Thursday, March 29, 2018

Global Perspectives—The Music of Helena Tulve

By Amy Bauer

The only student of Erkki Sven-Tüür, Estonian composer Helena Tulve shares her former teacher’s  eclecticism and love for nature. Yet Tulve’s music eschews expressionist drama, reflecting more keenly the influence of French spectralism and her studies at Paris’ IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique). Her compositions often begin with one or two central pitches or intervals whose constant timbral transformation sustains a taut structural tension until resolved. The award-winning Sula (Thaw) for orchestra depicts a crystalline, organic world in constant change, if moving slowly. Yet Tulve has been equally inspired by Gregorian chant, folk instruments, and Mediterranean vocal traditions.  Her vocal compositions incorporate texts from various spiritual backgrounds within ensembles that blend instruments associated with contemporary music, early music and indigenous musical traditions.

L'Équinoxe de l'âme (The Equinox of the Soul), for soprano, triple harp or kannel (an Estonian zither, part of the Baltic psaltery family), and string quartet, is based on a lyric text by the Persian mystic and philosopher Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi about the mythical Persian firebird Simurgh (using Henry Corbin’s translation of L'Incantation de Sîmorgh). The Simorgh is no mere phoenix, but a benevolent creature that guides the soul—it lives in a white world, manifests itself to us in daylight, and is too dazzling to view directly. This firebird is a creature of paradox, outside of space and the normal concerns of men; as the poem notes, “All are with it [the Simurgh], but most are without it.”<1>

Tulve’s music occupies a similar space of paradox: her vocal technique nods to Gregorian and Mediterranean vocal traditions.  But this voice is supported by a string quartet, whose members rely on trills and glissandi to blur the boundaries between pitch, timbre and rhythm. Ornamentation extends to frequent harmonics (string overtones), as well as on barely-pitched and pure noise tones. The quartet is accompanied by a triple harp, which makes use of "split doubling,” shakes and ornaments associated with Celtic folk harp traditions.  In L'Équinoxe de l'âme the timbre of instruments, particularly the sounds unique to the string quartet and the folk traditions associated with the triple harp, obscure clear melodic and harmonic cues.  Yet the entire piece is informed by a single-line impulse, blurred and compromised by the sonic flux around it: what was perceived as harmony becomes timbre or rhythm, and vice versa, For instance, clear emergence of a melody in first violin is echoed in remaining strings en route to the first entrance of the voice in m. 31, as can be seen and heard below.

Example 1: L'Équinoxe de l'âme. m, 31.  Sound is available here.

Tulve places melody in the center of her process, “as principle or linear current. … everything else must be in its service.”<2> Yet this current is clouded not only by ornaments but by voices, which arrive a step below or above an existing tone, amid frequent heterophonic duplication (inexact repetition). Strings play at the top of their range, with each tiny gesture approached and left by graduated dynamics: constantly pulsing between quiet and loud. Pitch and rhythmic tropes repeat—always with a difference—to shape the organic form of the work. And the ascent of an instrument through a harmonic series emphasizes central tones with a delicacy that emphasizes their impermanence.

Example 2: L'Équinoxe de l'âme. mm. 75–79.  Sound is available here.

One passage with a clear melodic and harmonic focus sets these instabilities in relief. A low Eb in cello in m. 75 comes to rest under a rare tonal harmony: a half-diminished seventh chord, under the text’s assertion that those protected by the Simurgh “will pass through fire, protected from being burnt” (see the example below). The harmonic collection built from this chord is resolved by parallel harmonic series that rise from two fundamental tones a tritone apart—Eb3 and A4—under the highest notes in violins. This flight of the protected through the flames is countered by a chordal descent in mm. 99–100 under a text where the Simurgh’s incantation “reaches everyone but only a small number listen.” <2>

All of Tulve’s works are unified by an aesthetic that prioritizes “slowness”: a careful attention to sonic transformation and flow that favors sustained listening.  Tulve’s timbral choices are bound to multiple sensations that drive the compositional process: the qualities of the “sound material” and its natural expression in space. Such a sustained focus on sonic detail functions as an ethical choice as well, reflecting the composer’s deep-rooted ecological concerns, bound to music of surpassing timbral richness and textural complexity.

L'Équinoxe de l'âme can be heard on Tulve’s ECM recording Arboles iloran por iluvia (ECM 2243), excerpted here, as well as on spotify and classical archives. Her recent work is available on soundcloud.

<1>L’Équinoxe de l’âme, Shabab al-Din Suhrawardi, trans. Henry Corbin (French), and Tyran Grillo (English), program notes, Helena Tulve: Arboles lloran por lluvia (ECM New Series 2243, 2015).
<2>Tulve in conversation with Ia Remmel, “An Oasis for Concentration. Metamorphoses in the Music of Helena Tulve,” Music in Estonia 7 (2005), 22.
<3>L’Équinoxe de l’âme, Grillo trans.


Amy Bauer is Associate Professor of Music at the University of California, Irvine. She has published articles and book chapters on the music of György Ligeti, Olivier Messiaen, Carlos Chávez, David Lang, Helmut Lachenmann, Salvatore Sciarrino, Claude Vivier, the television musical, and the philosophy and reception of modernist music and music theory. Her books include Ligeti’s Laments: Nostalgia, Exoticism and the Absolute (Ashgate, 2011), and the collections György Ligeti’s Cultural Identities (co-edited with Márton Kerékfy, Routledge, 2017) and The Oxford Handbook of Spectral and Post-Spectral Music (co-edited with Liam Cagney and Will Mason, forthcoming).

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Voice and Silence in Student Protests Against Gun Violence

By Katherine Meizel

Photo credit: Alex Brandon, Associated Press

In Park City, Utah on March 24, 2018, a group of young protesters performed “Seasons of Love,” from the 1996 Broadway musical Rent. “525,600 minutes,” they sang, “How do you measure a year?” 2018 has, in its three months to date, cast an unusual focus on  measurements of time. In January, the President gave a nearly record-breaking State of the Union address, 81 minutes long. His perpetually at-risk White House staffers have continued to clock some of the shortest tenures in U.S history. Then, in February, six minutes and 20 seconds of gunfire in Parkland, Florida left seventeen dead, leading to a seventeen-minute national school walkout in March, with the widespread observation of seventeen minutes, one minute, or even seventeen seconds of silence 3,000 times over, across the nation’s six time zones.

During the March 14 school walkouts, students from Central High School in Columbus, Georgia premiered their original song, “The Separation.” The lyrics asked, “Do we have a voice?” The answer to that question—given by thousands of young Americans on that day and during the subsequent #MarchForOurLives events—is a resounding yes. But amid the impassioned speeches, chanting, slam poetry, and song, it was the moments in which their voices fell silent that had perhaps the greatest impact.

