Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Portrait of A Successful Artist

Portrait of A Successful Artist

as a student,
 all the efforts in the wrong places
daughter of my family, blindly loved
as a musician,
 meddling with feelings and paintings
possibly of middling talent
as a friend, sweet but cold hearted
a hometown play mate
as a lover, 
do not keep my gaze fixed for very long
as a “female”
good looking on borrowed time
as sometimes woman
 song poem letter drink
occasional semi-divine entity
 maybe a crocodile
I may own
little intellect
perhaps what carries me
is all living

My film music memories

The only cassette tape I still own today is the Harry Potter OST. It also happens to be the first
tape I ever bought, at the very first time that I went to a music store. I was about 10 years old.
After watching the Harry Potter movie for the fifth time, I wanted to stay in the magic world
even longer by emerging myself in its music: I put it on in my living room when I was cleaning
up the house and imagine I was flying with a broomstick. I played it on my iPod at school
thinking that I actually went to hogwarts and studies magic potions in my chemistry class. I fell
asleep with it dreaming about getting letters from snowy owls the next morning. I was listening
to it all the time that at one point, I could quite precisely match specific music with their
corresponding scenes. I was getting familiar with how melody, harmony and rhythm could
somehow represent mood and tone, and I even developed an early understanding of the
orchestra, such as how different combinations of strings, brass and percussions could create
various textures. my repeated listening, was not only due to my enthusiasm for Harry Potter the
movie, but also due to the fact that a sole audio experience triggered all my senses and allowed
me to run with it using my own imagination, in other words, day dreaming.
At the beginning I was especially fond of films in the genre of fantasy and adventure, such as
Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Pan's Labyrinth, and Tim Burton and Steven
Spielberg films. Films in this particular genre are quite often character-oriented and thematically
complex;the plots often involve a a hero of humble origins and a clear distinction between good
and evil. The according music compositions are oriented similarly as well. Each character has
his/her own unique music theme, which I could recognize right away and remember. I enjoyed
how music can enhance and embody narratives and characters and I admired the beautiful
creativity the composers have. However, as I grew up watching more HollywoodS films, I
realized the predicability and limitations of Hollywood films as well as their music. I opened
myself up to alternative cinematic modes, such as early Japanese cinema, contemporary video
art, with a focus on the unique soundscapes and music involved.
Later as I studied more about sound design and composition from Michael Chion's Audio Vision
book, especially after I have put what learned into practice by editing/designing sound in my
own film, I started to hear/perceive film soundtrack in actual different "tracks", or layers,
comprised of dialogues, sound effects, diegetic sounds, atmospheric ambience, cues, and film
music scores. When I watch a film, unfortunately, I sometimes get distracted when I
subconsciously recognize certain sound techniques, say a cool musicalized sound effects, or a
good transitioning from a diegetic sound source to a non-diegetic one. The good thing is though,
this doesn't necessarily take away my whole "day dreaming" experience while I just listen to the
film music track alone. Every once a while, I still take out my Harry Potter tape and put it on in
my car and simply enjoy the John William style music cherishing the magic of film music.

