Cross-Cultural Studies in Music: Ethnomusicology in the 21st century

(there's a logfile for post-27 September additions)

This course will explore the intersection of the disciplines of anthropology and ethnomusicology with the technologies of sound reproduction and ubiquitous computing. Students will use multimedia resources to investigate music as cultural expression in selected societies, and will undertake analytical projects in areas of geographical or topical interest.

Music is the soundtrack to human activity from birth to death.
(Andrew Orlowski)

Music is a human universal: all cultures make and value music, and a substantial minority in any society think of themselves as musicians. Although musicologists and students of society attend to different modalities in the study of music, they can agree that music is a domain of Information, and a potent medium for delivery of narrative and expressive content, accompanying and underwriting a vast array of culturally significant events, including weddings, funerals, mating rituals, sports, wars, and political movements. The musical genres in which people participate reflect, and may even define, their social and temporal subcultural identities.

In anthropology and ethnomusicology, technologies of sound recording (along with photography and cinematography) made possible the capture, storage, and replay of ephemeral moments of cultural expression, including the musics of the world's peoples. Throughout the last century there has been a fruitful tension between music as academic subject and music as commercial product, and from the very first recordings, sound reproduction technologies have fed mass media channels that commodify and distribute sound and images to growing (and now global) markets. The genres now found under the "world music" rubric offer one window into the contemporary intersection of academic and commercial interests.

21st century developments in digital encoding and broadband access change the accessibility of archived music of the past, and offer global audiences a greatly enhanced palette of sounds and messages. Synthesizer and sampling technologies allow the repurposing of sonic resources, and styles and genres of music continue to bend and blend, as the younger generation of musicians creates new musics from the enhanced palette. Local traditions and regional styles continue to develop, and the supply of virtuoso performers continues to enrich and extend traditional forms and genres.

The study of the interaction of mainstream Western musics with exotic strains of "other peoples' musics" can be undertaken from many perspectives, including social, cultural, political, and economic as well as musicological. It is these emergent complexities --the chronotopes and architectonics of music-- that make this arena interesting as a subject for undergraduate exploration, and especially appropriate to a University Scholars course.

The primary emphasis will be on musics that are not (usually) written --'folk', 'popular', improvised, and generally not primarily produced for or subsidized by elite audiences. Among the facets to be explored:

The course will require students to listen to examples from a broad range of musical traditions and styles, to read widely in materials on background to traditions and emerging genres, and to explore technologies for analysis and manipulation of music as a form of information. The course will also include consideration of the politics, economics, and ethics of creation and distribution of music.

I draw upon more than 30 years of study, collecting, and teaching in this subject area, and will base the course in my own library of recordings, readings, instruments and video resources, augmented by the now-plentiful resources of the Internet and the holdings of Leyburn Library.

Examples of some resources for the course:

Books (most available in Leyburn):

Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Garland 1997

Sound Tracks: popular music, identity, and place John Connell and Chris Gibson, Routledge 2003

Popular Musics of the Non-Western World Peter Manuel, Oxford 1988

Songcatchers: in search of the world's music Mickey Hart, National Geographic 2003

Klezmer! : Jewish music from Old World to Our World Henry Sapoznik, Schirmer 1999

World Musics in Context: a comprehensive survey of the world's major musical cultures Peter Fletcher, Oxford 2001

Scrolling Forward: making sense of documents in the digital age David M. Levy, Arcade 2001

Playback: from the Victrola to MP3, 100 years of music, machines, and money Mark Coleman, Da Capo 2003

Narcocorrido: a journey into the music of drugs, guns and guerrillas Elijah Wald, Rayo 2001

The Study of Folk Music in the Modern World Philip V. Bohlman, Indiana 1988

A Spiral Way: How the Phonograph Changed Ethnography Erika Brady, GN348 .B73 1999

Making Beats: the art of sample-based hip-hop Joseph G. Schloss, Wesleyan, ML3531 .S35 2004 (see extracts and links)

Papers and commentary (NB: some links replaced via in Nov 2014, wherever possible, but Your Mileage May Vary):

Music Everywhere: It's all about the algorithm, but which one will win? By Thomas Mock in IEEE Spectrum

New Perspectives in Ethnomusicology: A Critical Survey (James Porter)

Audio and ‘Ethnomusicology’ (Julie Gray)

Music Archiving in the World (Papers Presented at the Conference on the Occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv --a BOOK)

Symposium on "New Techniques in Ethnomusicology" (11th Meeting of the FWO Research Society "Foundations of Music Research" 10 december 1999, 10.30 University of Ghent)

Taking the World for a Spin in Europe: an insider's look at the World Music recording business, in Musical Traditions, "The Magazine for Traditional Music throughout the world"

Musicology and Ethnomusicology in the Digital Era (Dr. Dimitrije Buzarovski)

Emile Berliner and the birth of the recording industry from Library of Congress

How the music biz can live forever, get even richer, and be loved By Andrew Orlowski (and see Jon Udell's Wired quotation, below)

"The Scratch Is Hip-hop: appropriating the phonographic medium" David Albert Mhadi Goldberg, in Elash et al. Appropriating Technology: vernacular science and social power (T14.5 .A68 2004)

Web resources:

Epitonic: genres in "cutting edge music"

IUMA 'World' genre

Sonic Warfare ("the most frightening MP3s from across the globe")

Webjay: "a tool that helps you listen to and publish web playlists"

from Jon Udell's weblog, about linking to music, via Webjay etc.

Jeff Harrington's music --and see Jeff Harrington's own page for more. I'm impressed...
Oddio Overplay

Ethnomusicology Resources on the Web (google cache)

Ethnomusicology Online


TECHNOCULT (Music and Technoculture List --mentions "cross-cultural plunderphonics" [the creative appropriation of musical sound]), a tool for relationships

Cognitive Ethnomusicology Course Description (Ohio State University School of Music) and Research on Cognition in Ethnomusicology (bibliography)

WOMAD 2004

La Llorona

Berber politics and World Music from

About the klezmer revival and Ari Davidow's Klezmer Shack


Columbia Ethnomusicology Digital Archive Project

Ethnomusicological Video for Instruction and Analysis (EVIA) Digital Archive, Indiana University

American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress

World Music Central

UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive

Digital Audio Archiving Workshop at University of Sydney

UNESCO music files: Chinese traditional music


Paying for Music in the Internet Age from NPR. The portion on micropayments is a useful summary. Smithsonian Folkways will use PepperCoin for its music content, apparently. See BitPass site for another scheme
Clay Shirky says that users want bundles, subscriptions --not bit by bit purchase.
N.B.: Digital Downloads of Folkways Recordings to be available through Smithsonian Global Sound Project ("Global Sound is due to launch in 2004.")

HAB materials:

China Mieville on drum'n'bass and jungle

some lyrics of 'political' songs --protest, identity, etc.(originally for Brooks Hickman)

texts for Death and Dying examples (originally for an appearance in Richard Marks' course)

my musics logfile