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Halloo! When I found out I could go to med school with a Humanities degree with an Ethnomusicology emphasis, I almost peed myself. Here's to me holding it in.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Culture Shock

I told you some of my entries would still be text based.

The hardest part about this reading was convincing myself that it applies to me. I'm super stuck-up when it comes to my own estimation of my inter-cultural abilities. Mix that with unbounded optimism as to the goodness of people, and you've got yourself a guy who is in for a bit of a surprise.

As soon as I started taking the reading seriously, I found myself actually more at peace with how I hope the experience will go, because I have started to plan in and expect difficulties, especially those difficulties that are still invisible, hiding in the latent space. It feels good to know that there will be language difficulties, cultural boundaries, and moments of frustration.

For those of you who aren't in the field studies class and don't know what I'm talking about, we have to read an article called "Coping with Culture Shock" by a dude named Ferraro. I think it's a dude, anyway. Here are some of the salient points.

There are four basic stages of cultural shock:
1. The honeymoon stage - everything is great and charming
2. Irritation and hostility - everything starts to suck
3. Gradual adjustments - some things stop sucking quite so hard
4. Biculturalism - you become a fully or near-fully recovered world citizen, able to function well in the host culture as well as your native culture

The next part of the article talks about "reentry shock," or "reverse culture shock," as it is sometimes called. This happens when you get back home and have trouble readjusting. I might deal with these issues in another post, but for now I want to get to another part - techniques for minimizing culture shock. Ferraro provides 4 cognitive strategies, which are basically ways to orient yourself before going and things to keep in mind while in the foreign country, and 18 other strategies. I've picked out some that are interesting to me.

The four cognitive strategies are:
1. Understand the general concept of culture. The way Ferraro approaches this vibes with Dr. Keller's "no one believes something that is stupid" statement. Things might be different in other cultures, and they might not make sense when viewed in our own paradigm, but just recognizing that there is a logic behind foreign cultural practices that is usually just as valid as our own cultural reasoning helps tremendously in generating empathy and allowing learning to happen.
2. Become familiar with local communication - verbal and nonverbal.
3. Cultural self-awareness - opening one's mind up to the reality that we are just as encultured as anyone anywhere, and that those cultural norms we bring with us affect the ways we see and react to things. What is it about American culture that is unique that shapes the way I act and think? What about Arizona culture, Mormon culture, Hilton culture? Recognizing these various cultural influences that contribute to our own make-up helps in navigating foreign cultures as we watch ourselves with more objective eyes.
4. Obtain as much culture-specific information as possible, from as many sources as possible. Journals and scholarly publications are good, but there are other places that can be even better. Youtube, Skype, social media - on and on, the internet has provided a way to connect cross-culturally, albeit in a sanitized form, instantly. Other ideas include going to places in your own location where people from the host country will be - restaurants, religious services (where appropriate), etc. People are generally more than happy to talk about their homelands.

Other points:

  • become familiar with the physical surroundings ASAP. Grab a map and wander around, or make a map if one isn't available
  • become familiar with basic skills - using currency, ordering off a menu, using public transportation
  • learn to live with ambiguity - don't expect answers up front, and be ok with never having answers to some questions
  • be slow to act, quick to think. Understand context as much as possible, and focus on making informed decisions rather than fast decisions.
  • don't evaluate yourself using your usual standards of accomplishment, at least at first. 
  • don't lose your sense of humor. The article said that humor might be the most powerful coping tool available, and I like that.
  • be adventurous. Look at problems as adventures and opportunities
  • learn how you best manage stress. Exercise, spirituality, venting to family or friends, etc.
  • stay as healthy as possible.
  • let go of home (for now) - say your goodbyes and really be in the host country. This doesn't mean that maintaining communication with family or friends is bad - it can be one of the most positive things you do - but rather that pining for home should be kept to a minimum and immersion in the local culture should be maximized and appreciated.
  • remember that there are no absolutes - not only is the culture unique, but the city, family, and individual you are interacting with is unique as well
  • keep the faith - believe that things will go well, and it is much more likely that they will. Give yourself time and patience, and give the host culture the same luxury
Some of my blog posts are designed to give me things to read and look at when I am in the field and don't have immediate access to all my class notes and other resources. This is one of those posts. I plan to remember to look at it frequently in the field, especially on that day when the honeymoon is officially over.

Aural Project in a Visual Virtual Space

I've been struggling to figure out what to write about for these last few learning journals. This is weird. I usually have too much to say, and my posts are generally much too long. I was thinking about where the difficulty is coming from, and I realized that my project is mainly aural - having to do with sound - and presenting the ideas in a visual format, including text under the umbrella of "visual content," is therefore problematic.

I've always thought the idea of a "music publication" to be kind of a funny thing. We take an aural phenomenon that exists in a liminal and temporal form, continually being recreated, and talk about it using printed words and figures. It's self-imposed synesthesia (not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that - synesthetes have made some freakin' cool stuff). The decision, based on this type of reasoning, is to write less and provide more music for my bloggy friends to peruse. I'll still have blog entries that are long and full of text, but to better serve the project I am making a switch. Frankly, more work goes into the posts that are full of music - I have to listen to it through to make sure it goes in the direction I want it to, and finding good material takes at least as much time and skill, not to mention personal background and history, as it does to find good articles in journals or books in a library.

Here goes. You don't really have to watch the videos, especially if you want to get all aural up in here. Feel free to psychoanalyze me. I'm kinda feeling all this right now.

My favorite version of the last song is on youtube, but it's terrible quality (this version is great too, though). Check it out here: http://grooveshark.com/s/Henehene+Kou+Aka/1TRG1T?src=5. I love it when messing up lyrics makes them better, a la Louis Armstrong. Satchmo never knew the words, and it was great.