A Subtle Social Critique: A Comparative Analysis of Suzhou River and The World

Although Jia Zhangke and Lou Ye have their own distinctive styles of cinematic expression and storytelling approach in making The world and Suzhou River, they both seek to portray the lives of non-heroic characters, that are influenced by the larger social vortex of precipitous reforms and pursuing happiness by all means. By expressing their own ideals and attitudes in the films, the filmmakers convey a sense of nostalgia for the past and an inconspicuous critique of capitalist influenced society in China.
The main characters in both films are city-dwellers who lead monotonous lives working to make money. In The World, Zhao Xiao Tao, the heroine, is a folk dance performer at the Beijing World Park. Hoping for a better life, she left from home in Shaanxi to this isolated theme park outside of Beijing. Her boyfriend, Chen Taisheng, patrols on the miniature Eiffel Tower in the world park as a security guard.  Similarly, in Suzhou River, the main characters are not well-to-do either.  The unseen main character and narrator, a videographer for hire, wanders along the chaotically built-up riverside factories, abandoned warehouses and fishing boats; he captures the shabby landscape of Shanghai’s dark side with imageries of poverty, social underdogs and 1990s’ urban reality. Through the camera lens, viewers can see his brief romance with Meimei, a night club dancer who lives on a houseboat and performs in an aquarium dressed as a mermaid. The other main character, Mardar, is a motorcycle courier, who is hired to drive a teenager girl Moudan across the town each day to her aunt. Unlike those allegorical and epic style films made by their predecessors, these films tend to focus on the lives and fates of  men and women in the lower social class, as a quietly rebellious and courageous gesture against advocates of heroic figures in Chinese main melody films. Furthermore, the filmmakers not only depict mundane everyday life but also delve into a wide spectrum of social experiences and issues such as criminal activities, alcoholism, bohemian lifestyle, prostitution, migrant workers and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Examples include Mardar’s abduction of Moudan, the unseen videographer’s drinking problem, Anna, the Russian performer’s secret prostitution at a Karaoke club, and Meimei’s nontraditional inhabitance in a boat.
These characters in both Jia and Lou’s films are deeply influenced by the larger social context in three dimensions. First of all, the worship of money and status in the society has a dominating effect on people’s judgment and behaviors. Mardar and his smuggler friends kidnap Moudan for RMB400, 000. For a share of this ransom, Mardar betrays his lover driving her to suicide and Lao B embraces his partner Xiao Hong with a knife.  When Xiao Tao’s ex-boyfriend visits, it is revealed during three way conversation at the small restaurant that Taisheng is jealous of his former counterparts’ success and insecure about his own trivial status as a security guard in a park. He dreams about going abroad but he could never go. After the incident, his suspicion of Xiao Tao’s loyalty rose, which lead to his attempt to rape her in order to prove their love relationship.   His uncertainty and self-doubt, in fact, derive from his belief that money and status is everything; without money, his girlfriend will leave him.  
Secondly, the values of morals and ethics deteriorate as China turns into a money-oriented world. Money plays the primordial role in the genesis and subsistence of capitalism.  As capital reforms take place on every layer of Chinese social and cultural structure, love relationships are being commoditized and women are objectified. As portrayed in the films, Meimei, is used as an ornament in a bar, dressed up as a mermaid, swimming around an aquarium half naked, to attract men’s sexual interests as well as their wallets. Similarly, Anna put herself to prostitution in desperation for money. A fat middle aged tourist approached Xiao Tao offering money and jewelries in exchange for sex. He seems confident of himself and thinks it is a good bargain for Xiao Tao. The moral and ethical qualities endorsed in the socialist China no longer exist at present in the post-socialist China. 
Ultimately, with the fast flow of money transactions and commodity exchange, the characters, stuck between their idealistic dreams and the harsh reality. They need to constantly deal with their sense of loss, anxiety and frustration in the face of China’s quickly changing cityscape, just like how the videographer tumbles around the baffling relationship with Meimei who keeps him at an arm’s lengths and plays hide and seek. In the other film, tourists come to the World Park to visit fake versions of famous sites from all over the world. As Jia described in his interview with Valerie Jaffee, “To me, it makes for a very sorrowful scene…This is what Chinese reality is like…We are living in a globalized age, in a world saturated by mass media, in an international city, but despite all that, the problems we’re facing are our own problems.” 
The problems Jia talks about refer to the danger of marginalization and social alienation in China’s increasingly fast growing and globalized post-socialist condition. 
Despite the situation in which they find themselves, the characters in Jia and Lou’s films remain full of hope and seek happiness in numerous ways. Perhaps the night club in Suzhou River, “Happy Tavern”, is a metaphor for the chaotic, flashy, yet sometimes tasty world they live in, where they deal with problems in their own ways. The videographer finds relaxation in observing the city on a boat, drifting along the river while drinking vodka. Meimei discovers her ideal of love, from the story of Moudan from Mardar; she eventually leaves to pursue her dream of “Find me if you love me.” Mardar attends his quest of looking for Moudan and finds her at last. Mardar and Moudan’s deaths together in the Suzhou River after drinking their favorite vodka can also be interpreted as a happy ending.
 Both Jia and Lou in their films expressed their empathy for the inescapable life and fate for their characters and concerns for the capitalist influenced, post socialist China, where these marginalized people struggle to survive. However, neither of them shows their opinions very strongly; they use their camera, locations settings, characters and cinematic techniques as a medium for send their messages, in conspicuous ways.  Their specific approaches are drastically different, yet collide in creating a highly illusional cinematic realism. As Jia himself has acknowledged, “…it simply is an attitude and an unattainable ideal of the filmmaker.”
 In spite of their similar goal of achieving a high level of realism by adopting characteristics from documentary filmmaking, their cinematic styles and storytelling methods are completely different.     
Jia has a strong propensity for long shots, static long takes and, straight-on camera angles. During some scenes in The World, we can't see the characters’ faces clearly nor can we hear what they are speaking. Instead, we only see them walk. The camera remains static throughout. No dramatic build-up is linked to the shot afterwards. The shot exists as if just to show us the characters’ existence on the street and their situation at that moment. At other times in the film, in terms of the plot, a shot can be “useless" because it doesn't contribute to any dramatic aspect of the film. Rather than inducing the spectator to identify with the characters by forcing him into the role of investigator through more frequent use of close-ups and editing, many scenes are just staged in long shots, thus making the spectator feel more like an observer watching from a distance. 
This technique gives audiences a strong on-location feeling; they work even more effectively when a blend of authenticity is added.  In Jia’s other film Xiaowu, the story ends with Xiaowu being caught and handcuffed to a steel cable on the sidewalk. While audiences still sit comfortably in their observing role and watches Xiaowu, all of a sudden, the camera swings away from him and points at passersby who are looking at Xiaowu simultaneously as we are. We, as viewers, suddenly become part of the film as well; we are in the same space with Xiaowu. 
 Lou’s approaches are exactly the opposite. The Suzhou River is shot with a jostling, nervous video camera, with fast showy jump cuts and layered close-ups flowing like streams of consciousness. The pace is aggressive and the color scheme is tawdry neon with pink and green, which are suggestive of Wong Kar-wai.  The thriller like narrative plot, on the other hand, alludes to Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Rear Window. His cinematography style showing influence from Hong Kong commercial cinema and Hollywood cinema is completely different from Jia’s western art house cinema influenced mode of expression. Lou does exactly what Jia refuses to do; he adds in his own subjective melancholy and philosophy to the film using the videographer’s narration, such as the part After Meimei breaks up with the camera and the” Happy Tavern” shuts down: “Suddenly it was as if none of this had happened,” following Meimei’s disappearance, “I will be just staying here, waiting for my next love story.” Lou’s choice of inserting an overlaying voice narrator also echoes with his editing designs. In the last scene, the videographer is drinking while looking at a bridge. The shot of the bridge is superimposed on top of the first person view of a hand holding a vodka bottle. The camouflage of shots tilts back and forth to match his state of drunkenness. This type of editing induces the spectators to identify with the character; it is similar to the way how the voice over captivates the audiences and shortens the “fourth wall”. 
Despite cinematography styles, their casting choices are different as well. Lou Ye casts professional actors and actresses while Lou prefers to choose non-professionals.  The decision behind has to do with plots. The world has a slow paced and subtle storyline while Suzhou River has a dense, dramatic and thriller like plot. In Lou’s film, Zhou Xun’s acting is significant in bringing the double character to life. Only a good actress can capture the essence of Meimei’s uninhibited personality and Moudan’s innocence at the same time. 
Jia, on the other hand, even name his characters after his actors and actresses. His stories are often derived from his own life experience and real people around him. According to Jaffee’s interview with him
, his previous films, Xiaowu, Platform and Unknown Pleasure are all shot in Shaaxi, his home town. He decides to make The World to reflect his impressions of urban life in Beijing after living there for a decade. Many of his films are concerned with performance, dancers and Karaoke, which allude to his past experience of performing with a dance troupe. It is choosing subject matters formed with his own experience and placing actors and actresses in their familiar habitat that allows him to achieve an exceptionally natural, almost authentic feel in his films.
Regardless of their different styles, nostalgia and critique of the present society are two features shared by both films. The lament for the passage of time, which is never directly depicted, is yet reflected in the ephemeral faces and stories in the endlessly flowing Suzhou River, and is measured by the distance between the Beijing World Park and Xiao Tao’s home. This subtlety in social critique is carried though in the same way; the characters in the film are not aware of their social surroundings, which has deeply influenced them and driven them to a marginalized and alienated state of being. By putting their unconsciousness against their pursuit for happiness, the directors have indeed brought out the social irony to the maximum.

