Pop Processing: The Digitalization of Musical Time and Space

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)


This dissertation explores two related advances in the production of twenty-first century pop music: first, the assimilation of practices and aesthetics from hip-hop and EDM (electronic dance music); second, the new generation of the digital audio workstation (DAW). This new type of DAW is increasingly part of global computational culture characterized by being ubiquitous, networked and device agnostic. Hip-hop and EDM practices are being integrated and revitalized in light of this digital logic. This has consequences for the production of pop. The dissertation combines theory on hip-hop and EDM practices, music production theory and new media studies. A main theme in the latter is how ubiquitous computing (ubicomp) culture affects interpretations of time and space; therefore, these theoretical inquiries are the main concerns of the two last articles of this article-based dissertation. In the first article, “Who Let the DAWs Out? The Digital in a New Generation of the Digital Audio Workstation”, I criticize music production theory’s focus on the physical recording studio and its band or rock-oriented approach, in which the digital is interpreted as a continuation of analog practices. Instead, I discuss how hip-hop and EDM practices can be found in the newer DAWs such as FL Studio and Ableton’s Live. These DAWs are characterized by offering control of interconnected loops and effects. Essentially, this can be interpreted as a shift from working with sound with embedded meaning to an ongoing negotiation of metadata that mutually affect each other in a processual macro-synthesis. In the second article, “Pop as Process: The Digitalization of Groove, Form and Time”, I further discuss the consequences of this fundamental shift to process. I criticize anthropocentric and phenomenological approaches to the connections between groove, form and time. I analyze Martin Garrix and Dua Lipa’s “Scared to be Lonely”, Post Malone’s “rockstar” and Katy Perry’s “Chained to the Rhythm.” The tracks display very different types of groove, form, teleology and heterogenous temporalities in their algorithmic processes. I also discuss new media studies’ approach to process philosophy, and particularly to Alfred North Whitehead. I conclude that the interpretations of these different types of processes are closely connected to timing characteristics that signify specific types of music technology. Digital pop displays new and often ambiguous relations between music and time, and these manifest prereflexively as so- called tacit knowledge. The third article, “Pop Materializing: Layers and Topological Space in Digital Pop Music”, argues that space in pop can be understood less as source-bonded orientational listening, and more as textural layers, where frequency-filters and compression increasingly become stagers of space compared to more traditional effects such as reverb or delay. I analyze this in The Weeknd’s ”The Hills”, Katy Perry’s ”Hey Hey Hey” and Billie Eilish’s “bury a friend”. I further discuss how pop can be interpreted as a mediatized materiality that, at the expense of proximity and intimacy, entails a topological unfolding of musical space and texture. I conclude that pop music production is increasingly defined by digital processes, and that this has fundamental implications for such essential musical parameters as time and space. This represents a challenge for the field of music production and more generally for popular music studies. New media studies have proved to be a constructive theoretical path. I further conclude that instead of traditional interpretations of lyrics, instrumental performance or biographies, the aesthetic value of pop music can perhaps be found in its digital unfolding and bending of time, space and sonic materiality.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Copenhagen
  • Steinskog, Erik , Supervisor, External person
  • Fink, Robert , Assistant supervisor, External person
Award date2021 Jun 3
Place of PublicationCopenhagen
Publication statusPublished - 2021 May
Externally publishedYes

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Musicology
  • Music


Dive into the research topics of 'Pop Processing: The Digitalization of Musical Time and Space'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this