Monday, March 26, 2012



I found an instrument I really want to learn (and maybe even purchase - that would be cool). This is it:

It's a Tibetan lute called a dranyen. Other spellings include dramyin and dramnyen, and I've seen some other strange spellings scattered around. Here's a sweet video of some dranyen players singing and dancing.

The second one is a musician named Nawakyipo doing a concert. He talks about the subject matter of the lyrics, and has a beautiful voice.

This is a Bhutanese player. The dranyen is very popular in Bhutan, and even factors into the monastic music.
More of this guy: http://media.smithsonianfolkways.org/audio/podcasts/sound_sessions/sound_sessions_11.mp3

I don't really have much else to say about the dranyen - just listen to it! It's beautiful, simple, and Keila Diehl says it's easy to learn, at least to start (most instruments are easy to learn at first, but hard to master, yeah?). Hopefully there is a dranyen player or two kicking around Bylakuppe that will impart some wisdom to me.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Nearing the end...

This is what I'm listening to - don't read this without listening to it too. http://grooveshark.com/#!/artist/Onra/576480
And here's the video that hipped me to this dude: http://lifeandtimes.com/love-on-the-beat

It's that time again. Registration picks up in a few days, and we start looking to the next semester at the same time we're tripping over finals. I love it.

The homework load usually drops in deference to a few final projects and a load of for-serious studying, and most of us try to catch up on all the stuff we never understood about those SN2 RXNs and Boudelaires.

For me, this part of the semester sees a huge increase in listening to music, walking to school barefoot (good morning, starshine), and having fun with family and friends. I hate homework, but I love studying. Homework is almost always, in my experience, so much busy work mixed with the barest bit of useful practice. I'm a junior/senior credit-wise (because of the near dual major and non-applicable credits I got in high-school and community college, I'm a sophomore in reality) with a nearly perfect GPA, so I've played this game successfully for a while now, and I stand by the statement. Students like myself learn best by assigning themselves homework, and I for damn sure don't take classes I don't care about where the teachers have to force me into learning the material. Micromanaging tastes bad. I'm not into it.
Do you know what he's drinking? That's right, a big cup of micromanagement. 

Back to the end-times discussion (eschatology, non?), I am psyched-out-of-my-mind, and have more than a little bit of excited nervousness about getting out of this place and into Bylakuppe. For all the research and communication I've had, I still don't know what to expect, and that is wonderful. I feel like Indiana stepping out onto that invisible bridge in Raiders. I'm excited to be done with all the science and homework for a while (the field studies in-field homework is sissy and actually seems useful, and the rest of what I have assigned for myself is very organic), and to get paid in credits for living with a vibrant Tibetan community and writing about it. Another project proposal is due today, and I'm excited to get that in and on the editing table.

I'm also excited for Conference this next weekend - apart from the wndrfl (see, told ya I don't need vwls) experience that listening to the prophets provides, I get to see my family and hang out in the most idyllic little town in AZ. Yes'm, the last month of school is a good one.

I just wanted to catch y'all up on where I am and what I'm thinking, so there is a bit of it. Peace.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Annotated Source


I'm done with the assignment - chheeeya. Don't fret - I'll still do research. I don't need assignments to do what I do.

Dufelmeier, Daylan. "A Forty Million Slave's Moment of Clarity." Jay-Z: Essays on Hip Hop's Philosopher King. Ed. Julius Bailey. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011. Print.

In another annotated source I cited the introduction to the Jay-Z essays book, but several of the essays deserve closer examination. Here's one. The Forty Million Dollar Slave by William C. Rhoden that this essay alludes to and cites details the problems inherent in the vast moneymaking potential of black Americans through the centuries, and the primarily white businessmen that have tapped and taken the money their "Forty Million Dollar Slaves" made through their talents. Daylan explores Jay-Z's unique position as an incredibly lucrative black individual who is yet playing within the old system. As interesting as that is, more relevant to the direction of my studies in hip hop is the closing paragraph of the essay, where hip-hop's potential power for positive social change is defended and Daylan pleads for an increased and more effective use of hip-hop in this arena. I witnessed a beautiful and moving example of Tibetan activist music this past March 10th, and the use of hip-hop for Tibetan activism is readily apparent on the internet - I wonder, as I have in other posts, if any of this is going on in Bylakuppe.

"'Hip hop's true significance for the community activists and leaders I have worked with resides in its ability to encourage young people to believe they have the power to make a difference'(Watkins 255). In The Hip Hop Generation Bakari Kitwana documents scores of situations when hip hop has used its remarkable talent for change (206, 207, 208, 209). Potent lyrics laced with criticism of society would be more effective to make system-wide change than uncritical lyrics or black (or rapper) ownership. With lyrical skills like Jay-Z's rappers have such potential to challenge status quo and empower people to resist injustice... Songs that make heads nod yet retain socially empowering lyrics is what I call a win, win." 138

The recent tragic and touching rise in Tibetan self-immolation is certainly food for socially conscious music, especially as the Tibetan plight is remembered by a world grown callous over the last twenty years. We'll see what happens.

Annotated Source


Dennis, Christopher. Afro-Colombian Hip-hop: Globalization, Transcultural Music, and Ethnic Identities. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2012. Print.

Here's some Afro-Colombian Hip-hop for context. Let the music play.

This just dropped, a great book about a vibrant hip-hop community. Here are a few relevant quotes (remember that stuff about this being for me, not you? Yeah, this is that. The videos, though, are for both of us.)