  1. Suzhou River, 83 min, released in 7 September 2000 in Hong Kong, Mandrin, directed by Lou Ye, produced by Coproduction Office, Essential Filmproducktion
  2. The World, 140min, released in 18 March 2005, Mandrin, Directed by Jia Zhangke, produced by Office Kitano, Lumen films and X Stream Pictures
  3. An Interview with Jia Zhangke, by Valerie Jaffee, Feature Articles, Issue 32, Sense of Cinema
  4. The Independent cinema of Jia Zhangke: from Post socialist Realism to a Transnational Aethetics, by Jason McGrath

From passive to active: Hybridity in Chinese Cinema and Society

The contrast between “New Woman”(1935) and “New Year’s Sacrifice”(1956) in terms of narrative content, mode of expression, and political discourses illustrates the two different forms of hybridity existing in two time periods. The previous, made by Leftist after the May Fourth Movement, criticizes the hybridized society infiltrated with western imperialism, capitalism and feudalism, yet fails to exert any changes without social and economical support.  With a similar purpose, the latter, however is more successful, for its support by the socialist government, in a new form of hybridized society, that is, a Chinese adaptation of the Marxist Socialist society, or a sinicized socialist society. Chinese cinema, has not changed in its nature as a hybrid of Chinese and western traditions of art, culture and representations, but has shifted from passively accepting western economical and cultural domination to active adapting a western ideology.

Chinese cinema in 1930s, is a mixture of western and Chinese traditions, due to western imperialism since the late Qing Dynasty, China’s semi-colonial state and modernization.  In “New Woman”, through the lens of Cai Chusheng, we are able to look into Shanghai in 1930s, a prosperous yet exploited city. Shanghai was one of the five open ports established after the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842. Some areas of Shanghai were formed into concessions by England, France and America since 1845. In early 20th century, the old fisherman village has turned into a modern city with a massive transformation of public transportation system; dirt roads turned into asphalt roads and manpower carts turned into electric-powered trams. The portrayal of Shanghai’s westernized city scape with western architecture, streets and motorized vehicles at the very beginning of the film marks the significant western influence in every aspects of peoples’ life in Shanghai at the time. Similar portrayals occur throughout the film such as in Wei Ming's apartment interior( pianos, telephone and european style furnitures), the foreign performances in the dance club, the new western school system and even in Wei Ming’s death at a western Bo Ai  Hospital due to her swallowing allopathic sleeping pills. The traditional Chinese aesthetics and infrastructures, however are still prominent in the film from the cheongsam dresses women wear to the letter writing style. Although the film in the most part depicts the upper class people who tend to have a more westernized life style, it also shows the images of lower class people who tend to stick onto a traditional Chinese lifestyle(such as the pimp woman). 

The hybridized society reflected in the film is a mixture of western imperialism, capitalism, bureaucratism  and Chinese feudalism. The death of Wei Ming results from the society that promotes female freedom and free love adopted from western enlightenment ideologies yet is still infatuated with deep-rooted Confucianist values and feudal ethical codes, that encourages woman to work and be financially independent yet still treats women as love object that can be bought with money.  

The film criticizes the society it portrayed throughout its storyline,  Cai Chusheng, the filmmaker expressed his anti-capitalist and anti-confucianism feelings throughout the narrative: Doctor Wang buys his wife’s silence with money and tries to buy Wei Ming’s marriage with a diamond ring. The headmaster, for the economic well-being of the school, forces Wei Ming to quit. The publisher decides to promote Wei Ming’s book because her beautiful looks will sell. Wei Ming refuses Doctor Wang’s proposal and has to prostitute for her sick daughter. In a way, she sacrifices her chastity for her free will. She attempts suicide and dies, however, for the shame and anger of the news gossips and the crowds’ opinions. For her entire life, she could not escape her fate as a woman living in a society deeply influenced by capitalism, bureaucratism and feudalism ideologies. 

