It’s no secret that, by and large, musicology remains a belated discipline in its—sometimes blissful—denial and/or refusal of current intellectual developments in cultural studies and the humanities at large, often in order to protect a carefully constructed, established disciplinary scope. But when you study music, you study something that is very much alive, and more often than not indifferent to categorization, academic narratives, and other strategies employed to control the uncontrollable.
Cultural Musicology rejects the notion that, as academic scholars, we will ever be able to speak about music authoritatively. It also rejects the corset of disciplinarity and the assumed dichotomy of theory and practice. This particular opposition has always offered to the humanities a clear distinction between that which is related to the material we work with and the methods we use to explore our material, on the one hand (in other words, our practice), and the inductive reasoning with which me make our research results useful beyond our “case study,” and frame it academically, on the other. Conceived thus, theory pre-structures our thinking, and inevitably pre-orders our research results in a way that is not particularly helpful in achieving our ambitious goal: to better understand music. What is more, when conceived in this way, theory lets music’s innate potential to actually inform our understanding of what is happening go to waste. None of this is really new—if only we would take postmodern thought and its rigorous radicalness seriously and act on it. As musicologists, we have the perhaps unique opportunity to conceive of cultural theorizing in a more musical sense. Instead of applying theory to music, we can think through theory musically and think through music theoretically; and in this way, we can think beyond both.
We therefore need to exercise ourselves in understanding music rather than robotically theorising it. This is a far-reaching step in that it requires us to let go of the notion of (our) academic perusals as potentially authoritative. It also requires us to embrace the intellectual restlessness that is needed to relate to music that is ever-new in ever-fresh ways. Cultural Musicology is very much about this restlessness, and about being-alive-to-the-world , which naturally includes being-alive-to-music. In my talk, I shall elaborate on these themes.
 See the title of Anselm Gerhard’s edited volume, Musikwissenschaft – eine verspätete Disziplin? Die akademische Musikforschung zwischen Fortschrittsglauben und Modernitätsverweigerung, Stuttgart 2000.
 Tim Ingold, Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description, Oxon & New York, 2011.
The Absence of Culture in the Study of Music, or, Culture as a Cultural System
Timothy D. Taylor
Despite the refinement and popularization of the culture concept by Clifford Geertz in the 1960s and 1970s and the important influence this has had on much work in the social sciences and humanities, much of music studies has either ignored or misunderstood the culture concept. Many studies remain studies of individuals musicians and seldom consider how those individuals were shaped by culture (or history or the social).
The situation is somewhat better in the field of ethnomusicology, but, nonetheless, the culture concept has experienced some setbacks recently. One is the rise of interest in “subject-centered ethnography,” which runs the risk of returning to an individual-based mode of inquiry that ignores or minimizes the importance of culture. There is a frequent tendency towards reductionism, viewing people who lead complex leaves as simply individuals who emit music.
Secondly, a weak or absent culture concept has lead to endless studies of “music and –” (e.g., music and identity, music and mourning, and so forth). But linkage between music and something else is a kind of lateral move, instead of a more “downward” move that connects music to culture, identity (for example) to culture, and all three together.
Even though some anthropologists in recent decades have despaired of the overuse of the culture concept, or the over-reliance on it that fails to capture cultural or historical particularity, this presentation seeks to reaffirm the importance of the culture concept, and argues for its continued use, and its increased salience, in music studies.