Generally speaking, hip-hop is defined as the culture, while rap is the music considered to be one of the four pillars of hip-hop culture: breakdancing, DJing (turntables), MCin (rap), and graffiti. From a cultural and musical practice originating among African American, Caribbean, and Hispanic youth in the Bronx, it has become a global signifying practice providing new parameters of meaning to locally and/or nationally diverse social groups. Beyond U.S. borders, hip-hop has become a vehicle for youth affiliations in parts of Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. 2

All too frequently the media, politicians, and scholars use globalization to describe intercultural and international contact and economic exchange, which, in that case, would simply imply a new term used to define older processes that have a very long history. 10

In the end, most agree that globalization has definitely led to a fundamental acceleration of the pace of the social, cultural, and economic change around the world, greatly aided by technological advances in communication systems that permit the instantaneous movement of information and finance capital in a way that local events are influenced by events that take place at great distances and vice versa... It is vital to consider whether and in what ways has globalization been negative or positive for Afro-Colombian urban youth. What challenges and benefits has globalization presented and how are they manifested through Afro-Colombian hip-hop? 13

Together, globalization and postmodern theories have contributed to a dramatic shift of the terrain of culture toward the popular, toward everyday practices and local narratives - often from the margins of society - which, in turn, challenge the privilege historically bestowed on "high culture." (Hall, "What Is This 'Black' in Black Popular Culture?"124) 15

Hip-hop's worldwide appeal can greatly be attributed to the global fetishization of black peoples as a way for non-blacks to experience "real" or "exotic" culture. And naturally, the understanding of U.S hip-hop as an expression of African American culture has played a critical role in its spread and assimilation among black youth of the diaspora... Nevertheless, hip-hop has also migrated so extensively among the world's youth due to its associations with lower-class urban environments and its strategic marketing as music by and for marginalized groups who live in ghettoized, often violent, worlds, providing an imaginary with which inner-city youth can identify regardless of their ethnic-racial background, nationality, or language. 43-44


Annotated Source

Jay-Z interview on Charlie Rose, 9 November 2007


This is the second interview Charlie Rose did with Jay-Z.

Some notes:

Jay-Z talks over and over again about how rap saved his life. He was a crack dealer, making good money and driving nice cars, when he decided to go with a friend named Jazz to London to do some shows. His partner in the hustle was stung and went away for twelve years. He decided, based on that experience and some other close calls, to pursue rap as a career. No one would sign him, so him and some friends started their own record company and used skills gained from the hustle to promote themselves. They became successful independently, and then the record label noticed them. 

Rap artists are typically 17-18 years old when they first get signed. 

Russell Simmons is the Godfather of hip-hop entrepreneurship. That's a good place to do more research.
Good ol' Russ

Talking about the problems in the entertainment industry, don't just take the rap industry to task - take the video games industry, the movie industry, on and on.

People give words power - take the N word away and the racist will use another word. The word isn't the issue, it's the feeling behind it.

"Chasin' History" - this will probably be the name of the biography someone will write when Jay-Z dies. He describes the reasons he stays in hip-hop, now that money is no longer a problem, and the biggest reason is what he calls chasin' history. The rap game became a tool for changing history and influencing a whole culture, especially as it could be inspirational for young kids who think the ghetto is all there is. This black crack-dealer from Marcy project became a $450 billion dollar net-worth CEO with 14 Grammy awards - what else is in store? What is possible?
The Assimilated Negro: Chasing History: Jay-Z & Charlie Rose
Urban Dictionary: chasing history

"Rap is a competitive sport"- taking shots is part of the game, and it usually isn't personal at all. People who want to go somewhere have to grow a thick skin, and the more jabs taken the more successful the jabbee probably is.

Jay-Z took the CEO position at Def Jam Recordings as a way to 1) be creative in another outlet, and 2) be an example to the artist community, proving that it doesn't always have to be some old dude who never touched a mic running the show, and that young black kids can and should aspire to greatness in any field, including the white dominated business field.

I've been thinking about the worthwhileness of these interviews as annotated sources, and I stand by the decision. Not much of this will make its way into the project proposal, but it will serve the purpose of true research - it has made me more conversant in a topic that will be important to me personally and to the people I live with in my study location, and will link directly with the project in a major way. I can't go into a community without a background in the important topics and expect to have any credence or respectability. So, here I am, annotating interviews with the King of America. I have the coolest major.

And, just so you don't think I'm making shiz up:

Rolling Stone said it. I agree.

Annotated Source

Q&A with Jay-Z , 8 December 2010


After the interview at the Brooklyn Museum, the stage was opened for questions. The Q&A session lasted about an hour.

About the music industry and where Jay-Z wants to take it:

The music industry screwed up an opportunity to modernize when Napster became big, but, in a way, the internet might save the industry. As the sales of records in brick and mortar stores goes down and as illegal downloading increases, the draw of becoming a rap star decreases. People who got into the rap scene in the beginning knew, just knew, that money wasn't part of the equation, and rappers had to have a love of the game. As the mid-90s came and rap became lucrative, many rappers got into the industry not for artistry but for money. Jay-Z laments this, and sees the internet as a way to weed out those who aren't really in it for what he considers pure reasons. With so much music coming down the tube, and with the power of the record labels being thus reduced, the cream will rise. It's interesting to me that someone who has made so much money from record sales would support a new way of doing things that threatens the bottom line but could possibly produce better art.

"Rap is dead" by NaS is a sentiment echoed across the industry. Jay-Z views it as a challenge, which vibes with the other responses I have heard. Rap has died to a degree, due to the huge amounts of money involved, and there is a lamentation echoing off the Brooklyn walls. Kids making rap in communities where money isn't going to be part of the equation just might be part of the solution.

I like the recognition that the internet has changed things so much, and it will be fun to see to what extent this has affected Bylakuppe.

