[…] Norman was doing his doctorate at Columbia in Cultural Musicology, a newly defined academic field that boiled down to historical social analysis from the vantage point of music. It is possible that Norman was the only cultural musicologist in the country, the area per se being definitely an intellectual frontier, formally speaking, although certainly there had been forerunners, musicologists of the old school and music historians who here and there blundered unsystematically into the insights Norman was attempting to organize single-handedly into arrestingly original world view with real conceptual muscle, capable of yielding fresh and if necessary lethally incisive slants on immediate problems. For example, what precisely had been the repercussions, if any, of the Wagner-Nietzsche dialogue? What statements might be made about Soviet society on the basis of its effect on Shostakovich’s symphonies? Did contemporary music instrumentalized from cards shuffled and selected at random incorporate a philosophy of chance as a controlled element, or was it more properly viewed as an outgrowth of the jazz riff? Why did a girl with legs like hers carry a flute? (Kelly Cherry, Augusta Played, Dzanc Books, Westland, 1979)
Cultural Musicology, Cultural Studies and Cultural Analysis
The author wistfully remarks “Norman’s questions frequently veered into sexual ones”. Possibly this is why we haven’t seen any important publications. Or perhaps it’s because he is fictional and fictional characters aren’t very good at publishing real stuff. But “Norman didn’t just think about sex; he thought with sex. It was one of his tools for dissecting culture” and that runs parallel with his conception of cultural musicology. I guess Kelly Cherry might have been familiar with the work of Gilbert Chase, who thought he coined “cultural musicology” in 1972. As I have discussed elsewhere the idea is considerably older, a beautiful exposition of it is proposed by Fidelis Smith in 1959. Chase suggested it was a better designation for ethnomusicology much in the same way as Jaap Kunst had proposed to replace comparative musicology by ethnomusicology. Decades later, Lawrence Kramer thought cultural musicology would be a better term for new musicology because of the transitory nature of ‘new’. But if anything, for me cultural musicology is not a new name for an old thing. Not for ethnomusicology (and that term should indeed be banned), because ethnomusicology is a social science whereas cultural musicology belongs in the humanities, more in particular in cultural studies or even more particularly in cultural analysis.
Mieke Bal remarks:
Cultural studies has evolved out of a polemic against the arbitrariness of disciplinary boundaries, the often exclusionary assumptions involved in the aesthetics on which much work by humanists is based, and the separations, first between aesthetics and ethics and then between art and social issues, which were relegated to the social sciences. (1999, p. 6)
But she also is critical of the achievements of cultural studies:
… it has not been successful (enough) in developing a methodology to counter the exclusionary methods of the separate disciplines (2003, p.30)
… has involuntarily ‘helped’ its opponents to deepen rather than to overcome the destructive divide between les anciens and les modernes (2003, 31)
… the interdisciplinarity inherent to cultural studies has given university administrators a tool with which to enforce mergings and cancellations of departments (2003, 31)
In the light of these problems she founded the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis which has been very successful both in academic output and attracting students. I created a section on musicology within ASCA, in which cultural musicology is indeed considered the cultural analysis of music and not the cultural study of music. The two editions of the book The Cultural Study of Music make disastrously clear why the editors refrain from speaking of a cultural musicology: the whole book is a medley of a mostly superficial diversity that makes no sense at all. That is why I insist on referring to cultural musicology as the cultural analysis of music. In a separate webpage/chapter I discuss in more detail the field of cultural analysis and its relevance for music.
In this sense cultural musicology is closer to the ageing new musicology, but that branch of enquiry is again very limited to the music of Ludwig, Gustav and ‘the rest of the guys in the band’ (the designation Lewis’ assistant Hathaway used for the romantic poets in Lewis S2E1, And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea).
