EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination
Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010
Crises, imagination, and beyond: bringing aesthetics back into the anthropology of (popular) music
Location Rowan Room 221
Date and Start Time 26 Aug, 2010 at 11:30
Music's quality to inspire imagination without depending on verbal or visual means turns its analysis into a challenge for social and cultural sciences. In anthropology, two major developments - its historicization and its reception of Cultural Studies - shaped a new paradigm for the interpretation of music during the 1990s. While, up to that point, 'traditional' forms of music and their local contexts formed the core of anthropological approaches to music, it has since been increasingly discussed in the wider framework of 'popular culture', focusing on music's ability to express or anticipate crises, social change and generational conflict. Despite the insights of this approach, it may be criticized for neglecting the specific character of music as an expressive art form.
This panel aims at overcoming reductionist political readings and asks how an anthropology of (popular) music should look like that takes popular music's aesthetic quality seriously.
This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.
'But why don't you research interesting music?' Uzbek estrada and the aesthetics of affirmative pop
If you study Uzbek music, you are likely to work on court traditions, regional folklore or the urban underground. You are less likely to investigate estrada. As affirmative pop it lacks appeal to be examed in its own right, its musical properties, proponents and aesthetic discourses being taken seriously. But why are some genres obviously deemed worthier of academic interest than others?
I attribute this aesthetic hierarchisation of research topics to a latent romanticism in music studies, which I see also implicitly present in heuristic models and analytical concepts. In my paper I question the possibility to grasp the aesthetics of Uzbek estrada with recourse to terms like 'expression', 'imagination', 'inspiration' in light of Soviet ideological legacies and present cultural authoritarianism. Searching for alternative approaches, I argue for an anthropology of music that not only takes music's aesthetic quality serious, but seriously scrutinizes its own aesthetic biases and ideational premises.
Putting the groove back in the anthropology of music
In the anthropology of popular music, there appears to be a gap between the anthropological analysis of musical communities, and the experiences of our informants. Where anthropologists tend to focus on the historical, political and social meanings of music, the key value of music as a profound aesthetic and sensory experience is often overlooked. Taking my ethnographic research on the popularity of Russian music amongst Germans in Berlin as a starting point, I will explore in this paper how methodologically and theoretically we can put the unique quality of musical expression back to the forefront in order to overcome the gap between anthropological interpretations of music as political and social practice and our informants' experiences of grooving to the music together.
Mixing an imaginary salad: American aesthetics, ambiguity and crisis during 1914-22
If the early decades of the twentieth century were marked by rapid change, growing pains and identity crises, to what extent was American music able to anticipate, express or support these diachronic and transnational tensions? Composer and conductor John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) stood at a historically vulnerable juncture, which was defied and circumscribed by extremities of pressure, comfort and creative imagination. His musical universe was defined and fostered by growth as well as crisis, pointing to a peculiarly American insistence on continuity and mobility that frame highly self-conscious explorations and re-orientations. His work and position, which underlined a certain psychological and aesthetical open-endedness, exemplified American musicianship in a general state of heightened urgency and (self-)adaptation. The aspiration was to keep on going, persisting that there was no ending for Americanism, and therefore to keep on marching—as was famously demonstrated by Sousa's music. Today, his legacy helps us understand how music dealt imaginatively with crisis—both on socio-political and interpersonal levels. When Sousa brought ragtime to Europe, Debussy expressed: "At last! The King of American music is here. …. Sousa beats time in circular motions, mixes an imaginary salad…and snatches a butterfly from the bell of a contrabass tuba."
Technologies of musical enchantment: understanding 'manele' in neo-liberal Romania
In Romania, the manele have been a popular and controversial musical genre for the last 20 years. They are linked to several "immoral" things like sensuality, quick money making, pride, ambition and violence. They are also linked with low education status and Gypsy ethnicity (although most manele lovers are Romanians). Such arguments are typically based on the lyrics of the songs, and the iconography of the recorded media. This paper will focus on the instrumental aspects of the manele: accompaniment of the voice, choruses, instrumental tunes. It will consider primarily their performance by professional musicians in live settings, such as weddings, christenings and political meetings.
I will argue that music, and especially manele, are best studied as "technologies of enchantment", in a theoretical framework adapted from A. Gell's proposals. I will focus on some enchantment techniques used in manele music, and on the specific emotions they allow the listeners to embody.
Caucasian heartbeats: examining rhythm holistically
Two songs, rather new to the nations of Georgia and Armenia, have become so popular to the countries' audiences that they can be taken as perfect illustrations regarding the creation of unofficial hymns - using aesthetic as well as verbal and visual means.
Both original compositions feature Georgian respectively Armenian folk elements, fusing these with diverse popular music trends. Thus the songs - namely Zumba's "Gamarjoba Abkhazeto" and the Arshakyan sisters' "Menq Enq Mer Sarere" - can be traced aesthetically.
Their impact on society though, and the background to their popularity cannot be elucidated without examining the songs holistically:
Where and why have they been produced? What aspects do their lyrics and their nowadays so popular music videos highlight?
In order to do these songs in particular, and musical anthropology in general justice we have to return to a key concept of anthropology: toward the holistic approach.
The politics of embodied aesthetics: Kwaito and house music in South Africa
The most popular youth music styles in the post-apartheid South Africa, kwaito and house, have aroused concern in many academic and non-academic commentators. These musical genres are seen to signal the increasingly hedonistic and consumption-oriented lifestyles, and hence a socio-moral crisis, among the black youth especially. The youth's apparent focus on stylising the self and the body is regarded as a backlash to the politically cognisant ethos of the past decades. I will problematise these views by exploring the connections that the present styles create with the local histories, on the one hand, and the global styles, on the other. I will argue that kwaito and house are part of the wider process of seeking and forging new kinds of social subjectivities in the post-apartheid society. Therefore, in this context, the explicit emphasis on the aesthetic and embodied aspects of the music does not exclude its political implications.
Noise as style and cut-off ears: Emic aesthetic concepts of Jaliyaa
In many West African societies a wide range of musical activities are the exclusive domain of griots. Jaliyaa, the art of griots, includes praise-singing, playing stringed instruments, but also reciting epics and genealogies, and mediation. Aesthetic evaluations of griots' music is consequently linked to the wider social roles of griots and to their relationships with their respective patrons, but often explained in metaphors of the body. Since the 1950s griots developed a number of new musical styles that may qualify as popular music and were evaluated increasingly by their musical and entertainment qualities.
This paper will try to bring emic West African concepts of Jaliyaa into dialogue with Western discussions about the aesthetics of popular (and other) music. I will ask whether the concepts and problems these debates raise are useful in understanding the changing musical styles of griots - and discuss the advantages and risks of ignoring the socio-economic framework.
This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.