Researching and Performing Jazz

By Lee Griffiths, Birmingham School of Media

Click here to listen to the accompanying music to this essay, which is part of an MA project in the Birmingham School of Media.

My research interests are centred around jazz in its various forms. In this essay I will trace the genealogy of my research interests from my experience as a performer through to the research which I am currently pursuing on this MA course. Specifically I will highlight the resonances which exist between my research interests and the term ‘media cultures’, arguing in favour of the German school of media theory as a model for understanding the role of media in the development of jazz.

Many of my perspectives on jazz are influenced by my time studying on the BMus (Hons) Jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire. At the conservatoire I studied jazz from the perspective of a performer and musicologist and became an active member of the Birmingham jazz scene. During this time I also became interested in philosophy, which led me to ask questions about jazz which I felt weren’t being addressed on the course. My interest in researching jazz from a nonmusicological perspective led me to become involved with the BCMCR jazz research cluster which drew heavily on cultural studies.

Through my involvement with the jazz research cluster and my subsequent time studying on the MA course my research interests have become more focused on specific areas of jazz studies. Generally speaking my research interests are concerned with a post- or perhaps anti-Hegelian conception of jazz as a cultural practice, drawing on postmodern theory to critique humanist notions of jazz. In particular I am interested in how postmodern theory can offer new ways of thinking about jazz historiography, epistemology, and ontology at a time when changes in technology are reshaping the boundaries between the immediacy of improvised jazz and the highly mediated cultural landscape in which this improvisation takes place.

Given the highly mediated nature of jazz as a cultural practice, the conceptual framework offered up by the term ‘media cultures’ suggests a number of lines of enquiry which pertain to my research interests. My own approach to researching the media cultures which produce and are produced by jazz, is heavily influenced by German media theorists like Friedrich Kittler, Wolfgang Ernst, and Bernhard Siegert. Drawing together the largely humanist works of 18th century German philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche with late 19th and 20th century theorists of technology and media such as Heidegger, the Frankfurt School, and Marshall McLuhan, the German media theorists suggest unified theories of media and culture .

From the perspective developed by Kittler in his work ‘Gramophone, Film, Typewriter’ (1999), it is no coincidence that jazz emerged as a global art form at the same historical moment as the gramophone came into common usage. Jazz music was different to both the literate tradition of western classical music and the orality of folk music traditions, best defined instead by Walter Ong’s term ‘secondary orality’ (Ong, 2013). For this reason, understanding the medial and technological landscape in which jazz developed is invaluable in trying to understand jazz as a cultural practice.
German media theory also suggests ways of understanding the changes in the performance and mediation of jazz that have been, and continue to be driven by, the advent of the internet and digital media. In addition to the widespread changes across the music industry by the internet, there are a number of changes which have come about in the 21st century which are specific to jazz, given its improvisational nature and specific cultural values. In this module I have chosen to focus on researching a recent phenomenon in jazz culture which has been made possible, perhaps even inevitable, by contemporary developments in media technology i.e. jazz performance in domestic spaces.

Typically jazz performances have tended to occur in the social sphere (clubs, studios, music colleges, etc.) but the widespread availability of cheap sound recording technology and access to channels of communication via the internet have made jazz performances in domestic spaces not only possible but commonplace. Jacob Collier’s home recordings (2016), Facebook group ‘Jam of The Week’ (Newton, 2019), and Louis Cole’s ‘Live Session’ video (Cole, 2018), all serve as recent examples of jazz performance in the domestic sphere. Drawing on extant scholarship on media technology in the domestic sphere I intend to investigate the shifting socio-cultural power relations which emerge from the movement of jazz into domestic spaces.
It is my hope that by studying the phenomenon of jazz in domestic spaces I will become more familiar with German media theory and understand the insights which it can glean about jazz as a cultural phenomenon. I also hope that this research will give me a better understanding of my own position as a musician working and playing in a media environment.


Cole, L., (2018). F it up – Louis Cole (Live Sesh) [Video]. YouTube. Available from: https:// [Accessed: 14 February 2019].
Collier, J., (2016). In My Room [Album]. Membran Entertainment Group.
Hirsch, E. and Silverstone, R. eds., (2003). Consuming technologies: Media and information in domestic spaces. Routledge.
Kittler, F.A., (1999). Gramophone, film, typewriter. Stanford University Press.
Livingstone, S., (2007). From family television to bedroom culture: Young people’s media at home.
Media studies: Key issues and debates, pp.302-321.
Newton, F., (2019). Jam Of The Week [Online]. Facebook. Available from: https:// [Accessed: 14 February 2019].
Ong, W.J., (2013). Orality and literacy. Routledge.
Siegert, B., (2013). Cultural techniques: Or the end of the intellectual postwar era in German media theory. Theory, Culture & Society, 30(6), pp.48-65.

