Tag Archives: Ethnomusicology

Early years of the Society for Ethnomusicology

SEM founders

In its third issue the Journal African music published a brief article about a new professional society—“Society of [sic] Ethnomusicology” by Willard Rhodes (I/3 [1956] pp. 70–71).

In 1953 a group of anthropologists including Rhodes, David P. McAllester, and Alan P. Merriam, along with the musicologist Charles Seeger, had issued Ethno-musicology newsletter no. 1, a modest 10-page mimeographed pamphlet. In two years the mailing list had grown to almost 600 addresses, so a formal organization seemed warranted. The Society for Ethnomusicology was founded in 1955.

Rhodes was pleased to announce that the newsletter, which originally presented only Notes and News, Bibliography, and Discography, was recently enabled by the growth of the Society’s membership to over 260—plus a small grant—to include articles and book reviews. Hopes were expressed that this newsletter might one day follow African music’s path by expanding into a journal.

Above, the original core group in 1971 (left to right, Seeger, Merriam, Rhodes, and McAllester). Below, one of Rhodes’s field recordings was included on the Voyager golden record.

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Ethnomusicology translations

 

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In 2015 the Society for Ethnomusicology launched Ethnomusicology translations, a peer-reviewed, open-access online series for the publication of ethnomusicological literature translated into English (ISSN 2473-6422).

Articles and other literature in any language other than English are considered for editorial review, translation, and publication. Preference is given to individual articles published in scholarly journals or books during the past 20 years.

As a central online resource, Ethnomusicology translations aims to increase access to the global scope of recent music scholarship and advance ethnomusicology as an international field of research and communication.

Below, Greek animal bells (worn by goats in this case), a subject that figures in the series’s inaugural publication.

 

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Translingual discourse in ethnomusicology

TDE

 

Translingual discourse in ethnomusicology is a new peer-reviewed scholarly e-journal aiming at encouraging discourse across language barriers by publishing English translations of ethnomusicological papers that have originally appeared in other languages and therefore probably not received their due recognition.

Papers are selected from proposals made by our Editorial Board and undergo a double-open peer-review process. The English translations are usually accompanied by the original version and are freely available (open access) in both HTML and PDF format.

This journal is jointly published by the musicology department at Universität Wien and the ethnomusicology department at Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Graz, and is sponsored by the Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung.

Below, the Dubrovnik-area linđo, the subject of one of the articles in the inaugural issue.

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An early ethnomusicology symposium

group photo 1

At a unique ethnomusicology symposium hosted by the University of Washington in 1963, presenters described their views of the discipline with particular attention to fieldwork. It was a heady moment in the discipline, one where there was a sense of a distinctive emerging disciplinary identity only a few years after the first conference of the Society for Ethnomusicology.

The event included debates about disciplinary identity, particularly the methodological division between those trained in music or anthropology.

In spite of traces of continuing interest in questions of universals, the terms of and reasons for their different positionings were presented as quite rigid and stark categorizations, binaries in most cases—simple/complex, fixed/improvised, tribal/urban, literate/non-literate, sonic structures/culture, musicologists/anthropologists, insiders/outsiders.

To our eyes over half a century later, various conflations of these binaries amount to highly problematic over-arching and totalizing constructs that are racist at worst and rigid at best. The entwined and porous processes of cultural production and reception that we more often focus on today would probably have been unthinkable for some of the 1963 participants.

This according to “Patriarchs at work: Reflections on an ethnomusicological symposium in 1963” by Beverley Diamond (Sound matters 27 July 2015).

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“They don’t die, they’re killed”

Sok Duch_22-02-13 copy

As ethnomusicology increasingly engages the topic of genre viability, the rhetoric used to characterize the issues must be carefully considered.

Parallel concerns in the field of linguistics have long involved the term language endangerment, and some linguists have argued for the use of more uncomfortable terms—language death, language murder, language genocide, and even language suicide—in an effort to convey strong messages about the agency and urgency of particular situations.

The current focus of some ethnomusicologists on ecological concepts such as sustainability is encouraging, but few scholars are bold enough to use more violent rhetoric when it is justified.

This according to “‘They don’t die, they’re killed’: The thorny rhetoric around music endangerment and music sustainability” by Catherine Grant (Sound matters 15 April 2015).

Above, Master-musician Sok Duck, 87 years old and one of the very few artists to survive the Khmer Rouge regime, continues to make efforts to pass on his skills to younger-generation Cambodians; below, the video for the SoundFutures research project draws on the ecosystem metaphor to argue for the need to support music sustainability.

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Crunching ballads

punch cards

In the 1940s Bertrand Harris Bronson became one of the first scholars to use computers for musicological work.

For one of his projects he encoded melodic characteristics of hundreds of tunes collected for the traditional ballad Barbara Allen on punch cards, so a computer could ferret out similarities. His project resulted in four groups of tunes, members of which came from both sides of the Atlantic with varying frequency.