My cultural musicology is a musicology of Charles Seeger’s brand, the study of all music: music from anywhere, anytime. And my musicology is cultural because I want to know how culture forms and transforms music and what music tells us about culture. In short, cultural musicology is the cultural analysis of music and the musical analysis of culture. One may well ask if cultural here isn’t moot: isn’t music always culture? Possibly, but I would like to distinguish it from historical musicology and systematic or cognitive musicology. From my perspective the historians look at sequences, at developments, at timelines. And systematic musicology studies the workings of music, its building blocks and how we experience them. These three dimensions of musicology don’t live apart, they need each other symbiotically. Whatever they do they don’t do apartheid. Being concerned with any music doesn’t mean all music. That has been taken care of by the comparative musicologists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was very neat of Kunst to polish off comparative musicology in 1950, exactly halfway the twentieth century. Don’t be surprised if in the course of my deliberations on cultural musicology I occasionally find fault with Kunst’s “ethno-musicology”.
Cosmopolitanism and Music
One of the central issues in cultural musicology has to do with the cosmopolitization of music. The musicologies of the world are born of the musics of that world, and the musics of the world are born of their musicologies. Some believe musicology is secondary to music, that music is first and that musicology follows and studies it. But that is incorrect. Music couldn’t exist and evolve without some form of musicology. The notes, the scales, the beats, the rhythms, the whole rigmarole had to be defined for music to get anywhere. Of course, the musicologists that invented all these things were probably musicians: a chicken-and-egg story. It makes it so much easier to do both. Alexander Ellis was tone deaf and he needed to hire an assistant to do the hearing for him. This intimate bond between music and music theorising explains why Indic musicologists were busy with ragas and talas while German musicologists analysed symphonies and harmonies.
And then the Europeans travelled and colonised and heard strange musics that greatly disturbed them. As Momus said: “Hell is other people’s music” (pace Sartre). This confrontation, or should we say encounter, led to an enormous tsunami of hybrid products. European composers appropriated non-European sounds and musical principles, musicologists tried to come to terms with the workings of foreign musics, in the process misinterpreting and deforming concepts. Musical evangelism was an inroad into civilising the barbarians. In short, we need to decolonise musicology. A cultural musicologist will attempt to unravel, to lay bare the disarray. These processes of transcultural exchange, of hybridisation, are not unique to colonialism and neocolonialism. Cultures are not isolated, even if constructions of ethnic identity may suggest the contrary. In India this has led to a refutation of musical influences from the Islamic world, in Pakistan those influences are cherished, while the music is essentially the same (i.e. Northern India and Pakistan, Southern India has a different musical tradition).
Music of the South Asian Subcontinent
While the many cultural traditions of the South Asian subcontinent have interacted since probably some 100.000 years it would be a mistake to think in terms of a single South Asian musical culture. The variety is so bewildering that it is impossible to isolate characteristics they would all have in common. There are two major “classical” traditions, Hindustani in the North and Karnatak in the South. But there are also some “smaller” classical traditions, for instance in Kashmir (Sufiana Qalam)), Odissa (Odissi) and Kerala (Sopanam). There is popular music, in particular the deeply hybrid film music, with a large bandwidth depending on the region. That is also true for the hundreds of regional “folk” musics. And then there are the “scheduled tribes”, still some 700 of them with amazingly different musics. The brass bands originating in the English military have acquired a distinct Indian touch and are indispensable for weddings. Let’s not talk about religious musics for all the different denominations: Shaiva, Vaishnava, Jain, Buddhist, Christian and even among Muslims, for whom music is officially not allowed.
