The Music, Language, and Culture Workshop

EthNoise! presents Joseph Maurer


Please join us on Thursday, December 2 from 4:30-6pm on Zoom for a presentation from Joseph (Joe) Maurer, Ph.D. and Humanities Teaching Fellow in Music, with a response from Music Ph.D. candidate Hannah Judd:

“Anemoia Listening: Nostalgia, Fantasy, and Despair”

Abstract: In the twenty-first century, a new style of listening has emerged among members of the Gen-Z and Millennial generations. Characterized by fantasy and nostalgic longing for something they’ve never experienced, this style of listening can be observed online in various niche musical communities. In YouTube comments under synthwave and vaporwave music compilations, listeners discuss fantasies of future-pasts and retro-futures, of lives they might live if not constrained by their current late capitalist conditions. Reddit threads about sea chanteys abound with fantasies of life at sea, of sailing out beyond the service industry or office jobs in which the posters are trapped.

This paper proposes a theoretical framework for this new breed of listening practice, developed through analysis of the sound aesthetics of specific musical genres but with potential applicability beyond. Anemoia, a neologism coined by John Koenig for his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, is “nostalgia for a time you’ve never known.” Internet users have taken up the word, often deploying it in a literal historical sense, e.g., in the comments under YouTube videos of actual music from the 1980s (Ward 2021: 13–14). I propose a more expansive application of the term to young people’s listening practices today, particularly their listening to fantasy musics like synthwave or pirate chanteys that play with past and future, fact and fiction. This framework, which I call anemoia listening, offers a window into the fantasies of young people struggling with the dismal lack of opportunity and looming decline of present day society. However, it also illuminates the limits of imagination under capitalist realism (Fisher 2009). Just as these listeners cannot imagine the end of capitalism, they cannot imagine life before capitalism. Nonetheless, through anemoia listening—and the sheens of irony, anxiety, and despair so characteristic of these generations—they fashion fantasies that help them to escape at least their current conditions of decline.

Joe Maurer is a postdoctoral Humanities Teaching Fellow at the University of Chicago, where he recently completed a PhD in Ethnomusicology. He researches music education in Chicago immigrant communities, maritime music revivalism and aesthetics, and U.S.-based political music. His public and nonprofit-sector work includes research, strategic planning, and program evaluation for Chicago arts education organizations. Prior to his doctoral studies, Joe worked with high school students as a college access counselor in Providence, RI and Boston, MA.

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