“Ethn[…]’s” Elisions: Toward a Culturally Situated Musicology
Although the discipline of ethnomusicology is often historicized as having arisen, in part, as a purposefully inclusive corrective to the perceived ethnocentric and class-related circumscriptions constructed via the institutional and ideological hegemony of historical musicology, it is arguable that this newer discipline, over the span of the past several decades, has erected its own set of exclusionary (and ideologically motivated) desiderata. In this paper, I will examine how ethnomusicology’s disciplinary focus on the variables of ethnicity and ethnography, as they are manifestly and tacitly invoked, compelled, and/or enacted (epistemologically, methodologically, and ideologically) has resulted in yet another segmentation of the academic study of musics and musicking. Rather than critique as terminus, however, I will also suggest that attention to the methodological and epistemological (although not necessarily ideological) specificity of any number of disciplines devoted to the examination of any number of musics highlights not only the impossibility of a single disciplinary optics’ capacity to do justice to the complexity of music (as product, as experience, as process), but also the possible necessity of such specificity in the context of a move toward “inter-discipline interdisciplinarity.” In closing, I will posit the conceptual or symbolic utility of a terminological “re-appropriation” of “musicology,” as well as the necessity of the cultural contextualization of musicological inquiry, concomitant with an understanding and embracing of the contingency of disciplinarity as such.
A rose by any other name …’: ‘Cultural Musicology’ and its Premises
The overarching narrative of the recent history of music scholarship is one characterised both by convergence – between different areas of music studies, their central interests and methodologies – and by inter-disciplinary dialogue and exchange. Not that the latter is particularly new to ethnomusicology, but certainly increased attention to a range of concerns prompted by the work of critical theorists and postcolonial scholars from the early 1980s has led to a greater interest in issues of ideology and power compared with earlier writers. Musicological convergence became particularly evident with the emergence of the ‘new’ musicology, leading in part to what Nicholas Cook has termed ‘the ethnomusicologization of musicology’ (2008:65). In a published response to the original conference paper on which Cook’s article is based (Nooshin 2008), I suggest that whilst the logical end point of such convergence might be the demise of the musicology/ethnomusicology divide, issues of alterity cannot be separated from disciplinary identity. For many ethnomusicologists, earlier decades of scholarly marginalisation resulted in a strong sub-disciplinary identity, and responses to an invitation to join one unified happy family of (cultural) musicologists reveal that much more is at stake than whether one term (cultural musicology) is ‘better’ than another (ethnomusicology) (to paraphrase from the conference’s webpage). For one thing, to ask such a question assumes that those who identify as ethnomusicologists feel a greater allegiance to the musicology ‘family’ (broadly defined) than to the many other cognate disciplinary alignments.
In this paper, I explore two main questions in relation to the premise of a cultural musicology. First, I ask what explanatory power the adjective ‘cultural’ – a term much problematized in recent years (for instance, see Kuper 2000) – might have. I also ask whether, in seeking a unified field of music studies, we risk losing the productive tension of what Georgina Born in her proposal for a ‘relational musicology’ calls the ‘agonistic-antagonistic’ mode of scholarship (2010). I conclude by examining the implications in the context of my own work on Iranian music, of a cultural musicology concerned with the ‘cultural analysis of music’ and the ‘musical analysis of culture’.
Born,Georgina. 2010. ‘For a Relational Musicology: Music and Interdisciplinarity, Beyond the Practice Turn’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association 135(2):205-43.
Cook,Nicholas. 2008. ‘We Are All (Ethno)musicologists Now’. In The New (Ethno)musicologies, edited by Henry Stobart, 48-67. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
Kuper, Adam. 2000. Culture: The Anthropologists’ Account. Harvard University Press.
Nooshin, Laudan. 2008. ‘Ethnomusicology, Alterity and Disciplinary Identity. Or “Do We Still Need an Ethno-?”, “Do We Still Need an -Ology?”’, in Henry Stobart (ed.), The New (Ethno)musicologies, Scarecrow Press. pp. 71-5 (originally published in the British Forum for Ethnomusicology Newsletter 23:17-20 ).
The New Cultural Histories: of Music/of India
Katherine Butler Schofield
In the last decade or so, cultural history has become a pressing new interest in Indian history and Western musicology. In Indian history, a new attentiveness to the shaping capacities of language, literature, visual and material culture and ritual has led to increasingly rich understandings of polity, society and mentalité in early modern and colonial India. But while this new movement has resulted in exemplary new cultural histories of Indian music in the late colonial period, the sound worlds of early modern India have remained somewhat peripheral to the new cultural histories project. In musicology, the New Cultural History of Music Series (Oxford University Press) has begun to capitalise on a wealth of histories of Europe and North America that focus on music and sound as mediators of wider worlds; and many cultural historians of Western art music have found a new source of inspiration in ethnomusicology. Yet ethnomusicologists, by and large, continue to use history as the servant of ethnography, and the few that stray earlier than the period of recorded sound seem fearful of making the kinds of claims about music’s transformative power that they routinely do of contemporary musical worlds.
