Sep. 1 Readings

The three readings for this week each addressed a different broad issue that we will be addressing in this course over the semester, and each was an introduction to a book. While each of these introductory chapters introduced the topic of their respective collections or monographs, they each also introduced one or more broader ideas that will help us to understand and frame important issues relating to music in what we are terming “cyberculture.” Only one of the articles came close to addressing the specific topic of our course, but I think each of them can be used to help us understand not just what we will be trying to understand, but how we might go about doing that.

Tia DeNora’s “Formulating Questions – The ‘Music and Society’ Nexus” is the first chapter from her 2000 book Music in Everyday Life. Overall, this chapter (and the book as a whole) is about music and sociology and the use of ethnographic examples to illustrate the connections and deeper meanings that arise when studying society through music. She uses T.W. Adorno’s writings about music to serve as the basis of her larger discussion and claims about what she calls the “music and society nexus.” She says “Adorno’s work represents the most significant development in the twentieth century of the idea that music is a ‘force’ in social life” (2). Adorno’s significance in this sense can certainly be debated, and she problematizes his approach a little bit, but to me this does not seem like a revolutionary idea at all. Perhaps Adorno’s writing stands out more to a sociologist, because it occurs to me that when Adorno was making these claims the young field of ethnomusicology was already pointing out the connections between music, culture, and daily human life.

In her review of the development of music sociology, DeNora explains that “a grounded theory of the music-society nexus allows conventional distinctions between musical and social materials to be dissolved; in their place, musical and social matters are understood to be reflexively linked and co-produced” (4). While this may not seem to be a revolutionary idea to younger scholars in fields such as ethnomusicology today, it remains neglected in our everyday discourses of musical experiences (at least within American society), and it is therefore necessary for DeNora to reinforce fluid and interactional relationship. She goes on in the chapter to provide some examples of the ways that music and society can reinforce one another. She stresses the importance of agency throughout the chapter, and I think this may be one of the most important ideas from this chapter for our topic moving forward: “If music can affect the shape of social agency, then control over music in social settings is a source of social power; it is an opportunity to structure the parameters of action” (20). If we can conceive of cybercultural space (which, as we’ve discussed, is now anywhere we go with our digital devices) as one of these social settings, perhaps we can gain some insight on how control over digital music can provide individual power and agency.

The second reading was the “Prelude” from Christopher Small’s Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening (1998). Here the author introduces the idea of music being “not a thing at all but an activity, something that people do,” something he calls “musicking” (2). He does his best to remove value judgments from his explanation and spends much of his time problematizing the conception of music as works from the Western classical tradition. He explains that musicking can be active or passive. The listener can be considered to be musicking as much as the performer or composer. As we bring this idea into the cybercultural arena, it raises some interesting questions. Is downloading or seeding an album as a torrent musicking? What if you haven’t listened to the files you downloaded? What if you never listen to them? Is the Chinese factory worker who produces iPhones musicking? How is our conception of performance, which Small explains is central to musicking, complicated when talking about cyberculture and digital music on the internet? Finally, in relation to DeNora’s chapter, does musicking give us control over music, and therefore social agency? When does musicking have this power and when does it not?

Although Small contextualizes his theory of musicking in the concert hall of Western classical music society, his points about the social and economic value placed in musical objects (to the relegation of musical action) are perhaps even more poignant in relation to the popular music industry.

The final chapter we read was the introduction from the 2003 collection Music and Technoculture, edited by the ethnomusicologists René T.A. Lysloff and Leslie C. Gay, Jr. This is the reading that came closest to directly addressing the course topic, although technoculture and cyberculture are not the same things (see last week’s reading by Hawk). They start off by explaining the connections between ethnomusicology and technological developments. In a sense, they claim that the emergence, or at least mainstreaming, of ethnomusicology came about as a ripple effect from the introduction of sound recording. While the use of technology by the fieldworker was once something that clearly differentiated researcher from subject, that is no longer true. All over the world, even in the most secluded regions, people have greater access to modern technology than they did decades ago, and as the authors explain, those technologies function as “material culture that people use and experience in ways meaningful to their particular needs and circumstances” (7). This concern for a critical analysis of material culture signals a shift in the ethnomusicological stance toward music as "expressive culture." It seems that ethnomusicologists have generally ignored material culture as a significant force in musical lives, with the exception, perhaps, of the inclusion of organology. But even then, (ethno)musicologists have rarely dealt with musical instruments as material culture, but rather as objects that determine the sonic culture of a given society. In this sense, Music and Technoculture helped pave the way for a renewed interest in music technology as an integral part of musical and social experience and the things through which not only music, but meaning is made, shared, and interpreted (see, for example, Wired for Sound).

When a technology is introduced it becomes embedded, one way or another, as good and/or bad, in the culture and social institutions of where it finds itself, and it then helps redefine that culture and those institutions. This is a constant dialectical process that is fueled by the introduction of new technologies. The authors helped explain what role technology has in different music cultures around the world, but when looking at technology we must remember that “it is in the use of technology that meaning is found, and that it is this intersection of human agency and the technological artifact that meaning is also contested – this is where we find the potential for resistance, subversion, cooption, coercion, and domination” (18). This quote reflects Small’s chapter, in which he described that it was through performance or musicking that music gained meaning. In this same way, we can perhaps read the use of technology as a performance that gives technology meaning.

When does digital musicking give us control over music, and therefore social agency? How do we define or delimit musicking in the cybercultural realm? Can computers music without humans?

Through these readings, both music and technology have been explained as sites of social and political struggle. When a piece of music is especially technological in its conception, how does the music (sound) and technology interact in terms of their simultaneous social/political struggles? Can the use of technology be subversive, but the sound created be conservative or traditional? How should we read works that are a clear merger of music and technology?

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