Peter Scholtes just wrote an extensive piece on reggaeton for City Pages. Rather than simply rehearsing the well-worn narrative, Peter brings in the voices and stories of performers and enthusiasts in the Minneapolis/St.Paul reggaeton scene, giving new texture to a story whose contours have become all too familiar. He includes a large photo gallery and youtube vids, and he even recommends my Dembow mix! (Since I still believe in a “strategic” moratorium on animalizing teh Other, however, I’m not so sure about the “Reggaeton Animal” title, or what it refers to, for that matter — though that’s probably not Pete’s fault. Props to City Pages at any rate for providing so much space — for text and other media — not to mention publishing four-letter words.)
An article like Pete’s could be written about every large (and maybe small) city in the US at this point. (Editors take note.) If we characterize reggaeton’s story to date as one of translation, gestation, and commercialization, the next chapters would seem to be pointing toward localization, appropriation, and hybridization. (Pardon the Latinate litany, which not only is unwieldy but implies that all these processes are not always [already?] ongoing; better to “think them” as dynamically interacting rather than sequential.) Fueling as it is fueled by the youtubification of translocal cultural practice, reggaeton will not be running out of gasolina anytime soon.
Writing for the Germaican reggae magazine Riddim, Christoph Twickel offers up the most comprehensive piece on Panamanian reggae I’ve seen to date. He covers a lot of ground: demographics on Panama (esp w/r/t Caribbean immigration); connections to roots reggae and Rastafari, bolero and calypso; an overview of early and important as well as contemporary performers, recordings, and venues; the place of New York in Panamanian reggae (and El General’s career specifically); class, race, and gender/machismo, etc. Not bad for a 2500 word piece. Only catch is, you gotta read German to understand it. Verstehen Sie mich?
Er, apropos (passend?) — have you heard the triphoppy downtempo track I made by sampling all the phrases about not knowing German from a How to Speak German instructional cassette? (Most of us ethnomusicologistsvergleichende Musikwissenschafters, you see, are glucky enough to have to learn German in grad school — it being one of the field’s foundational languages.) The simple (stupid?) joke of the track is that the speaker marshals an increasingly impressive storehouse of Deutsch phrases in order to express his utter ignorance of the language. I made it before visiting my friend Martin in Munich in late spring of ’01, which is why the guy asks, appropriately, “Wann kommen wir in Muenchen an? (When do we arrive in Munich?)” at the beginning (and end).
All this Panama talk — before the German tangent, naturlich — reminds me that there are some cool timelapse videos of the canal floating around. But since they don’t tend to have audio accompaniment (what would timelapse audio sound like?), I recommend watching the one below while listening to a production c/o El Chombo, Panama’s biggest reggae(ton) producer and just maybe the guy behind the infamous “Chacarron” (which would also make good accompaniment to canal footage, which — apparently — can also be viewed in realtime):
It’s that time of the semester when things get extra crunchy, so I figure I better get this post up before it all becomes ancient history (even if it means I won’t be able to offer as texty a reflection as I’d like).
Our panel was first thing Thursday morning (and I mean first thing: 7am!), but despite the timing (and, no doubt, thanks to some jet-lagged mainlanders — not to mention supportive cohorts), it was relatively well-attended and pretty lively. I’d like to think the interest in our panel demonstrates that the constraints and chilling effects of copyright represent a growing concern for an increasing number of frustrated (media-engaged) scholars.
Ripley (I mean, Larisa Mann) gave a great overview of the legal terrain, including riffs on creativity and ubicomp, and Liane Curtis described with appropriate indignation the process of having her book “pulped” (a verb that elicited something of a collective gasp) after a threatening letter was sent to her press. (She now courageously self-publishes it.) My own paper was about the inherent problems of “fair use” being a defense rather than a right, counterposing the “freedoms” of the music blogosphere with the somewhat severe restrictions ethno/musicologists experience in dealing with our publishers. (I’ll share it here sometime soon, but email me if you’re curious.)
Thursday afternoon’s Second Life session went pretty well too. And — funny thing — it was about as well attended, as shown in the pic above.