Annotated Source


27 October 2004 Jay-Z interview, Charlie Rose

Charlie Rose has interviewed Jay-Z 3 major times. This interview from 2004 was the first.


Here are some of my notes from the interview.

Roc-a-fella brand name came (obviously) from Rockefeller, but why? Rock and roll, in many ways, discouraged monetary success, or the appearance of it. You have to stay grungy, keep wearing the leather jackets and smoking the cheap cigarettes (this is a sweeping statement, and not true in all cases). Hip-hop, from the beginning, has been about an aspiration to affluence. The dream of the kids from the projects is to get money, pay for their parents' houses, keep their friends fed and happy, etc. I think this is part of why hip-hop is popular among most minorities - there is an unabashed drive to get paid and get comfortable. Rockefeller represents all of that, and Roc-a-fella strove for that too.

"Hip-hop is what you live. Rap is what you do."

99 Problems (famous song - I'm sure most of you know it)

is not about women at all. The first verse is about the industry and its problems, the second verse is about a K9 unit (play on words in more than one way, if you know which problem Jay doesn't have), and the third verse is about getting punked and played. It goes into race relations, about good people who do bad things (who make a living doing bad things), etc. It is a great example of a song that seems, on the surface, to be about misogyny and braggadocio, but turns out to be much deeper. In analyzing hip-hop verse, it is essential to understand context and the truth that the hip-hop artist has to hide deep issues beneath a rough surface, or else it won't sell well enough to reach the audience the artist wants to affect.

This last one is for Charli.

Annotated Source

I am going to finish the rest of my annotated sources. I have 6 left. Here's to the countdown.

As I may have mentioned, learning about hip-hop is fun and essential to understanding any minority group in the modern world that is linked to the internet. I've been looking at two of the biggest artists in hip-hop, guys who are familiar to anybody interested in the scene. I've done quite a bit of research on Lil' Wayne, and now I've been going through interviews and books by/about Jay-Z. Jay-Z is the old man in the industry, the big boss who sits on half a billion personally and still produces records that kids put on in the cars and the clubs. He's been with hip-hop since its golden days in the 80s, growing up in Brooklyn and playing the crack hustle game until a short while after his first album came out at 26 in the early 90s.

The interesting thing about these two dudes, one old and one new, is that by tapping into these rich sources of information (the internet is full of interviews, documentaries, and books like the one above) I can take the temperature of the whole industry. These next few annotated sources will be from interviews with and books about Jay-Z, focusing on reflections on the industry and the art.

Here are two sweet quotes from the Jay-Z essay book that suffice for now:

Hip hop… serves as a force, particularly for minorities, of creating a new identity – but also a new rhetoric to augment the identity, a new lingo, new symbols of identity that have become part of a metamorphosis of black and brown youth, who have become part of a crescendo of lifted voices that stretch from the cotton fields to musical stages, from activist rallies to presidential inaugural receptions.

Hip hop… is this younger generation’s way of comprehending and dealing with life’s changing reality. The birth of hip hop gave rise to a primacy of education, cultural awareness, and consciousness, as well as to insight into inner-city doings and sufferings. The current generation of hip-hop artists is dealing with the ideal of achieving importance through fame. As they serve in such cultural roles as gurus, teachers, and worldly philosophers, they provide patterns of inquiry that help us deal with the need to matter, the quest for historical impact.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Annotated Source

George Morgan & Andrew Warren (2011): Aboriginal youth, hip hop and the politics of identification, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 34:6, 925-947
Winnipeg's Most, an Aboriginal Hip-hop group

This paper explores the identity work taking place around contemporary subcultural hip hop amongst Australian indigenous youth in two disadvantaged urban locations. Previous work on Aboriginal hip hop has been attentive to the interface between tradition and modernity. However, existing scholarship has lacked a deeper ethnographic understanding of the dynamics between youth and parent cultures, and the tensions between the two generations. This article is based on research with young hip hop enthusiasts, community activists and educators. It deals with the cultural politics of identification and sees hip hop practice as associated with a process in which Aboriginality is crystallized as a principal affiliation and as offering an account for experiences of social marginalization. Far from being an outlet for expressing a prior or essential Aboriginality, hip hop as cultural practice is associated with the production of particular identifications.

What I really like about this source is the recognition that musical cultures among young people serve not (only) to articulate a previously existing culture or tradition through a new musical expression, but that identity and culture is created at the same time the music is created. A Tibetan kid rapping about Tibetan problems creates a new identity in the process of rapping, and creates new methods to deal with both the problems he or she personally and the problems the society has. Hip hop is a wonderful example of a particular set of musical styles that has assisted marginalized youth in creating identity all over the world, but other musics have also played key roles - dig the Tibetan metal musician Techung hipped me to, or the blues and rock group The Yak Band.

Now that the IRB is done...

It seems that the most difficult part of the field studies prep class is over. The IRB was a bit of (read: a ginormous) pain, made worse by its inanity. But, hey, it's behind us now! Most of us will have a minor editing session when we get it back, and then we are good to go.

The nice thing about the IRB and its deadline is that we were forced to finish the most difficult parts of the study proposal for the prep class early, and only a few of the easier sections remain. The thing I am excited for now is the chance we have to work on our projects without as much pressure hanging over our heads. As I am sure is the case with most of the other students, I actually care about the subjects I am dealing with in my project, and I would do much of the research even if a grade wasn't riding on it. The class has actually been a wonderful excuse to read cool things about music and the Tibetan people, and to listen to cool music and catch up on and become versed in the musical cultures I have always wanted to learn more about. I get to listen to Jay-Z and pick up hip-hop magazines for school - how boss is that?!

