While I always gravitate towards the ethnographic nitty-gritty of local fieldwork, it seems time for a succinct roundup for some general posts on society and soundscape—a theme pervading this blog, for China (see below), sundry world music traditions, and WAM alike (see world music category, under “general“).
Most authoritative and accessible are the works of Bruno Nettl—essential reading:
- Ethnography: Geertz, Nettl
- Is music a universal language?
- Unpacking “improvisation”
- Heartland excursions
Susan McClary is another influential author:
And Christopher Small gives important perspectives, placing WAM within the broader picture:
Later ethnographic perspectives on WAM include
An article by Michelle Bigenho is most instructive:
Classics on society and soundscape include
Also worth consulting is
And among many fine chapters in the stimulating 1997 volume Shadows in the field: new perspectives for fieldwork in ethnomusicology, I’d recommend those by Nicole Beaudry (on fieldwork among the Inuit) and William Noll (on fieldwork in the Ukrainian past). For a wise discussion of fieldwork in contested sites for Tibetan culture, see
- Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy, “Easier in exile? Comparative observations on doing research among Tibetans in Lhasa and in Dharamsala”.
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All this informs my work on local ritual traditions in China. As I commented in my post on Bigenho,
Here’s the deal: if we come to your party, you have to come to ours too:
Just as “music scholars” have learned to consider all kinds of social elements as they study performance, so scholars of ritual too must include in their brief all kinds of issues arising from soundscape, rather than coyly farming it out to musicologists.
As Adam Yuet Chau observes, this is related to the whole scholarly bias towards discursive, scriptural analysis. Indeed, within China studies more generally, expressive culture, and musicking as a vital aspect of social activity, still seem to be considered marginal themes, with research dominated by silent written texts and immobile visual culture. It’s as if sinologists only consider music as a legitimate part of culture when it’s dead and mute, imprisoned in a museum or text. The ethnomusicological mindset should offer us valuable perspectives on Chinese studies.