Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hearts and minds and booties

So this happened. And I think this might be my favorite instance of being cited (that I know of) ever.

This was for the Dalhousie U. Feminist Law Association in Halifax, Nova Scotia's birthday party to commemorate the equality provisions in Canada's Charter of Rights & Freedoms.

The work of mine that they are probably drawing on is this article I wrote on music and politics, or the panel I did with the amazing Dj Ushka at the Allied Media Conference, which is all inspired by my Dj experiences of the past 16 years and my research on Jamaican dance/music traditions that I talk about in videos like this one at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Listening Spaces at CMU - preliminary thoughts

I'm a fan of Pittsburgh. I like industrial cities and  I feel a strong connection to the rust belt, even though I grew up a Yankee in Boston. Not because of some ruin porn fetishism, but I like the scrappy reminders of a strong labor movement and working-class pride (my mother's family were mostly labor organizers in the midwest and California), I like the lack of pretension, and I like the drive of outsiders to do good, weird, extreme, out-there art when there is no network of media hype to support you or sponsor you, only space, lots and lots of space.

And then there is the great engine of CMU and the other universities, that have brought a bit of a tech boom, but without the media-centric hype of NY (which I like but can be tiring) or the silicon valley libertarian fantasyland which occasionally got a bit wearing in the Bay Area.

I've dj'd there a couple of times, at the Garden of Earthly Delights, and I was lucky enough to speak at Dorkbot (co-sponsored by the Studio for Creative Inquiry) as well. (Video of that talk is here, and check a review of that whole weekend here).  Through those conversations I met some more great people at CMU, through whom now I am thrilled to be invited to return for this awesome project.
The Listening Spaces project is part of an ongoing interdisciplinary research grant at the university where people are exploring how people encounter music, from the perspective of the listener. For folks who have followed my work, you will not be surprised that I'm happy about the emphasis on the audience (rather than the  artist) and on the space in which people engage with music.

I'm going to be discussing and developing some concepts that come out of my research on Jamaican music-making and also my own experience as a DJ. One of my central concerns, these days, is about exactly this event's title: what is the space in which people listen to music? What defines that space? what are the political and social implications of how those spaces are defined?

Although listening includes being alone with sound, my work focuses most on the social spaces where people engage with music, especially people who are not privileged as artist, owners or creators in the legal sense. Fans, dancers, audiences - these are what makes a scene, makes a culture, makes a movement, make a genre (for better or for worse - witness how the changing fandom changed the meaning of the term 'dubstep'). How people hear music can't be separated from the context in which they encounter it and what they bring to that context - listening is a constructive and productive --and maybe sometimes a destructive process... It's this last concept that I want to explore in this talk - what do specific music scenes and culture gain and lose from wider availability and wider reach, especially as networked technology opens up those scenes in new ways? What's the difference between publicity and surveillance? here, I'm not focusing as much on the politics of appropriation, branding, marketing etc, instead I'm attending to the role of law and corporations in profiling, surveilling and tracking creative communities and practices. As people's lives are increasingly networked via technology that can track and report, what does this mean about the kind of creative intimacy that may be necessary for cultures to flourish?

Come through and help me work it out, or follow along online or elsewhere (I hope for livetweeting of this event - it is free and open to the public, too).

Monday, October 08, 2012

Rubin Museum

Up next: playing Central Asian, Himalayan, South Asian and other musics at the K2 Lounge in New York City at the Rubin Museum of Art. Please come through and enjoy drinks and small plates and the exhibits at the museum (entrance is free) while I play a mainly chill, atmospheric kind of set.

Although my set ranges pretty widely across anything that could be considered Himalayan and central Asian, I thought I'd mention that it's been a pleasure to explore what little I have so far found out of the Central Asian music scene.

One of the names that reached me most easily is Monâjât Yultchieva (Munadjat Yulchieva is one alternate spelling among many). Womad, the international festival circuit, BBC world music curators and the like have contributed to the forces that bring her music to people like me poking around online for gorgeous voices. She sings classical Uzbek and Persian-language music, including some sufi poetry.

I'd love to know more of this music, and more of the pop music from the region as well. Through this gig I have been lucky to meet some very nice Tajik/Uzbek people, folks who come up when they hear the music I'm playing .. it's really lovely to see people get happy to hear music from home that that they associate with family and history and something positive.

Sadly Uzbek people at home are currently facing many terrible political, social and economic struggles (that the US and the West are not separated from aw heck the US has actively supported) and I don't pretend to have much useful to say about that. But it reminds me why it's important to be thoughtful about context: when you pull out the music, sometimes the history comes with it.  I was reminded, in researching Uzbek music just a little, why it is important to do the research.

As someone who loves music and wants to use music to connect to people and welcome them, the more I know about the music the better, so I can be more sure I'm doing what I want to be doing with the music. Just last week a blogger for the Atlantic posted a video of a pop song performed by "Googoosha" who apparently is the daughter of the president of Uzbekistan. The video looks pretty cool, it takes place in Bukhara and features some acrobatic Parkour among other things. But as some very polite commenters point out, the woman who is featured as the artist is possibly the most hated woman in Uzbekistan, who profits greatly and continually from her father's violent, corrupt, secretive, regime based on government-forced child labor. I wouldn't want to play music that valorized or reminded folks from there of that aspect of Uzbekistan, if I had the choice. (Actually I'm now wondering about all that beautiful Ikat patterned fabric that is part of the "tribal patterns" rage these days -- although it looks like a large percentage of the world's raw cotton is produced by government-forced labor in Uzbekistan..) So anyway I'm leaving out Googoosha from my sets. I'm glad there seems to be a lot of other beautiful sounds to choose from.

I don't know so much background on Yulchieva, only what's out there in English or easily translateable French, but she seems to be linked to a classical tradition that many people feel good about within and outside of Uzbekistan. The other pop, for the most part, I can't find much context for, but at least no explicit links to any regime (as far as I can tell without being able to understand the languages, of course). Here are some tunes that I have been enjoying playing.. feel free to add more context or links to music or places to buy it or download it in the comments!

More pop sounding to me is Go'zal Shaydo,  I like this one especially.

And many of the musics and languages seem to overlap. Shaydo sings some songs that are identified as "Tajik song by Uzbek singer" Here's a Tajik song (apparently) I quite like too..