Anthropology of Music – Post #3

Photo of Albert Einstein with quote"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

Einstein knew that different perspectives yielded new solutions to old problems.

 “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” ~ Voltaire

Through questions that are asked, this essay explores the recent intellectual history of cultural anthropology with respect to contemporary theoretical perspectives.  Our inquiries explore a variety of topics.  What makes different versions of a song the same song?  What gives a song its integrity as a distinct musical utterance?

Theoretical Perspectives and Research:

Questions That Guide Studies in the Contemporary Field

Ruth Stone

Dr. Ruth Stone

This author was intrigued by ethnomusicologist Ruth M. Stone’s assertion, in Theory For Ethnomusicology, “One of the ways to compare theories is to consider what questions that theorists, employing a particular theory, find interesting and appropriate” (2008: 224). This author seeks to understand the questions that culture theorists and ethnomusicologists have asked in the past ten years. Or put another way, what is the recent intellectual history of cultural anthropology with respect to contemporary theoretical perspectives? This paper seeks to document a broad sample of questions regarding specific theoretical orientations posited by scholars that have been published since September 11, 2001. This date is not arbitrary, as it conveys to this author a global social impact that connotes a worldwide change in mood and perspective. This author suggests that three overlapping viewpoints – identity, modernity, and continuity – inform the experiences investigated by ethnomusicologists during this time period. Identity issues of uniqueness, retention, and change with respect to social encounters, gives rise to expressions of modernity. Modernity offers an approach to perceiving emerging genres through theoretical continuity in the field.

Since the early twentieth century, ethnomusicologists have focused on an array of theories...

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Native American Perspectives in Music – Post #3

Dreams may be the source of songs.  Personally, I’ve had some of those.  Games may be another source for songs.  Kids do this all the time.  Practically every game I played as a kid had a song that went along with the activity.  Even as an adult, I make up songs almost everyday while I’m playing with my dog.

This is the third and last paper, with this heading, that will be published here. In earlier blog entries you’ll find my first two papers and some background info.  In this essay we will investigate the use of narrative songs, game songs, cross cultural collaborations, the celebration of community relationships, contemporary intertribal encounters

Another subject we will look at in this essay is Native American throat singing.  I think the first time I ever heard throat singing in person was in the late 1990′s by the bassist Peter Kowald.  With throat singing, two or more pitches may be produced simultaneously.  The sound is hauntingly beautiful.  Furthermore some saxophonists including John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Dewey Redman and Evan Parker along with a few contemporary trumpeters including my friend and musical cohort Peter Evans, are able to simulate this through their own means.  I don’t want to assume I know how each of them produces “those” sounds.  Those sounds are exciting to be around.  You gotta hear it in person!

Understanding and Listening to Native American Music

“Human wellbeing involves far more than simple adjustment to a given environment, natural or cultural; it involves endless experimentation in how the given world can be lived decisively, on one’s own terms” (xii).

~ Dr. Michael Jackson, Existential Anthropology: Events, Exigencies and Effects

In order to understand and listen to Native American music, it is essential to understand human behavior through the study of people because the enculturated “mythical ideas of racial essences (which) are deeply embedded within the folk culture of U.S...

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Critical Theory And The End Of Noise – Post #3

Although the caption is, "This is not a piano", this an image of a piano.

This is not a piano.

 It’s been said, “The word is not the thing” and “The map is not the territory”.  With respect to a photograph or for that matter a sound recording, isn’t it just a representation?  Basically, as far as music is concerned, is sheet music or a recording of music, for that matter, actually the music that was originally sounded and recorded?  With this being the third post in this heading, we are going to dig into the conventional notion that objects correspond to words and images. Through the use of parody we see that artists may create a paradox. Parodic reworkings of previous music may illuminate a rubric of previously hidden perspectives.

