Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review on Buchanan

In this reading, the author digs into many aspects of music professionalism(culture, aesthetics, politics etc) during socialist Bulgaria, which is distinctively characterized as mingling European ideals and rural Bulgarian music life.
At Bulgaria, he found out that Bulgarian music is more complicated than just a folk orchestra, but is much influenced by many social and political powers/systems. it's interesting to see that the author actually witnessed a major political change in Bulgaria during his field research-the fall of Zhivkov and a series of political conflicts following it. The author then talks about "truth", to my point of view, this is almost an alliteration of the term ethics, which was the topic we studies last week, since as the author described "truth is deeply connected to cultural and interactively experienced as one's sense of morality and identity within the confines of a particular group." He added that the political conflicts were partly because of disconnection between the appearance and the reality. I am wondering if this refers to that the Bulgarian communist government was controlling its people to live in a institutionalized life according to its communist regime while ignoring people's actual life needs and opinions.
He stated that the conceptualizations of music or other forms of arts, such as acting, reflect the power structure of one nation-in this case, a hegemony- that is, playing certain types of music or performing a particular act, just for government promotions/propagandas.
He described the dialectic tension between individual and the society captured in metaphors. "a violinist cannot feed a household, but gloomy is the house that lacks one"- this everyday discourse illustrated the relationship between Bulgarian villagers and foreign musicians. He then gave examples to describe the development of professional music making in the history of Bulgaria and the transition from "traditional" to "modern" through technology devices such as radio.
After the reading this paper, i am starting to appreciate the freedom of expression in music. "Playing from the heart"is often taken for granted and it is hard to imagine not being able to play music freely because of political situations. From the paper, it seemed that the communist/socialist government was sticking people with "traditional" music, and once that government fell, people started to have the freedom to play more freely, but is it just the government or the ruling system's fault? What if the government continued to rule Bulgaria? Maybe it will still adjust itself to fit in the world music scene inevitably?

Field notes on Wednesday combo

The combo rehearsal takes place at Fulton hall on wednesday afternoon from four o'clock to five thirty, during which they practice four tunes(two with vocal). Fulton hall is located on the east side of Brown Campus, among the music department buildings, and also right next to Grant Recital hall, where the final performances will be held.
The combo group consists of nine people including a pianist, a drummer, a bassist, a singer, a violinist, a guitarist, two saxophone players, and a trumpeter. Notably this is the largest among five combo groups on campus. Their coach, Ron is a well known jazz pianist and other than leading the combo he also teaches piano lessons for the Applied music program.
While I arrived at the Fulton hall, half of the group already arrived and were unpacking their instruments. The atmosphere seemed very chill. The rehearsal started right away after they had taken their usual seats in a circle, below is a diagram illustrating their voluntary seating arrangement.
Ron is usually standing in the middle of the circle walking around constantly paying attention to each individual players and making suggestions. He also tend to walk outside of the circle every once a while and observes the whole group performance. While he gives suggestions to individual player, he often goes really close to the player and makes intense eye contact. He use lots of hand and body gestures to illustrate his advice, such as touching his head meaning raising the volume, and stomping his feet as guide for a particular groove he wants for a specific player. He also uses whistle to pause this the whole band from playing and gives instructions.
The first part of the first tune was repeated for almost 8 times as Ron thinks the band did not get the particular feel the piece represents. He explained to the group that it is the "bop" feel they should aim for, and different from "swing"'s triplet feel, "bop" is a little harder and sort of in between triplet feel and eighth note feel. As he speaks more about it, the rhythm section(piano, guitar, bass and drum took notes on the side of their lead sheet. Others looked rather anxious.
Ron also commented that he did not want random people filling in the empty parts of the tune. He asked the band if anyone would like to write a background counterpart for the tune. Nobody seemed to be willing to take the role except the violinist, who certainly has lots of music theory background since he is constantly harmonizing everyone else's solo.
The second tune was a Chinese 80's song, which was written for jazz performance by the singer, Amos, who grew up in China. After the first singer section, it happened that no one voluntarily took the solo, after two measures, the saxophonist took the role. During the third section, everyone started to whistle the melody, but Ron paused the band and commented that he thought the band is holding back therefore the whistle is not completely in tune. He questions if they should still keep the whistle section. According to him the whistle adds to the light heartiness of the song( while he said that he turned to the singer for confirmation), but if the band is hesitating because some of them do not know how to whistle it can sound bad during performance. In the end they agreed to keep it until next rehearsal and make decisions then.
During the rehearsal overall, the energy flow is relatively high. Everyone is on top of their own chops and listening to each other carefully.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