Ethnomusicology needs new approaches to global pasts that would allow music to resound as a major topic of cultural history beyond Europe and America. Based on key findings of the European Research Council project “Musical Transitions to European Colonialism in the Eastern Indian Ocean”, this presentation will consider what such a methodology might offer the new cultural histories, both of music, and of India.
Musicologica, or, the ownership of (musical) knowledge: A South African story
Modes of thought about music as well as through music are of particular concern to cultural musicology, because they often elucidate how music is situated culturally. Wim van der Meer – inspired by the title of Menezes Bastos’s research (1978) into the ‘world hearing’ (rather than ‘world view’) of the Amazonian Kamayurá – calls these modes ‘musico-logica’ (Meer & Erickson 2013).
My fascination for musicologica revolves around the acknowledgement that, as music researchers, we are all part of a musicologica ourselves, whatever that logic may be. This prompts me to culturally situate my own thinking. I generally advocate a post-colonial, non-racial(ist), constructivist and democratic ‘musicologicking’ (cf. Small’s musicking), but to some extent this is mere rhetoric, since there is a huge imbalance of power between my musicologica and those of ‘others’: like many academic music researchers, I am in the position of submitting other musicologica to my musicologica.
The implications of this power imbalance are the subject of my essay. It is sometimes easier to investigate musicologica as research objects (f.i., by framing, interpreting, or deconstructing them) than it is to treat them as knowledge systems in their own right that could potentially become part of my musicologica, through mutual exchanges of knowledge and experience. I became increasingly aware of this during my fieldwork research into maskanda music in South Africa, a country where the ownership of knowledge –after decades of apartheid policy – has become highly politicized. The musicologica I encountered (and researched [Titus 2013]) were often incompatible with my experiential and scholarly presumptions. I realized that my (musico)logical toolbox helps me and my readers gain insight into South African music, but also causes directions of thinking to be barricaded.
This dynamic of often unreflective cultural situation (and hence exclusion) is my primary concern. What do we ignore or tone down in order to make our arguments comply to our own culturally situated (musico)logic? What are the implications of this for our efforts to foster a ‘relational musicology’ (Cook 2012) or a ‘cultural musicology’ (Meer & Erickson 2013)?
Cook, Nicholas 2012. ‘Anatomy of the encounter: Intercultural analysis as relational musicology’ in Stan Hawkins (ed.), Critical musicological reflections: Essays in honour of Derek B. Scott. Aldershot: Ashgate, 193-208.
Meer, Wim van der & Rebecca Erickson 2013. ‘Resonating cultural musicology: Sources, streams and issues’. Cultural Musicology iZine: https://culturalmusicology.org/cultural-musicology-3, accessed 29 December 2013.
Menezes Bastos, Rafael José de 1978. A musicológica kamayurá: Para uma antropologia da comunicação no alto-xingu. Fundação Nacional do Índio, Departamento Geral de Planejamento Comunitário, Divisão de Estudos e Pesquisas.
Small, Christopher 1998. Musicking: The meanings of performing and listening. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.
Titus, Barbara 2013. ‘Walking like a crab’: Analyzing maskanda music in post-apartheid South Africa’. Ethnomusicology 57/2, 286-310.
