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Session 2-28 (IASPM-SEM)
Ethnography Reconsidered

Portia Maultsby (Indiana University), Chair
Carol M. Babiracki (Syracuse University), Respondent
Réné T.A. Lysloff (University of California, Riverside), Respondent

 

If Ethnography's the Answer, What Was the Question?
Geoff Stahl (McGill University)

The study of popular music has adopted a number of approaches in its account of cultural production and consumption. Institutional and industrial analyses, geography, sociology, musicology, ethnomusicology are just a few of the theoretical paradigms brought to bear on the affective and evocative power of music in everyday life. All of these perspectives have opened up the discussion of popular music in an invigorating way. At the same time they also present certain limits in terms of their efficacy as complete research tools. As one such research tool and methodology ethnography has recently come to occupy a contentious place in the minds of
many scholars examining popular music. I wish to frame this discussion with a simple question: How is it that by relying on the voices of a musical culture's participants, so many of these studies can purport to tell a more effective, compelling or complete "truth" of musical experience? I intend to undertake an examination of issues relating to ethnography and popular music by citing recent studies and suggest some alternatives which can both trouble ethnography as a research model and
also utilize some of its elements, to strengthen the study of popular music. In this capacity, I will explore the assumptions underlying certain research paradigms and position them in relation to my own study of Montreal's music scenes, doing so in such a way that highlights both the necessity of ethnography but also certain impossiblities of its applicability to the analysis of the sociomusical experience within the city.


Ethnographic Misadventures in Local "Musicking"
Holly Everett (Memorial University of Newfoundland)

In recent years, a major concern among ethnographers has been the position of the self and the construction of the other in academic research. Folklorists, ethnomusicologists, media scholars, anthropologists and sociologists have all struggled with questions of ethics, especially with regard to the appropriation of others' experiences and voices. Where does the researcher end and the researched begin? This paper will explore the ethical and personal concerns arising from an on-going research project, based in St. John's, Newfoundland, on flamenco.
Approaching flamenco as a cultural product and process, I have been studying identity construction and aesthetics as developed by and expressed through "musicking" in three Canadian cities. I have been somewhat stalled in my ethnographic efforts, however, by concerns for both my informants' privacy and the integrity of my research. Certainly, it is necessary to ground scholarly readings of cultural texts in "lived lives" but how much of those lives must be revealed? Such questions are perhaps even more important when conducting research in smaller cities and communities, in which the identities the ethnographer seeks to document, analyze and present readily identify individuals to any number of possible readers . Conversely, when does analysis become so generalized as to be meaningless at best, and essentializing at worst? I will address these and other questions in an exploration of the boundaries of ethnographic research in traditional and popular music.

 

Big Sounds from Big People: The Global Economy of Pop Music Production Aesthetics
Frederick Moehn (New York University)

In the 1960s, developments in recording technology, especially multi-track recording, changed the way in which popular music was produced. Henceforth the recording studio would no longer be seen simply as a tool for capturing live sound; it became a musical tool in its own right, and individual producers developed particular "sounds." Today, individual mixing styles tend to characterize a pop music production, more so than the way in which the music was recorded. My research into popular music making in Rio de Janeiro presents a case study of the way in which the aesthetics of mixes coming from major centers of global music production such as London and New York are perceived in a more marginalized production center. For example, one producer whom I interviewed in Rio said, "What impresses me in the American mixes is the dimension of the sound. The sound is always really big, spacious, voluminous, there are three clearly defined dimensions." The paper examines the complexities of the global "economy" of musical production sound with particular attention to the following questions: How do metropolitan centers of music production influence the way in which music makers in Rio de Janeiro conceptualize their mixes? How do new music technologies such as digital recording and mixing, and resources such as the Internet influence the global circulation of production "sounds"? Finally, does the continued concentration of production capital in the most developed nations imply a global hegemony of music production aesthetics?

 

Global or Local: Finding a Middle Ground for Malaysian Advertisement Music
Stephanie Sook-Lynn Ng (University of Michigan)

Malaysia has been taking steps to globalize its industries since the beginning of this decade. One industry that has benefited from the government's globalization effort is the advertisement music industry. This industry is able to garner international exposure for its music by utilizing the international network of the MNC advertisers and advertising agencies. Advertisement music produced in Malaysia is used in MNC advertisements throughout Asia. Malaysia was also responsible for the music used in Coca-Cola's worldwide Ramadhan advertisement campaign in 1998.
Malaysia is able to market its advertisement music internationally because the music possesses global appeal. Most of this music is very much akin to what is distributed by international recording companies, as the industry gets its cues by observing the latest trends in transnational music. The increasing popularity of world music in this decade has also prompted many local musicians to incorporate local elements into the advertisement music that they produce. These local elements are fused with Western music and music from other non-Western cultures in order to maintain the global character of the music.
This paper looks at Malaysian advertisement music in the 1990s and identifies transnational trends in this music. Furthermore, it looks at the changes that are going on in the advertisement music industry and the ways these changes will affect the future of the industry. Advertisement samples are presented in video form, as the global character of Malaysian advertisements is not only in the music but in the visuals as well.

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