December 28th, 2011

Secret(e) Soundscapes & Other Ethnomusicologoodies

tower in the sun
radio towers > ivory towers

This week in Cluster Mag I’ve got a piece that follows up on my late summer production & performance, at metaLAB‘s openLAB_03, of a personal(ized) archive of Boston’s radio soundscape. The centerpiece of “Love That Muddy Ether” is Boston Pirate Party, an ode to an increasingly diversified sound of the city thanks to insurgent transmissions, especially from Boston’s Caribbean core, in and around Dorchester.

     wayne&wax, Boston Pirate Party (mp3 | video)

Initially, metaLAB’s Jesse Shapins suggested something along the lines of the Mashacre and Smashacre, and I like how this latest mix builds on these previous takes on Boston’s sound (or similarly, for Kingston, Jamaican Radio Edit); ironically, and to its credit, Boston Pirate Party offers a more accurate representation of the sound of Boston than any collection of music recorded by people who happen to be from hereabouts (which is what guided the selections, however iconoclastic, on Mashacre and Smashare).

Love That Muddy Ether” presents a mix of reflections on the potentials and pitfalls of low-power radio in Boston (and the emphasis is definitely on power here) and an explanation of the poetics behind the mix I’ve made, which, though it has its moments, is not the typical zuper-smoove DJ mix; for all the looping and tweaking involved (and there’s a lot), it’s a bit more of a jagged and figurative thing. Might be best on headphones, or in a car. Anyway, let me lend you my ears for a minute and sing a song of Boston.

And here’s a video of the Ableton Live session if you want to visually track the audio objects —

As it happens, I get to share this latest endeavor in suggestive sound studies (which some might read as applied ethnomusicology) at the same time as some other fine ethno/musicological works are making the rounds. So let me point to a few kindred efforts — all well worth your time if your interests overlap with ours at W&W. (And I don’t say that sort of thing about ethno/musicological work all that often.)

The first is very much in the realm of remix-as-creative-archival-practice, and — it turns out — this very blog appears to have played a part in its genesis. After seeing A Tribe Called Red mentioned here, UCLA’s Nolan Warden got in touch with DJ NDN about working with samples from the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University. Having noticed that although the group “sample from a lot of Native American music” their sources tend to be “commercial recordings of drum groups,” Nolan made the rather ethnomusicologisty gesture (that’s vergleichendemuzikwissenschaftig in the original German) of offering, via email, to connect A Tribe Called Red with some digitized cylinder recordings featuring members of their respective tribes (Cayuga and Ojibway).

Read the rest of the story here and check out the audio and some pics here — or hear it direct via ATCR:

General Generations by A Tribe Called Red

The same new issue of Ethnomusicology Review includes an article that should be of interest to any who have been interested in the contentious discussions around “new” “world” music over the last several years. I first heard a version of this paper on a panel where I was a co-presenter at the 2007 meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology, and I’m glad to see it finally take shape and to circulate so publicly. David Font-Navarrete’s “File Under ‘Import': Musical Distortion, Exoticism, and Authenticité in Congotronics” takes the remarkable international success — and marketing / discursive reception — of Konono No. 1 as its central concern, considering “promotional materials, press articles, reviews, and blogs” to argue that “representations of Konono’s music amplify and distort problematic issues of musical technology, exoticism, tradition, and authenticity.”

Along the same lines but focusing on the realm of reissues — or in today’s theoretical parlance, “remediations” — of the music of the world (out there), David Novak’s new article in Public Culture, “The Sublime Frequencies of New Old Media” is a crucial contribution to some longstanding debates. You can read a provocative excerpt here, and there’s also a supplementary page filled with linkthink. Also, as one who tweeted in annoyance when first noticing the full article resided behind a paywall, I’m happy to report that, like an increasing number of scholars, David has posted a pdf of the article on his page at UCSB.

[Next-day Update! I totally blanked on mentioning something quite important about the work of both Davids to whose papers I point above — and something that more deeply connects their work to the other stuff I’m highlighting here — namely, that both have been engaged in rather “applied” kinds of projects as well as bringing that knowledge to bear on their more formal/traditional scholarship. Dave Novak, no dabbler in electronic music, has himself done the sort of recording during his travels, for instance, that might make for a rather sublimey compilation of (putatively) foreign frequencies; and for his part, David Font-Navarrete’s Elegua Records releases sparkly, gritty, slowly evolving productions that take into their abstracted orbits everything from mbira, to flamenco, to punchy static made from scratch. It’s a tad remarkable that neither author situates their essays in these personal practices, but they are an important background to bear in mind when reading.]

Finally, I want to share the latest bit of edutaining YouTubery c/o Philip Tagg, “Harvest Song from Bulgaria,” which, in his words (to the IASPM list) —

simply demonstrates how those women’s semitones have nothing to do with discord, dissonance, horror films, stabbings in the shower or anything else commonly associated with such sounds in Western Europe, North America, etc.

& he adds,

Besides, personally I think those seven women kick proverbial butt with their semitones

Now that’s what I call ethno/musicology 2011!

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. wayneandwax.com » V&hellip  |  January 27th, 2012 at 12:17 am

    […] per this late December post, as if there weren’t already enough to tease out about Konono N°1 and the Congotronics […]

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Wayne&Wax

I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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