review for Turino

The abstract of this paper seemed confusing to me at first because I didn't quite get the meaning of "internalized" and "externalized" disposition from Turino's long sentences. Then it became clear to me that he was explaining how musical activities relate to human behaviors, values and forms in other activities(social or cultural). And I was soon drawing to his notion "circular interaction" which means internalized dispositions influence each other and forms as unified vision/value system, just like Conima is an iconicrrsrnttion of actual octal character of Conima. Such is called "natural".
Then the author started to introduce the social patterns in this community: such as "solitary/factionalism paradox" which means all the local group are relatively solitary and they each put collective over the individual, as a result the distinctiveness of each small entity is very important. Musicians don't like to be singled out. Religious and political matters are solved without debates. And such customs are much reflected in their music tradition: binary organization around a marked center unit for music group organizing. Major aesthetic criterion for good performance is the idea of playing as one and no individual instrument should stand out. Dense sound , unified texture, skillful improvisation to add flavor. Plus, no large contrasts and no mix timbres. To conclude, "sounding as one" in the music realm is " acting together" in social terms.
The role of "Guia" interested me. A figure as Guia needs to be well respected and skillful himself as well as tactful, patient. Yet On top of that he can not publicly stress or emphasize his superior abilities. He must take care of everyone's self esteem. This draws parallel to a virtue of modesty, which is often underrated by American society to my point of view, and I cant help comparing the musics/social customs of the two cultures using Turino's method. For examples, jazz music, which is widely considered as "American music" distinctively, exhibit a strong sense of individuality since almost each of the players in a jazz jam is supposed to or encouraged to take a solo and the rich mix of timbre is appreciated. This also apparently reflect American values of democracy and individuality.
In the end, my question is, are musical behaviors only the reflections of social or other behaviors of a culture, or does they actually exert influences on the way people live or behave as well?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review of Bus palladium-French film festival

This film has a similar narrative structure with a lot of other french film I have seen, for example, Emelie, jeux d'enfants, and even the one we just saw, Pierre le fou. In my own words, this films tells the story like running water, doesn't stop, doesn't breathe, and hits the drama but hardly bounce back. Unlike Hollywood films that is distinguished with a realistic,psychological/logical narrative style, it is rather free in storytelling, with no set of rules for narrative structure. For example, this film "Bus palladium" tells the story of a French rock band's forming and diminishing" , but strangely uncommon, the film just does exactly that, with not much extra tension created or drama implicated, except the abrupt ending of the singer's death. I couldn't tell whether this film has a climax or not. There were certain moments of heightened tension, yet there didn't seem to be resolution to the tensions, instead the story just went on, as if certain details that should have been in the film were somehow missing.
It has a unique sense of documentary film lied within. It is as if we as the audiences are just observing them as the cameras do and it is not the director's job to feed us the information/emotions, but our own jobs to observe carefully and connect the dots.
Of course there is a fine line between this and director's neglects to communicate to the audience or lack of depth. In fact I m a little disappointed about the fact that there doesnt seem to be any deeper explorations in the emotional senses of the characters. Laura, the lead singer's girlfriend, sets up her cool mysterious image but does not seem to really matter in the story except her love affairs with two band members. There must be something behind her intentions or her motives of being a groupie. Does her Argentina refugee background make her insecure and lonely? She never seemed passionate about anyone. Like she said she didn't want to just be a groupie, not even a muse, but an icon. Yet her influence over the band or the music didn't really exist.

