Ethnomusicology Ireland 5
This fifth edition of Ethnomusicology Ireland emerges into the light at an auspicious moment. Not only is this the 70th anniversary of the International Council of Traditional Music (this journal being an outworking of the Irish Chapter of this organisation) but also the ICTM’s biennial world conference also takes place in Limerick. It couldn’t be more fitting that this edition is launched during the conference; a testament to both the continued vibrancy of the organisation itself and to the contribution of Irish and international researchers to its objectives.
For readers unfamiliar with the scope of ICTM Ireland and its annual publication, both the organisation and the journal seek to create an inclusive space for the following: for those investigating ‘Irish Musics’; for many others based in Ireland who carry out research elsewhere in the world; and for those outside of Ireland who want to be in dialogue with this collective. In practice, ethnomusicology in Ireland is as likely to be carried out ‘at home’ as ‘abroad’, which is probably in keeping with current trends throughout the discipline. This crossroads creates a fertile context for critically engaging generalisation, where the ‘outside’ continually informs the ‘inside’ and vice versa.
As a relatively prosperous part of both the European Union and the Anglophone world, Ireland is well-placed to grasp the significance of culture and collaboration, and yet its history includes experiences that are truly global: colonisation, migration, conflict and independence; poverty and wealth, pride and hubris. This connectedness with the rest of the world, and especially with the human experiences of others, perhaps allows Ireland to provide a ‘clearing in the forest’ for intercultural communication and understanding, of the kind envisaged by the founders of ICTM seventy years ago.
As it happens, this edition of Ethnomusicology Ireland has a smaller proportion of contributions from Irish and Irish-based researchers than previous volumes – just four of the present ten. This outcome was not by design; we have simply received many more international papers than in the past and the editors like to imagine that this is because after five years of work, the journal is being read by wider circles of researchers around the world, who find that its contents are both useful to them and of a high quality.
The editors are particularly pleased that the articles included in this edition are so diverse, including contributors from various backgrounds and perspectives, and at very different points in their research careers. We include work that does what ethnomusicology has done so importantly for decades, which is exploring (or should that be ‘translating’) the musical culture of a certain region or period for the better understanding of others. Some reflect on the fieldwork experiences of the researchers themselves. Other chapters take a more critical stance, perhaps of conceptual complacency within the discipline or of the political landscape in which it exists. Whilst all of these positions are, inevitably, the views of individual authors alone, the editors feel it is the journal’s role to provide space for serious debate within the discipline, and so welcome them all. Each contribution has been influenced to varying degrees by the advice of peer reviewers and editors, but not, we hope, to the extent that their views have been diluted.
Despite the diversity of regional subject matter and approach, a number of themes might be discerned amongst the articles in this edition. Poupazis and Garcia, for example, consider the contemporary manifestation of musical tradition and the factors that shape this. Garcia provides an overview of the breadth of Sephardic musical history before exploring the choices made by modern practitioners. Professional musicians are rarely their own masters, and this insight into the balance between innovation and present-day understandings of tradition is easily transposed to other musical cultures. Across the Mediterranean, Poupazis investigates another reimagining of tradition in the music of Greek Cypriot weddings. Interestingly he focuses upon the wedding of his own brother, and discusses the challenge many ethnographers will be familiar with of being simultaneously inside and outside their case study.
Similarly reflective is the work of Janos Sipos, whose paper is largely concerned with the practicalities of music collection in Turkmenistan. As Sipos is a researcher based in Hungary, and his approach differs in some ways from those now standardised in anglophone academia, this reminds us that ethnomusicology is itself a diverse and changing discipline. His rich descriptions of both frustrating and illuminating research encounters in a highly controlled state are refreshingly frank reflections; his observations of Turkmen musical traditions within a post-soviet political regime are rare and valuable.
Helen Gubbins takes us in another direction, and shows the importance of discussing the means of production and dissemination when considering musical culture. Her topic is the role of a late 1930’s American radio show, ‘the Renfro Valley Barn Dance’ in constructing the genre of hillbilly music; consequently formulating the characteristics that came to define ‘authentic’ Appalachian identity. She argues that such defining characteristics, closely bound to racial and other regional ethnic signifiers, were structured by a music industry intent on branding material for commercial markets. Gubbins goes on to show that as circumstances have changed over subsequent decades, both musical content and ethic stereotypes have required continued adaption.
Ciaran Ryan also discusses the extra-musical elements of cultural groups that are formed by common musical tastes, though in this case despite the music industry rather than because of it. Fanzines are musical magazines made by fans for fans, and are effectively part of the ‘scene’ they comment upon. Ryan considers the significance of fanzines in Irish punk music form the 1970s to the present day Taking a longitudinal approach he suggests that although community ethos and musical style were closely related to the design of fanzines, their role as material objects has changed drastically since the generation that produce them grew older. As the Internet saw the decline of Irish fanzines, producers became collectors and archivists of a scene. Ryan shows how ‘do-it yourself’ publications say much about the social networks of music consumers and their political alternative to mainstream commercial journalism.
