Pop Conference

A melting pot for fans, musicians, scholars, and journalists.

  1. Director of Curatorial Affairs Jasen Emmons speaks at the Pop Conference 2015 keynote address.

    Photo courtesy AJ Dent.

  2. American author, music journalist, and cultural critic Greil Marcus joined the weekend's discussions of pop culture and music scholarship.

    Photo courtesy Nat Seymour.

  3. Local Seattle act TacocaT took part in a showcase of subversive Seattle music performed by some of the region’s most oppositional and talented bands.

    Photo courtesy AJ Dent.

The annual EMP Pop Conference, first held in 2002, mixes together ambitious music writing of every kind, in an attempt to bring academics, critics, musicians, and dedicated fans into a collective conversation.


From a Whisper to a Scream: The Voice in Music

2016 Conference Information


From a Whisper to a Scream: The Voice in Music

The voice in music goes beyond singing: “The ‘grain’ is the body in the voice as it sings, the hand as it writes, the limb as it performs,” Roland Barthes wrote. Voices insert the self into music: Billie Holiday stopping poet Frank O’Hara’s breath with her choices of tempo and timbre, Neil Young transfixing rock fans with his “Old Black” Gibson electric guitar tone, the sentimiento of the sung bolero resonating across the Americas.

Finding their voice, performers—on stage, on camera, and recording in studios—make us identify, naturalize change. But voices embody community too, as in “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the “Black National Anthem” written by (pioneering popular music scholar) James Weldon Johnson, and they are the foundation of protest, the megaphone for social change. A switch in voice—from croon to rasp to rap to Auto-Tune—alters meaning and social statement. 

For this year’s EMP Pop Conference, we invite presentations that explore, across all styles and time periods, the role of voice in music. This might include:

  • Vocalization: the technical, theatrical, and technological underpinnings of bringing out the voice in music; creating vocal “characters” and characteristics
  • Vocal Cords: the body in music; sonic materiality; medical and scientific factors
  • Communal Voices: group singing, from choirs and quartets to karaoke; choices of accent and identity
  • Instruments as Voices, Voices as Instruments: talking drums, crying guitars, wailing horns; vocal breathiness, sound but not words, articulate inarticulacy
  • Voces: speech, song, and noise outside Eurocentric sound making; how voices carry U.S. pop styles around the globe, and how forms from beyond the U.S mainstream are woven into that fabric
  • Challenging Voices: naturalized ideals or expectations of race, gender, sexuality disrupted by the androgynous, post-human, transcultural, “freak”
  • Voices of Protest: the noisy voice in politics and as an expression of dissent
  • Writing Voices: methodology; finding a voice as a music writer; authorial voice developed in relationship to singing voices
  • Vox Populi: fan and audience voices, reality TV singing competitions, new media platforms, amateur/professional divides, good and bad singing, listening 



November 16, 2015 to conference organizer Eric Weisbard (University of Alabama) at Eric.Weisbard@gmail.com.


Individual proposals for 20-minute presentations should be 300 words, with a 75-word bio. For three-person (90-minute) or four-person (120-minute) panel proposals, include a one-paragraph overview and individual statements of 300 words with a 75-word bio. For roundtables, outline the subject in up to 500 words, include a 75-word bio for each panelist, and specify desired panel length. We welcome unorthodox proposals: ask for submission advice. Please include emails for all participants. Limit proposals to one presentation per person, thanks, save for appearing a second time on larger roundtable proposals.


PDF Resources

Call for Proposals

Program Committee Members

Christine Bacareza Balance (University of California, Irvine), María Elena Cepeda (Williams College), Jasen Emmons (EMP Museum), Jack Halberstam (University of Southern California), journalist Jewly Hight, Mark Katz (University of North Carolina),Chris Molanphy (Slate), Charles Mudede (The Stranger), Ann Powers (NPR Music), Zandria Robinson (Rhodes College), Steve Waksman (Smith College)


Support for the conference is provided by the University of Alabama College of Arts & Sciences, on behalf of the Department of American Studies.