I really appreciate that so many avatars showed up — a motley crew of old and new students (of Becca’s, of mine), friends, blog-readers, and curious passersby. And Cliff Murphy and Anthony McCann (I mean, Wabash Canonball and Songcraft Kakapo) were wonderful co-panelists. I’m grateful to them for engaging in this experiment in virtual ethnomusicology with me. (And to Jason Stanyek and Larisa for the loaner-laptops!)
Since I was a little preoccupied at the start of my own presentation — an overview of the “Big Gyptian” project — by the “fact” that Anthony’s avatar was seemingly stuck underwater, I’d have to say that Cliff’s presentation was the stronger and more succinct (a virtue in a virtual world). Discussing the “mothballing” of out-of-press New England country music, Cliff described the disturbing implications for scholars and practitioners alike: among other things, New England country musicians, despite a long and distinctive history of local expression, now tend to put on a Nashville drawl when they sing rather than, say, embrace the haunting yodel and French-Canadian/Maine accent of such predecessors as Betty Cody, who remains, despite some prominence in her day, a footnote in country music histories and whose music is resigned to pricey imports.
Given such suggestive accompaniment and lucid exposition, we had a vibrant, if chaotic, conversation, generating a lot more questions and threads than could be pursued in our limited time (or in the limited medium of quickly scrolling text).
I’m definitely interested in trying to figure out exactly how to structure such interactions for future events. Seems that threaded or “cascading” conversations might facilitate discussion, as would some sort of integration of voice (not to mention blocking out nearby, but unrelated, conversations). Anthony pointed out that it would be helpful, in certain cases, to recommend a set of preparatory readings in order to provide an inevitably diverse group of people with a common vocabulary or at least a shared understanding of the central concepts under consideration. Conversations about music and copyright can open into so many different realms, and they did, but there was something unsatisfying about being unable to respond to all the different ideas, or to move together in conversation. Hmmm.
As for the papers presented at the conference, I’m happy to say that I enjoyed a great many, which is somewhat atypical. Indeed, I did a lot less of the ever-valuable (and fun) hanging-in-the-halls than usual. I would have liked to provide some annotations on all the talks that I attended and found stimulating, but I’m afraid I just don’t have the time. So allow me to leave you instead with this suggestive list of some highpoints (and invite further discussion in the comments, if there’s interest).
Ken Bilby, “Spirited Away: Buru as an Ancestral Music in Jamaica and the World”
Brian Karl, “Unmoored: Contemporary Mediations of Moroccan Music in Granada, Spain”
Dan Neely, “Haul and Pull Up: Mento and the Sale of Jamaica’s Musical Roots”
Sumanth Gopinath, “Convulsions in the Global Ringtone Industry: The Social Determinants of Crazy Frog”
Kiri Miller, “Jacking the Dial: The Radio in Grand Theft Auto”
Joshua Tucker, “Traffic in Indigeneity: Andean Musicians and the Global Public Sphere”
Cathy Ragland, “Communicating the Collective Imagination: The Socio-Spatial World of the Mexican Sonidero”
A.J. Racy (who can actually say “jihad is my middle name” without, one hopes, getting himself on a no-fly list), “Symbolizing Otherness: The Snake Charmer in Western Imagination”
Cliff Murphy, “Regional Musics as a Hostage of US Corporations”
SEM 2006 was a hoot overall. As the number of familiar faces increases, as I meet new grad students doing interesting things and asking sharp questions, and as I feel a bit more generational shift in the direction of my own passions and interests and orientations, the Society for Ethnomusicology feels more and more like an intellectual “home” to me. (Perhaps it helps that I finally finished my dissertation this year and thus can stand a bit taller.) One delightful — if bracing — thing I learned in Honolulu was that several dear colleagues actually read this here humble blog (despite — ahem — never commenting) and a few of my posts are being cited in papers here and there! Soon enough, we’ll have a critical mass of ethnomusibloggers out there, pushing the rich discourse of the musicnet into new places and perhaps pushing our lil discipline along as well. Onward and sideways, y’all. See ya next year.