Book Review #1: A Theory of Parody –

The Teachings of Twentieth Century Art Forms

by Linda Hutcheon

     Modern parody is a mode of expression that is flexible, multi-faceted and intertextual. In A Theory of Parody – The Teachings of Twentieth Century Art Forms, Linda Hutcheon observes the use of parody in the works of architects, composers, filmmakers, painters and playwrights. As Hutcheon details the range of intent in contemporary parody, distinguishing characteristics illuminate it’s nature in contrast to allusion, burlesque, pastiche, plagiarism, quotation, satire and travesty. Hutcheon’s book is a reconsideration of both the nature and the function of parody. Hutcheon identifies contemporary parody as a unique theoretical perspective that intersects with invention and critique as a way to deal with the texts and discourses of the past. Parody is a dialogue with the forms of the past, a dialogue that re-circulates rather than immortalizes. In this way, parody expresses it’s genealogical function.

     Hutcheon notes that the most commonly cited purpose of parody is “critical ridicule” employing humor and derision (51). However, Hutcheon sees this ethos as an outdated limitation. Historical and modern parody is not always ridicule. Numerous critics have recognized the use of parody as wit devoid of ridicule or burlesque (52)...

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Music Theory And Harmony

Pierre Boulez composing at his desk.

Pierre Boulez

“In principle all instruction should be based on historical evolution;

there should be no obligation to make a specialized study of musicology,

but a knowledge of texts of the past, recent or remote, should form a foundation”

~ Pierre Boulez (Nattiez 1985: 119)

This essay will define how and what I learned to master a solid foundation in music theory and harmony through formal and informal learning commensurate with first-rate college level education as exemplified in courses at Columbia University, Harvard University, Oberlin College and Berklee College of Music. Much of the information I have learned about music theory and harmony is demonstrated in my compositions, 15 CD’s and performance history. Additionally, what I learned about species counterpoint will be covered in this essay.  Although references to guitar technique, performance and composition are occasionally made to underscore how I learned music theory and harmony, a future essay will  address “Advanced Guitar and Performance Technique” and the essay “Musical Composition and Structured Improvisation” was published here four weeks ago. Therefore, it is not my objective to address those subjects in this essay.

Supporting documents (SD) and endnotes, which further clarify and substantiate theory and harmony scholarship, are not included but will be supplied upon request. I have been learning and engaged with music harmony and music theory for over 30 years and I have a deep knowledge of these subjects. I learned music theory and harmony in a variety of formal environments including one-on-one private instruction and in classroom situations. Using Alfred’s Basic Guitar Method I learned many music theory fundamentals with my first guitar instructor, Vincent Pattaglia, including staff notation, rhythmic notation, pitch, tuning systems, tetrachords, scales and chords.[i] Later, in private instruction with retired professional guitarist Joe Yurko, I wrote out intervals, scales and harmonization of major and minor scales in every key...

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Anthropology of Music – Post #2

Edison phonograph and wax cylinders from the collection of ethnomusicological recordings at the Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv

Edison phonograph and wax cylinders from the collection of ethnomusicological recordings at the Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv

This is the second post in this heading.  In this essay we are going to learn about the perspectives of some of the most influential theorists who helped to conceptualize the modern field of ethnomusicology including Alan P. Merriam, Bruno Nettl, Phillip V. Bohlman and Ruth M. Stone.  The Society Of Ethnomusicology (SEM) has an annual conference which I attended in 2012 when it touched down in Philadelphia.  While at the conference I was fortunate to hear many interesting academic lectures.  Additionally, I was honored to meet Bruno Nettl and Ruth Stone.

Reading Review 2 - How Do We Know What We Know?

This reading review focuses on three texts: an anthropological approach to conceptualize ethnomusicology, The Anthropology of Music by Alan P. Merriam; a collection of essays on the history of ethnomusicology and it’s methodological and theoretical foundations, Comparative Musicology and Anthropology of Music: Essays on the History of Ethnomusicology (CMAM) by Bruno Nettl and Phillip V. Bohlman; and a contemporary overview of ethnomusicology’s theoretical underpinnings, Theory for Ethnomusicology by Ruth M. Stone. This paper has two primary objectives. The first is to look at the ways that these books specifically relate the history of anthropological theory to that of ethnomusicological theory. The second is to see how these works convey this relationship to the reader and to recognize how closely intertwined the two fields are.

Philip V. Bohlman, ethno-musicologist and writer of numerous books on music around world.