The Musical Analysis of Culture
So if we talk about the musical analysis of culture, what does that mean? We are used to the visual repertory of understanding culture. We have viewpoints and perspectives, we focus, we have a lens, we frame and we even say “I see” when we understand something. Hearing plays a more modest role. Some politicians listen to the people, but we don’t use the funnel to hear culture, and there is no auditory equivalent of a viewpoint or a worldview. I’ll call it the audicon, in which ‘con’ stands for knowledge: old English cunnian, to know, Dutch “kennen”, proto-Indo-European root gno- “to know.” The audicon is the imaginary tool of musicologica, the knowledge of the world through hearing, in particular hearing music. Jaap Kunst used the term musico-logica but he doesn’t really explain what he means. I therefore consider Rafael de Menezes Bastos as the founder of the concept. The book in which this is developed is entitled A musicológica Kamayurá, literally The Kamayurá Music-Logic. Bastos informs that the Kamayurá people—a very small linguistic group in the Amazon—interpret their reality through musical principles rather than language and visual thinking. He gives an interesting background to this approach: in the dense forest one hardly can see more than a few feet whereas one can hear a multitude of sounds. To be deaf is a much greater handicap than to be blind (1999, p. 106-7). The auditory world (anup, hearing) therefore is vastly more relevant than the visual (cak). For the Kamayurá anup means much more than hearing, it stands for world-hearing, their answer to our world-view.
We do many different things with the brain. An important (but dangerous) one is thinking. We think words, images, sounds and perhaps some more specialised domains like chess or math. Judging by the number of book titles with that subject the thinking in images (e.g. Arnheim 1969, Reed 2010) is much more common than thinking in sound. And thinking chess and math may be based on image thinking (Giaquinto 2007, Pandolfini 1995). Visual thinking has an entry in Wikipedia, auditory thinking not. I also don’t know of any relevant book or article titles. As far as I know I do not think sounds (my thinking of images is also quite vague, I don’t know for sure if there is colour for instance) but I do have music playing in my head. Sometime annoyingly so, which is called an earworm. And for that matter there are quite a few books about thinking music (Nettl 1994, Wade 2004, Wilke 2011, Mahrenholz 1998). Nettl and Wade are ethnomusicologists and, as Kerman put it, they roam “the tone-deaf conclaves and enclaves of anthropology” (1985). Kerman should know because he is completely deaf for all music except the Ludwig-Gustav variety. I don’t mind that people specialise in the study of a particular genre, region, period or whatever, but the belligerence with which traditional musicologists proclaim they don’t know—and don’t want to know—anything of ‘other’ music is just racist.
Decolonisation and Terminology
The decolonisation and cosmopolitization of musicology is wrought with terminological confusion. What a person like Kerman is specialised in is what people call western art music: WAM. Some call it classical music, although that is a bit narrower in time. But what do we mean by ‘art’? And what is ‘western’? Some speak of the European tradition, which includes the colonies in which the majority of the population is of European stock. But in Japan, Korea and China that music is also practised. The music we are referring to is as variegated as ‘South Asian’ music. And it is impossible to draw clear boundaries. It interacts and amalgamates with folk and popular, it takes many forms of which some are easy to digest while others are impenetrable or even repulsive. As I mentioned before the early European musicologists primarily studied the music they were familiar with—mainly German elite music. But in the middle of the nineteenth century something very funny happened: they claimed musicology was founded by them, musicology only started then and there. And a hundred years later Jaap Kunst suggested that the study of ‘other’ music started with Adler and Ellis in the 1880s. And then, in the 1950s the most sad thing happened, ethnomusicologists branched off from the musicological mainstream leaving the field of musicology to restrict itself to the study of WAM. Charles Seeger fulminated against this madness when the generic term musicology is restricted to a small section of the musical universe while the general world of music is studied by a discipline that bears a name with prefix indicating a sub-category. That would be like biologists studying only amoebae and microbiologists studying all life.
Musicology and Ethnomusicology
Let’s be simple and clear: musicology is the study of music. Any music. From anywhere, from any time. In any way. Ethnomusicology became the garbage bin of music, the stuff a civilised person (like Kerman) would quickly switch off. When Kunst invented it, ethnomusicology was the study of other music, non-western music so to speak. Most of it was ethnic music of folks and tribes. It came to include jazz and pop-music, which was ‘western’ but not ‘classical’. Those who call themselves ‘musicologists’ have always rejected the idea that jazz and pop could be of any interest at all. Adorno found a justification for this: pop and jazz were products of capitalism, they destroyed true art. Interestingly, but rarely spoken of aloud, jazz and pop are in essence a hybrid form with African and European folk roots. So perhaps my use of the adjective racist is less hyperbolic than it seems. Surely music of the first nations (indigenous American people) was as western as it gets, but it was not Western of course. Primitive really. Alain Danielou was very uncomfortable with the ethno- as he felt the classical (art) music of India was of a different category.
