Monday, November 10, 2008

Connell, Gibson - Sound Tracks (second half)

Chapter 7

In this chapter, Connell and Gibson take a largely critical tone, decrying ‘world music’ as “the fetishization of place” or marginalia, a “form of apartheid,” (Sawhney), “yuppie-directed exotica,” and as “not a musical genre but…at best, a marketing category for a collection of diverse genres.” Connell and Gibson’s critique largely hinges on the commercialization of the exotic and the other, and the assertion of a binary between the developed and the underdeveloped world. In opposition, the authors detail the ways in which diverse genres of non-Western music are hybrid categories. They look at the ways in which Zouk, Congolese Rumba, and Thomas Mapfumo’s Chimurenga music are products of multiple musical and cultural movements. The result is another celebration of hybridity and open-ended communication, by now a dominant theme of the book.

Chapter 8

In this chapter, Connell and Gibson look at the ways in which diasporic music is a result of hybridity and transformation. Instead of seeing the music of migrants as a nostalgic vision of homeland, the authors examine the ever-changing nature of musical expression in migrant communities. Related to the general critique of notions of authenticity, the authors argue that neither homeland or migrant musics are stable, but instead are always in flux, along with their hybrid versions. Rai, Bhangra, and Salsa are all versions of music performed by migrants, and the result is a constant transmutation of meaning and sound, resulting in new musics and new conceptions of identity. They look at fascinating ways in which national music forges new regional identifications, like pan-Asianism, and the result is an always fluid interaction between nationality, ethnicity, and diaspora. The authors engage with Hip Hop and Reggae, two diasporic musics, and look at the ways in which identity is constantly renegotiated through cultural contacts. African reggae artists are both challenging the sounds associated with reggae, but also formulating new cultural identities through their engagement with the music. Music and identity are always in flux.

Chapter 9

This chapter begins with an analysis of music’s ability to shape space, through a look into Taylorist factories with piped-in muzak and malls playing Bing Crosby to discourage teenagers hanging out. The authors then look into the mental creation of space through lounge, ambient and new age music. These are musical movements that promote virtual tourism, either of particular far-off locales or just natural environments away from the bustle of the city. Connell and Gibson then invert this process, and look at the ways in which music facilitates the reclamation of certain spaces, such as empty warehouses for raves or the traffic-clogged street for Reclaim the Streets parties. The authors then look into the rejection and assertion of gendered or hetero spaces through musical movements, like Riot Grrl and the creation of transient gay spaces in the city.

Chapter 10

Connell and Gibson look into the creation of music-based tourist niches in a diverse array of places. As a kind of nostalgic pilgrimage tourism, music tourists forge emotional attachments to places, and suggest new methods of economic redevelopment for municipalities or countries. Various models of music tourism are discussed, from dance music fans touring the Pacific to deadheads and African drumming enthusiasts, and the authors unpack the various engagements with authenticity and the local economy that this tourism promotes. Additionally, the authors look at the ways in which music tourism constructs authenticity in the face of actual residents of a place, and the uneven economic results of tourism-based redevelopment schemes. Nashville is an ideal case, and the authors note “These ideological stances, values and moral positions, captured in the museums, memorials and malls of Nashville, are now part of a multi-million dollar industry. In addition to catering for tourist desires to experience ‘authentic’ country music, tourism in Nashville involves larger issues: representations of idealised domestic space, contested notions of American national identity and morality, and specific questions of race, class and gender” (242,243).

Chapter 11

In this chapter, the authors wonder if global consolidation of digital music companies into an oligopoly will change the styles of music offered to consumers. They find that, contrary to Adorno and critiques of the culture industry, global consolidation has resulted in both centralization and decentralization. Music economies are fractured and uneven and Connell and Gibson note “Media and technology giants like TimeWarner and Sony aim to wield global power, yet the dynamics of South and South-East Asian cassette cultures, or even the Christian and New Age music industries (largely independent from major companies, and simultaneously ignored by academics) demonstrate that their influence is not universal” (256). One way in which decentralization has occurred has been through the digitizing of music and the resultant possibility for do-it-yourself music networks. The constant conflict between dispersal and centralization is still at play though, and the authors argue that digitization and the internet prompt both place-based decentralization along with industry centralization and consolidation. The authors close the chapter by looking into the piracy of music in light of space and place. Ultimately, this chapter argues that there are no easy distinctions between the local and the global, or the centralized and dispersed, but that music and the structures that engage with it are inherent hybrid and transitory.

Chapter 12

The authors restate their case in this chapter, arguing in favor of the connectivity between the local and the global, between fixidity and fluidity, and noting that “almost all music is diasporic” (271). Music creates imagined communities, encounters dispersal and fusion, is both emancipatory and banal, dynamic and continuous, and authentic and inauthentic. Ultimately, “It would be elegant if the ‘local’ could be equated with the ‘authentic’ and globalization with the inauthentic, but it is abundantly clear that such simplistic distinctions have no bearing on the complexity of the migration, the fusion and hybridity of contemporary musical forms, their credibility or their enjoyability” (279). Throughout this book, the authors investigate the intersection of dispersed space and localized place through the lens of music. It is a similar question to the ones we have been engaging with this semester, and Connell and Gibson’s insistence on hybridity and continual flux is an exciting addition to the literature we have engaged with so far.


Dan Lewerenz said...

I enjoyed Chapter 8 and the argument that the movement of people can, by itself, create and change culture (in this case, culture as expressed through music). In any study of indigenous peoples, one inevitably encounters the argument of "essentialism" - one formulation of which might be that you're not really Indian (or enter ethnicity/indigeneity here) unless you do everything the way Indians would have done so in the romanticized period we think of. So, by this way of thinking, someone of Lakota heritage who speaks English (and does not speak Lakota) and goes to a Methodist church and such is not really Indian. (Or, cast in another ethnic framework, when an Irish couple moves to the U.S. with a small child, the child may identify his parents as Irish because they still speak with a brogue and eat bangers & mash, but see himself as American because he doesn't do those things.) Indigenous scholars must constantly fight against this essentialism, pointing out that every culture is constantly in flux. The late Gail Guthrie Valaskakis, who studies Canadian First Nations, wrote of those who move in both worlds as inhabiting an "innovative traditionalism," which is, I think, an interesting way of viewing the musical developments Connell and Gibson discuss in Chapter 8.

richard said...

Thanks for the summaries Nate. While I enjoyed the conceptual character of the writing and analysis, I'm not certain what to take away from the book. We certainly don't need academics to tell us that music is important in our lives. That music is pervasive and fluid and can be used for both cultural emancipation and domination is a little more nuanced, and this may offer some interesting reflection.

I notice this is a book in a 'critical geographies' series. My understanding of critical derives from Marx's oft-quoted dictum to change the world. Yet I'm not sure I want academics laying claim to expertise over the meaning (or geography) of music. Even in trying to carve out space for the diversity and emancipatory potential of expression in music, does this birthright of humankind lose something when colonized by the pedantic pen of the western scholar?