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Academic, Fieldwork, Interview, Race, Social Awareness

Academic Responsibility & Conferences

04.13.11 | 4 Comments

Here’s the kind of observation I don’t like making:

I am not hearing from or seeing enough reference to ethnographic research consultants. No quotes from anyone who shared with, mentored, or educated the scholar. No specific references to individuals in “the field.”

That lack at conferences, and even in some academic literature which is based in an ethnographic discipline, or field of study, drives me pretty nutty. This is not an absolute observation, of course there are exceptions to this standard. My expectations are extraordinarily high. I know that. I hold myself to them too. Including the voices of people who participated in my research is something that I try to actively do at conferences. I just presented at the Midwest Chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology (MIDSEM 2011) at Bowling Green State University. This regional conference is much smaller than the annual national SEM meetings, and generally consists of a healthy number of graduate students presenting ideas and research to their peers and a small number of established scholars. Of course, if you’re a graduate student who has not yet done much or any fieldwork, then this does not apply to you. It’s still really important for you to participate in conferences. It was the largest attended MIDSEM so far, which is great! We also had Dr. Harris Berger, current president of SEM, and brilliant scholar, give the keynote lecture. Here’s some of what he has written:

Yes, he is a prolific writer and thinker. All those images link to extensive previews of the books on google books. His lecture was a vibrant, engaging, hour long paper about his most recent book, Stance. Here’s a good review of the book at Feminist Review. His talk was really fascinating, definitely the best academic talk I’ve ever heard. He is remarkably specific about word choice and about defining terms, which is such an important way to approach the communication of ideas. Berger is concerned primarily with perception, experience, and practice. For him, lived experience is a point of social practice (that’s a paraphrase of what he said, I didn’t catch the whole quote when I was writing notes). This social practice is what we as educators, writers, scholars observe, conceptualize, contextualize, and communicate to others. These are the concepts that inform Berger’s thinking and writing in an expansive way. Stance is the present culmination of these ideas. He writes about theory and philosophy, and that can admittedly get overwhelming. His writing is challenging, but well worth the effort, I think. It certainly has been for me. Some scholarship is exclusionary in its jargon. Berger welcomes readers in by defining terms and concepts early on and by writing in such an engaging and stimulating intellectual way.

I only spent an afternoon and evening at the conference. I got to enjoy Gary Powell’s paper. He is a master’s student in Performance Studies at Texas A&M University (Yes, Harris Berger is the chair of that department). Gary’s presentation was great. Here’s the full, explicit title of his paper:

“Anal Cunt and ‘The Frame’: Dark Play, Humor, and Assumptions About Hatred in Humorous Metal”

Do you have any idea how difficult it is for me to type that title and leave it there as it is? No? Well, yes. In the program and on the screen, it was typed as “AxCx.” But I’m apparently hardcore with my specificity. It was a well developed argument with plenty of room for further exploration. Exploring the narrow margin between humor and seriousness in metal performance, Powell used the following scholars and concepts:

Erving Goffman’s Frame Analysis

Richard Schechner’s Dark Play

Gregory Bateson’s Metacommunication of Play

Keith Kahn-Harris Transgressive Subcultural Capital

It was an interesting analysis of sincerity in performance. And I’ll just say right now that whenever I write the word “performance,” I’m usually referring to a concept that is larger than someone getting up on a stage and doing something. Performance can refer to many other forms of behavior and communication, including the performance of identity. Hopefully, I did Gary’s paper justice with that little outline. Sorry if I missed something major!!

So here’s what I did. I presented on the concept of genre in the context of Detroit electronic music. I explored definitions and concepts of genre, musical categorization, and the formation and negotiation of boundaries around forms of expressive culture. I presented the idea that genre is not its own thing, it does not do anything on its own. Genre is completely contingent on human control and negotiation. We create it, adopt it, manipulate it, change it, and reject it, all potentially at the same time. I also presented the following question of genre ownership: Can a musical or cultural category belong to a particularly defined group of people?, and attempted to provide some answers. Okay, so after the difficulty I had above with those words in Gary’s title, I’m having so much fun with these words! I played some Detroit music, presenting a wide range of sounds and aesthetics. Here are the tracks:

Theo Parrish. “Synthetic Flemm.” Sound Sculptures, Vol.1. Sound Signature. 2007.

Terrence Parker & Claude Young. “Untitled.” The 4 Play EP. Dow Records. 1993.

Moodymann. “Dem Young Sconies.” Planet E. 1997.

Drexciya. “Bubble Metropolis.” Underground Resistance. 1993.

Model 500. “OFI.” R & S Records. 2010.

 
At least that’s what I had planned in my presentation slides. I used youtube to play the tracks, marking 6 songs to appear at the top of my favorites on my channel. I put 6 songs there, then finalized the discographic information on my slides, but did not update the changes to the order and selection of songs on my youtube list. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice this until it was too late. So I ended up playing an Urban Tribe song, instead of the Model 500 song. Lame. That’s what I get leaving much of my prep until the night before.

In addition to me talking and playing music, I played a lovely quote from my interview with Juan Atkins in which he addresses his philosophy about genre and musical production. I also planned on playing a segment from a video of a conference that I organized at Indiana University in 2006 on Detroit electronic music. You can read about it in my MA thesis if you like, just look up and left. The segment was of Theo Parrish talking for 2 1/2 minutes about his philosophies on musical genre – he actually says “I don’t believe in genre.” !!!! I left the dvd with the video at home next to my turntable, almost drove back. Got some generous family help with ripping and uploading the segment (it’s now taken down, no permission to have it up, you know). I set it up before my panel began, it was working fine. For some reason, when I was actually ready to play it, the video wouldn’t play. I tried navigating to the link again, still didn’t work. Good thing I had the quote in my paper in front of me and could read it. Small problems, I got through it just fine. Most importantly, the ideas came through.

It’s important to me to include voices of my research consultants in conference presentations and in things I publish because these voices and faces are often not present in most academic contexts. Further, most of the people who are speaking at conferences are white. So for me to include voices and faces of color is pretty important. I first heard this idea expressed by ethnomusicologist and anthropologist Kyra Gaunt at the 2004 SEM conference in Tuscon, AZ. I cannot remember if she was presenting or if she was commenting from the audience. She explained that we rarely hear from Black men at conferences, and from people of color in general, but she was responding to a paper about masculinity in hip hop. Further, it is relatively rare to hear from or see people of color in academia. Relative to the number of white, middle-to-upper-class people. That’s why I wanted my audience to hear Juan Atkins’ voice, and see and hear Theo Parrish.

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