This movement is all about voice and silence. Most modern social movements have been predicated on metaphorical understandings of voice that position it as both a site and as an act of agency.<1>  The current protests present a doubly agentive framework of voice, acknowledging the ever-mounting numbers of vanished voices silenced in gunfire, and the living voices that bear the burden of speech, of speaking, for them. In D.C., a treble choir from Amherst, Massachusetts sang “I can’t keep quiet,” repeating the unofficial anthem (Balingit 2017) of the January 2017 Women’s March.<2>  And though the pressure of the day made Parkland survivor Sam Fuentes sick in the middle of her speech (“on international television,” she ruefully exclaimed), rather than put the burden down, she not only continued speaking, but then sang to honor her slain friend Nicholas Dworet on his birthday. A protest sign, captured in an online listicle, read, “YOU CAN PUT A SILENCER ON A [image of a military-style assault rifle] BUT NOT ON OUR VOICES” (Isaac 2018).  Young leaders of the rallies have attended to the question of whose voices will be heard, and have striven toward equity (Hamedy 2018). They have also considered who will have access to those voices, and included virtual march participation and ASL interpreters.

In addition to lifting silenced voices, students are protesting the persistence of silences where voices should be speaking—the prolonged legislative silence that has allowed school shootings to continue, the silence surrounding the financial involvement of the NRA in U.S. political structure, the silence of the nation when the victims aren’t white, or when the terrorists are. If those in power won’t speak, the students will fill that silence with their voices. They are also combating the silence implicit in speech that only offers empty words—the “thoughts and prayers” that lawmakers tweet after each set of murders—with their own silences, full of meaning.

On March 14, hundreds of students lining Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. suddenly hushed and turned their backs on the White House. And the terror and grief of Parkland’s six minutes and 20 seconds of violence were amplified last Saturday in the powerful minutes of silence performed by survivor Emma González—a silence that was anything but still, and that penetrated the sanctuary of American living rooms as sharply as the sound of bullets had pierced the halls at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. It will, I think, echo for generations. The Nation predicts that it could “Change the World” (Walsh 2018). Musicology Now editor Susan Thomas, in conversation with me this week, aptly compared González’ six minutes and 20 seconds in D.C. to John Cage’s experimental 4’33.” The silence, framed within the speech, did, similarly, effectively reshape its audience’s experience of political oratory. Punctuated by shouts of support, brief bursts of applause, and the miked rasp of González’ unsteady, determined breathing, it was a challenge to all listeners, especially to lawmakers, to rethink the structural intersections of political noise and political silence. As the seconds ticked by, the message to the American establishment was loud and clear. The silence succinctly summarized everything that González and David Hogg and Edna Lisbeth Chávez and 11-year-old Naomi Wadler and 9-year-old Yolanda Renee King had said out loud. It said, “Enough is Enough.” It said, “Vote them out!” It said, “La lucha sigue.” And though a digital timer abruptly sounded the end of González’ 6’20”, the silence itself was the real alarm. Echoing the year’s very first hashtag social movement (Buckley 2018), it told abusers of power: time’s up.

It’s important to remember that our new national heroes may be, as one declared, “magic,” but they are not junior wizards whose destiny it is to definitively defeat evil. Neither are they just children singing sentimental songs. They are young people who have watched their friends die, and endured the kind of bodily injury and emotional trauma that belong to war. They are young people whose lives and education have been, at the very minimum, disrupted multiple times each year by active-shooter drills and actual lockdowns, who in their communities have “learned to duck from a bullet before [they] learned how to read.” They have been taught to hide in closets, taught strategies to mitigate the certain casualties their peer groups will face if a gunman enters their school, taught to throw books, barricade doors, to try and save each other. That’s what they’re doing now, in using and withholding their voices—saving each other.

Another national school walkout is planned for April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting in 1999. And whether it’s to a nationwide teenage silent treatment or a chorus of changing voices, Americans should be listening.

NOTE: The author has begun work to archive examples of music at the protests, largely documented on social media. The archive is viewable here:

<1>Including the Deaf identity movement, which from its earliest days has had to negotiate and interrogate this metaphor in the face of centuries of voice-based persecution.
<2>This information, along with a video of the March 24 performance, was posted to the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group on March 25. However, the post is not shareable publicly. The song “Quiet” was written by MILCK, the stage name of Los Angeles-based artist Connie K. Lim, and performed with members of three a cappella groups during the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., on January 21, 2017. The singers were recorded by a documentary filmmaker and the YouTube video had collected millions of views by the following day. MILCK has set up a website to make the song freely available to those wishing to use it in public protest gatherings.

Katherine Meizel is an Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She earned her Ph.D. in ethnomusicology at UCSB, and also holds a doctorate in vocal performance. Her research includes topics in voice and identity, popular music and media, religion, American identities, and disability studies. Her book Idolized: Music, Media, and Identity in American Idol (IU Press) was published in 2011; she also wrote about Idol for the magazine Slate from 2007 to 2011. She is currently co-editing the upcoming Oxford Handbook of Voice Studies, and completing a monograph for Oxford University Press titled Multivocality: An Ethnography of Singing on the Borders of Identity.  
Works Cited:
Balingit, Moriah. 2017. “’I Can’t Keep Quiet’: Watch This Stirring Performance of What So Call the Women’s March Anthem.” January 24. <> (accessed March 25, 2018).
Buckley, Cara. 2018. “Powerful Hollywood Women Unveil Anti-Harassment Action Plan.” January 1. <> (accessed March 25, 2018).
Hamedy, Saba. 2018. “The Parkland Kids Keep Checking Their Privilege.” March 25. <> (accessed March 26, 2018).
Isaac, Bronwyn. 2018. “30 Signs From Today’s March For Our Lives that Will Give You Chills.” March 24. <> (accessed March 25, 2018).
Walsh, Joan. 2018. “6 Minutes and 20 Seconds that Could Change the World.” March 24. <> (accessed March 26, 2018).

Monday, March 26, 2018

Global Perspectives—Rock under the Red Flag: “A Piece of Red Cloth” by Cui Jian

By Ya-Hui Cheng

Cui Jian, Chinese writer and musician, has long been an iconic symbol representing the voice of Chinese youth in the 1980s.<1> In particular, he is remembered for his performances of “Nothing to My Name” and “A Piece of Red Cloth” during the landmark 1989 Tiananmen Square student protest.<2> Debuting in 1986, “Nothing to My Name” was a groundbreaking song that demonstrated an authentic Chinese style of rock by applying folk tunes from the northwestern province that portray yearning from the Chinese youth who struggle with life’s challenges in a quickly transforming world. The song reverberated with those who sought a return to their cultural roots during the 1980s after China had adopted the capitalist model in 1978 to reform the economy. This return to Chinese cultural roots portrays rock music’s ability, as suggested by Firth, to “ express and reflect its audience’s concerns.”<3> As such, the song presented a successful example of fusing Western and Eastern musical ideas to portray the voice of Chinese youth for the commercial industry. “Nothing to My Name” was released on the album titled Rock ‘n’ Roll on the New Long March in 1989.<4>