Philip V. Bohlman

Ethnomusicologist, musician and author, Philip V. Bohlman remarks, “Seeing ourselves in the Other and the Other in ourselves” is one of the primary motivations of anthropology (CMAM: 142-43).  Beginning with Alan Merriam’s work, the same could be said of contemporary ethnomusicologists...

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Native American Perspectives in Music – Post #2

Arizona Navajo, Sir Harrison, with his blue Fender stratocaster guitar, fronts the Blues Kings.

Arizona Navajo, Sir Harrison, fronts the Blues Kings.

“With the power of soul, anything is possible.” – Jimi Hendrix

This is the second of three papers in the heading, “Native American Perspectives in Music”. In an earlier blog entry you’ll find my first paper and some background info.  In this essay we shall see that linking music with traditional and contemporary indigenous knowledge transforms human consciousness into the spiritual field.  One point that is made explicit by almost every author in this anthology is that legends, dance, music and song texts weave traditional and contemporary knowledge to generate power and transform consciousness.  Furthermore, with this transformation we learn that sound is a healing force.   Finally, we shall see how the preservation of ecology is related to the preservation of culture.

Understanding Native American Music Across the USA (Part 2)

“The sound takes me there.”

~ Margaret Paul; Passamaquoddy Traditional Singer (Browner 2009: 60)

Native North American’s weave traditional and contemporary knowledge by linking music with legend and dance to transform human consciousness into the spiritual field. This review focuses on a book, a website and a recording to develop understanding about Native American music across the United States. Specifically, key points from the Introduction and Chapters 3-9 of an anthology of scholarly case studies, Tara Browner’s Music of the First Nations, will be explored. Additionally, this author will summarize three stories at the PBS website, Circle of Stories-Many Voices, and explain why this author selected them and what was found to be important. Finally, using a musical piece from the CD accompanying Beverley Diamond’s book, Music of The First Nations – Tradition and Innovation in Native North America, this author will explain this musical piece’s contribution to the understanding of Native American perspectives discussed in this paper...

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Critical Theory And The End Of Noise – Post #2

Listening device - not necessarily for music.

Listening device – not necessarily for music.

Does music change when new musical practices and new technologies emerge?  Does subversion and transgression uproot the tyrannical weight of cultural memory?  This is the second post in this heading, “Critical Theory And The End Of Noise”. We are going to explore the thoughts and perspectives of some new and old friends. Look out below!  because we are going to interact with Canadian philosopher of communication theory, public intellectual and fixture in media discourse – Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980);  Austrian composer, longtime Bertolt Brecht associate – Hanns Eisler (1898-1962);  one of the foremost continental philosophers of the twentieth century,sociologist, philosopher and musicologist known for his critical theory of society – Theodor Adorno (1903-1969);  innovative French composer, writer, broadcaster, engineer, musicologist and acoustician – Pierre Schaeffer (1910-1995);  Spanish avant-garde experimental musician and sound artist – Francisco López (1964);  Swedish musicologist, researcher, writer, music critic – Ola Stockfelt (1953);  English musician, composer, record producer, singer, visual artist, and one of the principal innovators of ambient music – Brian Eno (1948);  author and Professor of Cultural and Postcolonial Studies known for his interdisciplinary and intercultural work on music, popular and metropolitan cultures – Iain Chambers (1949);  American composer, accordionist, author, and music professor who is a central figure in the development of experimental and post-war electronic art music – Pauline Oliveros (1932); and American composer, music theorist, early adapter of electronic music, and Professor of Music Emeritus at Princeton University – J.K. Randall (1929-2014).

Reading Review #2

As new musical practices and technologies emerge, it is necessary to develop a new discourse about listening conventions because changes in music production and the reception of sound have caused a shift in the definition of “music”...