So, anywho, I just wanted to post about how excited I am to have that shizz (mostly) over with. I'll be even more zen when the final paper is done and o-chem grades are finished, but this is the most peaceful the semester has been since the first week, and I am grateful.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Annotated Source

"An Hour with Jay-Z from the Brooklyn Museum." Interview by Charlie Rose. Charlie Rose. Charlie Rose LLC, 8 Dec. 2010. Web. 19 Mar. 2012. <http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11337>.

I heard about this video earlier today, and I also heard (from an anonymous source) that interviews make perfectly good annotated sources. So here it is.

Jay-Z is a genius. Going from crack dealing to becoming the philosopher-king of hip-hop, sitting on a cool $450 mil, is no feat for chumps, suckas, or anyone without an incredible amount of drive, intelligence, and talent. It was fascinating to watch one of the biggest stars in the industry talk about his philosophy of music and rap culture. One of the points he emphasized over and over again is the importance of context in a consideration of hip-hop (the focus of his book Decoded), 
which vibes completely with my ethnomusicological training. You can't understand a song like NWA's "F*** tha Police" without taking into account the local and national scene from a black ghetto perspective, and if you try to you will only see a bunch of reckless, irresponsible "Niggaz Wit Attitude" instead of artists communicating the frustration of an important American social group.  He conducts ethnography from the insider perspective, having been and done everything the rap game stands for. I hope I can find a transcription of this! Useful stuff.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936)

…For the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the "authentic" print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice--politics.

To a degree, I agree with Benjamin's thoughts on art and reproducibility in the "machine age," and even more so now that we are in the full swing of the digital age. Photographs are incredibly reproducible, and digital prints even more so. We read this article for my world music class, and the concept relates in a nearly 1-1 kind of way - recordings of music are easy to come by. The little hand recorder I bought for $100 produces beautiful 96/24 stereo recordings. Fidelity in photography and sound recording goes up and up as prices plummet - I remember looking at a digital camera add from the 90s showcasing a brand new state-of-the-art Hasselblad digital back that cost the same as a car, and now an iPhone comes with a better camera. For the vast majority of consumed artistic media, "authenticity" is a rather silly concept.

I think, though, that Benjamin overshot his vision. The pictures I included above are from artists who were at the artistic forefront at the time Benjamin was writing, Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. I have quite a bit of experience (for a 23 year-old) in fine art photography, and I have used the same processes Ansel and Edward used to make photographs, right down to the selenium toning. I know for absolute fact that there are aspects of photography at this level that are not reproducible, at least not any more than an original oil painting is exactly reproducible. The exact exposure times may be recorded, the precise concentrations of chemical might be marked, and the time in the bath might be timed down to the second, but there are still parts that come down to artistic decisions, backgrounded by experience, made on the fly. Things change from day to day, and every piece of fiber paper you use has its own slightly unique characteristics, even if they all came from the same pack. There are also techniques that are simply too difficult for amateur photographers to pull off without years of experience, and the stepwise process of photography involves decisions as to which techniques to use in each of the three major stages (producing the negative, processing the film, and printing the image). The final result in fine art photography is a print as unique as any painting. Even high quality digital scans fail to capture the vibrancy and beauty of the originals - look at high quality digital reproductions, and then go take a close look at an original. There is an almost spiritual presence. I spent years looking at Ansel Adams photographs online and in coffee-table books, and then I went and saw the real things. It's like listening to vinyl on a high-fi system versus listening to the same track on an iPod with Skullcandy headphones, though maybe less extreme. There is a reason original oil paintings and silver gelatin or platinum photographs sell for so much at Sotheby's, and there is a reason people still go to concerts. I argue that there is still value in the "authentic," and that is a substantial reason I and others go places to do fieldwork as opposed to just listening to recordings, watching YouTube videos, and looking at pictures. I will be reproducing material for people to look at and listen to, and I am extremely grateful for the recording devices of the digital age, but I know I will have most of the most moving and meaningful musical experiences in person, with the sounds coming straight from their source to my ears without any middle-men or processing. There is power in the ritual of performance, whether that performance is musical, visual, or otherwise. That power will be reproducible only in part, as if through a glass darkly, through descriptions and recordings. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Annotated Source

Practice Makes Perfect: Lessons in Active Ethnomusicology
Author(s): Bess Lomax Hawes
Source: Ethnomusicology, Vol. 36, No. 3, Special Issue: Music and the Public Interest (Autumn,1992), pp. 337-343
Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of Society for EthnomusicologyStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/851867 .
Accessed: 07/03/2012 17:53

Hawes' article in Ethnomusicology is mostly about what constitutes "success" or "value" in an ethnomusicological undertaking, especially as it concerns board reviews and external funding. She uses a case study to explore the issue and make a few points. The basic story is that a passionate scholar of black quartet music from the middle part of last century wanted to put together a concert of all the living singers from the era he studied. He received funding, had positive responses from all the performers, and booked a hall. The hall's capacity was 3000 souls, and only about 200 people showed up. By this figure, the performance seemed to be a failure. But, to the performers and their families, it was a complete success. Later on, the booklet that had been distributed to the attendees took on a life of its own and became an introductory text to black quartet music for many in the area, and, to make a long story short, five years of percolation after the initial concert saw a dramatically increased general interest in the music and the performers, and a whole tradition was revived. Hawes stresses the point that an initial failure was the starting point for a very successful venture. 

Here is a copy of five main points she made:

1. The tradition celebrated had real historical depth and real cultural significance and meaning-and it was intrinsically gorgeous. It was important.

2. The research into the tradition had been done with great thorough-ness and scholarly care, resulting-among other things-in the logical selection of Birmingham, Alabama, a major center in the development of quartet singing, as the concert site. (Other centers could have been chosen, of course, but this was one of theimportant ones. The concert was not staged in Hollywood, Washington, DC, New York City, or other more fashionable venues.)

