Hawaii Highlights (SEM 2006)

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.