Ok, so obviously I’m not up to the task of live-blogging the conferences I attend, esp when the hosting hotel wants to charge an extra $14/day for internet access. (Amenities, schmenities.)
Will offer some Hawaiian highlights before they get filed away like the dogeared program they’re scrawled on, but just so you don’t miss it, go out and git Heatwave‘s brand new (second hand) contribution to the Blogariddims series.
Nice in concept, extra nice in execution. As they put it,
Blogariddims 10 is a special extended edition from Heatwave. ‘An England Story’ traces a lineage of UK MCs from 1984-2006 covering reggae, dancehall, hip hop, grime, jungle and more…
If you’re still not signed up for Blogariddims, you’re sleepin. A solid series of mixes so far. And guess who’s slated to deliver the next one?
// .. /
A couple quick non-conf observations from this weekend:
Friday night, I linked up with my good good people, Amy&Ron, and we went to see Jesse Saunders, the “Originator” of house, do his thing. He was great. A real pro who clearly loves the music he’s playing and making people dance. Two main obs:
1) Although what Saunders was spinning could conceivably be described as a “narrow” slice of house, it’s remarkable how much stylistic range that can encompass.
2) Fitting I found myself flitting backforth and sideways through embodied states that seemed also to draw from a wide range of styles, despite their overarching, er, EDM-ness. It made me think, as I watched myself mimic moves I’d copped from ravers, clavers, salseros, and, um, dancing queens, that dancing about music is far from imprecise as representational relations go. (Though one may need to reconcile oneself with the orthogonal, as usual.)
/ . // .
After Saunders, on the way to the next spot, we listened to early morn freestylers rock radio beats on what I guess was this show. A&R and Larisa dared me to get on and Ron remembered the number, so I dialed up and was immediately on the air. I asked for a beat, and proceeded to completely kill it for about 30 seconds. No lie. Didn’t miss a beat or rhyme. Straight relentless, yo. But then I dropped an f-bomb and they cut me off. Oops. My bad, y’all. (If you archive, tho, holler.)
Alongside fellow Riddim Methodist, Larisa Mann (a/k/a, DJ Ripley), I’ll be “giving” a paper called “What Is Stolen? What Is Lost? Sharing Information in an Age of Litigation” at this year’s annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology, which is happening in Honolulu from Nov 15-19.
See the program for full details on the conference, but hereâ€™re the deets for our panel:
“Shaping, Breaking, and Taking Research: Intellectual Property Dilemmas and Challenges from the Field”
Thursday, Nov. 16, 7-8:30 am
Waikiki Beach Marriott
7-7:30: Larisa Mann (UC-Berkeley)
7:30-8: Wayne Marshall (University of Chicago)
8-8:30: Liane Curtis (Brandeis University)
Yeah, it’s early, but if you happen to be in Hawaii, hope to see you there! With bells on, of course!
It’s not that I don’t already have too much to do in my first/real life, but I confess that I’m rather excited about the possibilities for virtual, multimedia interactions — especially in the realm of ethno/music/ology — and SL seems to have the energy, resources, and critical mass to make such an experiment a “reality” (of sorts) at this point.
I hope to persuade any willing early adopters out there to join me for some music-centered events in SL in the near future, including some exclusive — and hopefully fun and edifying — interactions and listening parties with some of my (and your) favorite DJs and producers.
But I’ll be kicking things off this Thursday with a slightly more academic gathering. Coinciding with Becca’s class (which meets on Berkman Island on Thursday evenings) and with the annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology (which happens to be in Honolulu this year), a couple of colleagues and I will be sharing some sounds and thoughts w/r/t music, copyright, and virtual worlds.
Allow me to share Becca’s announcement of the event with you, which puts the experiment into greater context:
Yesterday in CyberOne we had guests Mike Fricklas (General Counsel of Viacom) and Wayne Marshall (Ethnomusicologist and digital musician) in class to try to make empathic arguments to each other about the thorny issue of digital music production and consumption and copyright. They were wonderful. I recommend the video to you: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/cyberone/wiki/Weeks_Pages/Week10#Lecture_Videos.