3. Again, as the result of intensive research, the right singers had been invited, the right ones in this case being allthe groups that had participated in the development of the Birmingham style. Not everyone was still alive or could participate, but all the singers present knew that a serious attempt had been made to include everybody who should have been included. And that made for an atmosphere of joyful relaxation amongst the singers. They were having a reunion-who cared about anything else?

4. The actual research was presented back to the researched community in an inexpensive, profusely illustrated, interesting, verifiable form. It is impossible to look at that program booklet and not be impressed by the extraordinary story of the development of quartet singing in Birmingham. The availability of solid, painstaking scholarship empowers the community studied, allowing the development of legitimate pride. It can form a bridge, too, for contact across caste and class lines. But it has to be made available, and that requires major effort.

5. And then there was a concert. The living singers came together, and they opened their throats and poured their passion and skill and liveliness and humor out over the empty hall, and no one who heard them could ever be convinced that this was a dying art. I am in favor of books, publications of all kinds, musical transcriptions, tapes, records, and films, but in spite of all the technological and electronic gadgetry in the world, the primary gestating act of music, I believe, only happens when musicians and listeners assemble.

From the standpoint of someone who had sought funding and also been involved with committees who decide what gets funded, she described what she saw as important and impactful. She ends with a plea for all ethnomusicologists and funding board members to be simultaneously more critical and more generous when evaluating projects, especially when those projects are one's own. In a world where money issues are real, but where passion for art, beauty, and people is more important, the onus rests squarely on the researchers and funding committees to make sure that activities of true value happen.

My big takeaway were the factors for success that she defined. I will summarize (if you haven't noticed by now, the long quotes I put on the blog are for my benefit only, so I don't have to go and find the quotes again when I want to use them in a paper).

1. The research was on an important topic. Importance includes historical depth, cultural significance and meaning, and intrinsic beauty.
2. The background research was thorough and careful.
3. The right people were invited to be involved.
4. The research was made easily available for consumption and dissemination. 
5. The musical event/goal of the research was carried out.

Because all of these were in place, it was only a matter of time before the fruits of the project came into being, no matter the initial "failure." This makes me feel good and, again, puts me in the mind of re-evaluating parts of my project. If I can get 1-4 solid, and make 5 happen, then I will be successful. I like her definition, and hope to focus on her points in the future more than on GPA or paper scores.

Hanging out in Bylakuppe

I decided that, for today's journal, I would spend a little time in virtual Bylakuppe. YouTube has quite a few videos taken in the settlement. Here are a few of the interesting ones:

This guy is the host of a show that does a gastronomic tour of India, and he ends up in Bylakuppe to try out some Tibetan/Tibetan-fusion food. I'm kinda starving right now. Mmmm... Thukpa sounds good.

Of special interest to Lori and B. Landrum, here is a video from the SOS Children's Village, a school in the settlement. I dig the songs they sing - that might be an interesting area for research. Again, they taunt me with food.

This Indian beggar chants Tibetan mantras for his supper, which is cool. The amount of Hindi I was able to understand is also cool (if it was indeed Hindi - I don't know how much Telugu or the other southern Indian languages and Hindi share, and Bylakuppe is in the south...) - shukriya, Shrimati Carroll! 

Now, THIS is very interesting. The video is terrible, and you can't see much, but is worth listening to to see what musical selection a DJ in Bylakuppe at a Losar party would have. There's some Ke$ha, then Bob Marley, then some house trance. Cool beans.

The world is certainly a much smaller place then it used to be, and at Techung's suggestion I have taken part in what he says is probably one of the most used methods by Tibetans to connect and communicate - YouTube. I had no idea that Bylakuppe had any kind of presence on the internet, but here it is. I'll let you know what else I find!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Annotated Source

Hooray for overlapping coursework! We read this as an assignment in my world music class.

Stone: Theory for Ethnomusicology pp. 12-16 and 18-22

Stone goes over the ideas of method, participant-observation, technique, assumptions, hypotheses/research questions, and study object. This is particularly useful, as she is approaching the ethnographic terms from a specifically ethnomusicological standpoint. 

Some of the take-aways include rethinking my approach to my hypothesis (I think I should change it into a research question - I really don't know what I will find in Bylakuppe, so it might be more useful to acknowledge that ambiguity), reinforcing my plan to learn music as my central research method (really, the more I think about it, the "research" is a bunch of dookie - I honestly just want to learn music and Buddhist philosophy and have fun with it. The research part is to fulfill the rather inane requirements of the program, so I picked an area that I am interested in but would rather not worry about - maybe a drastic, last-minute reworking of the project is in order? Hmm... I've heard that I can just do that in the field, so I'll go with it for now), and refining and broadening my study object (I'm rethinking what I mean by 'youth,' and maybe the truth is that I do want to look just at 18-24 year olds, and anybody younger or older will just be incidental to the core of the project).

Anywho, it was good to know that I'm not alone. Thanks, Sister Stone.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Annotated Source

Pragmatics 19:1.103-127 (2009)

International Pragmatics Association




H. Samy Alim

Another fascinating thing I observed with the Tibetans on Saturday was the way the young males styled and characterized themselves. Some were wearing traditional robes over matching jeans and sneakers, while others wore styles associated with the youth music scene - nice sneakers, ear piercings, gelled hair, etc. This article by Samy Alim decodes and explores the worldwide hip-hop phenomenon through a linguistics perspective, which is really where I noticed the chosen style of the teens at the march. Some of the kids I overheard used slang, vernacular, vocal register, and sentence construction drawn from hip-hop culture. It was flawless.

