Robert Fink at UNLV – May 3, 2022, 5:00 p.m.

The Arnold Shaw Popular Music Center presents a lecture by Robert Fink, musicologist at the Herb Alpert School of Music, UCLA. The event is free and open to the public.

Playlist Culture and the Art of Transition

When and Where:
May 3, 2022
5:00 p.m.
Harmon Auxiliary Building, UNLV
Room 110
1325 E. Harmon Avenue
Las Vegas, NV 89119

The phrase “playlist culture” conjures up a musical world dominated by algorithms, one whose rise spells the death of the record album and the ecosystem of creativity it once enabled. But playlist culture, balanced between opposing aesthetics of mashup and flow, encourages us to explore new structures of feeling rooted in second-order music making. While genre-busting collages of heterogenous elements — mashups — get a lot of attention, it is equally suggestive to investigate the pragmatics of flow. What techniques are available for organizing a playlist of pre-existing musical elements so that they flow seamlessly into each other, creating a single, overwhelming experience? How can radically heterogenous elements be mixed into a homogenous flow?In electronic dance music, the DJ set is an exceptionally sophisticated form of playlist culture dominated by a rigorous art of transition, developed by pioneering dance DJs like Paul Oakenfold. A close reading of Oakenfold’s 1994 “Goa” Mix — still the single most requested DJ set ever broadcast by the BBC — discloses (1) elaborate preparation and execution of key transitional moments and (2) their marshaling into a single large-scale structure of dramatic yet orderly flow.


Robert Fink is a past chair of the UCLA Musicology department, and currently Chair of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music’s Minor in the Music Industry. He also currently serves as President of the US Branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM-US). His research focus is on music and culture after 1950, with special interests in the history and analysis of African-American popular music and the politics of contemporary art music.

His book, Repeating Ourselves, a study of American minimal music as a cultural practice, appeared in 2005 from the University of California. More recent published work appears in The Journal of the American Musicological Society (an essay on analyzing Motown’s rhythms, which was honored by the Popular Music Interest Group of the Society for Music Theory), The Oxford Handbook of Opera, and Cambridge Opera Journal.

Before coming to UCLA, Fink taught at the Eastman School of Music (1992-1997), and has been a visiting professor at Yale University (2006) and a Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center (1998-99). His ongoing projects include Declassified, a study of art music, urban space, and politics; and The Relentless Pursuit of Tone, an edited collection of essays on “sound” in popular music.

Fink’s UCLA lecture course on “The History and Practice of Electronic Dance Music” was the first of its kind at a major university; it was named the “Best College Pop Music Class” of 2002 by Spin Magazine. He also teaches on Motown and Soul, the History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and on pop music and politics in UCLA’s long-running interdisciplinary Freshman Cluster on America in the 1960s. His dissertation advisees have won tenure-track positions at the University of Texas at Austin, UC Irvine, University of Richmond, and the Southern Methodist University, among others.

Fink has been a frequent public speaker on contemporary art music in Los Angeles, presenting lectures at Disney Hall, the Getty Center, and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. He has presented numerous “On the Road” programs for Bruin alumni, and has been a featured speaker on popular music during UCLA’s on-campus Parent’s Weekend. He comments on contemporary trends at the American Musicological Society’s “Musicology Now” blog. More information and unpublished work.

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