Reflections on Music and Exile
In his famous 1984 essay “Reflections on Exile,” the late Palestianian literary scholar and cultural critic Edward Said discussed some aspects of the politics and aesthetics of exilic cultural production. Said drew primarily on examples from literature (novels, poetry), with the result that the asethetic issues he discussed remained primarily at the textual level. This paper puts some of Said’s ideas in dialog with questions more specifically related to the musical production of exilic subjects. As deeply embodied forms of cultural expression combining sound and language in performance, musical evocations of exile offer other kinds of possibilities for the aesthetic exploration of the condition of exile. Such possibilities are further extended in multimedia productions such as videoclips, in which the musical and the visual interact to produce complex audiovisual texts, apt for the exploration of the contradictions of exile and exilic identity. Musical performance events can be sites for the constitution of exilic subjects and subjectivities, sometimes in unexpected ways, as when exiled musicians are absent from performances of their own music in the homeland they have been exiled and displaced from. In such cases, one can speak of a present-absence which powerfully embodies the exilic condition. This paper uses the music of Dersim (southeastern Turkey) musicians Metin & Kemal Kahraman as a case study to explore these issues, focusing on particular songs, videoclips, and a concert performance as examples of musical expressions born out of the exile.
Music, place and identity
In times of social conflict it is sometimes easier to observe the ways in which superficially innocuous music may come to bear political significance.
Societies enjoying peaceful circumstances will tolerate, or even laud ethnic and social diversity, whilst under the dominion of an oppressive regime few dissenting voices will be heard in public.
However when economic or political circumstances deteriorate – when discourses of collective identity are disputed or fragile, the structures of cultural division may become more apparent. Music and musical practices are sensitive indicators of shifts in cultural politics, partly because music so readily connotes distinctions in ethnic and other social stratifications. Also, musical performance enables the collective, audible expression of those identities, and such physical manifestations can become contentious. However, musicians themselves may not always intend their work to be politicised, and indeed, music from the past is frequently appropriated to political ends.
This paper will examine the role of music in areas of contested identity, drawing primarily upon case studies in Ireland and North Africa. It will consider music as a vehicle of shifting political meanings which are consequntly constructed by the listener in specific geographical and historical contexts. It will not only look at musical practices that have acquired political significance, but also at musics that have been suppressed by the momentum of major cultural shifts.
Music, mediation and place: a cultural musicology of the cosmopolitan city
Cultural Musicology is not a new term, nor perhaps necessary, as many academic studies apply due cultural contextualisations in contemporary thinking about musics. Even so, academic preferences and territorialisms are culturally and socially hard-wired and continue to divide the musical fields of study, notably fields like ethnomusicology whose proponents often tend to maintain allegiance towards its particularly problematic prefix, even though they commonly share with other musical fields the adoption of ethnographic methods, the valorization of musical performance, the acknowledgement of multiple histories of musics, and, ultimately, the interrogation of aesthetic hierarchies. Yet in maintaining disciplinary separateness, ethnomusicology is at times not “ethnomusicological enough”, hence “fixed” by its own history and by its focus on “tradition”, which is evident, for instance, by a re-perpetuating emphasis on certain subject matters that often exclude commercialized musical styles and processes of mediation in urban contexts. Research that focuses on the interrelatedness between music and mediation, whilst being informed by critical theory from cultural studies, may thus be better placed within a “broader musical scholarship” under the umbrella of cultural musicology. This paper, which is informed by urban ethnographic research conducted during 2008 into the interrelatedness between music, mediation and place, explores these notions by focusing on the mediation of cosmopolitanism in the place branding of Liverpool as European Capital of Culture under the banner The World in One City, and thus presents an example of a cultural musicology in urban contexts.
Noticing Music: Sounding Glimpses of Covent Garden as Relational EventsPirkko Moisala, Taru Leppänen, Milla Tiainen and Hanna Väätäinen (University of Helsinki)
Among its other credentials, cultural musicology has produced crucial new insights into music as a system of meaning-making and knowing. While drawing on feminist, poststructuralist and additional theoretical currents, cultural studies of music have suggested we approach music as texts that have their own ways and powers of representing and signifying social realities: gender and sexuality; racial and ethnic identities; power relations; centres and margins. Music – especially Western classical music – has been recast as a deeply contextual construct that can provide us knowledge about our relationships to culture and the world.
