Titon Critical Review

Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Jeff Titon's article "Representation and Authority in Ethnographic Film/Video: Production" addresses the perennial problem in ethnomusicology: authority. He discusses film and video as ways to represent musical cultures, compares and contrasts them to traditional ethnographies, and offers ways to diffuse authority.

The problem with traditional ethnography is that "as long as ethnographers assume the authority to represent other people, they control how others will appear in their texts." Basically, the filter (ethnographer) between culture and audience adds a degree of separation that has the potential to be damaging. Titon begins with a discussion about how traditional documentaries, despite their claims of showing what is "really there," employ conventional methods that make them just as dangerous as traditional written ethnography. Because the director edits and puts the video together, and because time and experience are so compressed, representation in film becomes very difficult.

Titon offers a way to diffuse the authority problems that arise from making a film. He offers moving away from the narrator-as-God method to making it from the point of view of the person doing the research or allowing the observed to participate in the making of the final project. I think that this is a good solution--though it might feel strange to let people edit themselves. I wonder what other collaborative tools will be open to us in the future, especially with the internet.

Titon ends by saying that problems of representation and authority are even more intense in film and video because documentaries have a much wider audience than journal articles. I just finished responding to a question about representation and wonder if researchers would feel more pressure making a film, since the obligation to be accurate is stronger because there is a larger audience (including the people the films are about).

Response to Jonah's Reponse!

I agree with Jonah's answer, "it all depends," but think that statement itself depends on whether or not you believe that music should be preserved or advocated for. He mentions two papers that outline the importance of advocating for the music they have studied, but warn people to do so responsibly, offering a few guidelines. In such a case, it is easier to say that these musics should be preserved.

However, the Back article on White Supremacy portrays a culture that is repulsive to mainstream Americans. Though repulsive to me, it appeals to a group of people who have chosen to make it their lifestyle. Beyond arguments of cultural relativism, I feel uncomfortable drawing a line between "objectionable" and "acceptable" music to study and I think that such a line is impossible to draw because when talking about music, you will undoubtedly end up in a conversation about culture.

It is very messy to have a code on what music is allowed to be "advocated" for, because the researchers we're talking about have an obligation to accuracy and to unbiased reporting. Jonah brings up a point that is impossible to avoid--it is impossible to avoid bias. However, you can reduce conflicts of interest. Furthermore, preservation and advocacy increase the chances for misrepresentation and blocking the musical culture from organic changes it would have undergone without intervention. Though it is sad when musical cultures die, there is merit in studying why it died out in the first place.

Qhen the academic writes about a musical culture, are they playing a part in its advocacy? What is advocacy really? I personally feel that explicit instances of preservation and advocacy conflict directly with the goal of accurate ethnography.

Neustadt Critical Review

Tuesday, April 13, 2010
This article discusses the perennial problem in which musicians alter their practices or enter the industry to fit the tastes of outsiders. Neustadt presents La Chanraga Habanera, a group that presented an album the same time the Buena Vista Social Club was put together, to illustrate how contemporary Cubans perceive themselves and Cuba. There were many different points raised in the article, but the most interesting to me was the way in which Americans and the rest of the first world responded to the Buena Vista Social Club and the movie made about them.

The article briefly mentions the embargo and the fact that Cuba remains one of very few communist nations in the world. I think a larger discussion on U.S.-Cuba relations would have supported this article a lot. The back and forth between the nostalgia-based tastes of the outside and the more "authentic" tastes on the island is really a consequence of the U.S.'s staggering purchasing power and regional hegemony.

The nostalgia is very strong, but there is an ideological component here too. The fairytale elements of the BVSC movie are satisfying in that they gives first-world audiences affirmation that they are living in an economic system that rewards musicians like the BVSC and that communism is backwards and traps societies in static states.

I had a difficult time deciphering what exactly Neustadt was trying to achieve beyond offering a view on Cuban identity. I feel that La Charanga Habanera was an interesting group to compare BVSC to, but ultimately it felt auxiliary and forced.

To what extent does politics affect the perception and creation of music?

Challenge Question Response

Thursday, April 8, 2010
...or, "I be misrepresentin'"

Academia is a very insular community, so it is difficult to ask whether a researcher has any obligation to provide a wider angle on the music they study to the general public. The perspective they give will rarely be read by anyone outside the field or in the classroom. What is the role of the researcher in society, exactly? Many times, what they produce becomes policy, new business practices, drugs, and things with what we call "real world" applications. But a lot of the time it echoes around in the ivory tower. So who exactly will have the misrepresented picture? Fellow academics would likely be tuned in to the problems in writing an ethnography and will always find critiques with that in mind. A mainstream audience would not have very much exposure to this anyway.

