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Dept of Music Lecture Series: Theodore Cateforis, “Soft/Loud: Form and Meaning in Alternative Rock of the 1990s.”
April 13, 2017 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Theodore Cateforis (Syracuse University)
From the twelve bar blues and AABA to the strophic and verse/chorus, the history of popular music has featured various song forms that have proven to be durable generic types. In the 1990s, alternative rock ushered in a novel variation on the verse/chorus, a form often referred to as the “soft/loud.” With its volatile juxtaposition of restrained verses and explosive choruses, featured most notably on Nirvana’s famed 1991 single “Smells like Teen Spirit,” the soft/loud form became a strong marker of alternative rock’s rebellious underground ethos. This talk examines the history and larger cultural and sonic meanings of the soft/loud form within alternative rock’s distinctive style. As we will see, for all its powerful associations, the very ubiquity of the soft/loud form by the mid-1990s was also perceived as a sign of alternative’s commercial homogenization and apparent death. By tracing subtle changes in the soft/loud over the course of the 1990s, we can hear clues to alternative’s rise and fall as a genre.