Samy Alim sums up the article nicely in the abstract, "Highlighting youth agency, the article demonstrates that youth are engaging in the agentive act of theorizing the changes in the contemporary world as they attempt to locate themselves at the intersection of the local and the global." This is exactly what I saw, and it blew my mind a little to have my suspicions confirmed in such an intense way (I'm used to my suspicions being blown apart, not confirmed). I cannot express strongly enough how identified these teens were with the hip-hop culture, at the same time that they were marching and participating fully in a freedom rally for their longed for homeland. It is possible that some were there just because their friends were, or just because their parents made them go, but from what I saw there was sincerity in their participation.

It reminds me of the Shapaley phenomenon - listen to this song. Guess, without looking at the lyrics, what it's about. The way the music and the rhymes are constructed is very much in line with American hip-hop, and the association of this sound with particular lyrical content is undeniable. Then read the lyrics, and let me know what you think.

Tibet Freedom Music

March 10 is annual Tibetan uprising day. A friend of mine drove me down to Salt Lake this past Saturday, and we got to meet and spend some quality time with folks from the SLC Tibetan community. It was wonderful get to know some local Tibetans and friends of Tibetans - I had no idea there was a community in the US this active outside of the large coastal cities.

One of the most inspiring and interesting parts of the day was getting to stand on the steps of the Utah Capitol and hear the group sing three songs in Tibetan. This was my first time hearing live Tibetan music. Thankfully, translations were passed out for two of the three songs, for the benefit of Westerners and the Tibetan kids who don't know their heritage language very well. I forgot to bring those papers with me to school today, so I will post those up when I get the chance.

There was one other, but it was a prayer and I can't remember which one (there are a jillion prayer songs on youtube), so I will have to find out from Pema and see if I can find that too.

In order to try and preserve whatever internet neutrality I have left, I won't say much more except that it was a moving experience to see how real the "Free Tibet" movement still is, especially for the exiles, in a world where "Free Tibet" is often nothing more than a hip slogan to put on the back of your station wagon. I don't know how it will work out, or what steps need to be taken to help China and Tibet be reconciled, but I do know that the problem is very real on all sides of Tibet's borders.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Annotated Source

Musical Community on the Internet: An On-Line Ethnography 
Author(s): René T. A. Lysloff
Source: Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 18, No. 2 (May, 2003), pp. 233-263
Published by:
Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3651522 .
Accessed: 05/03/2012 02:20

 Very cool article arguing for the internet and internet communities as viable and fertile ground for ethnographic research, particularly in the mod music scene. For one thing, I really dig video game music (mod's granddaddy) and the amazing things early composers did with limited storage and processing power. C64 music still has a vibrant community, creating compositions using "primitive" software as both a creative exercise and a labor of love. It reminds me of tearing down my drum kit every once in a while and keeping only the most basic elements - it forces a reconnection with creativity in the dearth of simple variety. If you're interested, C64 music is all over the internet for free download, and the files are tiny so you can get a huge sampling without spending too much hard drive space. http://www.hvsc.de/ - check it out. 41,250 songs in one 80 meg download. Win. 

In a more contemporary and popular vein (not everyone on the internet is into ultimate nerd-dom in the form of Commodore 64 music), websites like this: http://www.breakmysong.com/ assist artists in finding inspiration and partners in crime.

Relevant to my project is the ability of musicians and listeners to use the internet for nearly instant collaboration with people from around the world that they may never see in person. The hip-hop, punk, and electronica scenes do a lot of work on the interwebs, sharing beats and competing for the most hits. I hope to discover a secret pocket of Tibetan musicians or two on the net, but my not speaking Tibetan may slow things a bit... I'll let you know how it goes.

Annotated Source

Hip-hop gangsta or most deserving of victims? Transnational migrant identities and the paradox of Tibetan racialization in the USA 

Emily T Yeh
Department of Geography, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA; e-mail: emily.yeh@colorado.edu
Kunga T Lama
Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA; e-mail: kunga75@yahoo.com
Received 30 June 2004; in revised form 26 October 2004
Environment and Planning A 2006, volume 38, pages 809 ^ 829

Great article about how Tibetans, especially youth and young adults, navigate identity in the US. There is particular identification with hip-hop culture, which is, from what I have seen, rather universal among displaced communities that gather in the US. There is quite a bit of tension between the older generation, seeking to preserve a unique Tibetan identity, and the younger generation. Some of the most interesting things from the article are the raps of Tibetan hip-hop kids (warning: cursing ahead):

––you lost so jus admit // while yo ass is monastic // my shiet is fantasticno im not sarcastic'' (13 November 2001)

–– ... if failed, no option but to digest bullets into ya chest // and rest in peace and follow your fate // n i'll be wishing you to reincarnate // again in tha body of a human being wid a soul of a MC who comes back to battle // but not to
regulate...'' (3 November 2001)

–– ... i remain silence in Tibet cuz of tha chinese regulation // now that i got tha right of speech, i bust our words that can fill out tha whole ocean // now dont try to get into too deep // cuz i smoke you out like smoking weed // scared tha fuuck outta you that you won't even dare to speak'' (3 November 2001).

––ThiS 1 is for all my asains .......... StanD uP and FiGht ..... if u eva call me a chink // i`ll drown u in my kitchen sink // ... // half of u poeples are jus stereotypical // ... // to all my azains get up stand up // like Bob Marely cuase we fed up // and we aint gonna let up // ask me agian if i know kung fu // i`ll take out my blade and cut // cut u up into peices like pizza and deliver u before 30 minutes is due // ... // we got cars that can`t even match up to yur price // girls so hot they melt ice // as long as im asian im reppin my pride // ain`t got nuttin to hide // always got a phat ride // and grls world- wide // this is an asian invasion // got lov weather u tibetan or malayasian // so we don`t need no hateration // cause we the next generation // ... muthafukaz.....recongize and respect........thas a wrap'' (24 November 2001). 

