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On the Analytic Documentary

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  • Chuck Berry -curating sounds and memories March 20, 2017
    Update: (okay, it took less than a couple of hours to get to this, but you knew I would). I have to include this wonderful retrospective by Peter Guralnick about his interview with Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Fats Domino in New Orleans in 2011. (You think of trying to interview them as … Continue reading →
    ethnopopgirl
  • Total randomness – how else to deal with this year’s Oscars? February 28, 2017
    I’m a fairly rabid reader of The New Yorker, for what it’s worth. And today’s article on the glitch in the Best Picture Awards at the Oscars this year struck me as one of those moments where we create our own soundtrack. Since I’ve been posting on this blog more regularly lately, I thought I’d share … Continue reading →
    ethnopopgirl
  • RIP Clyde Stubblefield February 21, 2017
    There are far too many losses to the music world, this year, and every year – maybe last year just sensitized me to it or maybe we’re getting to that generational shift? Either way, today I’m sharing the soundtrack that’s guiding my morning and a brief obit from Digital Music News. Let the Funky Drummer … Continue reading →
    ethnopopgirl
  • Remembering Al Jarreau February 13, 2017
    Just a quick post today. Al Jarreau was one of the voices of my childhood and teen years – one of the happy, beautiful voices that countermanded all the emotional art rock I consumed at the same time. This tribute was put together by Wisconsin Public Radio – there’s a request by his family to … Continue reading →
    ethnopopgirl
  • Thinking about protest music, the Women’s March, and Joan Baez February 7, 2017
    Rolling Stone published an interview with Joan Baez yesterday about the Women’s March and protest music. While I strongly recommend reading it, there are a couple of highlights I’m thinking about. There’s a lack of music as a positive, uplifting (Baez’s word) force right now – protests are focused on anger. This movement needs an … Continue reading → […]
    ethnopopgirl
  • On protest music in the current age 1.28.17 January 28, 2017
    I’ve renewed an old research interest – protest music. Not terribly a shocking interest for an ethnomusicologist in the crazy times we’re seeing, but it’s been a recurring theme in my toolkit of research subjects. John Mellencamp (whose work I don’t normally look at) just released a really interesting song that takes on inequality, protest … Continue reading […]
    ethnopopgirl
  • Mourning 2016 Musicians – Glenn Frey January 18, 2017
    This is just a brief post but I anticipate more of these to follow – every one of the artists I miss deserves a post of his/her own. So I’m still not over last year’s losses. And by that I mean the musicians lost to the world when they died last year. For me this … Continue reading →
    ethnopopgirl
  • A guest blog from my new housemates August 5, 2016
    I broke down this week and did something I avoid – I went to the local animal shelter (because I can’t go without bringing home new friends). Even worse, I went into the kitten room and was immediately accosted by two small feline persons who informed me in no uncertain terms that I was taking … Continue reading →
    ethnopopgirl
  • Re-investigating home base May 20, 2016
    For those of you who do not know me in “real” life, I was trained as an art music musician (what most folks call classical music, which I have issues with, which will likely be the topic of another post on another day…). Recently, as in about three weeks ago, I took a new job … Continue reading →
    ethnopopgirl
  • Kesha, the American Pop Music Industry, and Cultures of Production February 26, 2016
    So this the the world I study, folks. The ways that the music recording industry interacts with performers, and in particular how these two parts of the music world intersect with how music gets made. I encourage you to pay attention to the Kesha/Sony case, not the least of which because it’s another example of … Continue reading →
    ethnopopgirl

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Since this is my first public post to this particular blog (and I’ll come back to other efforts in this direction at a later date) it deserves a bit of introduction before I get started.

I’m an academic scholar who got hooked on video and media work when I began my research for my dissertation. if you’re not a social sciences person, or an anthropologist by training, this may not mean much, but for someone who comes from a similar background this means I’ve been doing video work now for years, but I’ll come back to that a little later. I will talk endlessly about mediation and filmmaking in this forum. One of the many projects I’m currently involved with is developing, with a colleague, a vocabulary to use documentary and ethnographic filmmaking as an analytical tool much the way scholars have used the analytical essay forever. I would enjoy thoughts and comments on this as well as questions as we evolve this process.