However, many ethnomusicologists play the role of cultural advocate to make their research available to a broader audience. Here is where accuracy and misrepresentation become real concerns. This is the position in which researchers should feel like they have an obligation to provide that wider angle, but there are dangers that come with this. It is hard to preserve something that is constantly changing, so a researcher risks presenting something that, in twenty years' time, will be very different. Just think about how much American pop music has changed over the past 20 years! Researchers do have an obligation to present a wide, accurate picture. The question is how exactly they can accomplish this.

But there is such thing as bad research. If the culture in question is completely misrepresented, then something is wrong. No one can really know if an ethnographer misrepresented a now extinct musical culture and no one can do anything about it. However, I feel that there is a very strong taboo against this dishonesty and fact-checking has become easier than ever. There is and should be an ethical code guiding the actions of researchers.

Academics really do try and provide the most accurate picture they can of the cultures they study. Their participation in the music they study is probably the most useful trend in ethnomusicology. We have talked about the observer-participant dynamic and how it should be carefully considered going into any project. Being a westerner automatically associates you with larger "western" musical society, making you somewhat of a participant even if you claim to be observing it. Observer participation seems to be a nice little way of getting around this conflict. Furthermore, non-western ethnomusicologists are also now giving their perspectives on their once-misrepresented musical cultures. Ethnomusicology at home means very different things depending on where home is.

Finally, consider that misrepresentations are still representations and can at least give us an idea or some facts about the topic studied. Although many of the articles published in the 50's are to us amusingly misrepresenting the cultures they're studying, we still read them beyond the context of examining the history of ethnomusicology. If work misrepresents a musical culture, was it worth it to study the culture at all in the first place?

Critial Review: Waxer

Tuesday, April 6, 2010
"Of Mambo Kings and Songs of Love" is a great introduction to Cuban musical styles and the influence it had on the American construction of the "Latin" sound. Waxer does a great job proving that there are too many similarities between the New York and Cuban jazz styles for them to have developed independently.

Waxer talks in detail about performing identities and the relationship between the performer and the audience. I thought the discussion on White-Black integration in Cuba and the subsequent change in mainstream Cuban musical tastes was fascinating and once again brings up racial essentialism as a major theme in music. I think it is interesting then how much influence what earlier generations thought of as African American music now dominates as the American pop sound, because though African Americans now have the same legal rights as other Americans, you could not say that they have become economically integrated.

And this touches on something I often forget: the economics of the musician-audience relationship. So much of what musicians do, despite what many of them might say, caters to the tastes and desires of their audiences because music is their job. I have the image of the independent musician who creates music based on what their soul tells them, but most musicians are more like Haydn--court musicians who write what their King wants. Musicians are mostly servants to the tastes of their audience, because in the end it is their audience that feeds them.

Waxer then addresses a consequence of this economic asymmetry: performers playing a part in the misrepresentation of their music. We discussed how Peruvian musicians play this one song in Cusco because it is a song tourists know and will respond to. Should performers have an obligation to be faithful to their musical roots if they've been transplanted somewhere else?

The article also begged to ask a larger question about transnational musical scenes and cultural, economic, and political communities. Waxer says "...the stage was set for the creation of a pan-Latin cultural identity that has paralleled the emergence of other macro-regional alliances..." I wonder if it was the music that created this cultural identity or if the music was merely a byproduct of other forms of integration.

Interview: Brian Guest and the Tuba

Monday, March 15, 2010
...or, "Kegs and Kettledrums" and "OH! LORD NELSON!"

My first interview of two I did today was with Brian Guest, a freshman who plays tuba in the Brown Band.

JR: Singing on the bus?
BG: Yeah, Singing...partying...
JR: Partying?
BG: Yes, partying. A lot of band is partying.
JR: What made you join in the first place? Were you searching for a musical group?
BG: Well, I joined for musical reasons. I heard it was fun, but I didn't know about the singing about the partying. I would say it is split between partying and music.
JR: Can you talk more about the social aspect?
BG: Well, when you're on a bus for the two days, those are the people you're hanging out with. Overnight trips happen for, let's see...Cornell is two nights, Columbia was one night...and the winter trip is one night. Almost everyone in band is friends with each other--it's extremely inclusive.

JR: How different is the Brown band from high school band?
BG: Well, I wasn't in a marching band in high school. I was in an orchestra before. I guess the fact that there are student conductors, student arrangers, and everything is run by students.
JR: How do you think that changes the dynamic of the band?
BG: Well, it's really laid back...you still have a chance to make music whenever you want to.

JR: When I came to ADOCH, I remembered hearing this incredibly raunchy script.
BG: Yeah, I've seen that on the internet (laughter) Well, at sports events you still have to get it by the athletics department. But usually at away games, you don't have to run it through the other schools. You have to keep the other schools in mind...I mean, we got kicked out of Holy Cross for being too offensive.
JR: So how to other bands react to you guys?
BG: I would say that the other bands we play with...they're pretty similar to us and have the same attitude. All the ivy bands except for Cornell are scatter bands. Some are a bit more organized, but they are all mostly student-run.