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Musical Composition And Structured Improvisation

Robert Crumb - Record Collector

Robert Crumb – Record Collector

Growing up as a guitarist, I learned a lot about music from records.  By the time I was twelve I learned how to slow down a record and pick out the guitar and bass parts.  I’d learn the chord progressions, riffs and solos from records and recordings.  Later on I collected  jazz records to hear the musical interaction and learn more songs.  My friends often did the same thing and recordings influenced how we performed.  However, learning from records and other musicians isn’t the only way I learned about music composition and improvisation.  The following essay is the first in a series under the “How and What I Learned” heading.  Originally written in early 2012, I tried to keep this essay as concise as possible.  Further reference on specific subjects may be found in the extensive “End Notes” which are used to more fully elucidate subjects.  Of my own work which is mentioned in this paper, many of the CD’s and some of the scores are available in the BLOG STORE.  A variety of supporting documents (SD) are mentioned in this essay and although they are not published here, they are available upon request.  Many composers and musicians are referenced in this essay.  If you are unfamiliar with someone, do yourself a favor and check them out.  There are so many fine musicians/composers out there.  I’m the type of musician who likes many forms of expression and so I am influenced by many sounds from many time periods.  For me, this is essential to be a creative 21st century composer and improvisor.

Musical Composition And Structured Improvisation – How and What I Learned

“Whenever music takes on the task of expression, it develops new technical means.”

~ H. H. Stuckenschmidt

This essay defines how and what I learned to develop a solid foundation in musical composition and structured improvisation and my incorporation of these techniques into recorded works...

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Anthropology Of Music – Post #1

The following essay was originally written in 2011 for a course I took called “The Anthropology Of Music”. In this course I learned about the theoretical perspectives that influence the field of ethnomusicology – the study of how and why people use music. An understanding of the diverse rubric of perspectives in this field helps me to enjoy music more than I previously did and more than I previously imagined. For example, at this point in 2014 I have been playing music over 47 years; since I was four years old. So, coming from a blues, rock and jazz background, I know how I learned music and I know how music and musical culture has been transmitted to me. A lot of that info is upcoming in future essays. I’m mentioning this because the rubric of my own understanding is more diversely illuminated since I began to understand the myriad of perspectives and approaches that ethnomusicologists employ.  To put it another way, at heart I am a performing musician. I relate to sound from an emotional point of view. When I play music with others, the sounds others make evoke emotions and nature.   When I hear the sounds others make,  I am inspired to participate and communicate with them using my own sound. However, by understanding contemporary cultural anthropological methodologies and perspectives, I now enjoy communicating and participating with a lot more people who use and enjoy music in ways that are different than me.

Anthropology of Music – Reading Review #1

“What has characterized ethnomusicology most throughout its history is a fascination with, and a desire to absorb and understand, the world’s cultural diversity.” ~ Bruno Nettl (1991: xi)

Bruno Nettl

Bruno Nettl

In this review, three books from three time periods link the development of ethnomusicology with the world’s cultural diversity and reflect on the history of ethnomusicological and anthropological theory and practice. Published in 1964, after “some fifteen years of thinking and of discussion with colleagues”, Alan P. Merriam’s The Anthropology of Musi...

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Native American Perspectives in Music – Post #1 (2 of 2)

(This post is continued from last week)

Tara Browner’s, Music of the First Nations, is a collection of case studies by nine authors. One key point in the introduction describes the increasing difficulty in studying Native American music since the mid-1970’s because of Native American antipathy towards ethnomusicologists due to copyright and ownership disputes. Browner mentions that contemporary ethnomusicologists are learning to cope with legal, ethical and cultural issues. Differences in methodology, field methods and outlook have been developed with the research being more community based and oriented with “service to Native peoples as a primary goal” (Browner 2009: 2). In addition, ethnomusicologists are trained in the ethics and infringement of intellectual property rights. Lastly, Native Americans themselves are pro active in the direction and use of research in their communities.

In the introduction, Browner states the theoretical perspective used in each essay. As this author is learning the varieties of theoretical approaches employed by ethnomusicologists, the references Browner provides on the approaches of each essay (2-3) is helpful. Given that this book is recently published, the contemporary issues and questions that each writer addresses is intriguing and timely.   For example, in Chapter 1, Paula Conlon’s fieldwork explores how the traditional musical style of drum-dance songs continues to maintain links with the past. The contemporary culture is reflected in the interaction of the composer and teacher of the song (a man) with his wife, who in turn teaches the song to other women in the community for public performance. Although the composer does not sing in public performance, he may cry out from time to time while drum dancing. With regard to the known authorship of the 147 drum-dance songs, only four are attributed to female composers (9). Obviously gender issues exist that contribute to this disparity...

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