Ethno-musicology is the study of primitive music, and the classical musical art of a developed culture is not a play-ground for Ethnologists and anthropologists (33).
It could not be considered ethnic at all as there are many ethnicities in India, perhaps more than in Europe. But contemporary ethnomusicologists like Henri Stobart define the field as the “ethnography of music”. Bruno Nettl had attempted an ethnomusicological approach to Mozart (1989), but the earlier mentioned Kerman didn’t find it of any interest. What is known as New musicology however is certainly inspired by the ethnography of music. Or, if you like, the anthropology of music (Merriam, Seeger Jr.). I think that the definition “ethnography of music” could be vastly preferred over the “study of ethnic music”, but apart from the point that cultural musicology is not another word for ethnomusicology, I generally am ill at ease with the whole ‘ethno-’ thing. In the school of cultural anthropology where I was trained it was really a nono, we were anthropologists, not ethnologists. The Yale University curriculum says:
Anthropologists are engaged in both ethnographic and ethnological study. Ethnography is the in depth study of a particular cultural group, while ethnology is the comparative study of ethnographic data, society and culture. (https://hraf.yale.edu/teach-ehraf/ethnology-and-ethnography-in-anthropology/ retrieved 2023-03-09).
The reference to “a particular cultural group” is exactly where the shoe pinches. The very idea of a particular cultural group is both limiting and hopeless. Limiting because cultures are by nature hybrid, fluid and osmotic, hopeless because cultural groups do not really exist at all. Note the etymology: ethnos “band of people living together, nation, people, tribe, caste,” and ethne “[…] gentile nation, foreign nation not worshipping the true God” (https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=ethnic, retrieved 2023-03-09).
Anyway, ethnomusicology, ethnography of music, anthropology of music, musical anthropology, Musikethnologie are social sciences, while cultural musicology—as I stated above—belongs to the humanities, as indeed musicology does. Ethnomusicology became big in the USA and the UK but originally Jaap Kunst considered it to be the study of extra-European music. His research was in the Dutch Indies, what is now known as Indonesia. He was a violin player and his interest was more in the structure and workings of the music than in the social functions of it. His disciple Mantle Hood, who took ethnomusicology to the USA continued in that line but gradually ethnomusicology shifted to the ethnographical and anthropological. Jazz and pop studies, in beginning incorporated in ethnomusicology, branched off and conquered a space of their own. Whereas jazz studies occasionally do pay attention to music, pop studies are by and large focus on sociological questions, with the underliying assumption that as music it is not worthy of investigation. Needless to say that the elitist eurocentric enclaves of traditional musicology prefer to keep all this outside with rare exceptions.
The Cultural Analysis of South Asian Music
Coming back to the cultural analysis of music and the musical analysis of culture it should be clear that they are not two separate activities, they go hand in hand, we could even say, to quote Pooh, “It’s the same thing” (Milne 1926, 160). A cultural musicology of South Asia is no different from a cultural musicology anywhere else, apart from the place where it happens. And even that is not quite correct because South Asian music has been travelling a lot. That started long ago when the Roma went westward. My path into Indian music began in the Netherlands, when I heard Anant Lal playing the raga Multani on the shehnai. My aunt had bought a new radio and gave me her old one. I was fiddling with the short wave, heard this music and switched on the tape recorder. Tricky business, but those days I was very fast. On the recording I could distinguish the broadcaster say “This is All India Radio”, and that was just enough to start my quest.