On the other hand, through the character or Li A Ying, the director create a female image to represent a new force in the society. This force can be seen as a prelude of the socialist movement. Unlike Wei Ming, she is a strong, independent woman worker, not bothered with womanly issues such as love and marriage and devoted to revolution and progressive ideologies.  Comparing Wei Ming and Li A Ying, the previous is a forfeited  Romantic bourgeois who are idealistic and capitalist-oriented often depicted in May Fourth literatures,  while the latter is a foreshadowed figure of the rising proletarian Leftists in the May Fourth Movement. Cai Chusheng, by advocating the latter, hints a way of changing the society by uniting proletarians as a collective as opposed to individualism accented by May Fourth Literature.

When it comes to cinematic languages, “New Woman” falls into the category of “May Fourth Melodrama”, “which was characterized by moral polarization, excessive emotionalism, exaggerated expression, unusual human suffering, and extreme suspense”.  Although the term “Melodrama” is originated from Greek, this mode of expression can be frequently identified in Chinese literatures, performing arts and films, especially during the May Fourth period. As Zhang Yinjing points out, “rather than opposing itself to realism and romanticism favored by may Fourth literature, melodrama combined elements from both and provided leftists and the non-leftists alike with an effective form in which to address social problems while articulating versions of idealism, be they Marxist or conservative in nature”.  “New Woman” for instance is able to send out its social and political message by elements of Romanticism and Realism. Romanticism is depicted through Wei Ming’s artsy/modern life and her love relationships while realism is portrayed through her tragedy. The film also subtly communicate ideas through occasionally breaking out of the Hollywood influenced “Cinema of narration” structure.  For example, on her ride to the dance hall, Wei Ming engages in a deep thought with various emotions on her face while a picture frame of flashbacks appears next to her. This scene can be understood as an example of the alienating effect, which is a performing arts concept coined by playwright Bertolt Brecht “which prevents the audience from losing passively and completely in the character created by the actor, and which consequently leads the audience to be a consciously critical observer. In this film, creating a picture frame next to the character not only instantly pulls the audience out of the immersive narrative as described in Brecht’s theory, but also imposes opinions on audiences  by matching  the stories depicted in the flashback with the character’s facial expressions.

Although Cai Chusheng along with the other left wing filmmakers aspires to provoke the audience into changing the society, they fail to do so. “Mingxing incurred a loss of 85,687.39 yuan in 1933 proves that leftist film productions did not help the company get out of the red.”(69) Film, as a product of a capitalist industry, cannot survive without box office income. “In 1934, under increasing KMT pressure, Mingxing terminated Xia Yan and other prominent leftists’ appointments...” which points to the fact that film cannot survive without political support either. It is an irony that left-wing cinema has to maintain itself in the society which it tries so hard defying at the same time. 

“New Year Sacrifice” as the first color feature produced by Beijing Film Studio  in the People’s Republic of China, becomes highly acclaimed and widely shown in China. This film is made in 1956, a very different time period than the 1930s when “New Woman” is made. After the second sino-Japanese war and Chinese civil war, the Communist Party is in control of mainland China and carries out campaigns including socialization of economy, land reform, nationalization of private industry and various social reforms(such as the marriage law of 1950). Alongside these political and social campaigns, there are also important cultural reforms in response to the Yan An legacy: culture to serve politics. As described by Zhang Yinjing, “more than any other period in film history, cinema was under complete control of the Party...”, CCP is able to control the entire film industry by nationalizing the studios, expanding government sponsored film distribution and exhibition and establishing new administrative institutions and censorship. As a result, the film industry during this time is no longer tied to the economic market.  “Shanghai theaters began to suspend all screenings of US films in November 1950, and within a short time a nationwide boycott had terminated the long-time Hollywood domination in china.”  A suspension of Hollywood film further enhances the supremacy of socialism. Around the same time in the world, American films started to decline especially after the breakout of the Korean War(1950-53), while the Soviet film started to rise with its model of socialist realism. 

“New Year’s Sacrifice, a film adapted from May Fourth texts, fits right into this socialist realism model, with a goal to serve CCP’s political, social and cultural campaigns. Among the characteristics of the social realism mode is the strong class consciousness. In the film, the Lu Family, who Xianglin’s Wife works for is depicted as a rich feudal family. They are indifferent to Xianglin’s Wife’s misery and think she is born to be inferior. For example, in a conversation between Lu Si and his wife: “Xianglin’s Wife works so much, but she has gained weight.” “She’s born to be a laborer. Working is her fate.” Xianglin’s Wife is depicted as a proletarian peasant/worker. She never has any possessions or money because she belonged to her mother-in-law according to feudal ethical codes. Even her salaries were taken by her mother-in-law. The contrasts between Xianglin’s Wife’s misery and the Lu family’s wealth is accented in the film many times expressed through dialogues and visuals. In “New Woman”, there is also depiction of class struggles, such as Li A Ying as a proletarian and Wei Ming as a middle class “petit-bourgeois”. The difference between them however is not so polarized and accentuated. A Ying and Wei Ming, with their different lifestyles, even became friends in the end. The concern on class struggle in “New Year’s Sacrifice” echos with the socialist ideology at the time. Just as what the script says at the beginning of the film ” We should be pure, smart and intrepid, should remove those hypocritical facial make-ups, should remove those vicious stupefaction and violence. When we mourn for the deaths we also need vow: we should eliminate those pains meaningless to life, should eliminate those stupefaction and violence that produce pains and play with them. We also need vow that human beings should all enjoy justifiable happiness. -Lu Xun” This quotation of Lu Xun, best express the message the film sents, that is, we need to eliminate the feudalism(or any other forms of exploitation, such as capitalism and imperialism) from the root up in order to live a happy life. 