JR: So what do you play at these games? I remember hearing "Bad Romance" at the hockey game. Who chooses the music?
BG: We just had a song-reading practice to try out songs. These were mostly arranged by professional arrangers, like Dr. Worm. Bad Romance...Nick Hagerty just arranged it. I mean, Bryan Chu does a lot of arranging--he's the conductor.

Discussion of the band structure.

"Some of the seniors go to the GCB"

BG: There's a historian in charge of leading singing on the bus.
JR: Singing on the bus?
BG: A lot of them are based on fight songs of other schools. And there are some that are just based of of...other songs. Most of them are Brown songs. I mean, we have a lot of raunchy songs like ADPhi songs.
JR: What's an example of one of those songs?
BG: Well, we have one we can't sing to Freshman until october to not scare them away. It's called the S&M song (laughter). A lot of the songs we sing we also play, because they're Brown songs. Like "I'm a Brown Man Born." So we play those at games a lot too...and the pop songs, which we sing on the bus. Like at the last trip we ran out of songs so we started singing "Don't Stop Believing" and "Bohemian Rhapsody." But usually at the parties, the soundtracks are all band songs, like the pop songs.

BG: We added a bong. (In reference to the Clarkson cup)
(discussion of Clarkson cup here)
(Story about Brown Band's relationship to Clarkson)

(Discussion of band relationships)

JR: So what keeps you in Brown band? What about your involvement in the future?
BG: That's kind of what I look forward too. It's sad that we're done with games this season for a while. Our next thing is lacrosse in the beginning of May. We do other things like surprise shows.
JR: Surprise shows?
BG: Oh, like we hide in the bushes and jump out...like when people are going to classes.
JR: You guys should surprise me. I would really like that.
BG: Especially...I dunno there's a really great draw for me. The people, and just being able to play music without worrying about whether you're perfect or not. There's this one girl who just started to learn trumpet. It usually starts with percussion. There's a kid who kept on coming to home games and he always sat near us so we said "oh, you should join Brown band" but he said he was really busy but maybe next year and he didn't play an instrument. And we said "it's just another hour and a half on Tuesday you come to the home games anyway." And in the future, I don't really know what band board position would be good for me, but I would definitely consider running.

Nettl Critical Review #6

...or "I gotta get me some of them Mozart balls"

Nettl's article talks about ethnomusicology at home and is a self-reflective (though I think he claims it isn't) look on western art music, the people who produce it, and the people the study it. By studying the way a group of midwestern universities ("Heartland U") are organized, he tries to make a larger argument that cultural structures tie into musical structures and the structures of musical societies.

He begins by presenting an approach to music in relation to the culture that produces it. Music is a part of culture, it is a microcosm of culture, and it is a commentary on culture. Though he makes a disclaimer that there should be a healthy bit of skepticism towards this view, this is the stance he decides to take. I understand that what a culture produces (in this case, music), will obviously be a reflection of it. But I am skeptical that the power structures within a musical culture reflect the culture at large. More on this later.

Then Nettl goes into a fascinating, tongue-in-cheek discussion about the way Heartland U. treats the great composers in the western art music canon. An ethnomusicologist from Mars would see Heartland U's society worshipping a Pantheon of great and lesser gods. This deity-worship is something I am familiar with and I think it is a good way of presenting the treatment of figures like Wagner, Mozart, and Beethoven and it highlights the musical hierarchy-cultural hierarchy connection pretty well.

The most interesting part about this section was the connections Nettl constantly makes between talent, genius, and the divine. The way we think of "genius" is a figure who almost can do no wrong in terms of what he or she produces. Nettl mentions this in the way we catalog composers' works and release them in compilations, as if all their works are masterpieces by virtue of being associated with the composer. The little bit about relics was cool too.

Then Nettl attempts to consolidate his argument. I don't think this was particularly well done. Essentially, he is trying to make the argument that the polytheistic nature of Western Art Music is reflected in the culture of Heartland U. I found his Mozart-Beethoven inspiration-hard work dualism frame very weak and forced.

He then discusses uniforms, the orchestra, and how they relate to Western society. I liked the idea of the rise of the modern orchestra corresponding with industrialization or militarization and the power structures that formed as a result. In my experience, orchestras are like machines, where the individual is obliterated in favor of a collective existence lol. Uniforms would probably help in doing this. The discussion of the clothes people decide to wear were also interesting because I see people go to the opera dressed very formally. Dress codes are a very potent reflection of societal power structures and it was cool to see it addressed in the article.

One question I didn't feel like was answered very well: Why did "western" society gravitate towards the composer as deity set-up?

more somewhat related questions:
Why has the orchestral set-up remained so static for the past 50 or so years?

Most "pop" music "deifies" the performer and their body of work (the Beatles come immediately to mind) as opposed to the composer. Is this a reflection of the shift away from the composer-performer setup of WAM, or does this reflect a change in societal attitudes towards music and its production?