“A Piece of Red Cloth,” instead, is a slower tempo, rock ballad. It lacks the influence of Chinese folk tunes as a result of replacing the folk sounds with the Chinese Gu pentatonic scale. This song was written in 1988 and was officially released on the album titled Solution in 1991.<5> It demonstrates a stronger influence of Western rock than “Nothing to My Name” as the melody utilized the pentatonic scale to mimic popular Western melodies.<6> “A Piece of Red Cloth”  became an iconic piece to symbolize the Chinese social movement after the 1989 Tiananmen event where Cui covered his eyes with a piece of red cloth to perform for students. This image was included in Cui’s music video, which spread across the globe to remind people of this social event.<7> In addition, the video presents a social message based on Cui’s observation of an existing numbing attitude that had circulated around the Chinese Communist state and among people in the society. Cui reveals this sense of detachment by covering his eyes with a red cloth, implying numbness and also the unseen. This numbness and desensitization towards social issues increased the frustrations of China’s youth, who witnessed that many people had turned a blind eye to reality as a result from living under a collective social nuance. The song and video became  metaphoric symbols that both critiqued social passivity and the youth’s desire to push forward to reform.

While “Nothing to My Name” and “A Piece of Red Cloth” have been popular for decades, the latter song contains a deeper social message and extends its influence from the generation of the 1980s back to the 1960s. Chinese popular music critic and author Jin Zhaojun has suggested that its lyrics presented the “innermost sorrow” to reassess the communist revolutionary ideology.<8> For the 1960s generation, the first group born under the red flag, and others who had experienced the Chinese cultural revolution, the image of the red cloth would have immediately implied the communist revolutionary ideology. The lyrics in which the master used a piece of red cloth to cover the protagonist presents the implication that the state uses the revolutionary ideology to cover the mass’s sight and creates a blinding collective nuance that separates people from the reality. The blindness allows one to become unmotivated thus creating social problems that prohibited the society from moving forward.

Musically, this piece is based on a contrasting verse and chorus structure (see Example 1). The lyrics in the verse portrays the protagonist’s enthusiasm to follow the master while being naive in considering other life paths. The melody in the verse presents a narrowness by limiting the vocal range within an interval of a perfect 5th between pitches A3 and E4. The chorus presents the inner contradiction of the protagonist who realizes the issues, but was dissuaded to accept them. The sense of contradiction is presented by raising the voice higher and extending the intervallic range to a sixth, from C4 to A4. In the post-chorus, the protagonist has been stuck with no way out. This part is the climax and depicts the protagonist’s emotions altered from frustration to empathy. Instead of complaining to the master, the protagonist becomes the master when both realize they share an innermost pain. The vocal range extends to an interval of a tenth, from A3 to C5. It contains a leap of a perfect 4th depicting a mixed feeling of sorrow and tolerance along with shifts of revolt to compliance. The accompaniment is based on an ostinato that consists of four chords from Bb to Eb and to c minor and Bb, which creates a drone in the background to hold one grounded in a repeating cycle. The aporic drone illustrates the inescapable helplessness creating a collective nuance in a society where most people can become numb.

Example 1: A Piece of Red Cloth - Structure and Lyric (Translation Mine)

Verse A1
That day, you used a piece of red cloth to cover my eyes and my sight,
You asked what I saw, I said I saw a completely delightful world.

Verse A2
Such a feeling comforts me, it makes me forget myself and I have nowhere to stay,
You asked me where I want to go, I said I want to follow your way.
Instrumental Interlude from Intro.

Verse A3
[I] Could not see you, I also could not see the road. My hands were held by you.
You asked what I was still thinking, I said I would let you decide my way.

Chorus B1
I feel you are not made by iron but you seem to be as strong and tough as iron,
I feel there has blood in your body because your hands are so hot. 

Verse A2 Returns

Instrumental Interlude

Chorus B2
I feel this is not the wideness, but [I] could not see the land has already dry and dried
I feel I need some water, but you blocked me by putting your lips onto mine.

Chorus B2 Repeats

I could not go. Neither could I cry, because my body has dried out.
I want to stay with you in this way forever because I know most about your deepest pain.

Refrain & Instrumental Coda

“A Piece of Red Cloth” beautifully combines lyric and music to metaphorically reveal realistic social problems which evoke everyone to contemplate the red ideology and the unseen reality. Cui’s anxiety and sincerity are represented through rock to inspire people to alter the unsatisfied condition. It is through this earnest expression on the social problems of the time, Cui Jian and his music establish a Chinese rock spirit that became an iconic social symbol in the 1980s.

<1>See Jin 1989, Jones 1992, Baranovitch 2003, Wang 2005 and Matusitz 2010 to name a few.
<2>See Cui Jian’s Talk on Tiananmen Event on February 7, 2014 at New York University from Youtube. And, “This is the song of Tiananmen: ‘Blindfold my eyes and cover the sky’ by Max Fisher on June 4, 2014 from The Washington Post (last access on Dec 24, 2017).
<3>Frith, Simon. Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure, and the Politics of Rock ‘n’ Roll. New York: Pantheon Books. 1981: 62. 
<4>See Baranovitch, Nimrod. China’s New Voices: Popular Music, Ethnicity, Gender, and Politics, 1978-1997. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001:34.
<5>Jones Andrew. Like a Knife: Ideology and Genre in Contemporary Chinese Popular Music. New York: Cornell University, 1992:23.
<6>See Jin, Zhaojun金兆钧. “Cui Jian and Chinese Rock.” 崔健與中國遙滾樂 Ren Min Yin Yue Publishing, no. 4, 1989: 33.
<7>See Max Fisher from The Washington Post.
<8>See Jin, 1989. Jin, Zhaojun is the editor of Ren Min Yin Yue (People’s Music) and the most influential popular music critic in China. I am in debt to Mr. Jin who pointed the significance of this song to me when I interviewed him in Beijing in Summer 2017.

Ya-Hui Cheng (Ph.D., Florida State U.), a native of Taiwan, is an assistant professor of music theory at University of South Florida. Her current research focus is on the emergence of Chinese popular music genres including jazz, rock and hip hop and their transitions between the capitalist and the socialist societies of Taiwan and China. In addition to popular music study, Cheng’s research interests also include Giacomo Puccini’s operas. She was the recipient of the National Opera Association Dissertation Competition Biennial prize on her Puccini research and also, the author of Puccini’s Women: Structuring the Role of Feminine in Puccini’s Opera.