In this position paper, we ask what happens if a shift is initiated from grasping music in terms of meaning and knowing towards engaging with it increasingly in terms of relational events, doing, and becoming? What if music does not only symbolically mediate worlds, but constantly comes into being and does things as part of intrinsically messy realities that consist of relations between a variety of processes and entities: vibrations, sounds, sensations, feelings and capacities, human bodies and minds, words and meanings, spaces, movements, materialities, arrangements and rearrangements of social organization and power? How might our conceptions about music on the one hand and about the methodological stances of cultural studies of music on the other hand change if this kind of relational occurring is harnessed as a starting point? Instead of seeing music as a window to culture, we connect these views of relationality with the spirit of ethnomusicology (Merriam 1964; Herndon and McLeod 1982; Blacking 1973 & 1989) in order to reorient and elaborate methodologies of studying music as cultural and bodily entanglements.
In our paper, we will exemplify the directions that might emerge from this through discussing some relational events of sound and music that we encountered in the Covent Garden area during our recent visit to London. Ultimately, the paper is related to our respective longer-term research projects that are currently ongoing. What connects our on-going projects is their attempt to create new combinations between ethnographic study of musics (a tradition where music’s relational happening has historically been given attention) and such theorizations of relationality and becoming (e.g. Gilles Deleuze, Rebecca Coleman, Brian Massumi) that remain little used in the cultural study of music. Our proposition is that when musics are explored as relational events, the logic of fairly stable recognition behind the term “knowing music” may be complemented or replaced by “noticing music,” to use a notion coined by Kathleen Stewart (2007). This term refers here to open-ended examinations of the patterning, yet also constantly differing things that music can do in the course of its relational becomings, and that can be involved in – or excluded from – its processes of happening.
Anatomy of the musical encounter: Debussy and the gamelan, again
The topic of this paper is the kind of transformation that can result from one culture’s influence on another. A kind of absurdity lies beneath much thinking on influence: it can only happen if the conceptual apparatus is already in place that makes it possible to receive the influence, but if the conceptual apparatus is already in place, where is the potential for transformation? I explore this topic in relation to perhaps the most famous of all examples of cross-cultural influence, the Javanese gamelan music that Debussy heard at the 1889 and 1900 Expositions universelles. I explore a range of contemporary transcriptions and recreations of this music, each of which is a representation of what was heard but from very different, technical, aesthetic, and ideological perspectives. But what may have given Debussy’s reception of gamelan music its particular quality of transformation, I suggest, is the way that it related to the conceptual schemata which Debussy had internalised during his studies at the Paris Conservatoire. This sheds light on the relationship that was widely perceived at this time between early music and world music.
Reviving Early Twentieth-Century Balinese Vocal Styles through the Music Recordings of 1928
In 1928 the German companies Odeon and Beka made the only recordings in Bali published prior to World War II. This diverse collection of avant-garde and older instrumental and vocal styles appeared on 78 r.p.m. discs but quickly went out of print. My acquisition of 109 of these recordings (in cooperation with Arbiter of Cultural Traditions) from diverse archives including UCLA and Indonesia’s Museum Nasional comes at a time when the last artists of that generation are available as links to the creative and cultural currents of the 1920s. Field research amongst both near-centenarians and much younger singers has exposed challenging ambiguities of music cognition, implicit and explicit knowledge.
The most complex issue involves tonality and modal practice. The microtonal singing of 1928 clearly reflects archaic seven-tone gamelan but exhibiting an even wider palette of pitches to the octave. The challenge becomes one of musical perception in which new ways of hearing and conceptualizing intervals seem necessary for most Balinese singers to penetrate through their own culturally and historically-specific processes of music cognition.
An interesting consequence of the fact that these recordings have been unavailable in Bali, or anywhere, until now, is that my Balinese colleagues and I are similarly dealing with varying degrees of unknowns, necessitating a dialogic process of research and understanding of the materials. It is what I often refer to as our kebingunan enak, delightful confusion that has stimulated a considerable amount of re-thinking about both aesthetic issues and those of cultural history.