“New Year’s Sacrifice”, different from “New Woman”, is no longer controlled under capitalism, and no longer influenced by western imperialism, bureaucratism and feudalism. However it is still a product, or epitome of the concurrent society, in this case, a Chinese adaptation of the Marxist Socialist society, or a sinicized socialist society. Chinese films in this time period, all tend to reflect the sinicized socialist ideologies. 

As a conclusion, both “New Woman” and “New Year’s Sacrifice” were used as agents for expressing anti-capitalism, anti-bureaucratism and anti-feudalism feelings and socialist ideologies, however they receive different results due to their different social periods. The left-wing cinema criticizes yet relies on the Western cultural imperialism and capitalism, while the socialist cinema banishes them, and preaches a sinicized socialism. Chinese cinema, has not changed in its nature as a hybrid of Chinese and western traditions of art, culture and representations, but has shifted its status from a passive result of western domination to an active adaptation of a western ideology. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Response to Arthur

My question revolves around whether music is a medium and what message it sends. You very well explained your points that certain types of non-expressive music such as the Mall of America music can inform social discourses and not necessarily have to focus on melodic and harmonic structures. Here you make two categories: non-expressive music and expressive music. I had originally thought of music wholly as one entity as a “medium”. I’d like to define “medium” as an extension of ourselves, just like any other new technology. Therefore no matter what genre it is or whatever expressive meaning it has, music is a “medium” or a “tool” to change the scale/pace/pattern of previous human functions. Such as an airplane, by accelerating the speed of transportation, it dissolve the railway form of city, politics and association, quite independently of what the airplane is used for.  Regarding your example of the music television in the 80s, I believe that music video is also a medium, just like the airplane and its contents are also mediums (music, video images, dance performance, graphic arts) themselves. If digging deeper, the content of music is rhythm, melody, harmony and form. The content of each of these four is human thoughts, knowledge and expressions.
The “content”, such as the musicality of a music piece, often blinds us to the character of a medium.  The music television itself did not introduce the individual elements of music, video, etc, but it changes the pattern of our previous lives in society. Maybe MTV the music video channel, at that time had came to realization that it was not the business of producing videos, music or performance, but rather in the business of processing and distributing information.

Challenge Question answer for Riyad

Here's Riyad's challenge question:
Kunst (1959) wrote the following as a definition of ethnomusicology: “The study of ethnomusicology… is the traditional music and musical instruments of all cultural strata of mankind from the so-called primitive peoples to the civilized nations. Our science, therefore, investigates all tribal and folk music and every kind of non-Western art music.”
Is it accurate to call Ethnomusicology a science? Comment with respect to the objectivity/subjectivity, research methodology, the element of discourse, and ethical dilemmas within the field.

 Here's my first response:

According to Webster's Dictionary, the definition of science is
1: the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
2 a : a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study <the science of theology>
  b : something (as a sport or technique) that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge <have it down to a science>
3 a : knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method
  b : such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena : natural science
4: a system or method reconciling practical ends with scientific laws <cooking is both a science and an art>

In a nutshell, science is not only the "knowledge attained through study or practice," or "knowledge covering general truths of the operation of general laws, esp. as obtained and tested through scientific method ", but also a system of acquiring knowledge. This system uses its scientific methodologies to describe and explain certain phenomena. This definition confirmed that in a broader sense, science is not only limited to the study of the physical world; it is also concerned with society and human behaviors, such as anthropology, economics, sociology, history, etc.

It is widely accepted that we distinguish social sciences with natural sciences. But even within the realm of social sciences, there are two distinguished views held by scholars ever since the early 19th century: the positivists and the Interpretivists. Positivism is a philosophy of science based on the view that data derived from sensory experience, and logical and mathematical treatments of such data, are together the exclusive sources of all authentic knowledge. Obtaining and verifying data that can be received from senses is known as empirical evidence. This view holds that the society operates according to laws like the physical world. Interpretivist social scientists, by contrast, may use social critique or symbolic interpretation rather than constructing empirically falsifiable theories, and thus treat science in its broader sense.

Ethnomusicology, to my understanding, pairs music analysis with characterizations of value systems behind esthetics via field field work. It also closely combines with Ethnography, which studies a culture group and produces a written document to stand as an exploration/explanation of cultural practices among given population. These aspects of Ethnomusicology therefore fits the definition of social science for three reasons. First, the main focus of Ethnomusicology is to understand and give explanations to social phenomenons and human behavior, which is similar to Anthropology and Sociology, only with an additional musical analysis aspect.  Second, the strict requirement of engaging in fieldwork in Ethnomusicology, indicates the potential use of scientific methods that includes observation, research hypothesis, prediction, experimentation and conclusion(one of several of these methods at least are used, maybe not in a strict way sometimes). Third, even though similar studies/researches had existed for a long time, Ethnomusicology had not been recognized to stand on its own as a field until the 20th century, a lot of its earlier researches were actually done by anthropologists and sociologists who treat music as a cultural aspect. Therefore, the methodologies and concepts in Ethnomusicology, from my point of view, originally came from the field anthropology and sociology, which are certainly categorized as social science.

Notably, both quantitative and qualitative researches are used in Ethnomusicology researches; different ethnomusicologist has different approaches in how much of each is used.  Jaap Kunst clearly is a very technical and scientifical person. His researches proved him a positivist.