As a follow-up event, we are holding a Music & Rights Forum at Berkman Island this Thursday evening at 9pm EST/6pm SLT. Music Professor Anthony McCann (University of Ulster), will lead a panel at which Wayne Marshall (University of Chicago) and Clifford Murphy (Brown University) will present some current research in ethnomusicology on the subject of music production/consumption and copyright. Wayne will be discussing the emergent genre of mashups — mashups usually combine the vocals from one song with the music from another — as a way of discussing current digital production methodology and its relationship to the law. Cliff will be discussing the “mothballing” of old and non-commercially viable music by companies that own the rights to that music.
This event is an experiment in two ways. First, we are experimenting with the idea that presentations about music might be very effective in SL because the audience can both listen to the music and “listen” to the speaker at the same time. Second, we are experimenting with the idea that an academic panel discussion of the sort that usually happens at academic conferences could take place in SL. The purpose of the second goal is to consider whether we might lighten the carbon footprint caused by academic conferences by, at some point in the future, transitioning to holding some of them in a virtual world that would not require airplane travel.
Please feel free to join us if you’re interested in checking it out. No doubt it will be a learning experience, but that’s the idea.
It’s not just a sequel, though. It’s a different thing in kind.
I’ve made a page for it, featuring some exposition/explication and an annotated tracklist, which I’m going to point you to in a hawt minute. (Not that hahdcore Bawstonians say “hot minute,” or anything, but if they did, they’d pronounce it ^^that way.)
But, first, allow me to mention that you can access the “Smashacre” in a variety of ways —
You can either stream the mix with the embedded player on the “Smaschare” page, download it as an mp3, or — and I strongly recommend this option — you can get it specially delivered to your cpu/pod/etc via the brand, spanking new w&w podcast, i.e., the “waxcast”: just copy the xml link below and paste it into whatever it is you use to subscribe to ‘casts (e.g., iTunes), and — Â¡Presto! — by the magic of xml, I’ll deliver semi-regular, relatively longform musically-expressed ideas about music directly to YOU, dear reader listener.
Asnotedelsewhere, this here humble blogger has been bestowed a spot in the 2006 edition of the illustrious Da Capo Best Music Writing series. What’s more, it’s one of my blog-posts — as opposed to a more traditionally “published” piece — which has earned itself the distinction. Of course, the post in question is the famous “we use so many snares” (aug ’05), an exploratory exposition on reggaeton which resonated, almost immediately, with music bloggerati and aspiring reggaeton producers alike.
Indeed, the same post (and its critical reception) is more-or-less what landed me an invitation to write for the Boston Pheonix, which in turn (and in conjunction) landed me an invitation to co-edit a forthcoming anthology on reggaeton. So the rewards for deciding one random night to put my thoughts together and put ‘em “out there” have been abundant. (Take note, aspiring “music writers.”) And I have to admit that I’m pretty psyched, being an aspiring bookwriter and all, that something I just threw off late one night turns out to be my first inclusion in an actual book on actual shelves in actual stores. Of course, the implication that blog discourse is now eligible to be considered alongside, say, pieces in the The New Yorker, is a pleasant bit of levelling more broadly (which also makes me happy). And it delights me as well that my embrace of the multimedia potential of the webbyweb — integrating screen shots, hyperlinked “footnotes,” and audio samples — seemed to be what made the post so (literally) resonant.
Which obv makes it all the more odd now to find my lowercase screed in print, devoid of linkthink and soundclips. Ah, if these embeddable thingies were only embeddable in a book:
boom-ch-boom-chick at 100 bpm —
boom-ch-boom-chick at 160 bpm —
Here’s the table of contents, if you’re curious. (And for those who want to read a number of the pieces free of charge, this guy links to all the selections available online.) I haven’t quite done the Jeff Chang breakdown for this edition, but despite some misgivings about the reproduction of privilege such collections can enact, I feel like I’m in good company overall. Indeed, at a glance I’d say the editors have dealt decently, if not quite radically, with the question of diversity, at least given the overall preponderance — an embarrassingly skewed distribution at this point, no doubt — of rockist, white, male writers hogging up mastheads in general. (Which, we can rest assured, Jeff’s own forthcoming edited collection will serve to counteract.)