Baranovitch, Nimrod. China’s New Voices: Popular Music, Ethnicity, Gender, and Politics, 

      1978-1997. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.
Bohlman, Philip. “Analysing Aporia.” Twentieth-Century Music 8/2 (2011): 133-151.
Fisher, Max. “This is the song of Tiananmen: ‘Blindfold my eyes and cover the sky’ on June 

     4, 2014 from The Washington Post (last access on Dec 24, 2017).
Frith, Simon. Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure, and the Politics of Rock ‘n’ Roll. New York: 

     Pantheon Books, 1981.
Gries, Peter Hays. China’s New Nationalism: Pride, Politics, and Diplomacy. Berkeley: 

     University of California Press, 2004.
Jin, Zhaojun 金兆钧. “Cui Jian and Chinese Rock.” (translation mine) 崔健與中國遙滾樂 Ren

      Min Yin Yue, no. 4 (1989): 32-33. 
_____. The popularity under the Sun—Personal Experience with Chinese Popular Music 

     (translation mine) 光天化日之下的流行——亲历中国流行音乐. Ren Min Yin Tue 
     Publishing, 2002.
Jones Andrew. Like a Knife: Ideology and Genre in Contemporary Chinese Popular
New York: Cornell University, 1992.
Matusitz, Jonathan. “Semiotics of Music: Analysis of Cui Jian’s “Nothing to My Name,” the 

     Anthem for the Chinese Youths in the Post-Cultural Revolution Era,” The Journal of 
     Popular Culture, 43/1 (2010): 156-75.
McDougall, Bonnie S, ed. Popular Chinese Literature and Performing Arts in the
      People’s Republic of China 1949-1979
. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
Wang, Siqi 王思琦. Contemporary Unban Popular Music in China: A Study on the Interaction

      between Music and Social Cultural Environment 中国当代城市流行音乐:音乐与社会文
      化环境互动研究. Shanghai Century Publishing, 2009.

Sound Resources:
Cui Jian, “A Piece of Red Cloth” from album, Best of Cui Jian: 1989-1996 (Dong Xi Music, 

Cui Jian, “A Piece of Red Cloth”
Cui Jian on Tiananmen Massacre 崔健谈"六四"


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Global Perspectives—Akemi Naito (Japan/NY): The Woman in the Dunes for Solo Percussionist (2012)

By Barry Wiener

The substance of sound is central to Japanese composer Akemi Naito’s compositional thinking. She asserts that the structure of a work “follows the sound,” which has “energy of direction.” Naito feels that “writing for percussion gives the composer space for possibilities.”<1> As a young student in Tokyo during the 1960s and 70s, Naito learned about the classics of Western music but had no exposure to contemporary music or her own musical traditions. She was inspired to become a composer by hearing Toru Takemitsu’s exploration of timbre and texture in The Dorian Horizon for Strings (1966). Takemitsu’s film score for Hiroshi Teshigahara’s 1964 film, The Woman in the Dunes (based on Kobo Abe’s 1962 novel), served as a source for parts of The Dorian Horizon.

Naito’s The Woman in the Dunes was first conceived as a half-hour long multimedia theater work, premiered in 2009 in New York and at Northern Illinois University. In 2012, she transformed it into a piece for solo percussion. Percussionist Gregory Beyer presented the world premiere in October 2012 at Northern Illinois University. A week later, Mizuki Aita gave the first Japanese performance in Tokyo at a concert devoted to the music of her late husband, Japanese composer Yoshio Hachimura (1938–85). The Woman in the Dunes<2> is one of several pieces in which Naito expresses her artistic roots in Japanese literature, art and music, including Months–Spaceship for Zodiac for Biwa and Electronics (2005), Ryusuimon Study for Piano and Video Images (2011) and Five Waka by Saigyõ (2010-11) for Marimba and Chorus. For The Woman in the Dunes, Naito also found inspiration in the photography of Edward Weston (1886–1958).

The Woman in the Dunes is a composition that depicts psychological states and evokes key events in Abe’s novel and Teshigahara’s eponymous film, in which a teacher from Tokyo is captured and imprisoned by villagers in an area of barren sand dunes. The protagonist is compelled to become the companion and helper of a young woman, working with her night and day to shovel sand that would otherwise engulf them both. In the end, he discovers a way to draw water from the damp sand and abandons his efforts to escape from his captivity. The novel and film are examples of Sartre’s “theater of situations,” documenting the evolving relationship between a man and woman who are nameless throughout their lengthy encounter.

Naito constructs her piece by employing a wide spectrum of contrasting sonorities: pitched and non-pitched instruments, sounds with and without resonance, varied attacks, and regular pulse and free rhythm. Naito employs three types of instruments: metals, including twenty tuned Thai chromatic gongs, vibraphone, crotales, brass chimes, Japanese temple bowls, cymbals and tam-tams; drums, including congas, bongos, bass drum and timpani; and non-pitched instruments without resonance, including wood blocks and two types of rattles, the maracas and caxixi. The caxixi, a Brazilian instrument, consists of a closed basket with a flat bottom, cut from a gourd and filled with seeds or other small particles.

The shaking of the rattles evokes the barren world of the dunes. Naito connects the metallic sounds and the drum sounds to the protagonists of Abe’s novel: the metallic sounds to the woman’s emotions, and the drum sounds to the man’s efforts to escape from the dunes, where he is held prisoner by the villagers.

Naito divides The Woman in the Dunes into ten sections. It can, however, be divided into two large parts, sections one to four and five to ten, demarcated by the double bar at the end of m. 106. The piece begins with arrhythmic whispered sounds for bass drum, cymbal and timpani that evoke the whistling wind of the desolate dunes. Naito displays a special sensitivity to timbre, directing the performer alternately to strike the bass drum with soft timpani mallets, rub it with a superball and play glissandi. In section one, Naito alternates between these delicate sounds and mysterious, undulating sextuplet figures for the bongos and congas. In section two, Naito introduces the music for metals, dividing lyrical, modal motives between the chromatic gongs and the vibraphone (see Ex. 1) before developing them in a series of brief variations.
Example 1   Modal motives, in Akemi Naito, The Woman in the Dunes (2012), mm. 17–19. Copyright © 2015 HoneyRock Publishing. All Rights Reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Used by permission.

As the work unfolds, Naito employs the music for metals as a brief refrain that repeatedly punctuates the form, creating a cyclic structure. She frequently uses melodic circularity, pattern repetition and axial symmetry in her development of the modal motives. For example, in m. 23, the vibraphone plays a looping five-note pattern spanning a +7, D4–A4 (see Ex. 2a).
Example 2a   Melodic circularity, in Akemi Naito, The Woman in the Dunes (2012), m. 23. Copyright © 2015 HoneyRock Publishing. All Rights Reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Used by permission.

In mm. 283–84, Naito presents two melodic patterns. The pattern in m. 283 spans a +10, from G#3–F#4, and is symmetric around its first pitch, C#4. In m. 284, Naito employs a wider compass, the +14, A3–B4, and shifts the axis of symmetry to E4 (see Ex. 2b).
Example 2b   Melodic patterns with axial symmetry, in Akemi Naito, The Woman in the Dunes (2012), mm. 283–84, vibraphone only. The figure in m. 283 spans a +10, from G#3–F#4. The pattern in m. 284 spans a +14, from A3–B4. Copyright © 2015 HoneyRock Publishing. All Rights Reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Used by permission.