However, I have some concerns about the reliability and authenticity of ethnomusicology research processes including observations, data collecting and etc). One of the reasons is: a lot of the ethnomusicologists(especially in the earlier days) are not very objective because they are often westerners who have preconceptions about non-western people and culture. Kunst himself, for example, in his quote mentions “...all cultural strata of mankind from the so-called primitive people to civilized nations...” He assumes the western music as the highest form/class of music and tags other culture’s music forms with their social/economical status. If some ethnomusicologists observes a cultural group with a pre consumption that was not “scientifically” verified, then his/her research could be biased/false from the ground up. Although this is not to say that ethnomusicology has to be completely subjective in order to be a science. Similar to Anthropology and Sociology, it is inevitable for different individual scientist to shine different light on a subject. As long as the objectives are clearly made-aware and acknowledged,  the research observations and conclusions should still be considered reliable and scientific.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Review for Epitaph for the white hipster

This last article for the semester seems a lot different than the ones we have previously read. Greif started by talking about class, race and ethnicity issues in big cities(New York City and Boston), revealing dissatisfaction/hatred of the lower class towards higher class(example of the Alife shoe store rooting). He then draws upon his personal experience on beholding the changes of the streets in New York while also coming from a white town in Newton. He then calls attention to hipster subculture and seem to discount it: " This subculture was pro-consumer, pro-consumption, amoral, pro-lifestyle. It credentialed itself as resistant because its pleasures were supposedly violent and transgressive. " He then categorize the hippies, not as a subculture, but as an ethnicity. He thinks the hippies in the cities symbolizes" a return of rich whites to big cities in the 90s and 00s". He also used the term "urban renewal"- I have known this term before in a architectural context; it was quite interesting to see it used by the author in here, to represent this phenomenon.
According to the author, the hippie movement died down around 2003. I haven't come to the US until 2007 so when I learned about Hipster Movement in the American History textbook for the first time, it didn't mean much to me. I couldn't even visualize it because I had never seen one. When I came to Brown/RISD for college, I started to notice a campus fashion that include leather shoes, moleskine notebooks, urban outfitters vintage clothes, second hand shop, feather earings. I quickly caught up on what "artsy" people wear nowadays. It seems to me that, nowdays, it's hard to see any prominent type of subculture among young people, unlike the 60s 70s, or 80s. Fashion wise, it seems more like an unconscious blending of hipster, bohemian, vintage, art...Do young people nowadays still care about tagging themselves with a certain subcultural group? Are some people really just pretentiously trying to be unique? Considering being unique varies in different environment, (artsy designy style might seems unique in a rural town, but not in SOHO at New York), how should we go about defining what is mainstream and what is distinctive?

Review on Novak

The author points out that bollywood films are largely incorporated into the western markets but it is often interpreted partially with its unique song and dance sequences. He then illustrated that this remediation in an anthropological and social context. He also posed questions on methodologies and logics of this re-appropriation. He argues that creative appropriation is a positive act and it pushes what could have been lost to a new globally-circulated form.
The authors started by pointing out that
I have watched the film Ghost world previously and had an impression that the intro credit song was very awkward and confusing; it did not seem like a dance/song combination that would exist in an American comedy movie about teenagers. Before reading the article, I had no idea it was an excerpt from a Bollywood film. The fact that the excerpt was actually on TV in the movie in a clever way explained its raison d'etre, but it still didn't seem believable to me that it was an America TV program. The following scene when the girl was dancing along in such a twisted and absurd way seem to hint that she is an awkward person and this type of music/dance performance on TV is by no means a common/normal/popular performance among people at that time.
The article then went about how Clowe made the clip circulate. One thing I find interesting is that, in now days with social media websites like facebook and youtube, sharing a "Hey you gotta see this, man"Video/Sound Clip happens too often, in a wide range of subjects and all around the world. And this current situation, when remediation commonly takes place, challenges us even more on analysis of the remediation process and its consequences.
The author seems to overly prove remediation and the resulting global circulation, but I'd like to ask, what might be the consequences of a false/biased interpretation of a culture's original art being globally marketed and sold? If every country in the world has its TV programs or films remediate things coming from outside into something its own people could understand/appreciate, will that impede its people from reading into the real outside world and will that encourage people to over generalize and make quick conclusions?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review on Meintjes

I haven't previously heard of Graceland or Paul Simon, but through looking up online, Paul is known for the hit song Graceland. The song is unique as an eclectic mixture of musical styles including pop, a cappella, rock, isicathamiya, and mbaqanga(the last two styles of music originated from South African Zulus). The song sounds very engaging to me; i was especially drawn to the rhythm consisting of very complex layers of percussion instruments-bass drum in two, sycopated tamborines, and a distant sound of a bamboo like instrument.
It is interesting to see in this article by Meintjes, the song is considered as a complex polysemic sign vehicle that comes to stand for social collaboration, specifically between a White American and Black South Africans. Since the song was produced in the 80s, way past the hot conflict time(civil rights movements) in the 60s , maybe it wasn't news for these them to collaborate in music, but the collaboration still seems politically ambiguous. The author repeatedly stresses that, it is often up to the listener to interpret the political meaning behind the song or make sense of the musical collaboration in his or her terms.
For lengths of the paper, the author describes how Simon, while claiming to collaborate with, but actually sort of "exploit"the african musicians in production and organization. And from there he brings up the point about music styles and their integration. He defines music styles in its social terms as " an intuitive, felt, social feature expressing, forming, and representing a social coherence system."
In the end, the author states that It is the timing and placing of Graceland in South Africain the 1980s as well as the prominence and problematics of South Africa'spositioning within the global system that has made Graceland controversial and, along with the artistic and technical skills of its makers, the winner of the 1986 Record of the Year Grammyaward. My question is, is the author overemphasizing the political/social meaning of the song? Best record of the year Award is often highly associated with its commercial success and popularity, are the majority of the fan listeners actually aware of any of the controversies?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review on Helbig