Nineteenth-Century Piano Transcriptions and the Development of Modern Listening
For music—more than for literature or even drama—social settings (the connotations of venues and types of listeners) played an indispensable role in determining audience expectations along generic lines: shaping communication and meaning. Nowadays, when we can listen to any music through headphones in the same chair, this bond has been changed, but in no way severed. This paper traces a part of the history of modern listening and the changing implications of genre. This looser type of listening contract did not emerge out of nowhere with recordings. I argue here, extending from the work of Thomas Christensen and others, that piano transcriptions began this trend. On the one hand, transcriptions created a generic world of their own (their own liveness). On the other hand, transcription encouraged new “audile” listening techniques, to use Jonathan Sterne’s terms, urging connoisseurs to filter “noise” picked up in transcription from the “signal” of the shadow “original” that was transcribed. I suggest that, more than creating a consistent new “generic contract,” piano transcription precariously balanced these two different contracts, and tended to flip between them or hold them apart simultaneously. Here I examine cases of this awareness in nineteenth-century writing, and consider how, rather than fading in the transcription, the social setting and intended audience of the original was often called forth all the more strongly by its physical absence. I conclude by suggesting that this type of listening to transcriptions laid the foundation of listening to modern sound reproduction, in which genre often appears in a trace that is supplied to give music its social context.
Musical structure, performance and cultural meaning: a dāphā song from Nepal
How does music embody cultural meaning? What is the cultural significance of musical structure? How is music linked with other domains of human behaviour, meaning and experience in oral cultures?
An approach to these questions is suggested based on the concept of schema as used in cognitive psychology (Bartlett 1932, Neisser 1976, Mandler 1984 etc.), cognitive anthropology (D’Andrade 1995, Shore 1996, Bloch 1998, 2012) and music cognition (Rosner and Meyer 1982, Gjerdingen 1988, 2007, Vyros 2012). The term refers to an array of cognitive categories in a flexible relationship, which is acquired in memory through repeated experience and deployed in everyday life. Music employs highly specialised schemas that generate expectations (Huron 2006); they may be especially significant in orally transmitted music where the role of memory is paramount (cf Rubin 1995). Schemas can also carry meanings, explicit or implicit, and may re-appear in different cultural domains: such “foundational schemas” (Shore 1996) can link music, psychological experience, and other domains of culture – social, religious, architectural etc.
One example of a dāphā song will be analysed to show its schematic structure. Dāphā is a tradition of sacred singing performed in towns and villages of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. The music is transmitted orally and performed by farmers, and is deeply embedded in local social and religious culture. Through texts, musical structure and performance practice such songs reveal multiple dimensions of cultural meaning.
Aural Culture: Music and mediations in South Asia
This paper reflects on ways of studying aural traditions and practices in South Asia and in the process engages with issues of inter-disciplinarity and methodology – issues that have been at the heart of what has come to be known as the New Cultural History Project. It also hopes to showcase the kind of work that is now emerging in South Asia which goes beyond the ‘reinvention of tradition’ framework, and examines the developments in the Postnational period to rethink issues of aesthetics and criticism, of subjectivity and form. My own specific interest is to think through the idea of gender, of the female voice and musical practice via a biographical approach. The paper will draw on the life and world of K.B.Sundarambal who not only straddled the classical-popular music divide but whose vocal quality, persona and political stance challenged the conventional notions of the sweet singing voice, of caste-based identity politics and of classicism.
