Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Performing Authorship in the Music of Contemporary Singer-Songwriters

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posted on 2021-11-15, 10:05 authored by Lipscombe, Ailsa

This thesis explores the dynamic and oftentimes puzzling relationship between singer, song, and listener in the music of contemporary singer-songwriters. I argue that this relationship is simultaneously understood through and confused by the use of indeterminate pronouns in song lyrics. The crossing over of language from speech to song leads to a multiplicity of “readings” of music and artists, where the “I” of the song’s narrator is elided with the “I” of the composer and the “I” of the performer. In this research I highlight the importance of listener experience in the ways these “I”s are contextualized and examined, shedding light on the dynamic and varied ways listeners are already engaging with this music. I also explore how these understandings ultimately impact listeners’ broader perceptions of the often-gendered values of emotional honesty and truthfulness of singer-songwriters.  This research brings together original ethnographic research and theoretical explorations of musical and literary authorship and interpretation, focusing on the creative work of three singer-songwriters – Amanda Palmer, Hera Hjartardóttir, and Katie Morton. By drawing on these diverse research areas and musical repertoires, I propose an interdisciplinary model that highlights the active role listeners play in the creation (or discovery) of musical meaning. My hope is that this thesis opens up a space for future discussions to take place that examine the many layers of live performance that impact and inform interpretations of narrative, while also giving a voice to the listeners and fans whose engagement forms a crucial element of these singer-songwriter performances.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Music

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970119 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of the Creative Arts and Writing

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

New Zealand School of Music


Cosper, David; Cannady, Kim