In class we learned about influences of roma people on Hungaria, Bulgarian, Macedonia, and other countries in the surrounding region. Notably, there is quite a difference in music/dance scenes before and after socialism/communism. And in this article by Adriana helbig, I read about how romani musicians, during soviet era were put under the stereotype as Gypsies therefore not equally represented as a culture in Ukraine and how the culture image of the Romani people were manipulated by the government for political purposes. . One top of that, there is a even more complicated problem that she talks about: The romani elites's prejudice against "Tsyhany" people who are the poorer population of the romani peoples. Described in the paper as"lazy, thieving, politically apathetic musicians, entertainers, and dark-skinned people who possess magical powers to frighten and manipulate the local non-Romani population". The romani elites considers them as a seperate entity because they think the Tsyhany lost their romani culture because of their poverty. Interesting, the Tsyhany also happen to be the more assimilated and not adhering to traditional forms of Romani cultural behavior.
The author obviously seem to side with the Tsyhany and try to argue that they should be included in the romani culture despite their economic state. I am curious about what the people themselves think of themselves? Since they are highly assimilated, regardless of being poor or rich, do they necessarily still want to stick to the romani culture? What are the romani elites afraid of? People from the outside world associate non-affluent Gypsies with them therefore disrespect their culture? or is there any other reasons?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Review on Bartok and Hungarian music

Just like music of any other cultural groups, Hungarian music is hard to be generally defined, while the term"magyarsag" existed; the term is associated with Hungarian's glory past, and often used opposed to the music of Austria. A debate regarding unification of the rural and urban music styles was raised, mainly because of several reasons: the consideration of "peasant" as insult, the arrogance of the nobles, and how the pop music of the gentry is often regarded as a representative of the nation's spirit.
Bartok, in his paper, strongly criticized about the previous conceptions of what was hungarian music. In his point of view, a mixture of Gypsy music and bad imitations of it made up what people thought of Hungarian music.
He claimed that they did not have a valuable and yet distinctive art music that is characteristically Hungarian, though they had a precious folk music tradition. He also criticized how their "musicologist"consider any melody sung in Hungarian as Hungarian folk song.
Bartok seems to be speaking in a very angry and hostile tone. I can't help wondering under what context he started making these statement since they certainly don't seem like academic papers. They look like public speech debate to me. Therefore, I am expecting reactions from his opponents.
Then I learned from the Trumpener paper that, Bartok, as an ethnomusicologist, was trained with classical music, yet grew up with folk songs, and also broadens his perspective as he works. I also learned that his rejection of Gypsy music and such is partly due to his racism, which was unspoken. And that, from my own observation, is reflected in his own remarks (Page 207, Bartok) "It is disconcerting, though, to observe how musical artistes and writers in high positions endeavour to endow this popular music with the attributes of a serious and superior art."
He is afraid that making Gypsy music as a superior art will inherently make Gypsy culture as a superior culture than Hungarian culture.
After all, I am questioning, shall Bartok's remarks and statements about what is and what is not Hungarian music/culture be justified? Maybe they were justified in his age, when racism itself was justified. But how about nowadays?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Challenge questions

According to Theodor Adorno's analysis, the expansive public media industry at his time, including television, film and radio, is devoted to spoon feed people what is simple to produce, rather than what is actually good for people. There are also opposing opinions raised that it does not matter what is produced but how people use them.

However, it seems that people tend to focus a lot on the obvious which is the content, to provide us valuable information, but in the process, we largely miss the how the medium changes our life structurally.

For example, the message of a newscast about a heinous crime may be less about the individual news story itself — the content — and more about the change in public attitude towards crime that the newscast engenders by the fact that such crimes are in effect being brought into the home to watch over dinner.

Can we think of the music as a medium? if we can, despite its content , what kind of message does music send as a medium? if we can't, why?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Interview with Ron

I had an interview with Ron, the coach of the jazz combo after the band rehearsal. The interview happened just a week after Their last performance on March 15th.

Since the combo is much smaller than big band, do you take a different approach in training? What are the most important music qualities you look for in your band?

I do take a different approach. A lot of the students who used to get in play a lot in high school, mostly in big bands. But in small group, it's different mode of playing, especially in rhythm section, guitar, piano, bass and drum, their function is a lot different, it's doing more than just setting up for the horn section. There are a lot more interactions amongst all the players. A lot more interaction than big band.

What are the most important music qualities you look for in your band?

I don't get to choose. In other words, I get the students that are assigned at the open time. So there's not much I can do about that.
I try to educate some of them in the best way I can. A lot of the students play it for fun, not music students. So I'm not really expecting them to go home and practice the scales of this song, or that song. I don't expect that but I do encourage that. These groups rely a lot on improvisation. So every one can play the melody but how well you improvise on it depends a lot on their study. Knowing the harmony is really intricate, and getting the right sound across when others are improvising demonstrate a certain skill. Trying to educate them on stuff like that, but really I don't expect them too much. They do pretty good. Other than that, just a lot of listening. Especially the rhythm section. 99percent of the time.

From your past experiences, do you think the personal relationships between band members affect performance? Do they work/perform better together if they are already friends? Do they become closer through playing together for a year?

I think sometime it certainly helps to put people at ease,maybe so they are less nervous about the music sounding bad because they dont previously know the music. They maybe play looser. If someone in the band donT know others that well, they might feel inhibited to really express themselves. A lot of the students play by ear but they generally have a good sense. There are a lot of hit and miss. Not a lot of educated guesses. It's uneducated. If they were friendly enough maybe they won't be afraid of making mistakes that much it will be cool. If they don't know the people it might be a little ore difficult for them to grow as fast. But though playing together, they often get closer. They do pretty good.

Has being an accomplished jazz piano player affected the way you direct the band?