Coupled with Naito’s avoidance of clear tonal centricity (from a Western perspective), her use of melodic circularity, pattern repetition and axial symmetry in the music for metals generates a sense of timelessness that reflects the woman’s role within the novel and counteracts the developmental nature of the man’s music.

The main source of structural contrast in part I is the music for rattles. In section three, Naito depicts the flowing sand and the insects, first by employing the maracas alone, then by using both the caxixi and the maracas (see Ex. 3).

Example 3   Music for caxixi and maracas, in Akemi Naito, The Woman in the Dunes (2012), mm. 72–83. Naito, The Woman in the Dunes, world premiere of the complete version. Mizuki Aita, percussion, Tokyo, 2012. Copyright © 2012 Satoshi Ipponjima. Used by permission.

In part II, Naito omits the rattles entirely, alternating four energetic, highly rhythmic drum episodes with passages of timeless, delicate music and the lyrical, emotionally placid melodic patterns for metals. In the drum episodes, she adapts the rapid rhythmic patterns that she had originally assigned to the rattles and elaborates upon musical ideas that the bongos and congas present in part I, creating gradually evolving, sometimes irregular rhythmic patterns (see Ex. 4).
Example 4   Rhythmic patterns for bongos and congas, in Akemi Naito, The Woman in the Dunes (2012), mm. 152–53. Copyright © 2015 HoneyRock Publishing. All Rights Reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Used by permission.

Naito employs a variety of beaters to produce progressively more forceful percussion attacks in order to symbolize the man’s strenuous efforts to escape: first the hands, then wire brushes, wooden timpani mallets, and, at the climax, wooden sticks. For example, in section seven, the percussionist first plays the bongos and congas with his hands, then with wooden timpani mallets, and follows with rapid fortissimo bass drum strokes (see Ex. 5).

Example 5   Drum music, in Akemi Naito, The Woman in the Dunes (2012), mm. 190–95. Naito, The Woman in the Dunes, world premiere of the complete version. Mizuki Aita, percussion, Tokyo, 2012. Copyright © 2012 Satoshi Ipponjima. Used by permission.

Naito ends the climactic section nine with a lengthy passage for bass drum solo that gradually subsides into silence. After a pause, she restates the soothing music for metals in the work’s final section. Like the first part of The Woman in the Dunes, the second part concludes with a gentle questioning gesture, stated by the chromatic gongs.

Naito employs imagery similar to that in The Woman in the Dunes in other compositions as well. In Ryusuimon Study for Piano and Video Images she presents the image of flowing water. Both flowing sand and water evoke for Naito what she has described as a desire to “express the eternity from the distant past into the unknown future. A query from myself, here and now, to [infinity].”
<1>Barry Wiener, interview with Akemi Naito, June 7, 2017.
<2>For more information about the music of Akemi Naito, please see her web site,, which provides detailed information about her works and includes several videos of performances of her music, including Mizuki Aita’s 2012 premiere of the complete version of The Woman in the Dunes in Tokyo. Recordings of many of Naito’s pieces are available on YouTube as well. The web site also includes information about recordings, including two portrait CDs, CRI CD 771, Akemi Naito: Strings and Time, and Bridge 9204, Mindscape: Music of Akemi Naito.

Barry Wiener is the author of Ralph Shapey and the Search for a New Concept of Musical Continuity (in preparation, Peter Lang). His interests include American modernism, Scandinavian music, women composers, Mendelssohn and Brahms. Wiener has published articles about Sibelius and Shapey, and coedited the Shapey special issue of Contemporary Music Review (Vol. 27, Nos. 4/5, 2008). He worked with Ursula Mamlok from 1998 to 2012, assisting her in the preparation of many scores now published by Boosey & Hawkes/Bote & Bock and writing liner notes for six CDs on CRI and Bridge Records.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Politics of “Oriental Syncopation”

By Fritz Schenker

In this final post exploring issues of musical labor in the age of machine-age imperialism (the subject of a panel Allison Wente, Sergio Ospina-Romero, and I organized for the Society for Ethnomusicology’s 2017 annual conference), I’d like to briefly offer a case study that illustrates why we considered questions about labor, value, and imperial politics to be a useful way to think about musical matters in the early twentieth century.

During my research on the imperial circulation of popular music and musicians along a transpacific entertainment circuit in the 1920s, I came across several reports in Philippine newspapers that struck me as curious.<1> In the late 1910s and early 1920s, articles in the Manila-based newspaper The Philippines Free Press offered celebratory news about the pianist Louis Borromeo, a Filipino enjoying success on the US vaudeville stage.<2> These stories were published during a fierce political struggle. Filipinos sought to claim independence from US colonial rule through a campaign marked in part by combating US stereotypes that implied Filipinos were unfit for self-governance. Amidst the intense debates about how best to represent Filipinos to the world, Filipino journalists praised Borromeo, noting that he had “made quite a hit on the vaudeville stage in America.”<3>

What struck me as curious, though, was that Borromeo’s vaudeville career in the U.S. seemed to perpetuate the same stereotypes that Filipino politicians were trying to counter. From 1919 through 1921, Borromeo performed across the U.S. as part of a trio known as “D’avigneau’s Celestials.” The group – which also included two Chinese-Americans – captivated vaudeville audiences by claiming to be Chinese performers with a unique take on Tin Pan Alley, a take described by one reviewer from Topeka as “oriental syncopation.”<4>

The Celestials’ embrace of “oriental syncopation” was a strategy the performers employed to navigate the challenges facing non-white performers throughout the U.S. Similar to African Americans, Native Americans, Hawaiians, and Chinese vaudevillians, the Celestials shaped their performances according to the narrow expectations of racialized performance.<5> They appeared to conform to the conventions of “yellowface,” a set of performative tropes that signified a generic “Asian-ness” to most US audiences. Even as Filipino politicians toured the U.S. to promote their cause, Borromeo and his partners dressed in Chinese costumes (Fig. 1), performed Tin Pan Alley songs with Chinese-themes (including the 1919 hit “Chong (He Come From Hong Kong)”), and employed broad musical markers of “Asian-ness” in their compositions. For example, Borromeo’s 1920 foxtrot “Jazzy Jazzy Sound in All Chinatown,” used stereotypical markers such as grace notes, open fifths, hints of pentatonicism, and rhythmic patterns of four eighths and two quarter notes (Figs. 2 and 3).  Similarly, the song’s lyrics used pidgin English with phrases such as “winkee little eye, singee way up high” and “we’ll teach them to shimmy-lee with the Amelican [sic] melody.” While other Filipino vaudevillians, such as Domingo Gregorio, were actively trying to convince skeptical US audiences that Filipinos were not the same as Chinese or Japanese – a widely held view at the time – Borromeo seemed to be perpetuating stereotypes of Chinese culture that negatively portrayed a wide array of Asian groups, including Filipinos.

Figure 1: Borromeo in costume on the cover of "Jazzy Jazzy Sound in All Chinatown," by Louis Borromeo, Al. Hether, Herman Bush (New York: Fred Fischer, Inc., 1920).