This according to “All this for a song?” an essay by Bronson reprinted in his collection The ballad as song (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969, pp. 224–242).

Above, an illustration from the article (click to enlarge); below, the classic recording of the song by Jean Ritchie, a singer Bronson deeply admired.

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Alan Lomax and multiculturalism

lomax radio 1940

When Alan Lomax accepted a position as the Assistant in Charge of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress in 1936 he became a gatekeeper to the largest repository of recorded traditional music in the country.

He subsequently worked to infuse traditional music into mainstream culture and, in so doing, to publicize his interpretation of American culture and society—an interpretation that placed the American people, a category that included racial and ethnic minorities as well as the economically dispossessed and politically disenfranchised, at the center of the nation’s identity.

During the 1930s and 1940s he pursued this goal by developing radio programs that highlighted the music of American traditional communities. These included shows designed for children, including Folk Music of America, which aired weekly on CBS radio’s American School of the Air.

Lomax used this program as a forum to teach children about American cultural and political democracy by highlighting the music of socially, economically, and racially marginalized communities, often including guests from these groups to sing and explain musical traditions on the air.

An examination of the principles that motivated Folk Music of America, along with the artists, songs, and commentary that Lomax included, reveals a strong connection between the ideas of cultural pluralism that emerged during the World War I era and popular constructs of Americanism that developed during the later decades of the 20th century. Ultimately, Lomax’s radio work helped to lay the foundation for the multicultural movement that developed during the early 1970s.

This according to “Broadcasting diversity: Alan Lomax and multiculturalism” by Rachel C. Donaldson (Journal of popular culture XLVI/1 [February 2013] pp. 59–78).

Today would have been Lomax’s 100th birthday! Below, an example of his move to PBS in 1990.

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El oído pensante

El oído pensante

In 2013 the Centro Argentino de Información Científica y Tecnológica (CAICYT) launched El oído pensante, an open-access, peer-reviewed online journal that aims to promote the discussion of theoretical, methodological, and epistemological dilemmas faced by various kinds of music research.

Unpublished articles in Spanish, Portuguese, and English dealing with ethnomusicology, anthropology, sociology of music, popular music studies, musicology, and cultural studies, among other disciplines, are received. Particularly welcome are writings that address theoretical paradigms, methodology, transdisciplinarity, knowledge validation, research ideologies, representation resources, narrative strategies, ethic and esthetic research perspectives, relationships during the fieldwork experience, social and political research significance, the researcher’s perceptive and conceptual baggage, new technologies, and their ways of spreading and sharing knowledge.

Since the intention of the journal is to promote critical thought aimed to dismantle usual concepts and to open new approaches, papers restricted to analyzing particular cases will not be accepted. However, it is expected that authors bring some cases into the text in order to support their main ideas. All articles are abstracted in Spanish, Portuguese, and English.

Below, Um a zero by Pixinguinha and Benedito Lacerda, a work discussed in the inaugural issue.

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Happy birthday to Hornbostel– Sachs!

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Systematik der Musikinstrumente: Ein Versuch is 100 years old this year! This system of musical instrument classification, devised by Erich Moritz von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs, is still the most widely used by ethnomusicologists and organologists. It was issued in Zeitschrift für Ethnologie XLVI/4–5 [1914] pp. 553–590; the first pages of the system are shown above (click to enlarge).

The system is based on one devised in the late 19th century by Victor-Charles Mahillon, the curator of musical instruments at the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles/Koninklijk Conservatorium Brussel. Mahillon divided instruments into four broad categories according to the sound-producing material—air column, string, membrane, or the instrument’s body. For the most part, Mahillon’s system was limited to instruments used in Western classical music; Hornbostel and Sachs expanded Mahillon’s system to make it applicable to any instrument from any culture.

The Hornbostel– Sachs system is formally modeled on the Dewey Decimal Classification for libraries. It has five top-level classifications, with several levels below those, adding up to over 300 basic categories; it was updated in 2011 as part of the work of the MIMO Project – Musical Instrument Museums Online.

Below, perhaps the grooviest time you’ve ever had with instrument classification.

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Publications of the ICTM Study Group on Music Archaeology

music-ritual

In 2013 Ēkhō Verlag launched the series Publications of the ICTM Study Group on Music Archaeology (ISSN 2198-039X) with Music & ritual: Bridging material & living cultures, edited by Raquel Jiménez Pasalodos and Rupert Till.

The volumes in this series are anthologies of peer-reviewed articles focused on a specific topic. Reflecting the broad scope of music-archaeological research worldwide, they draw in perspectives from a range of disciplines, including newly emerging fields such as archaeoacoustics, but particularly encouraging both music-archaeological and ethnomusicological perspectives.

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