The Male Gaze Re-Invented: Amateur Visuals at Underground Gigs

By Bryony Williams, Birmingham School of Media

As a performer and audience member, a certain trend has come to my attention where older male audience participants seem to be exclusively filming female performers during their shows. Of course I understand the attraction of collecting a snapshot of an experience as a memoire or to gain cultural capital (Colburn, 2015), however implications arise when such new media practice becomes an infringement upon the performer’s agency.

Using qualitative feminist audience research, I explore the social concerns camera recording produces and present numerous of anxious outcomes and possibilities. In order to collect primary material, I have published two separate open-calls on both Facebook and Twitter, enquiring about the impact of camera recording at live music shows. Seven out of twenty respondents touched upon negative impacts regarding comfortability for the performer, respect from the audience and the aspect of fetishized fandom. By exploring both audience members and performers attitudes and by drawing upon select experiences, this short dialogue aims to produce a feminist consensus surrounding the ethics of camera recording in relation to gender.

The Male Gaze, Reproduced…
The male gaze theory, first conceptualised by Mulvey (1975) has become a dominant feminist framework within the exploration of film culture, gender, and sexuality, where the placement of a female on screen can be seen for the pleasure of the heterosexual male audience, and thereby, ‘produce an illusion cut to the measure of desire’ (Mulvey, 1975: 67). This construction of the female form and its history of being eroticised for public display feeds into the support of the patriarchy (Mulvey, 2013), where cultural and expressional spaces, such as live music venues, remain gendered because of the objectifying practices present.

Western society has somewhat progressed in terms of equality and attitudes since Mulvey’s initial theory, however, according to McRobbie (2009), we have arrived at the next ‘sexual contract’ for young women in contemporary culture. This renewed sexual contract is heavily influenced through the production and consumption of social media (Zajc, 2013), where various issues regarding audience participation proposes negative impacts on one’s agency and mental health (Vogel et al, 2014). McRobbie further states how subtle renewals of gender injustices are coming into play, while “vengeful patriarchal norms are also reinstated” (2009: 55).

I propose that the act of camera recording can be argued to be one of these subtle gender injustices because of the negative effect it can cause towards female performers regarding their self-esteem and safety,

“Honestly, most of the gigs we do there’s just a row of men filming the WHOLE thing at the front. It makes us really uncomfortable sometimes.”
– Alex, bassist in Punk band, Witch Fever, a quote from our conversation.

This negative impact shows how audience participation can effect an artist’s performance and mood, albeit, this scenario is caused through male activity and collective, traditional entitlement. This reflects Mulvey’s theory on the construction of female erotica for a male’s pleasure, and if posted online, it becomes available for others to encapsulate their experience through screen. Puwar (2004) suggests that this ‘burden of representation’ women face is due to the existing patriarch and the idea of surveillance. Therefore, enhanced judgement and critique is placed upon women where minor social, performative mistakes are shown as evidence of gender incompetence in order to feed into hegemonic masculinity.

Between fandom and fetish is a thin line…
The theme of fetishism has arose on two separate occasions during this research in response to how audience members present themselves. In this instance, the collection of camera recordings, where the performance, and thus, the performer becomes a commodity in the process, could be argued to be situated within anthropological and commercial fetishism (Gamman, 1995). Alex (2019) shows how she negotiates with her onstage agency and personal beliefs while being viewed through high symbolic status, that despite her distress, she places herself within secondary context in the pursuit of maintaining trust (Alexander, 2006) and shared identity (Jiang and Carroll, 2014) between her band, Witch Fever and their audience in order to secure long-term interest, which in this case would be the longevity and loyalty of Witch Fever’s fanbase.

This reflects Buckley and Fawcett’s work where young women are able to put themselves ‘on show’ in public, physical spaces (2002: 135) and can transmit ‘heterosexual camp, a hyper-femininity that carries disorientating visual power and positions women centre-stage’ (2002: 138). This freedom offers experimental performance within sexualised practices which can be expressed through the use of revealing clothing. However, similar to Griffin (2005) who argues the continuation of the double standard produced through positive development for female sexual subjectivity, female performers are clearly still in dispute over how male audience members interact with their act, and thus, their agency.