Field work topic

I have always been interested in the jazz scene at Brown. I am interested in finding out about the jazz combo in particular. Unlike jazz band, it is usually formed by much fewer people, typically a drummer, a pianist, a vocalist, a guitarist and multiple combinations of saxophones, trumpets, and sometimes violins and clarinets. Therefore, the musicians are not expected to play the music as repertoires like the jazz band in often times, but instead really focus on interactions and improvisation. The students involved in the group have the freedom of picking tunes they would like to practice together. They also collaborate during the practice; they offer advice to reach other, they discuss the changes and rhythmic tempo, and they decide on who and when solos during the whole performance. I have been to a couple of performances before and I would describe them as "performances for the musicians themselves more than performances for the audiences"- and this aspect of it really fascinates me.
Coming from a Chinese cultural background, I had little knowledge about jazz before I came to Brown for college. As I got to know more about it, the more hit seems complicated and mysterious to me. So in this field research I would really like to find out more about these musicians's view on their music and collaborations. I would also like to interview their coach Ron, who might also have interesting views on the dynamics behind their music.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Views on ethics

Agawu's article talks about the significance of recognizing the issue of ethics in ethnomusicology and ethnography, or pretty much everything. It first points out that the nature of ethics as a dicey ambiguous concept of life principles makes it hard to determine /define or touch upon in researches. Just like the author puts it," how can we determine what is right/wrong."
Also a t a society that has developed its own set of morals and codes shall we seek to break free the rules sometimes?
The article then illustrates the areas where ethnic come into effect or cause discussions. Such as music's moral values, induce the tradition/history/location behind the music and the text set for the music.
The author repeatedly mentions the difficulties ethnomusicologist face in terms of incorporating the issue of ethics into their research study. There are several examples i find in the papers interesting.
First, Appiah listed five feathers in African ethical thoughts, including communitarian, anti universalist, naturalistic, no formal moral vocabulary, humanist, he also contrasted these features with western ones, and concluded with individuality reputation&status,organized moral reflection and such. This has led me to think that, the five features Appiah described seem to fit Mary underdeveloped or developing societies. If we go back into the western history we even see similar thoughts. Therefore I m questioning that should we describe these features as "ethical thoughts"? Shall we consider ethics as a simple definite right or wrong answers or iOS it relative and more like inclinations? Does the ethical thoughts still remain while the economy advances or the politics gains power? What if such ethical values meet the world?

Secondly, what is the relation between principles of ethics and human nature?
Is it something image or earned?
How about the relation between principles of ethic dated culture /tradition?
Is agawu actually using "ethics" as a broad term for and inclusion of cultures ,human nature, and human beings?

Thirdly, if we look at the origin, the term ethics came from Greek philosophies. It is also known as moral philosophy and is a branch of philosophy that involves Systematizing, defending and recommending concepts of right/wrong behaviors. Socrates thought self knowledge is considered necessary for success and a person must become aware of every fact and its context relevant to his existence if he wishes to attain self knowledge. While Aristotle stated that self realizationism, a baby at birth is not a person but a potential person to become a real person the child's inherent potential must be realized.
In Chinese philosophy there is also a parallel that is called moist consequentialism. It is a theory that evaluates the moral worth of an action based on how much it contributes to the social harmony of a state. "order, material wealth, increase in population".

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

first critical review On Barz

Through Barz's reading "confronting the field note In and out of the field", I started to reflect on a question that I had earlier posed for myself:
"How does a field research/study conducted by an ethnographer turn into a written analysis or an ethnography?" It is inevitably important to take notes of experiences and feelings in realtime, later reflect upon the memories and eventually turn them into much more formal styled writing documents. However this article took a much deeper dive into the significance of field notes. He used his own examples to explain the definition/form of field note, the functionality of field note as "an intermediary point that link the processes of ethnography back to the processes of field research", as "an inner/outer dialogue with myself", and as " a process of reassessing or stepping back for my initial assumption of elitism and see my experience from a different perspective".He also addressed the difficulties of translating one's experiences into text. "The most important gap for the participant -observer, therefore is not between what he sees and what is there, but between his experience and how he is going to communicate it."
Up to this point I began to associate field note with a common writing exercise I practice often, which is to just sit at a place quietly while writing on a piece of paper non stop follow the consciousness of my mind at the moment. After ten minutes, I will look back at the lines of words, which could include the sound of a truck that just went by, the weird dream I had last night or the smell of fresh soil nearby. This stream of consciousness might have represented both some thoughts that hid deeply in my head, and some factual, sensual/visual or incidental experiences caused by my surroundings. Or rather, it is a mingle of thoughts, observations and chance.
This writing practice, similar with field notes in ethnography, answers the question, just as Barz concluded, "what do I know?" and "how can I know what I know?"