Race, Place, and Music: Problematizing Narratives of Nostalgia in Singapore
The community is in a state of constant undoing. Suddenly at the moment of becoming, it awakens to recognize that if it does achieve completion, it will then cease to be. Noor Effendy Ibrahim – Artistic Director, The Substation Theatre
What is Singaporean culture? This question lurks behind the extravagant displays of harmonious cultural diversity on offer during the National Day celebrations. Ethnicity and race are muted, rendered old-fashion, subsumed in an earnest hybridity that is performed as contemporary Singapore. Persistent government focus on the post-independence generation’s relationship to the present and the future in white papers such as the 2003 Remaking Singapore (almost) renders the city devoid of history before WWII. Yet, people whose lives and families have been based in Singapore for generations have experience with alternative racial and ethnic accommodations and hybridizations. The official obscuring of continuity with a historical past and the rapid transformations of old neighbourhoods in the last twenty years may create a sense of nostalgic longing for those missing pasts that can be “heard” in music performances presented at the Esplanade – an internationalist, culturally non-specific space available for hire by any group in Singapore that can afford it. With case studies developed from three, sold-out musical performances presented in less than two weeks at the Esplanade in August and September 2013, in this paper musical analysis enlightens and informs cultural interpretation. I problematise the use and interpretation of nostalgia in Singaporean musical performance and challenge the assertion that Singapore has no indigenous culture.
The culture of Indian music performance
Much has been written on the relationship of Indian music to Indian culture. It is, thus, taken to relate to philosophies and mythologies developed in India, or to a supposed tendency to a spiritual attitude; or it is taken to be betray its history as courtly entertainment, respectable or otherwise, as a purely indigenous expression or as a hybrid forged over centuries of Hindu-Muslim interaction. This paper starts, rather, from observations of performance events and from the testimony of those who take part in them – both musicians and listeners – and asks what this information tells us about the ‘culture’ of those participants. What is it that people share when they share a musical tradition? How does musical engagement reflect, or shape, attitudes, beliefs and practices in other aspects of life? What is contested within Indian musical ‘culture’, and what is beyond argument? Such an approach may serve as a corrective, throwing some previous assumptions into doubt while reinforcing others. Such an empirical, ethnographically-based study provides important evidence as to how and why ideas and practices are shared between groups of people in the context of music-making.
Behram Khan and the Heterodox Classicisation of Hindustani Music
In this paper I will argue that an “outsider” and “marginal” musician, Behram Khan was instrumental in “re-classicising” Hindustani music from within the musical world even as Orientalists and Musicologists were attempting to do so from without.
Hindustani music places a great premium on notions of proper means of musical learning, but actual oral histories provide an abundance of counter narratives. These alternative stories position certain prominent musicians as having a compromised status and their lineages having unauthorized appropriations of musical material. This paper seeks to interpret these transgressions as creative engagements that have kept this practice alive and vibrant. The presence of these “transgressions” in narrative and practice is perhaps a byproduct of Hindustani music depending on a long and complex training process which therefore makes it vulnerable to disruption and discontinuity. All the more notable, then, that Hindustani music has endured, indeed thrived in the face of many instances of radical disruption, be they shifts in patronage or loss of teachers.
How did musicians circumnavigate traditional avenues of learning when their foundation was disrupted? How did musical communities circumnavigate traditional sources of authority if their background was of “questionable” stature? What I suggest is that while modern forms of Hindustani music appear through an orthodox discourse of an art-based classicism, it in fact thrived on the heterodox practice of craft-based innovations. This craft-based approach involved not just the more well-known appropriations from “below”—the incorporation of folk and popular traditions into the elite idioms—but also “popular” appropriations from “above”—the accessing of classical shastric sources by non-elite outsiders to service the popular, as opposed to elitist, propagation of Hindustani music.
In particular, I will explore the role of Behram Khan in creating a “popular classicism” that was more open to individuals and lineages that were outside traditional sources of authority. This might seem at first counter-intuitive since Behram Khan is viewed as the progenitor to one of the more austere, authoritative and “pure” lineages in Hindustani music—the Dagar family of Dhrupad. And yet, oral histories and analysis of lineage-based performance practice and pedagogy allows us to hypothesize that Behram Khan was a marginal outsider who, through accessing classical treatises, introduced a novel form of musical elaboration that allowed more “democratic” approaches to musical elaboration that was not as dependent on the closed “guild” practice of orthodox ideologies of transmission and purity.
