a blog about the things i love.

Listening Guide: Ethnomusicology, Soundscapes and All Those Crazy Music Terms

Listening Guide: Ethnomusicology, Soundscapes and All Those Crazy Music Terms

listening-feat.png

Back in college, I almost majored in ethnomusicology. I was fascinated with the different musics of the world and couldn't believe my school actually offered a degree that included African drumming and Indonesian Gamelan classes! I envisioned myself traveling to Mongolia with a 4-track and a little SM-57 mic (this was the 90s) to study the Throat Singers of Tuva. Yes, yes, ethnomusicology was indeed for me.  

Ifugao Women playing the flute
Ifugao Women playing the flute

Well, not so much. I ended up backing out at the last minute because I wanted to play music myself, rather than study the anthropology of it. Cut to 15 years later, after a career as a pop artist and a nice collection of music industry battle scars, my love for world music never faltered.

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”- Elvis Costello

It kind of comes across as a heady topic. I mean, studying music as opposed to playing music, right? How boring! But so far from that.

I've used these terms below as a compass to travel the world, to change my role from performer to observer, and to travel with my ears open:

listening-guide-2
listening-guide-2

WORLD MUSIC

This term has lost some of its relevance (even though I just used it in the second paragraph) as the world has become an ever-changing fusion of sounds and influences. Originally coined by musicologist Robert E. Brown in the 1960s, it was meant to described "non-Western" or "ethnic" music found in distant parts of the globe. Of course today with access to technology and inevitability of globalization, everything is influenced by everything else- just listen to KCRW for a day. It is hard to describe what world music is anymore. In a way, everything is world music.

But if you've traveled and experienced music in its most rudimentary, authentic form, then the term "world music" still works. For me, it references the different musics of the world which distinguish a certain culture. Even if that culture has migrated, shifted and evolved over time. Which brings us to ethnomusicology.

ETHNOMUSICOLOGY

frances_densmore
frances_densmore

Most easily described as the anthropology of music. Or even simpler, the study of people making music.

When the field first came into existence in the late 19th century, it was essentially limited to the study of non-Western music and focused on oral tradition culture. Now it covers music in any part of the world and has traveled over the course of time, influencing composers, music therapists, anthropologists and popular culture. As a traveler and musician combined, I am fascinated by this.

A great book to invest in if you want a introduction to ethnomusicology is Kay Kaufman Shelemay's Soundscapes: Exploring Music in a Changing World. This textbook has been my bible as I've begun my research as a late-bloomer ethnomusicologist. Not cheap, but totally worth it.

SOUNDSCAPE

blockquote { display: block; margin-top: 1em; margin-bottom: 1em; margin-left: 75px; margin-right: 75px; } "As I learned about the symbolism of the weeping and singing voice I was taught about their intimate connection to rainforest birds.” - R. Murray Schafer

In the 1970s composer R. Murray Schafer created the term soundscape to refer to the "global sonic environment." This is a facet of acoustic ecology that refers to the natural environment like animal sounds, natural sounds like weather and environmental sounds created by humans- from music to bicycles on street corners. It also includes the listener's perception of sounds heard as an environment: “how that environment is understood by those living within it” and shifts their relationship to each other. Crazy cool.

I can't wait to dig into this subject more. I've started to make a "Soundscape" Playlist on Soundcloud, documenting erupting volcanoes, church bells, subway sounds. There is so much to be said about a place's "sound," musically or otherwise, and gives a person a unique perspective on the world, their own sense of place. It also seems way out of my league, but I'm up for the challenge.

15039413433_6084a6f92c_k
15039413433_6084a6f92c_k

I plan to explore these terms in a fun, digestible way, and inspire you to see- or hear, rather- the world in a different way. So, if I can't make it to Mongolia this year, at least I can write about it, right?

Was this helpful? Leave it in the comment box below!

Source 1, 2, 3

Barcelona Music Walking Tour

Barcelona Music Walking Tour

On Solitude, and Babies

On Solitude, and Babies