Research Output

Cultures of Listening: The popular aesthetics of 'difficult music'.

  Difficulty and complexity are values most often associated with a modernist avant-garde of ‘serious’ music. Their presence in popular music tends to attract the opprobrium of critics who seek to maintain a purity for popular music founded on values of authenticity, sincerity and directness of expression. In my presentation I will explore the critical discourse of audiences for difficult music in popular culture, such as avant-rock, Noise and free improvisation. I will show how and where audiences listen to and derive pleasure from music that sits on the intersection between the popular and the avant-garde. Rather than engage in arid exercises in intellectualism, which is how many critics might expect such audiences to behave, fans of the popular avant-garde encounter difficulty and complexity through a fertile variety of social situations, interpretations and aesthetic judgements.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    02 October 2013

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    M1 Music


Atton, C. (2013, October). Cultures of Listening: The popular aesthetics of 'difficult music'



Popular music; audience response; listening; cultural discourse; avant-rock; Noise; free improvisation;

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