Nella Mia Lingua

Last week I gave a guest lecture in a “Global Pop” class at MIT. The professor, Patricia Tang, asked me to come in and do my thing where I show how various genres cohere depending on tempo and rhythmic pattern. It’s a shtick I’ve had going for years, using Ableton (or, previously, FruityLoops) to make hip-hop morph into dancehall into reggaeton into soca into techno and so on. At any rate, the presentation went fine and the students seemed to enjoy it.

As we were leaving, however, one of Patty’s colleagues came into the room. Patty introduced us and mentioned that we had just been “making beats” in her class. At which point, the professor pretty much turned up her nose (perhaps partly in jest) and said something which to the best of my memory went like, “Beats? Is that what I would call — in my language — rhythmic ostinati?”

At first, far too familiar with such a situation, I half-smiled at the joke and said “yes.” But then, thinking better, I said “sì,” since she seemed to be implying that her language was Italian or something.

She looked perplexed. We left the room.

For the last week or so the episode has been nagging me. I now wish that I had originally only replied in Italian (if only I were fluent in Italian). Or asked her what the hell a non-rhythmic ostinato might sound like.

Ah, Eurocentrists. They would be more amusing if they had less power.