Figure 2: "Jazzy Jazzy Sound in all Chinatown," mm. 1-4

Figure 3: "Jazzy Jazzy Sound in All Chinatown," m. 26

There are many ways to dismiss Borromeo’s positive coverage in The Philippines Free Press as distinctly un-curious, even banal. Perhaps the newspaper’s entertainment writers were not particularly political. Or maybe they were not concerned about Borromeo spreading stereotypes about Chinese. After all, even though US audiences were notorious for the inability to distinguish between different Asian groups, Filipino newspapers were also full of negative coverage about Chinese living in the Philippines.

At the same time, though, it is hard to ignore the broader context of Borromeo’s coverage in the Philippine press. As Borromeo toured the U.S., Filipino journalists such as I. I. Exconde argued that all Filipinos were responsible for representing the Philippines in the best possible light. “Wherever we go and whatever people we meet,” he insisted, “let us not fail to show up the true characteristics of the Filipinos.”<6> If Borromeo did not seem to be showing the “true characteristics” of Filipinos through his stereotypical performance of Chinese-ness, then what was his political value?

It is here, I suggest, where a turn towards musical labor and value can perhaps be a helpful way to better understand the seemingly paradoxical combination of Borromeo’s positive coverage and his embrace of stereotyped performances. My thinking here is influenced, in part, by the work of scholars such as David Gilbert. Gilbert’s work on value and musical labor among African American composers and musicians who strategically embraced stereotypes about black ‘natural rhythm’ in the early twentieth century sheds light on this very issue. In his study of James Reese Europe’s Clef Club, he shows how the area of professional value – the concern with working conditions and wages – can sometimes serve as a catalyst for transforming cultural value and contesting racial stereotypes.<7>

In a similar way, some of the Filipino coverage of Borromeo’s career points towards considering his political value as a musical worker. The Philippine Free Press articles tend to ignore his stage act in favor of celebrating his financial gains. As one headline blared, “[Borromeo was] Said to be Making One Thousand Pesos a Week on Vaudeville Stage in the United States.”<8> What Borromeo did on stage seemed insignificant compared to the opportunities his success afforded him offstage. For example, along with showing that Filipinos could command high wages, Borromeo also used promotional interviews for the Celestials to instead make the case for Filipino independence (as shown in the article from Topeka above). For Filipino journalists, it appeared that Borromeo’s growing wealth and the publicity that came with his growing success were his critical source of value.

I am continuing to explore the political significance of Borromeo’s vaudeville career amidst a transpacific debate about US imperialism (a debate that, not coincidentally, is deeply informed by racialized ideas about work).<9> I cannot help but think that questions about Borromeo’s significance as a worker – as someone whose performances seemed to matter less than what those performances afforded him – will be critical for thinking about how music and musical workers were made valuable and meaningful to both performers and audiences as the U.S. and the Philippines negotiated their colonial relationship.


<1>Frederick J. Schenker, ““Empire of Syncopation: Music, Race, and Labor in Colonial Asia’s Jazz Age,” PhD Diss. (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2016).
<2>For more about Louis Borromeo, see Peter Keppy, “Southeast Asia in the age of jazz: Locating popular culture in the colonial Philippines and Indonesia,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 44, no. 3 (2012): 444-464.
<3>“Says in Event of War Filipinos Would Remain True to Uncle Sam,” The Philippines Free Press (April 2, 1921), 7.
“<4>Has Gone to the East Now,” The Topeka Daily State Journal (January 11, 1921), 5.
<5>E.g., Louis Chude-Sokei, The Last “Darky”: Bert Williams, Black-on-Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006); John Troutman, Indian Blues: American Indians and the Politics of Music, 1879-1934 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2009); Adria Imada, Aloha America: Hula Circuits Through the U.S. Empire (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012); Krystyn Moon, Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American Popular Music and Performance, 1850s-1920s (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2005).
<6>I. I. Exconde, “Filipinos in Ohio are Doing their Mate,” The Independent (12 June 1920), 9.
<7>David Gilbert, “Clef Club Inc.: James Reese Europe and New York’s Musical Marketplace,” Journal of Popular Music Studies 24, no. 4 (2012): 430-56.
<8>“Said to Be Making...,” The Philippines Free Press (June 18, 1921), 24, 28.
<9>This debate echoes the long history of Filipino “laziness” that Syed Alatas explores in The Myth of the Lazy Native (London: Frank Cass and Co., 1977).


Fritz Schenker is a postdoctoral teaching fellow at St. Lawrence University. He previously held the same position at Washington University in St. Louis. He received his PhD in ethnomusicology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Talent Scouts, Drunk Musicians, and other Recording Adventures in the Acoustic Era

By Sergio Ospina-Romero

Between 1905 and 1926, recording scouts of the Victor Talking Machine Company established temporary recording studios across Latin America. After setting up their equipment, these scouts faced multiple challenges, including identifying local talent, negotiating copyright deals, and, sometimes, wrangling tardy, drunken performers into the studio. The recording scouts were attempting to follow Victor executives’ master plans to open up new markets for the phonograph. Yet, it was up to these scouts and the people they worked with to figure out how to put Victor’s plans into practice. Some procedures, especially in relation to the operation of the technology of acoustic sound recording, were somewhat standardized. Likewise, some expectations were clearly set by the company. Nevertheless, the scouts had to make an unpredictable array of spontaneous decisions. Just like many of the musicians they brought in front of the recording horn, they were often playing by ear. Such improvisatory interactions, I believe, are at the center of the music industry’s worldwide expansion.<1>
Victor Talking Machine Logo, c. 1905
Over the course of at least twenty trips, these scouts recorded seven thousand selections. Most of the time two scouts were deployed and they spent between one and three months on tour. Their luggage included a portable recording machine, several flat wax masters, recording horns of various sizes and shapes, sound boxes, spring motors, and dynamos. Setting up makeshift recording studios ––or laboratories as they called them–– was a constant test for their imagination. As some sketches in the scouts’ travelogues show, the goal was to replicate the basic layout of the two adjacent rooms used at Victor’s headquarters in New Jersey; the recording machine was usually concealed in one room and only the horns breached through a wall ––or a curtain–– into the performers’ room.<2> Things usually did not go according to plan. Recording sessions took longer than expected, musicians needed more practice or had a hard time accommodating to the sound-capturing limitations of the technology. When playing live, time was not usually a major constraint, but in the studio, performers had to cut or add sections, change the tempo at different spots, alter dynamics, modify lyrics, or improvise arrangements.
Acoustic Recording of the Victor Salon Orchestra, c. 1920. [Published in Leech-Wilkinson, The Changing Sound of Music, available at]

As if dealing with the vulnerability of the recording equipment was not hard enough, the scouts had to assume unpredictable roles. They acted as business representatives, legal advisors, cultural mediators, translators, vocal coaches, talent scouts, music producers, journalists, and even lobbyists. Sometimes they even had to figure out how to get the musicians in a suitable physical condition to perform. On October 23, 1917, for example, Victor scouts were making recordings in Guayaquil, Ecuador. They were expecting a “Band,” seemingly one of the ensembles of either the Police or the Military, for a session that was supposed to begin at 8:00am. At 9:30am, however, the scouts called the Band headquarters to report that out of the 25 men expected only 10 showed up. They could not make the scheduled recording, but not only because of the lack of personnel. In the ledgers, the scouts wrote: “Holiday yesterday and the majority are intoxicated, Commander said.” Apparently, both the musicians who did not show up —and the ones who did— were drunk. Unable to play their instruments, they hung out in the studio, coping with their hangovers while the scouts scrounged up some food for them: “Had 100 B.B., large pot of soup, sandwiches, etc. ordered.”

