce storygraphs, storyboards and various forms of narrative analysis in the seminars.

Studio 17: Knowing Audiences

Jeremy Collins

Studio 17: Knowing Audiences will encourage you to study an audience group using qualitative research methods in your investigations.

Studio 18: Time and the Image

David Howells

This workshop will address some perennial problems of writing in the field of visual culture.

Studio 19: Material in Motion

Heidi Yeo

Studio 19: This studio will explore a reading of objects focusing on the interplay between materials, the objects they form and their context.

Studio 20: The Liminal

Andrew Hewish

This Dissertation Studio examines instances of the liminal as they occur in critical theory and culture, and is open to any topic and students from all disciplines.

Studio 21: Reading the library (and nothing but the library)

Joseph Kohlmaier

This year, Studio 21 will stage an unusual experiment. It will move, unpack, catalogue, and perform readings from one private library; and make this library, without exception, the single resource for all the research and writing in the studio.

Studio 22: Meaningful work

Paul Harper

Studio 22: Meaningful work explores the value of making and the idea of craft as meaningful work.

Studio 23: A Common Thread

Gina Pierce

Studio 23: In A Common Thread, we unpick and examine the importance of textiles and how they underpin culture, industry, and global connections.

Cass Studios archive by year