Without doubt, by being a jazz pianist, I am in the rhythm section and my role is to keep the band on improvisation mostly. Having that band sound good and interaction of the players. Because of that..yeah and and not just piano. Ay instrument if you are good at it, it is gonna influence the way you teach the entire class. It influences me how I teach everybody. It's all music and if you know the harmony and theory behind it, that s what you are trying to express to the people.

How do you take approach in directing members whose instruments are not your expertise?

If its not a musical problem, in other words, if it's not a note that they are playing wrong, maybe they are getting a good sound in the right register, um the fingering on certain parts. If its something I can not guide them with, I ll let them know that what I think the problem, and they can research on their own or get help from their teachers. Maybe the way I describe the problem, they will just know how to adjust and fix the problem just by the way I describe it.

In the last performance, Amos, the singer performed a Chinese Jazz adaption of a Chinese pop song. What do you think of this kind of adaption? Do you think Jazz songs in foreign languages will appeal to American audiences? Do you think it matters that Amos sings with a foreign accent?

When people are singing in English , obviously its easy to listen to and identify with. When people are not, I listen to the voice as an instrument. So even with lyrics, its the melody or the tune that capture the ear. It's the words that capture the imagination. It's descriptive. But music isn't descriptive. It's aural interpretation. We hear it aurally. So if I don't understand the lyrics,I ll listen to the music instrumentally as a vocal instrument. Do I think it make a difference or how people react to it? I really don't know. I think it's hard because when he sings in English, the annunciation is definitely different, his accent. Does it affect the listener? I don't know. Does it affect me? I think sometimes in a way, but in a way that is very understanding. If I had to speak Chinese, I d have an incredibly hard time and I m sure that if I try to sing in Chinese, that it wouldn't be respectful how people listen to me. I think he's great. He sings good. The Chinese tune I liked! I think it came out good.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Review on Music and the complex whole

I was quite pleased to see right from the beginning that this reading finally addresses the difference or rather the contrasts between anthropologists and musicologists. The line seemed have been pretty blurred already after studying around terminologies like “ethnography”, “ethnomusicology”,”culture”, anthropology” for almost half a semester. What the true relationship between “culture” and “music” was complicated by their each variant and ambiguous definitions and by their inseparable influences on each other in nature. And this reading aims to explain this relationship in clear shapes.
First, the author illustrated that “the study of music in its cultural context” approach,music by studying where, who, why and how the music is played in a culture. Then he contrasted that “the study of music in culture” rather emphasizes on how people in a culture perceives their music. Lastly he stated that “the study of music as culture” tries to prove how the music is inherently parallel to its social structure.
The author then made his point that an anthropological way of studying music has faults of neglects and misinterpretation, by giving a few examples. He followed by trying to explain why past anthropologists gave so little concern to music: how music is treated so much like science and professionalized in western world that non music professional anthropologists hesitate to comment on music behaviors on non-western musics too. He also illustrated four models for ethnomusicologists in further exploring the music/culture relationship:1)to study each components separately with no previous assumptions 2)to see how music contributes to culture 3)find a way of establishing central values of culture 3)envision a line of relationships leading from a major value of a culture to music.
At this point of reading his paper, I found his writing style rather “educational”, because he lists out his opinions in sections named under “Four models”,”Three stresses”, “Five studies” in almost like a propaganda way. But I liked it for clarity’s sake. Though I would have to say that instead of detailed theory about the actual relationship between music and culture, he was actually giving directions/instructions about how to find out about it. still helpful in its own sense though.
Question I kept thinking about: if the problem is the gap between anthropologists and musicologists, I have rarely seen collaborations between the two. Are there any studies made by partnership of both professions? Would such collaboration bring complex issues as well such as how to categorize the final product...

Film review on l'denier du monde (happy end)

I watched this film because the theme described in the program intrigued me: a combination of sci fi and romantic comedy with a hint of surrealism. That seems to be what I have always been interested in exploring and portraying. The film was quite different from my expectation though. But that was a good thing. The film took me on an emotional roller coaster and gave me a surprise every ten minutes While always resolving problems in funny and unexpected ways.
I see and would like to interpret some of the scene similar to French oil paintings with the large use of the composition of nudes, lust and death.
The film became most surrealist when the scenes seemed staged. For example when the man passed by a shelter in the mountains where rocks had fell off and killed people in the cars while other people just resting and making drinks. Another example would be when he found out everyone at the blue French cocktail partied died and their naked or half covered bodies piling up in the living room.
The film set off in a strange and ambiguous scene in a book shop. I also immediately noticed the background music being extremely loud as a non diegetic sound source. The surrealism also lied in surprise of random animals appearing here and there, how the film made Taiwan seemed like Japan, every women, or women and men fell in love with Robinson almost instantly or rather inevitably, and eventually die for him. In contrasts to that, Robinson himself has always been unbelievable determined to love Lae, and never gave up looking for her. His hopes kept being raised high by little traces of Lae, like finding her mother in Spain and bizarre sex video tapes of Lae in the mansion.
After a while I found myself wanting to linger in Robinson's past, when everything was beautiful yet transcendental. Everything in his present seems too tragic to be true, yet seemed logical, as if his wild past leads to his own tragedy, in spite of the "world ending" big environment.
To find Lae, Robinson went on long journey that carried along from his past to his present, he kept losing and gaining at the same time: he traded his beef for a bike and lost it in a carnival; he got cars from women he met and lost the cars soon afterwards as the women died. eventually he found his "eve"(or did he?), running naked and free on the street of Paris at the end of the world. Adam and eve returned to purity and regained their loyalty of true identities of mankind.
The song in the end of the film seems that it should be a better title for this film-"the way to your bed/heart".