That was not a good day for recording. Following this drunken incident, the vocal duet of Anura García and Clara Hauston made some recordings that did not even go beyond the trial stage. After them, another music group came into the studio and performed so poorly that the scouts simply wrote: “Records by Orquesta: Started two records. Mistakes. Lost two blanks. Called date. Told [them] to practice.” For the scouts, the recording expeditions not only entailed the potential encounter with unfamiliar or “exotic” musics, either pleasant or not to their ears. It also involved engagement in a cross-cultural journey in which almost anything could happen. And considering the ample range of selections captured ––from operatic renditions to all sorts of popular musics to recitations, comic sketches, and jokes–– it was a journey of discovery in which almost anything could become a good-selling record.

Record of “Los Funerales de Atahualpa,” by the Banda de Gendarmes de Lima, recorded in Lima, Peru, on September 17, 1913.

Capturing local music numbers on wax implied the potential circulation of these recordings far beyond their local audiences and traditional performance venues. Yet, rather than allowing for the portability of all kinds of vernacular musics, the scouts’ improvisatory interventions implied significant doses of arbitration in the globalizing ventures of the music industry. Who made it to the studio and what repertoires turned out to be massively disseminated depended on the aesthetic and/or acoustic judgments of the scouts, the frequent random selection of musical numbers, and the convoluted networks of local artists. The commercial paths record companies took in their global expansion were, as acoustic recordings themselves, ventures of trial and error.<3> Nonetheless, scouts’ extemporaneous actions on the ground are just traces of a bigger picture. To a significant extent, improvisatory practices ruled in the recording industry in the early twentieth century. The fulfillment of the industry’s global ambitions relied on a permanent reconfiguration of business plans, technological devices, consumption patterns, cultural referents, and of the industry itself.

Recording scouts helped companies like Victor create commercial empires that operated in tandem with the modern imperial enterprises of the United States. While on tour the scouts took advantage of imperial resources and networks. At the same time, they provided other networks and resources for the colonial agendas of the U.S. By sending convoys of recording scouts to open new markets for the phonograph, Victor was also opening, in a way, markets for US goods in general. In the same way, Victor benefited from the imperial structures and the spheres of economic and cultural influence of the United States. The US foreign policy of interventionism throughout Latin America in the early twentieth century is one of the most eloquent examples of these political and economical entanglements. In the milieu of the machine-age imperialism,<4> itinerant troops of recording scouts helped shape the unprecedented global contours of the entertainment industry. Amidst drunken performers and mesmerized audiences, they inaugurated practices of corporate colonialism that we now take for granted.

<1>Besides my own research project on Victor’s expeditions through Latin America, the activities of recording scouts in different parts of the globe has not been significantly studied, except by Karl H. Miller and Michael Denning. Fred Gaisberg’s Music Goes Round is perhaps the most emblematic account published by a scout, referring primarily to his activities in Europe and Asia. Some of his diaries, including his adventures through East Asia, are available online:
<2>See: Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, The Changing Sound of Music: Approaches to Studying Recorded Musical Performance (London: CHARM, 2009), Chapter 3, Paragraph 13–20,; C. A. Schicke, Revolution in Sound: A Biography of the Recording Industry, 1st ed (Boston: Little, Brown, 1974), 73; George Brock-Nannestad, “The Objective Basis for the Production of High Quality Transfers from Pre-1925 Sound Recordings” (Audio Engineering Society Convention 103, Audio Engineering Society, 1997),
<3>Schmidt Horning, Chasing Sound, 11.
<4>See: Jeremy F Lane, Jazz and Machine-Age Imperialism: Music, “Race,” and Intellectuals in France, 1918-1945 (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2013), 7–9.

Sergio Ospina-Romero is a Ph.D. Candidate in Musicology at Cornell University. His publications and research activities are focused on popular music in Latin America in the early twentieth century, particularly in relation to sound recording, mechanical reproduction, transnationalism, and music consumption. His first book, Dolor que canta. La vida y la música de Luis A. Calvo en la sociedad colombiana de comienzos del siglo XX, was just published by the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History. Sergio is the director of Palonegro, an incredible ensemble of Latin American music in Ithaca, NY.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Dissertation Digest: Interpretive Labor in Experimental Music

By Kirsten Speyer Carithers

My high school had strong band and choir programs, but no orchestra. Consequently, my first experience playing symphonic music came not with Haydn or Mozart, as might be typical for an oboist, but with preparations for the annual New Music Festival at my undergraduate institution, Bowling Green State University. Looking around the ensemble during a rehearsal, a realization struck me: even for advanced players, with years of experience performing difficult repertoire, this was work.

A decade later, I was employed at a large financial-services company, poring through incoming regulations and revisions as part of a team of compliance analysts. The lawyers and executives handed down the main decrees – long overdue, as this was the era of TARP and Dodd-Frank after all – and we assessed how, exactly, this would play out within our line of business. Procedures had to be re-written, customers notified, and training documentation created for the hundreds of employees within our division. This, too, was work.

What these two examples have in common, apart from eventually informing my research agenda, is the activity of interpretation: getting from the text comprising Point A (a score, a regulatory statement) to the action of Point B (a live performance or new procedure). The intervening process, like much creative labor, remained under-recognized. When I began narrowing down ideas for my dissertation, I was most curious about the relationships between composers and performers, especially for realizations of indeterminate music. <1>(From the first draft of the prospectus: “find out how these musicians felt about their contributions to these works without being named as composers of them.”) Already, I sensed an imbalance of power, although at that point I was thinking in terms of an idealized linear shift from vessel to co-author: a rather utopian notion of composer-performer collaboration. Working through a number of case studies, from Cornelius Cardew’s work as Stockhausen’s assistant, Petr Kotík’s establishment of the S.E.M. Ensemble and the Ostrava Center for New Music, Charlotte Moorman’s leadership in the New York Avant-Garde Festivals, and the activities of the numerous members of the Center of the Creative and Performing Arts in Buffalo, NY (including Cardew and Kotík), I gradually identified several primary categories of musical labor. Within an interdisciplinary framework encompassing music studies, critical theory, and media studies, I developed the concept of interpretive labor to theorize the work of musical performance.