Of the theoretical principles laid out in these Sanskrit treatises, the one Behram Khan most likely reintroduced and had the most relevance to contemporary practice is the exercise of meerkund (lit. backbone), found in the 13th century treatise, the Sangita Ratnakara, in the section titled svara prastaara, which literally means the extension of notes. Meerkund are exercises that exhaust all possible note combinations. Meerkund therefore provide a quasi-theoretical substructure, a frame that sits behind the organization of phrase-possibilities. As Win Van Der Meer has argued, these combinations enabled and emphasized a detailed pathway between notes and in the process it de-emphasized the compositional frame of elaboration; meerkund provided an alternative frame for elaboration, one that did not require specific training for elaboration as it provided a relatively standardized progression.
This paper will explore both the oral histories and performances practices of his “descendants” to chart the impact of this heterodox form of classicization. Thus we will explore the paradox that while the “classical” knowledge Behram Khan sought was esoteric, his deployment of it was for popular propagation; which opened the way to many of the musical lineages that dominated the twentieth century platform.
The Nāda-Brahman – Language, Music, and Sonic World-View in Hindu India
The paper discusses the “Sound-Brahman” or “Sonic Absolute” (Nāda-Brahman) introduced by Śārṇgadeva (13th cent. AD) in his music classic Saṇgīta-Ratnākara, and the wider cultural context in which the idea arose that music is a key to the cosmic whole. Hinduism is a very pronounced performance culture with an exceptionally high value given to sound. Through the ages there was not only exceptional focus on orality, the spoken word, but also on the sounding word, its appeal to the senses and emotions and its own range of expressivity, meaning and value – in performance and reflection. Language and sound were always seen in unison. This cultural matrix produced striking symbolic forms, such as the voice (vÁc) viewed as divine being. Sarasvatī, the popular goddess of language, music, and wisdom demonstrates the fluid borders of language and music in the cultural memory. When Śārṇgadeva fused the Tantric primordial sound that pervades the universe (Nāda) and the Vedantic non-dual absolute being-consciousness-bliss (Brahman), his argument made use of all relevant discourses of sound and language of his time to give music a metaphysical base. Of importance to him was the expressive and experiential quality of music. He declared listening to music as a pleasant Yoga for everybody, as music leads easily to absorption and “colours” the emotions unlike the hardship of yogic practice. In addition to the background and impact of the Nāda-Brahman in India, its transcultural appeal and reception in modern Europe by the Jazz historian and New-Age proponent Joachim Berendt will be briefly reflected upon.
The Copernican Turn in Musicology, or: Musico-logica and the hidden knowledge in music
When Morton Feldman once remarked that composers are interested in musicologists about as much as birds are in ornithologists, this qualification refers to an approach that aims at understanding music: By analysing it, acquiring knowledge about it . The questions, categories, material starting-points and analytic tools of this approach differ markedly from a reversal of perspective, that does not ask: What do we know about music, but, What does music “know” and articulate about us? What information does it exemplify and embody about “mind”, about “matter”, about our role within a complex and comprehensive whole? In other words: What knowledge do we emanate and transmit via music that we at the same time cannot “understand” otherwise? What does music show and at the same time “hide” from our usual framework of understanding?
An inversion of perspective in this mode -made famous by Nicolaus Copernicus and subsequently applied onto the field of cognition by Immanuel Kant -solved fundamental methodological problems in their respective disciplines. Applying this move on music (as undertaken by composers, philosophers, ethnomusicologists, music-psychologists, and others) implies altering the logical status of this art-form. Not what we understand about music, but what we understand through or via music is at stake. Speaking correctly about music then means speaking correctly about other things than music: Be it in words, be it in sounds, be it in colors or gestures.
This conference-contribution will present philosophical as well as “musico-logical” arguments and reflections on how music as an acoustic phenomenon can be capable of articulating such a “hidden” and sometimes even “taboo” knowledge and what kind of content or knowledge gets transported by it . I will illustrate my exposition with a sound-example.
Concluding remarks and a vote of thanks 🙂
Wim van der Meer