A number of items have been jumping out at me lately and it seems time to put some of them out here.
1. My home discipline, ethnomusicology, is going through what I think of as a healthy periodical debate about how it defines itself. This is particularly interesting at the moment because with the economy the way it is and looks to be for the foreseeable future, as an academic discipline (and here I’m not including independent research but institutionally driven as in the traditional tenure track academic) ethnomusicology, like most humanities and social sciences I’m seeing, is going through a kind of contraction right now. To whit – “traditional” positions seem to still pop up (though more occasionally) and more generalist positions seem to pop up but room for cutting edge research seems less interesting. (I’m willing to be very wrong here. Someone please argue with me, since this is the side of the academy I live on)
2. Music as a performative art is going through huge changes right now, also in large part due to the economy. This is a trend I dealt with in my dissertation, though I wasn’t very direct about it. Globalization is becoming a big force in this transformation and I’ll be writing more about this bit as the summer progresses.
3. Issues of technological change seem to becoming more and more embedded with performance practices across the board. I’ll give an example here out of my private piano studio. I was hunting down a copy of a piece for one of my students Le Petit ane blanc, which is the second movement from Jacques Ibert’s Histoires about a month ago. It’s a tough piece to get a hold of in hard copy – the only available hard copies are through Boosey & Hawkes and one can either buy it in the whole collection, Histoires ($57+ U.S.) or in sheet music form ($21+ U.S.) – yes, you heard me right – $21 for a three page piece of sheet music from it’s French publisher, Leduc through its distributor, Boosey & Hawkes. OR. You can buy a (slightly blurry) out of copyright edition from a downloading publisher in pdf form for – $1.99 U.S.
Now, given I’m very cost conscious for my students about what I ask them to spend on music, and given the economy, which affects no only their budgets but their willingness to pay me to teach piano, it’s not too hard to guess which version I recommended that my student buy.
So what does this say about ethnomusicology and contemporary culture, much less musical technoculture in the U.S.? It’s transforming the whole music industry from publisher to label to my own ways of running a private studio. The ramifications of this are huge. Huge.
I’ve been thinking about this issue since fall of 2006, the first time I ever taught a class on technology in contemporary life at a university when I first discovered, and went nuts over, YouTube. I know I wasn’t alone here – I’ve seen countless presentations and articles on this convergence both within my own discipline and across media and internet studies over the five years since then. I gave my first paper on this topic (available via my academia.edu page for those of you who are interested) in 2007. The question that still stands out to me that I got after that paper was something to the effect of “did you write this because it’s a trendy topic.” I don’t for the life of me remember how I answered this but I do remember being slightly stunned that the questioner didn’t see how transformative this kind of dynamic technology would be for the foreseeable future for music production and that this will affect all of us across the world.
I’d welcome comments and thoughts.
Hope you all are enjoying lovely weather!