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Anthropology of Music - The Anthropology Of Music

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Many musicologists maintain a Western aesthetic ideology of autonomous art. Against this backdrop, scholars with an anthropology of music orientation were faced with the challenge of finding theoretical approaches that would help them explain, or at least link, musical style with broader patterns of cultural and social processes. Ethnomusicologists frequently turned to the prominent anthropological theories and problems of any given period for this purpose. Social evolutionism, diffusionism, mapping culture areas, functionalism, problems of acculturation and culture change, structuralism, semiotics, "ethnoscience," feminist theory, theories of social power, practice theory, and problems of nationalism and globalization, prominently form the historical strata of ideas guiding work in the anthropology of music. Some scholars explicitly combined a variety of theoretical approaches in single publications. While it sometimes appears as if the newest problem or body of theory negates earlier approaches as faulty or outmoded, it is more accurate to view each as a theoretical layer that continues to inform later thinking.

Hornbostel, Curt Sachs, and the widely dispersed scholars influenced by this group (e.g., Carlos Vega in Argentina), are often associated with a social-evolutionist anthropological orientation. This is an oversimplification in that Hornbostel and Sachs, to cite but two examples, contributed to a variety of theoretical discussions and problems, for example, cultural diffusion, music perception, approaches to musical analysis, and the classification of musical instruments, among others. It is probably fairer to say that evolutionist ideas were part of common sense for this generation of scholars. Thus as a reason to study "foreign [contemporary] music" Hornbostel states that "we would like to uncover the remotest, darkest past and unveil, in the wealth of the present, the ageless universal in music; in other words: we want to understand the evolution and common aesthetic foundation of the art of music" (p. 269). In The Wellsprings of Music, Sachs views contemporary tribal peoples as "archaic" and as "the surviving tribes of palaeolithic culture" that provide a window to "early music," yet he also questions evolutionist ideas: "People do not stick to shallow secondal patterns because they stand on the lowest rung of the cultural ladder.… Often a person's sex appears to be the shaping power; women seem to prefer a smaller step [melodic interval], just as they do in dancing, while men proceed in larger strides and leaps" (p. 62). While social-evolutionism and such broad generalizing became largely discredited after the first part of the twentieth century, it might be argued that the evolutionist "primitive–civilized" contrast served as the paradigmatic background for the "traditional–modern" dichotomy that remains in currency, with many of the same problems.

Several ethnomusicologists followed the American anthropological trend of grouping different societies into culture areas. Bruno Nettl created a map of Native North American musical styles following the cultural mapping of anthropologists such as A. L. Kroeber; and Alan P. Merriam created a map of African musical culture areas following Herskovits. Later Alan Lomax attempted to map the world's musical areas. The musical areas that form the basis of Lomax's canto-metrics project, especially, have been questioned for creating an overly homogenized view of constituent musical cultures based on rather thin data. Nonetheless, in practice the culture area idea, writ large, forms a fundamental basis for organizing courses in ethnomusicology, for defining scholars' specializations, and in the writing of textbooks and reference works—all typically organized according to geographical units.

During the 1950s and 1960s, practitioners of the anthropology of music embraced functionalism as a way to link music-making to social life. More akin to Malinowski's approach than A. R. Radcliffe-Brown's "structural-functionalism," ethnomusicologists began to emphasize what certain types of music contributed to certain realms of activity—healing, labor, political structure, family life, social cohesion. In The Anthropology of Music, Merriam states, "The uses and functions of music represent one of the most important problems in ethnomusicology" (p. 209). In contrast to Kantian ideas that the "aesthetic" and "functional" realms preclude each other, McAllester's Enemy Way study demonstrated that for many Navajo, the musically "good" or "beautiful" was defined according to its effectiveness for healing, that is, a performance was judged importantly in terms of how well it fulfilled its function. Although few ethnomusicologists after the 1960s would consider themselves functionalists, describing the deeper purposes that music serves remains a basic part of music ethnographies.

During this same time period and through the late twentieth century, an interest in musical change and acculturation echoed anthropological interests. One of the most widely accepted theories of musical acculturation, advocated by Merriam, Richard Waterman, and derived directly from Herskovits, held that musical cultures were more likely to blend together or influence each other if they shared a number of similar traits. Nettl and Margaret J. Kartomi created typologies for the different effects of culture contact. John Blacking published an influential article advocating the search for a unified theory of musical change emphasizing a distinction between change within a musical system and change of the system. Robert Kauffman argued that culture change or acculturation could not be read off surface forms, such as the adaptation of a foreign musical instrument, but rather, that modes of musical practice, organization, and aesthetics were the key variables for assessing culture change.