In the end I would like to raise a question for discussion:" with the technology development nowadays, there are many devices such as cameras and video cameras that ethnographers could utilize to capture the moment right away while they are experiencing it. Does writing on paper still holds the same importance?"

Monday, February 6, 2012


SEM is the journal called Society of Ethnomusicology. It was founded in 1958, and was the first dedicated serial publication containing notes about current field research projects, a bibliography and recordings. My first flip through of the journals tells me that their articles generally explores relationship between music all around the world with cognitive science, linguistic study, human emotion, visual arts, religion, identity, health, and so on. The predecessors of the SEM include scholars like Jaap Kunst Coins, who replaced “comparative musicology” by “ethnomusicology”, and Charles Seeger, whose studies in American vernacular music and linguistics helped extend musicology to other disciplines and domains of culture.
Since the founding of the SEM, there has been lots of changes/developments, for example, the ethnomusicologists’ ’identities, locations, approaches and study/research areas. According to Anthony Seeger(past president of SEM), in his article called “Society for Ethnomusicology”, between 1900 and the 1970s, ethnomusicologists were considered to be specialists in non-European musical traditions, while in the 1980s there was an increasing tendency to study immigrant traditions and European/American popular music. In fact, Ethnomusicology, as SEM grew with its distiguished body of literature over the years, has developed into a discipline in its own right. Unlike musicology, it is not limited to a finite set of structures or cultures; instead it absorbs inputs of multidisciplinary and intercultural researches and studies.
In 1970, there was an evolving interest in universal scholars' participation in ethnomusicology perhaps because there would be more truth and reality revealed by comparing and contrasting both the insider and outsider perspectives. In 1973, John Blacking's book "How Musical is Man" advocated anthropological perspective in the study of music and argued that "it is the activities of Man the Music Maker that are of more interest and consequence to humanity than the particular musical achievements of Western man", and that "no musical style has ‘its own terms’: its terms are the terms of its society and culture"

One thing I found interesting was the coexistence of the terms comparative musicology and ethnomusicology. At first I thought the later was a developed/larger version of the previous, since comparative musicology is the comparing, grouping and ordering of songs of various peoples and countries, and ethnomusicology does this too, plus paring music analysis with characterization of value systems behind esthetics via field works. I soon realized that this did not hold true. It occurred to me that the Ethnomusicology is merely a new term designed to replace the traditional one since a great deal of research work accomplished in this field is descriptive rather than comparative. T

One question for further study would be: How does ethnomusicology nowadays defines the mingling of the music from different cultures?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

24 hour listening log

4 am: woke up in the middle of the night because of the jetlag, opened up my ipod and listen to "Haydn Piano sonata E flat major allegro"

9:30am: got up and my alarm clocks rings "marimba: sound three times

10:00am: went across the main green and heard the wind brushing trees, birds and people walking/talking

11:00am:eating breakfast while listening to ipod "jack Johnson's Banana Pancakes"
11:45am go to morrison and Gerald studio and practiced piano and drums (played random compositions of my own)

12:50pm have lunch talking with my friends in the ratty lots of people chatting

1:00-3:00pm at class listening to lecture and watched a chinese language reporter news

4:00pm at my room cleaning and unpacking while on my computer playing the whole album of Roger Ridley" my favorite of the album being "Stand by me"

7:00pm eating at RISD dining hall with my friends, talked and I recommended my friend to listen to a jazz singer Thelonious Monk and showed her the song"Epistrophy"

9:00pm went to a rehearsal for a performance for Chinese new year banquet. The music was performed by a Guqin (an old zither-like Chinese music instrument) player.