I will try to make this blog entertaining and engaging because I want you, my prospective audience, to enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy talking about it. I will also include links to various projects in their stages of development as this blog evolves – at least that’s my big plan right now. Stay tuned.

We’re starting to work on this project that’s been in the genesis state for something like six years and is hopefully finally getting off the ground. That dissertation thing kind of got in the way but I’m done and now I’ve got a film-making partner and he’s done with his degree too. Yay us.

The idea here is, I think, pretty simple. When you point a video camera you have to make choices. When you plan out a film, whatever format you choose, you are making choices. When you take your footage into the editing room (or station depending on where you keep your computer and software!) – again, you make choices.

How different is this from participant observation? How different is it from choosing questions for a survey? Your methodology, you are taught in your first research methods class, determines your results. Ask good questions, get good answers. Use good equipment, get good recordings. Film under good lighting, get usable footage. It’s all the same thing.

And that was the Eureka moment for me. I’m not sure what it was for Michael. It’s really all the same thing.

My first moment with a video camera was that Eureka moment. September 7, 2002. It’s not quite like that – I’ve been aware of that nagging problem of aiming a camera since I was a little kid – what do I take a picture of? what fits in the frame and what doesn’t? I knew my mom takes a lot of bad pictures (sorry Mom) because she’s fairly short and doesn’t think to compensate for this when taking family snapshots. The consequence? Many years of in-family jokes that we know Mom’s pictures because she chops people’s heads off (in the photos – not in real life).

I started thinking about it when I did my first day of fieldwork. Fortunately I had, by this time, read Gregory Bateson, and was familiar with the idea that we shape our own realities by shaping what we allow ourselves to see in the world. Why not with a video camera? Why not shape a representation of 3-D movement with 3-D representation? All of us who do fieldwork of any kind understand how hard it can be to translate – as that’s really what we’re doing – from one language to another. We’re translating from visual communication – non-verbals – to written communication. That’s two steps removed. Quite a challenge when you think about it.

This blog entry is designed to spark you, the reader, to think about how we ourselves mediate – through interpretations, through technology, through communication – from one mode to another. I look forward to hearing your response.

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4 Comments

  1. halfsharpmusic says:

    Meryl brings up a really important point about shaping reality and Bateson. I’m not sure what it was for me – that moment when you find the medium through which fieldwork makes the most sense. I suppose that for me the visual and sound world are always just over the horizon of my writing they are really never totally present in words. For an ethnomusicologist that is interested in communicating ethnography why not reach out for video and bring the horizon just a little bit closer. But video unlike written ethnography (at least for me) is less controllable and more participatory. It is true of course that reading is a form of participation in meaning creation but watching film – especially film that strives to reach out to your imagination (see the work of Jean Rouch in this regard)elicits an Ethnographic response that I believe is unparalleled. But herein lies the warning as well because ethnographic video appears to be transparent – but of course it is not. I like this dance.
    Michael B. MacDonald

  2. ethnopopgirl says:

    Interesting you use those words, Michael. You just brought another theoretical concept back into this – what Harry Berger called horizons of listening. I think horizons of participation might be a piece of this, and I’m totally with you on Rouch here.
    I’m glad you bring up the point, or is it problem, of ethnographic film’s “transparency.” You and I both know how much planning goes into what does get presented in any film project no matter how spontaneous the end result looks. It’s why none of us want to give up control in the editing room.

  3. Kate says:

    Thanks Meryl. Sometimes you have to state the obvious:
    When you point a video camera you have to make choices.
    Your methodology… determines your results. Ask good questions, get good answers. Use good equipment, get good recordings. Film under good lighting, get usable footage.

  4. ethnopopgirl says:

    Thanks for that highlighting, Kate. I think it goes even one step further – to what extent does the videographer need to construct in background materials? At this point we go beyond good equipment (which can be questionable depending on what and where you are shooting!) into good enough pre-production work that allows for flexibility in production itself – I’ve never done a shoot, for example, where I’ve known exactly what I’m going to get and can truly control all the conditions. Actually my next blog post is going to problematize this very issue. (coming soon!)

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