Sunday, January 23, 2005

canon fire

So my favorite Ethnomusicologist/MC/producer/music blogger is teaching a class at Harvard Extension Division on electronic music. That fact got published on several blogs, with links to his syllabus. The syllabus link has now reached discussion boards in various musical genres. I want to take off from a particular tone I hear in some of the comments.

As I began writing in a comment on his blog, one thing that jumped out at me from the chat was how several people talk about "they" when talking about the syllabus. "They've left out this artist" "They've linked to this site."

Folk don't generally write about a blog entry like that. Formality of a syllabus in a university - heard as an alien structure. The "they" made me laugh for a minute, though.. I wasn't seeing it as a much different than a music blog. Wayneandwax, working, producing, chatting musician, a "they" like Harvard? hee. Maybe the parallel would be online music mags - which, if there is no author given, people usually discuss as "they."

Still, set off a train of thought: Academics, and folks involved in academia have been involved in music, and certainly electronic music for a long time. On the pop and underground side as well as the compositional side. There a sense in which it sounds like some folk are shoring up a sense of authenticity against academia, which sick split is largely false. On the specific side, himself has been involved in music, producing, mc-ing, writing about, promoting and teaching on as many (or more) levels than you can think of.

But beyond defending the cat himself (who needs it not), I think the concept of authenticity, and hackles-raising on its behalf, needs some airing out.

So there's that sense that the world of scholarship is not the world of the music discussed in these boards. In terms of formal academia, not so true, I say again. Not that academics run tings by any means (and thank heaven for that), but folks have brought their academic skills to bear in music and vice versa.

Also hearing an implication that critiquing system/genre, --standing apart and attempting to analyze what's happening with a certain musical sound, is not authentic, is too alienated or something. Cha, easiest to debunk since precisely this is a frame MCs and producers regularly set up (Wot U Call it?).

Lastly, and most powerfully, I think there's the critique of academia discussing these musics from a place of privilege, of power. In some cases of race specifically, white people writing about black music. These are important things to be sensitive to. But they are usually pretty complicated, mixed-up situations. I go with my gut, gold-starring sincerity rather than authenticity. Also gold-star results: what grows out of the sound, the act? Simply locating the institutions doesn't actually tell you that much about the people whom come out of them -- Harvard, while as clearly the belly of the Beast as any institution in the US, has also given us a good many brilliant subversive artists of color, for example dj /rupture. So it's always more complicated.

To drop to the specifics again, if you're going to talk about power, then you have to be clear about who's actually got it, and what he's doing with it. Then, as himself says, there's understanding what happens in a class, and a syllabus. Hold your fire, not a canon, but a syllabus.


  1. > I go with my gut, gold-starring sincerity rather than authenticity. Also gold-star
    > results: what grows out of the sound, the act?

    Rootlesscosmo here... yeah, Duke Ellington gave it as his opinion that there are two kinds of music: good and bad. And I'd agree that although sincerity alone doesn't make music good, insincerity--which in our context usually means an eye on the cash register--is pretty much fatal. As for "authenticity," there's a lot of evidence that the hyper-"authentic" country blues sound was the artists' compromise with necessity, not a staunch resistance to sophistication and polish.

    As Ellington (again) said wearily to a white critic who was getting into a lather about his band, "Look, what you see up there is seventeen men earning their living."

  2. Yeah.. I didn't write more on that.. but for sure sincerity doesn't predict good music. More like if it's good, chances are I find it honest on some level. All these words are not quite right.. though.

    But I can't deny there's a lot of truly awful sincere music out there.

  3. this is a nice canon ink blog