The contribution of Helen O’Shea highlights another rich area of ethnographic research that has become increasingly important in recent years. Drawing upon the interdisciplinary developments that have led to the ‘Auditory Turn’ in the humanities, O’Shea considers the implications of a renewed interest in ‘listening’ to ethnomusicological investigation. Comparing landmark texts, she notes that the process of recording interrupts the normative process of ‘social’ listening. Whilst it may provide excellent materials for future dissection, recordings, like transcriptions, can come between the researcher and the socially meaningful event that music is usually produced for, and which is usually the most important topic for ethnomusicologists.
Other questions regarding the discipline’s accepted conceptual framework are raised by Sorce-Keller and Emery. Ed Emery contends that the apparently liberal ethos of ethnomusicology as a ‘multicultural’ field masks a deep political conservatism. Participation in an academic industry that requires institutional support risks compromising liberal ideals. Emery’s argument, and practice, is the direct intervention by ethnomusicologists where social injustice is identified. Emery’s contribution to the journal documents his personal experience in the field, criticises political compromises made by universities and challenges the relevance of academic ethnomusicology where it is not applied to important social issues.
Marcello Sorce-Keller’s reflection also goes to the heart of the matter of musicological research, but in a very different way. Here, Sorce-Keller suggests that the very concept of ‘music’ has become problematic. That is, that we may come to believe that music “corresponds to a ‘thing’ rather than a cluster of processes”. Sorce-Keller argues that a singular concept of music obliges researchers to fit phenomena they encounter into pre-conceived frameworks – and indeed, ways of listening (perhaps echoing some of the points made by O’Shea). Though Sorce-Keller does not urge direct, politically engaged fieldwork as Emery does, his view that ethnomusicology has become conceptually complacent, and that the word music itself bears cumbersome ideological baggage, is in its own way just as radical a criticism.
Eamonn Costello again focuses upon the complexities of listening, but in this case to the nexus of performance, audition and a competition environment. The sean-nós style of traditional Irish singing is widely regarded as a bastion of cultural authenticity, and for this very reason has been sustained and cultivated through such institutions as archiving and annual competitions. Costello’s article looks at the active processes involved in maintaining this musical form by comparing notes made by judges in sean-nós competitions. Based upon these written observations he concludes that the music produced to win awards complies with aesthetic rules that only apply at such events, thus creating what he considers to be a distinct tradition within the genre. The competitive context influences performance style, rewarding those adhering to the prevailing aesthetic preferences of relatively few arbiters of taste.
Federico Spinetti’s area of interest is very different to Costello’s yet they both look at the ways in which contemporary cultural and political contexts shape the manifestation of ‘tradition’. Spinetti’s research concerns the development of music in Tajikistan during the difficult transition between the soviet era and independence. In particular he considers the experience of the Dashtijumi ethnic minority, who had been removed from their homeland in the 1950s but have gradually resettled more recently. Music has played a significant role in the formulation of Dashtijumi identity, both in their exile and their return. The cultural institutions established during the soviet period largely continue today, and it is by utilising these that an awareness of cultural distinction is established. In so doing Spinetti provides an insight into musial activity within Tajikistan more generally, drawing attention (as does Sipos) to the challenges for ethnomusicology in regions that have been less accessible to western researchers.
The regional, methodological and even philosophical differences between the contributions in this journal evidence a healthy diversity in the ethnomusicological field, and a welcome appetite for debate. This journal is proud to provide a platform for such discussions. At the same time it is obvious that all the authors share an awareness of music’s power to influence real lives, at both collective and personal levels. The core themes, and problems, of tradition, authenticity, modernity, identity politics and economics run though most of these papers. The light shed and questions raised here show the vibrancy and relevance of the field and its continued struggle to avoid complacency. The editors believe that the founders of the ICTM would be pleased with the result.
Tony Langlois July 2017
Editor Tony Langlois
Deputy Editor Aileen Dillane
Technical Editor John Millar
As ever we are enormously grateful to our panel of peer reviewers, who apply considerable effort and wisdom to the early drafts of the papers; and to our book reviewers who have been equally supportiv eof the journal project. Above all we thank our contributors for their patience and perseverance on the lengthy road to publication.
Peer Review Panel for Ethnomusicology Ireland 5
John O’ Flynn
John Morgan O’Connell
Martin J. Power
Reviews Editor Meabh Ni Fhuarthain
Tristan le Govic
My personal thanks are also extended to Aileen, Meabh, Sean and John, who have been a supportive, thorough and highly amusing team to work with for the last three years. TL