12:00pm went to bed after listening to "Birdland's weather report "

The mirror

I, hoping to continue exploring films that might be out of my comfort zone, picked this Iranian film called “The Mirror”, because I had greatly enjoyed the only other Iranian film I had watched-”The Song of Sparrows” and I would like to get to know more about Iranian culture through the lens. Also I was curious whether there would be a big change in the look of landscape and city scenes, or a noticeable changing culture(maybe influenced by the western world), since “The mirror” is made in 1997 while “The Song of Sparrows” almost ten years later, in 2008.

Twenty minutes after I started watching the film, I began to question whether this would be the right type of film for me to watch and write my paper on: the narrative seemed to go on extremely slowly. I have a constant anticipation that something strange/dangerous would probably happen to this little girl called Mina, who wandered off on her own after school because her mom didn’t show up to pick her up. She walked across/ along the street and asked strangers for directions. Although the interactions are quite intriguing: for example, the conversation between her and the men on the motorcycle about how her baby brother taking up all her mother’s attention, the constant gossips at the bus surrounding her on just about any daily subjects including marriage, work and children, the on-going ambient radio reports on the soccer match between Iran and Korea. Half of the time, she was being an observer-timid and careful, absorbing information around her but never makes a comment, the other half of the time, she was being an “actor”-bold and forward, reaching out to people around her and asking for help. All was interesting, yet nothing in terms of story developed. It almost seemed the whole film was just one long continuous shot with no cut or jump in time. Maybe that was the point of the film? I though to myself.

Soon I was at the verge of zoning out. Then, there came the draw-dropping moment when the little girl, Mina suddenly took off her head scarf and stared straight into the camera, and shouted “I don’t want to act any more!”. Right at this moment, the line between film and reality is broken and blurred. The fourth wall has suddenly been shattered. The cinematography suddenly changes dramatically, too. Immediately, jerky, hand-held shots are presented and the film stock look more grainy and less controlled in terms of framing and focus. I couldn’t help pausing the film, and started telling everyone around me(I was with my friends in the studio at that time) about this shocking idea/incident. What happened next was that Panahi, the director and his crew were trying to persuade Mina back into resuming her role but soon decided they were going to follow her home secretly instead. However to me, the film has already made its point. It doesn’t matter much to me whether Mina ended up home or not.

As the film proceed with long shots of traffic and noise, I switch my mind to thinking: How much of this is authentic, or is it staged? I found myself struggle to find the boundaries between the two but soon I realized that the Tehran “reality” is fascinating regardless of its authenticity: A young romantic couple on a bus, who must occupy separate, gender-specific sections and can only shyly eye each other from a distance. An old woman complain about being neglected by her family and other woman complain about their marital circumstances. Men in the film, seem to be primarily interested in listening vicariously to radio broadcast of the Iranian soccer games. People are all trying to handle the vicissitudes of society in a big city, Tehran.

Some research

taught me that, since 1979 Iranian revolution, making movies about children in Iran has more practical advantages because children are always credited with more innocence than adults and can be allowed to display a wide range of emotions without suspicion; it was also easier to film them on the street. The director’s first film, “White Balloon”, depicted a seven-year-old girl ‘s afternoon-long efforts in the city streets to buy a goldfish in preparation for the Iranian new year festivals. “The mirror” begins in a similar fashion as the “White Balloon”, as school lets out, a young girl, is is seen waiting for her mother to come and pick her up. As it turns out, the mother doesn’t arrive at the appointed time, and the entire plot is simply about the girl’s efforts to get home. So it looks like another “White Balloon”, but the filmmaking style is drastically different: Panahi opens up this film with an amazing three and half minute panning shot that makes a full 360 degree circuit around a traffic circle. It then later depicted the girl wandering in and out of closeup, sometimes disappearing in crowd scenes, and then reappearing. This reminds me films of the Italian neo-realistic period of the 40s and 50s, representative of a rough and ready documentary film style; they seem to capture more of the “real world” .

Overall, I was fascinated by the concept of the film though the film might have difficulty sustaining an audience interest. I was glad to have picked it to watch; it is nevertheless an important figure on the Iranian film scene.