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Progressive Rock and Metal:  Towards a Contemporary Understanding

Posted: June 3rd, 2019 | Filed under: Calls for Papers | No Comments »

The 4th Biennial International Conference of the Progect Network for the Study of Progressive Rock

Hosted by Lori Burns at the University of Ottawa, May 20-22, 2020 (Ottawa, Canada)


Progressive Rock and Metal: Towards a Contemporary Understanding aims to explore the past and present contexts of the genres of progressive rock and metal. With its origins in the psychedelic counterculture and freeform rock radio (a format featuring long-playing records) in the late 1960s, progressive rock of the 1970s was characterized by formal complexity, dynamic variety, instrumental experimentation, and the influence of classical and jazz music. While progressive rock flourished in the 1970s with bands such as Pink Floyd, Genesis, and Rush, the 1980s and 1990s saw the rise of progressive metal as a major development within the metal scene. Bands such as Dream Theater, Tool, and Meshuggah presented a new style of metal that embraced many of the values of progressive rock (e.g. harmonic, rhythmic, and formal complexity, instrumental virtuosity, and concept-driven albums) and ventured into new and innovative musical territories such as dense chromaticism and polyrhythmic structures.

Since 2000, progressive metal has thrived with artists such as Pain of Salvation, Symphony X, and Devin Townsend. At the same time, metal bands such as Opeth, The Gathering, and Anathema have shifted away from metal subgenres towards progressive rock. Artists such as Porcupine Tree, Riverside, and The Pineapple Thief have reprised 70s progressive rock aesthetics while also exploring progressive metal and alternative rock stylings. Progressive bands have also explored genre intersections, resulting in a diversity of styles and crossovers. For instance, the progressive aesthetics of the 1970s have been revitalized in “new-prog,” a genre which blends contemporary punk stylings with progressive rock, as exemplified by bands such as The Mars Volta, Coheed & Cambria, and Circa Survive. The progressive bands of the new millennium are thus influenced by a range of genres, including progressive rock and metal, post-hardcore, electronica, industrial, alternative rock, jazz-rock, experimental rock, and post-rock. The genre fusions and stylistic eclecticism of the past twenty years have led to a profusion of progressive rock and metal styles, and progressive features have surfaced in other music genres such as alternative rock and indie rock, as exemplified by bands such as American Football, Minus the Bear, and The Dear Hunter. With this musical corpus, artists engage with a range of musical and worldbuilding strategies. In the 70s, progressive rock advanced the concept album and intermedia forms with works such as Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway Tour (1974) or Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979). Contemporary progressive bands have continued and furthered the transmedia aspects of musical expression through elaborate concept-based recordings, music videos, films, print materials, and other media forms (e.g. Steven Wilson’s Hand Cannot Erase (2015) or Coheed and Cambria’s Amory Wars series (2002-present)). Much scholarly work is needed to explore the musical expression, structural elements, production values, worldbuilding strategies, critical and fan reception, and other discursive aspects of the genre.

The Progect Network has met in France (2014), in Scotland (2016), and in Sweden (2018). The 2020 meeting will mark the first North American hosting of this conference and will thus expand participation and open the scholarly dialogue in exciting ways. This conference will bring together scholars who have addressed the musical structures and expression of 1970s progressive rock, as well as scholars working on the more contemporary manifestations of the progressive. We encourage submissions from scholars from a range of disciplinary orientations. In opening this dialogue, we seek to address several themes, in order to work towards a core definition shared by progressive rock and metal. These themes include, but are not limited to:

  • the foundational musical forms and structures of progressive rock/metal;
  • musical characteristics held in common across the progressive rock/metal corpus;
  • the contributions of music production to the progressive aesthetic and its evolution over time;
  • the material manifestations of these genres;
  • the worldbuilding strategies explored in progressive narratives, cultural messages, and subjectivities;
  • the development of progressive rock/metal for the screen (films, videos, games, live performances);
  • the attributes of the progressive rock/metal spectacle;
  • the audiovisual aesthetics of progressive rock/metal;
  • the discourses that are mobilized in the examination of progressive rock/metal values as these genres are received in the critical literature and by the fans;
  • the sociological and cultural influences of progressive rock/metal;
  • the high/low/middlebrow critique of the genre in current times.

The conference will feature two keynote presentations: one delivered by a scholar of progressive rock (Sarah Hill, Cardiff University, Wales) and one by a recording engineer with a long career producing the work of progressive rock and metal bands (Paul Northfield).

Program Committee:
Ryan Blakeley (Eastman School of Music, Rochester, U.S.)
Marion Brachet (École des hautes études en sciences sociales, France)
Lori Burns (University of Ottawa, Canada)
John Covach (Eastman School of Music, Rochester, U.S.)
Kevin Holm-Hudson (University of Kentucky, U.S.)
Thomas Olsson (Lund University, Sweden)

Submission Procedure:
Scholars are invited to su
bmit proposals for 20-minute presentations in French or English to [email protected] by <<DEADLINE EXTENDED: SEPTEMBER 30, 2019>> 

Please attach two files to the email submission, both in Word file format (.docx):

1) a proposal comprising only the paper title and abstract (300 words; 350 if submitted in French). (This file should not include any identifying information.)

2) a short document providing the following information: author name, institutional affiliation, a short bio (100 words; 120 words if submitted in French), paper title, keywords, and any audio-visual equipment needs.

Authors will be notified of the outcome by 15 October 2019.

General inquiries about the conference can be sent by email to [email protected]


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