Corpsing: Inuit culture and Haydn

A much-discussed piece of “salvage ethnography” is the film Nanook of the North (Robert J. Flaherty, 1922):

More recent is a highly praised film from Zacharias Kunuk, Atanarjuat: the fast runner (2001). Here’s a trailer:

It enacts an ancient legend while lavishing great anthropological care in evoking early Inuit culture.

But Nanook of the North is to some extent a fictional creation too, blurring the lines between documentary and drama. It is an early case-study in a substantial discourse in the ethics of visual anthropology that leads on to Jean Rouch, representations of the Yanomami, and so on.

Now I’d like to seek ethnographies of changing life in Inuit communities since the 1920s—preferably not containing the words “traditional way of life” or “vanishing culture” (“But that’s not important right now.”)

Talking of vocal styles, in katajjaq throat-singing (e.g. Voices of the World, CD 1 §12), the duet is considered to come to an end when one of the singers laughs, loses her breath, or breaks concentration (LOL).

Hard to imagine a performance of such charm at certain other recent swearing-in ceremonies…

***

Corpsing is one of the pleasures of musical life in WAM too—we’ve all done gigs like that. I can’t suggest here the numerous ways in which fiddle players try to corpse their desk partners by a tiny little gesture of resignation at the repeat of a minuet, or a fake sforzando attack on a pianissimo entry. Generally “the show must go on”, but once, the Allegri string quartet were performing the intimate, intense slow movement of a Haydn quartet when the viola player let out an extended and voluble fart. The leader giggled sotto voce, and as the mirth spread (even to the miscreant, who’s generally the first to keep a straight bat) all four of them were soon so helpless with laughter that they just couldn’t keep going, and had to leave the stage to compose themselves.

To be sure, this is at a certain remove from Inuit culture. In the latter, as if you haven’t worked this out already, corpsing is intrinsic to the performance event; in WAM, it’s an illicit part of the muso’s “deviant behaviour”.

One thought on “Corpsing: Inuit culture and Haydn

  1. Pingback: Mein Gott | Stephen Jones: a blog

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