August 31 Readings

August 31 Response

Thomas Turino is an American Ethnomusicologist and currently teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Turino specializes in Andean music, Latin American music, the music of southern Africa, the semiotics of music, and in theoretical issues of music and politics. He has published several books including Nationalists, Cosmopolitans, and Popular Music in Zimbabwe, Music in the Andes: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture, Music As Social Life: The Politics of Participation, and co-author of Excursions in World Music and co-editor of Arts in Diaspora Communities.

The chapter we read from Turino comes from his book Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation in which he presents different tools to analyze the various ways music and dance can function in a society. Here, Turino presents the four conceptualizations or social fields in which to think about and frame studies of music in society. Turino uses Pierre Bourdieu’s idea of social fields, defined by the purpose, goals, values, power relations, and types of capital of the activity, thus determining role relationships, social positioning, and the status of actors and activities within the field. The four conceptualization fields are Participatory, Presentational, High Fidelity, and Studio Audio Art. Chapter three focuses specifically on the last two which require special technologies to produce.

Participatory performance is an artistic practice in which there are no artist-audience distinctions. In this field, everyone’s attention is on the activity of the music and on the creation of the music for the moment. Some types of participatory music, for example, singing in church, is usually considered to be amateur music-making, but Turino believes it is a different form of art and should be conceptualized as such.

The fact that many consider participatory music to be amateur reveals an assumption of most Western musical performance: music professionals are, by definition, paid for playing music. There seems to be some tension in the exchange of money for performance. Presentational performers "owe" their paying audiences an exciting show. In contrast, participatory performances are open, cyclical, and predictable. Rather than surprise, the goal of participatory performance is to get others involved in music making. The cyclical form of presentational music, which often uses loops or repeated progressions, provides "security in constancy" for participants (Turino, 40).

This doesn't mean that participatory performance can't be exciting. Because of its focus on repetition and inclusion, participatory music is often dense in texture. This can create rare harmonies, contrapuntal melodies, or even a thick sound when a large number of instruments plays in unison. Yet even those who are afraid to join in can feel comforted that their mistakes will most likely not be heard. Due to wide tunings of instruments and a large number of participatory performers, an individual has to work hard to stand out among the group.

Presentational performance is where one person or a group of people provide music for another group, the audience, which does not participate in making the music or dancing. In this field, the music is prepared and performed by a group of people to be listened to by another group of people, who are supposed to pay close attention to what is being performed, for example, a Western symphonic concert. Also, according to Turino, members of a presentational performance group are usually of a similar skill level.

In Small’s chapter he is talking about how, throughout history, we have tended to think about music as a noun, a thing, when instead it is a verb, something we do. To Small, musicking means more than to perform or make music, but to take part, in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by performing, listening, rehearsing, practicing, providing material for performance, or by dancing. His purpose in this book is to propose a framework for understanding all musicking as a human activity. He writes that a composed theory of musicking is not simply an idea that should be studied and tested by intellectuals and academia, but should be examined by every human being if it is to have any importance or basis in real life. Small uses the "concert in Symphony Hall" as a vehicle to discuss this all encompassing notion of musicking. His reasons for choosing the symphonic concert as the basis for observing what is "really going on" are that most of his presumed readers will have attended such an event, and that the symphonic concert is in Western music, a "sacred event" whose meaning has been largely unquestioned.

The chapter from Lysloff and Gay on ethnomusicology in the twenty-first century tackles ideas of music and technology. They provide methodological distinctions for understanding the place of technology in society and how technology is used by society. They say that it is not the technology itself or the original purpose of the technology, but how the technology is used, that the relationship of user, technology, and music can be found. The aim of this collection of essays is to advance discourse about technological meaning and therefore make us able to reach informed decisions about the aesthetic, social, and political consequences of technological change.

Turino, Small, and Lysloff and Gay all present different ideas about how to think about and study music. All bring out different ideas in which to study music, but all focus on music, not as an object, but as an activity.

Discussion Questions

How does Small’s concept of musicking fit into Turino’s conceptualization fields? Does it only fit into participatory music-making?

Will Turino’s and Small’s approaches to understanding music help us to study music and technoculture? How?

Can technological development (research, experimentation, etc.) be considered part of musicking, if the end results are adapted to musical use? If not, once the technology is in musical use, can its further development be so considered?

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