It'll be cool to see how these same issues are dealt with in Bylakuppe.

Just found this, too: http://knowthankyou.wordpress.com/2009/04/12/cultural-imperialism-and-tibetan-hip-hop/

Monday, March 5, 2012

Annotated Source

Mozart in Mirrorshades: Ethnomusicology, Technology, and the Politics of Representation Author(s): René T. A. Lysloff
Reviewed work(s):
Source: Ethnomusicology, Vol. 41, No. 2, Special Issue: Issues in Ethnomusicology (Spring - Summer, 1997), pp. 206-219
Published by:
University of Illinois Press on behalf of Society for Ethnomusicology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/852603 .
Accessed: 05/03/2012 02:19

I was wondering about the effects of the technology I will be using to record the music in Bylakuppe, and I  came across this sweet article from 97. It uses a sci-fi story, "Mozart in Mirrorshades," to illustrate a few ideas about media tech and ethnomusicology. This sums up the conclusions, "Thus, ethnomusicologists might learn several lessons from the story: (1) that the "native"is not necessarily a naive and passive recipient of media technology; (2) that media technology may be especially empowering for those people with little or no political and economic power; (3) that people may use media technology in radically new and surprising ways, and infuse it with meanings specific to such use; and (4) the social meanings associ- ated with particular technologies often change as these technologies traverse cultural boundaries." (p.217)

Sunday, March 4, 2012


The readings for Monday's field studies class were some of the best things I have ever read, period. They are by Lee, "Eating Christmas in the Kalahari" and Remen, "Helping, Fixing or Serving?" I've been thinking lately about how my life, not to mention my field study, will provide service. My chosen professional field, medicine, is in theory a great form of service (though we all know doctors who serve no one but themselves). The likely direction at the moment is reproductive endocrinology, better known (and perhaps more accurately described) as fertility medicine. There are so many folks in this world of ours who hope and dream to have children, only to have biological difficulties get in the way. I would love to be the guy whose service is to couples who need a little help bringing children into the world. What a wonderful way to spend a day.

But that is something like eight years away! What are things I could do now that would be useful to humankind and make use of the things God has blessed me with?

I've thought a lot about hospice over the last few years. I love old people, for one thing. I'm always amazed by what seventy-plus years of living brings in the realm of wisdom and knowledge. More than that (not all hospice patients have their wits about them, and not all are all that old), I do not have a problem with death or with the uncomfortable situations surrounding it. So many people spend their last months and days in solitude, simply because their family and friends are too uncomfortable seeing these loved ones slipping out of mortality. I like giving people a chance to be cared for, a chance to say the last things they want to say, or simply a chance to be around another person as they finish their sojourn. I have had several opportunities to be close to people with terminal illnesses, and its a scary, eventful, beautiful, confusing time. People get so real in their last days. Serving these people would be so fulfilling, and is needed desperately.

Some of you might know this, but for those of you who don't, I play drums. I used to play drums a lot, before organic chemistry and work came along and harshed my mellow. I'm pretty good. I have had some incredible teachers, who not only taught me technique, but who got me into Music. Kids coming into musicianship deserve teachers like I had, who will dig on and vibe with whatever reason you have for picking up an instrument, who will respect your musical tastes, and who will cultivate something bigger and more global. I like the idea of giving free drum lessons, or (because people don't always trust teachers who don't think their lessons are worth paying for) charging only a nominal fee - gas money or something like that. I play enough styles well enough that I can go to pretty much any student and have something to contribute, and my technique is well grounded enough that hopefully I can prevent cases of carpal tunnel and get people quickly expressing themselves on the kit.  

In the meantime, since this semester is nuts and setting up free drum lessons/hospice service takes a little bit of breaking into, I think I'm going to get into doing tours with BYU ARG (Acoustics Research Group, or, alternately, Space Odyssey Pirate Club). They always need folks to do tours for kids from elementary and high schools, and the tours are geekin' sweet. The anechoic chamber (pictured above) is a zero-reverb room, which is freaky. They also have a reverb chamber, which gets all kinds of nuts with room modes, nodes, and antinodes. Occasionally we get to play with flame tubes as well.

I'll hopefully start doing these tours in a few weeks.

Alrighty, that's enough for now! Adios.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Annotated Source

Ellwanger, Tracy, "“Oh Uncle Pema!” The Role of Musical Agency in the Creation of a Modern Tibetan Identity" (2005). ISP Collection. Paper 415.

"Aku Pema," a popular Tibetan song, is used as a case study for what the title denotes. Interesting ideas from this article are the resistance of Tibetans to Chinese "impurities" in the traditional musics, and the very real ways that Tibetans use musical and other artistic expressions to support Tibetan identity and maintain national pride. 

Lyrics from Wikipedia

"Uncle Pema"
By Palgon (original in Tibetan)
Oh Uncle Pema!
Oh mighty Eagle adorned with a conch-white stripe!
If you soar up heavenwards, you adorn the azure sky,
If you descend earthwards, you gladden the craggy mountains.
And, your absence makes the craggy ledges bereft of any life!
Oh Uncle Pema!
Duck with the golden rosary
If you fly out of the water, you adorn the meadows,
If you swim in the water, you gladden the water’s spirits
And, your absence makes the lake bereft of life and spirit!
Oh Uncle Pema!
Oh handsome Youth, adorned with conch-white teeth like a tiger!
If you go [a]way, you are a credit to your fellow townsfolk, and
If you come this way, you are a star amongst your peers.
And, your absence makes my heart bereft of love and meaning!