“It feels like we get fetishized by these men but they don’t really realise they’re doing it as most of them are nice and support us. I don’t really know how to feel about it. We can’t really say anything because they haven’t done anything wrong but it’s definitely uncomfortable.”
– Alex, bassist in Punk band, Witch Fever, a quote from our conversation.

“In town there is an old guy who always goes to concerts with a camera. He takes pictures only of girls… This does feel weird, yet I don’t see a way of stopping him. Between fandom and fetish is a thin line”.
Suonoreale. a user on Twitter.

Post Effect…
So what happens to this metadata?
This question is important because on an individual basis, metadata cannot be monitored which can cause social anxiety (Graham et al., 2018). As a generalisation we can presume that the metadata will act as a social media post to signify a memory, an experience, and ultimately act as a form of online communication, self-presentation, and self-promotion (Eftekhar et al., 2014).

However, what if the metadata isn’t posted?

This idea provokes further questions of suspicion, that Mulvey’s male gaze theory can then be reproduced after the event in a private space, and that metadata is now within ownership of the visual recorder themselves meaning that the performer has an on-going lack of control over their performance and representation. The men who are recording may not consciously be aware of the objectivity they are producing, yet this underpins the subconscious devaluation of a woman’s presence in society and onstage and proves a problematic area worthy of cultural research.

“I have no clue where those photos end up”.
Hannah, solo artist from New York, a quote from our conversation.

“I think some of “them” post it online but honestly it’s such shitty quality, like it’s always just off their phones, and a lot of them probably don’t”.
Alex, bassist in Punk band, Witch Fever, a quote from our conversation.

This essay is part of an MA project in the Birmingham School of Media.

Podcast Series: The Rise of the Cultural Entrepreneur

This series of podcasts about my book, Cultural Entrepreneurship, are in French and English. They were produced in conversation with my colleagues Dr Karen Patel (English version) and Professor Paul Long (French version).

In this podcast, The Rise of the Cultural Entrepreneur, I explore who is a cultural entrepreneur and how we might compare or contrast them to entrepreneurs. I mention scholars who take a critical view of entrepreneurship in the creative industries and I introduce the idea of ‘becoming’ a cultural entrepreneur.

The Rise of the Cultural Entrepreneur – in English

The Rise of the Cultural Entrepreneur – in French

Cultural Entrepreneurship Podcast Series: In Conversation with Daniella Genas-Ogunbanjo

In this podcast, I discuss my new book Cultural Entrepreneurship: The Cultural Worker’s Experience of Entrepreneurship with entrepreneur and business consultant Daniella Genas-Ogunbanjo.

Daniella is a multi award winning entrepreneur, experienced business consultant and advocate for women in business. A former student from BCU’s School of Media, Daniella was alumni of the year in 2012, when she was running her event management business and a social enterprise, Aspire4U.

Listen to our conversation below:

Diversity and Cultural Leadership in the West Midlands

How can we address inequalities of representation in the cultural workforce and specifically in cultural and arts leadership?

Working with Professor Jenny Phillimore at University of Birmingham, Dr Karen Patel and I were commissioned to investigate existing data on Cultural Leadership and Diversity in the West Midlands. The study has been produced as part of our research at Birmingham Centre for Cultural and Media Research (BCMCR) will contribute to a wider study investigating diversity and leadership across a range of industries, in the region.

We have made key findings and our recommendations available here. We offer original findings on the diversity of leadership based on our analysis of ACE National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) in the West Midlands. We highlight areas which need further research and policy attention in relation to cultural leadership, and offer a working definition of cultural leadership. Our research highlights the significance of freelancers and cultural entrepreneurs in the sector, creating complexity in how we view leadership training and opportunities. We also draw attention to good practice in the region, specifically to projects such as RE:Present16 and ASTONish.


Diversity, Superdiversity, Decolonise not Diversify

Some thoughts on ‘diversity’ and recent debates.

I recently completed an evaluation of RE:Present, a very successful programme which focused on developing the skills and knowledge of 35 diverse cultural leaders in Birmingham. As a result of that work, I can’t stop thinking about the term ‘diversity’ and whether it is helpful or not. Continue reading Diversity, Superdiversity, Decolonise not Diversify