Practitioners of the anthropology of music loosely adapted Lévi-Straussian structuralism as a key approach in the 1970s and 1980s. Typically, ethnomusicologists were not concerned with Claude Lévi-Strauss's starting point, the common structure of the human mind. Rather, working on a culture-specific basis, they assumed that there would be deep structural patterns that would shape (surface) cultural practices and forms, creating homologies across different domains of social life. Thus, Charles Keil identified patterns involving circles and angles, in roof designs, visual arts, and in music, and Adrienne Kaeppler found homologies across different realms of Tongan art and society. Combining the earlier interest in homologies with the Peircian concept of iconicity, Judith Becker and Anton Becker found similar structures in Indonesian calendrical concepts and gamelan music; Steven Feld documented the iconicity of aesthetics, practices, and style across a number of domains of Kaluli social life; and Thomas Turino observed a series of symmetrical structures organized around a centerline in Aymara panpipe and flute ensembles, in Andean weaving, in the conceptualization of agricultural niches, and in the organization of space during festival celebrations.

During the same period, some ethnomusicologists took an interest in the premises and methods of structural linguistics for musical analysis; this represents a different trajectory than Lévi-Straussian structuralism, and the scholars involved tended to hail from the musicological rather than the anthropological side of the discipline. Other ethnomusicological approaches related (sometimes through opposition) to structuralism and linguistics involved "the ethnography of performance," following sociolinguistics and the "ethnography of speaking," and the "ethnoscience" approach.

Frequently, the early discussions of "culture contact" and acculturation did not take power relations between the groups into account as a primary variable. Beginning in the 1980s, younger scholars influenced by Marxian ideas, and especially the work of Antonio Gramsci, began to study the effects of asymmetrical power relations and identity politics on musical values and practices. During the 1990s, the study of music in relation to identity politics became a central topic in the anthropology of music. Since social identities are fundamental to political life, and public expressive cultural practices such as music and dance are key to formulating and representing social identities, ethnomusicologists have made major contributions to understanding the dynamics involved—often from a valuable grassroots perspective.

Jane Sugarman's work documents the fundamental ways musical performance functions in processes of socialization shaping conceptions of gendered identities and roles, and Christopher Ballantine provides an insightful essay on gendered power dynamics in South African popular music. Many others have studied the intersection of ethnicity, race, and class in relation to popular music practices and aesthetics. State intervention in indigenous and popular music has received significant attention. Another prominent ethnomusicological topic has been the effects of political nationalism on music. Finally, the study of transnational or "global" economic processes in relation to the production and reception of music—especially popular musics and styles within the "world music" rubric—has become a central focus in the anthropology of music.

Whereas European classical music was once deemed the primary type worthy of study, over the last three decades of the twentieth century "world music" classes and textbooks proliferated in response to several intersecting trends. The discourse of multiculturalism has certainly supported the growth of the interest in "non-Western" music. Multiculturalism itself may be seen as a liberal trend that is partially the result of anthropologists and ethnomusicologists advocating cultural relativism for over a century. It is also partially the result of the women's and civil rights movements' demand that artistic canons be expanded to include a variety of groups. Simultaneously, multiculturalism also functions as a new type of state strategy (e.g., in contrast to the "melting pot") to incorporate the variety of immigrant groups into nation-states and to mitigate challenges to the image of national unity.

Commercial music trends have intersected with the work of ethnomusicologists to expand the interest in, and familiarity with, a variety of musics from around the world. A fascination with the "exotic" has long been part of American and cosmopolitan popular culture—examples include nineteenth-century minstrelsy, "Latin" dance crazes and stars like Carmen Miranda throughout the twentieth century, and hippie (and the Beatles') interest in "Eastern" religion and sitar music. Following the international commercial success of Bob Marley and reggae, new marketing rubrics—"world beat" and "world music"—were adopted in the 1980s to sell a variety of musics from around the world. The more enterprising "world music" fans have turned to the work of ethnomusicologists to expand their knowledge of different styles, and ethnomusicologists have sometimes collaborated in commercial "world music" projects.

Finally, the contemporary discourse of globalism—which might be interpreted as ideologically supporting the expansion and control of trans-state capitalist interests and institutions in the post-Soviet era—has brought new recognition to the work of ethnomusicologists. The discipline has had a global perspective since its inception, but ethnomusicologists' detailed studies of the wealth of human creativity as well as the profound musical and aesthetic differences among social groups do not support views of an emerging "global culture," or its likelihood in the near future.


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Thomas Turino

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