Society and soundscape

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:

Susan McClary is another influential author:

And Christopher Small gives important perspectives, placing WAM within the broader picture:

Later ethnographic perspectives on WAM include

On a visit to the Proms I couldn’t help noticing the contrast between WAM concerts and musicking in folk societies:

And articles by Michelle Bigenho and Henry Stobart are most instructive:

In similar vein is

Classics on society and soundscape include

Also worth consulting is

More recently, Rachel Harris gives incisive accounts of the crisis in Xinjiang, including

Among many fine chapters in the stimulating 1997 volume Shadows in the field: new perspectives for fieldwork in ethnomusicology, I 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

I was also reminded of the integrative brief of ethnomusicology by

* * *

All this informs my work on local ritual traditions in China. I outlined issues in

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.

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