Beyond Verse and Chorus: Experimental Formal Structures in Post-Millennial Rock Music
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Rock songs are generally considered formally simplistic, based around alternation of verse and chorus, the latter functioning as the song’s selling point—an easily identifiable advertisement for the song-as-commodity. However, many rock songs composed in the last ten to fifteen years are not structured in this way. Pieces composed by artists in the genres known as “post-rock,” “art rock,” “math-metal,” and “neo-prog” often feature forms that, instead of treating a repeated chorus as the dramatic high point, emphasize a single moment of climactic material at the end; and some present new material from beginning to end, resulting in an entirely through-composed formal structure. This dissertation explores the link between these post-millennial experimental rock genres and the experimental song forms used by artists in those genres. Chapter One includes a literature review, identifies a mode of thought I call the “Verse/Chorus Paradigm,” and then presents a concise rock historiography that casts certain artists and genres on either side of that paradigm, either as conventional or experimental. In Chapter Two, I suggest revisionist theories of conventional rock form, present new models of climaxes and endings, and define experimental formal structures that will be used throughout the analyses in later chapters. “Terminally-Climactic Form”—a formal type I have identified throughout post-millennial rock music—is the topic of Chapter Three. In this form, a single moment of new material at the end acts as the song’s focal point, rather than the chorus, the de facto focal point in conventional rock. I construct archetypes and provide analyzed examples for three classifications of Terminally-Climactic Form: two-part, three-part, and extended. In Chapter Four, I explore the more radical departure from conventional rock forms made possible by through-composition. Toward this aim, I construct a genetic taxonomy of four through-composed types based on an analogy to formal alleles; just as in Chapter Three, each of these types is supported with analyzed examples from the post-millennial experimental rock corpus. My dissertation concludes by considering some formally ambiguous pieces, and suggests how my formal theories might be adapted to analysis of more familiar, conventional rock music.
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