Analysing world music


My writings on Chinese ritual may seem to privilege ethnography and social change. But I do also like to relate all this to the nuts and bolts of the language of sound, as with my Dissolving boundaries (comparing qin and shawm pieces!), and for the liturgy of the Li family Daoists, clues in my book, chs. 14 to 16.

Having just made a plea for soundscape to be considered an intrinsic component of ritual studies, these analyses are highly technical, so I may now be shooting myself in the foot, but hey.

Once upon a time, analysis was the bread-and-butter of world music studies, often following Western Art Music musicology in taking reified “works of art” as its object. Recently the online journal Analytical approaches to world music takes a valuable step forward—enriching silent text by embedded audio examples. And while the analyses are dense, they always take note of changing social and performance contexts.

Some highlights that appeal to my own tastes—starting with flamenco, since I’m always grappling with the palmas hand-clapping patterns:

For a roundup of my series on north Indian raga, click here.

And a perspective on chant:

Anyway, none of this should dissuade the ethnographer with a less technical grasp of musical elements from paying attention to the soundscape of ritual and the lives of performers and their patrons!

8 thoughts on “Analysing world music

  1. Just thought I would listen to Prof Martin Stokes lecture “The Musical Citizen” and I am sure he is very good , but almost immediately he is politely requested to use the microphone because he is inaudible , but refuses. This drives me crazy, what is it about guest speakers and their reluctance to use microphones? It is rather like when primitive tribes thought that if they had their picture taken apart of them would be stolen. This refusal to prepare thoroughly before giving a public lecture; to wilfully not ask what sort of amplification might be used; to not do a sound check before the audience turn up , seems to me the height of arrogance and just plain rude. To imagine that his delivery through a microphone will somehow rob his voice of its distinctive timbre is delusional and its time University Professors improved their act.


    • Hmm, interesting, albeit not quite related to my post! As a stammerer I have a rather different take on this. It’s good to realize that there are all kinds of communication problems! Where possible it’s good to dispense with amplification. But even academic speakers have to communicate effectively—not just volume, but energy, passion etc. I agree!


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