I’ve got to thank editors Daphne Carr and Mary Gaitskill for selecting my post for inclusion, of course, but I’ve also got to thank /Jace, Simon, Catchdeezy, and all the folks who somehow decided — prolly via one of those three — that the post was the reggaeton post and should be shared on message boards of all sorts. As one can see, all that activity sent the ol’ sitemeter into a late-summer convulsion of sorts and brought my “music writing” to lots of people’s attention.
Finally, I’d like to thank those who left great comments on that there post — and, for that matter, those who leave great comments on any post I post. Several selected commenters on “so many snares” already know that their participation is much appreciated; they were mailed checks months ago and promo copies last week. (How’s that for incentive?)
F’real though, I’d like to take this golden opportunity to encourage any and all readers out there to leave comments if ever so inspired (and you need not be soooo inspired) — not because there’s a possibility it’ll get published and you’ll get (modestly) paid, but because I deeply appreciate people sharing their perspectives with me, telling me what they think I’ve gotten wrong and gotten right, pointing me to new things, and challenging me to beat-making contests.
As the story of the post with so-many-lives attests, this blogging thing really does feed back into my work. For me, the blog is an experiment in voice, a method of research and publication, a writing discipline, a journal, a wiki, and an art project rolled into one. It’s not that I’m hoping you’ll all become my research assistants (though collaborators are welcome), but rather that you’ll engage in conversation with me, helping me to hear as we listen for the snares to shift yet again.
Which is to say, lend me your ears and I’ll lend you mine.
Charlie Nesson has been on a YouTube tear of late. And though, given that his clips often lack a certain coherence, I look fwd to the day that my dear dad-in-law (“in law” indeed) becomes a video wiz, I love that he’s been embracing the tech (as always) and launching headlong into exploring and sharing the possibilities.
And sharing some real gems, too, including interviews with Twins of Twins and the former Prime Ministers of Jamaica (ok, that one’s a dud, but it’s illuminating when watched in conjunction with Twins’ response), and this latest retro-bit, a clip from a Fred Friendly seminar that features Charlie grilling a bunch of big news dudes in his own inimitable way. As he frames it:
This is it, just as i received it from Rich Kilberg, who now runs Fred Friendly Seminars, my most fondly remembered seminar, the first we did televised for national tv. Fun to see how young we were in 1982. iâ€™m posting just the first fifteen minutes. Beware the first thirty seconds of blackness. i didnâ€™t want to cut even that.
After this i was offered a Sunday morning affairs program by CBS and turned it down, not wanting to go commercial. Hail to Fred Friendly. He could put a table together.
As an example of how the work of Clifford Geertz might continue to inform our understanding of (the significance of) culture, consider the following passage from William Sewell’s Logics of History (Chicago 2005), itself a compelling interpretation of a series of texts. Bringing the methods and insights of the social sciences and the ‘histories’ to bear on each other, Sewell’s book is a persuasive exercise in reconfiguring social theory.
One of the more striking arguments in the text, at least for this reader, appears in a chapter on Geertz’s underappreciated relevance to history, especially the value of synchronic analysis, the “thick description” and exigesis of a particular historical moment. The passage in question, however, deals specifically with how culture relates to the brain — and thus how “systems of symbols,” as Sewell puts it, “provide a supplementary source of information that is not just a convenience to humans but a physiological necessity of our biological endowment” (186). Intriqued? Allow me to quote at length, and don’t give me that TLDR BS (note: the quotations in the quotation — twinks upon twinks? — are drawn from Geertz’s essay, “Religion as a Cultural System,” in The Interpretation of Cultures):
Not only did culture and the large forebrain evolve together, but they remain organically linked today. “Man’s nervous system does not merely enable him to acquire culture, it positively demands that he do so if it is to function at all” (68). Culture, extrinsic information coded in symbols, is a condition of our viability as a species. This is true because the large and astoundingly complex human brain does not respond to stimuli by producing specific behavioral responses, but rather with highly general affects:
The lower an animal, the more it tends to respond to a “threatening” stimulus with an intrinsically connected series of performed activities which taken together comprise a comparatively stereotyped . . . “flight” or “fight” response. Man’s intrinsic response to such a stimulus tends to consist, however, of a diffuse, variably intense, “fear” or “rage” excitability accompanied by few, if any, automatically preset, well-defined behavioral sequences. Like a frightened animal, a frightened man may run, hide, bluster, dissemble, placate, or, desperate with panic, attack; but in his case the precise patterning of such overt acts is guided predominantly by cultural rather than genetic templates. (75)
The only way for humans to produce specific behavior appropriate to the challenges thrown up by their environment is to use the manifold cultural codes that their peculiar neural structure has made possible. Because humans’ genetically programmed responses are so generalized, they need the extrinsic information supplied by culture in order to accomplish the diverse tasks of life — whether those be responding to threats, constructing shelter, reproducing the species, seeking companionship, killing other species for food, or constructing political regulations. Humans proceed, and can only proceed, by gathering and manipulating information (including information about how to gather information) which is stored not in the physiological structure of the body but in the intersubjective space of human signifying practice and in the objects — books, map, clothing, tools, sacred goods, illustrations, the built environment — that give it material form.
Intellectually unviable without culture, humans would be emotionally unviable as well. Geertz remarks that “man is the most emotional, as well as the most rational animal” (80). He might have added the most emotional because the most rational. The emotional diffuseness or uncertainty of the human neural response to stimuli is the flip side of the existence of the complex neural apparatus that makes us capable of reasoning. The response to stimuli can be diffuse because our reasoning brain makes possible tremendous and adaptively useful flexibility in how we deal with a problem; it must be diffuse if we are to deal with a problem flexibly rather than in a stereotyped fashion. But this makes the human “a peculiarly high-strung animal,” subject to all sorts of emotional excitement but without in-built patterns to guide responses to the excitement (80). It is cultural patterns that provide the necessary control of emotionally upsetting stimuli. They give “specific, explicit, determinate form to the general, diffuse, ongoing flow of bodily sensation,” thereby “imposing upon the continual shifts in sentience to which we are inherently subject a recognizable, meaningful order, so that we may not only feel but know what we feel and act accordingly” (80).
This provision of specific form for diffuse and unsettling human emotion is, according to Geertz, precisely what religions are about. They provide us with conceptions and practices that enable us to live with the ever-present threat of chaos. In “Religion as a Cultural System,” Geertz specifies three sources of such threat: events or problems that seem beyond our powers of explanation, suffering that seems impossible to endure, and ethical paradoxes that seem impossible to resolve. What religious symbolism does is not to deny the existence of the uncanny, of suffering, or of evil, but to provide concepts that make them thinkable (such as divine mystery, imitation of Christ, or original sin) and ritual practices that give them an experiential reality (such as Eucharist, extreme unction, or penance). Religious doctrine, mirrored and experienced in ritual acts, does not, for example, spare us from suffering: it teaches us “how to suffer, how to make of physical pain, personal loss, worldly defeat, or the helpless contemplation of others’ agony something bearable, supportable — something, as we say, sufferable” (104). In short, our neural organization necessitates as well as makes possible the shaping of both our cognitive and emotional lives by systems of symbols.
This account of the evolutionary origins and the biological necessity of human culture is a brilliant piece of materialist argumentation. It transcends the material/ideal dichotomy not by some verbal formula, but by a substantial, scientifically based account of the inescapable complementarity of “material” and “ideal” in the human condition. It enables us to recognize the simultaneous rootedness of culture (or “mind”) in bodily needs and its irreducibility to bodily needs. It enables us to pursue the autonomous logic of cultural systems without worrying that we are becoming “idealists” and therefore losing touch with the “real” world. If Geertz is right, as I firmly believe he is, semiotic systems are not unworldly or ghostly or imaginary; they are as integral to the life of our species as respiration, digestion, or reproduction. Materialists, this suggests, should stop worrying and love the symbol. (187-9, emphasis in original)