My research has two central objectives: to examine what it means to engage in the act of (musical) interpretation, and to align musical performance with developing theories of labor. The first drew me toward hermeneutics and the work of a handful of philosophers and literary theorists, including Heidegger and Derrida.<2> For the second, new-media scholars provide some useful paths to supplement Bourdieu’s work on cultural capital and the classic writings of Marx.<3> On the whole, though, and particularly in musicology, the connection between these two areas has been little explored. (I’ll note here that I am particularly encouraged by a few recent developments, including the growth of the Economic Ethnomusicology special interest group of the Society for Ethnomusicology, and new work published by Timothy D. Taylor and Andrea Moore on related issues.<4> I think we’re onto something!)

My theory of interpretive labor has four related models: the Scientist, the Executive, the Hacker, and the Gamer. Each model accounts for a particular type or mode of creative work, including experimentation, translation, writing and re-writing, and altering the very notion of musical performance. From the self-directed work of realizing chance procedures to the potential exploitation of a compositional assistant, and from subversive engagement with notation to the free play of performance art, the musical avant-garde’s many modes foster a rich and varied understanding of labor. Performers – both within and beyond avant-garde movements – labor to navigate their relationships to the score and to the composer, their work frequently obscured by the conventions of artistic recognition.

The relationships among composers, performers, and audiences constitute micro-economies for the work of interpretation. All three groups negotiate their connections to the musical work and to one another before, during, and after performances, and this is most challenging when there is limited precedent tempering expectations. Interpretive work therefore forms a central component in this system. In short, it is a managed cultural ecology: an economy. Composer-performer-audience relationships are also reflected in and deeply connected to economies writ large. To address these issues in music, I have turned to emergent theories of labor in other creative industries, especially as developed in response to cultural work and affective labor, the proliferation of hidden work brought forth by digital and social media, and the attendant post-Marxist critiques thereof.

Throughout the project, I have looked to the interpretive and performative labor undertaken by the musicians of the Buffalo-Ostrava-NYC networks to inform my questions. To what extent do their activities track with historically leftist and/or socialist anxiety about unrecognized (and therefore uncompensated) work? Is the phenomenon of hidden work specific to, or simply more pronounced in, the performance of indeterminate pieces? When the scores and writings of John Cage and Cornelius Cardew disrupted prevailing composer-performer relationships, to what degree did this reflect shifting ideologies? How did those developments change the types of work expected of their interpreters? Investigating these issues quickly made it apparent that performers, on the whole, tend to be under-recognized as creators, but, of course, their perspectives are crucial to understanding the social, economic, and cultural stakes within their new-music networks.

At the same time, rethinking experimental music in terms of labor also suggests fruitful intersections with contemporary media. The rise of user-generated content mirrors some forms of work undertaken by avant-garde artists. For example, taking and posting photographs on “social” media, or creating a user guide for a video game, can demand significant investments of time and cognitive energy, just like making a realization of a graphic-notation score; these also simultaneously mask that effort under the guise of entertainment. My framework of “interpretive labor,” then, provides valuable insight into 21st-century creative industries as well as into the esoteric artistic networks of the 1960s and 1970s. Because of the long history of artistic activities as hobbies, lines can easily be blurred between work and play, resulting in (sometimes unintended) exploitation. And this certainly is not limited to the avant-garde; as the recent strikes and contract disputes of even well-respected orchestras attest, musical labor tends to be undervalued, across the board.

It is this question of labor in, and as, musical performance that intrigues me most and forms the foundation of this project. This brings to light lots of fruitful ideas: reframing performance practice as a mode of production, revising narratives within our music history courses to account for the labor of the musicians being discussed, reviving voices that have been left out of the conversation based on socio-economic status, reconsidering how we talk about particular types of work, and so on. In fact, artistic processes lend unique insight into the issues of creative control, representation, and access, among other crucial areas of inquiry, all of which form components in a system of labor and compensation. Perhaps by reclaiming the labor of music-making, we might also further validate the status of musicians as workers, eschewing outmoded ideas about “labors of love” that continue to obstruct standards of compensation and other forms of recognition.


<1>By “indeterminate,” I mean compositions in which one or more significant aspects – e.g., pitch, duration, voices or instruments used, etc. – are left open. This repertoire was largely developed from the 1950s into the 1970s (and beyond, to a lesser extent), and while it varies widely, it is frequently marked by unconventional musical notation, up to and including scores consisting solely of text or pictures.
 <2>See, for example, Barbara Bolt, Heidegger Reframed: Interpreting Key Thinkers for the Arts (London: I.B. Tauris, 2011) and Jacques Derrida, “The Deconstruction of Actuality (1993),” in Negotiations: Interventions and Interviews, 1971-2001, ed. and trans. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001).
 <3>A few relevant sources: Michael Rowlinson and John Hassard, “Marxist Political Economy, Revolutionary Politics, and Labor Process Theory,” International Studies of Management & Organization 30, no. 4 (winter 2000); Henry Klumpenhouwer, “Late Capitalism, Late Marxism and the Study of Music,” Music Analysis 20, no. 3 (October 2001); Mathieu Hikaru Desan, “Bourdieu, Marx, and Capital: A Critique of the Extension Model,” Sociological Theory 31, no. 4 (December 2013); Pierre Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital,” in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, ed. J.G. Richardson and trans. R. Nice (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986).
 <4>Timothy D. Taylor, Music and Capitalism: A History of the Present (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016); Andrea Moore, “Neoliberalism and the Musical Entrepreneur,” Journal of the Society for American Music 10, no. 1 (February 2016). See also Robert J. Flanagan, The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras: Artistic Triumphs and Economic Challenges (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012).
<5>See, for example, Philip Kitcher, “The Division of Cognitive Labor,” The Journal of Philosophy 87, no. 1 (January 1990), pp. 5-22; E. Gabriella Coleman, Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013); Eliane Bucher and Christian Fieseler, “The Flow of Digital Labor,” New Media & Society (April 2016), pp. 1-19; and articles by Ayhan Aytes (“Return of the Crowds: Mechanical Turk and Neoliberal States of Exception”) and Michel Bauwens (“Thesis on Digital Labor in an Emerging P2P Economy”) in Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory, ed. Trebor Scholz (New York: Routledge, 2013).


Kirsten Speyer Carithers specializes in music of the 20th and 21st centuries, informed by interdisciplinary work in critical theory and the arts. Current research explores the intersections between music and labor across a spectrum of performance practices related to experimentalism from ca. 1960–1980, with additional interests in music and technology, artistic avant-gardism, and the connections between indeterminacy, improvisation, and creative labor. She has presented at conferences of the American Musicological Society, Society for American Music, and Modernist Studies Association, as well as Perspectives on Musical Improvisation (Oxford, 2014) and Performing Indeterminacy (University of Leeds, 2017). She is a lecturer at The Ohio State University and adjunct faculty in the Capital University Conservatory of Music, and is an active member of the AMS Pedagogy Study Group, currently serving on its Diversity and Inclusion committee. Her dissertation, "The Work of Indeterminacy: Interpretive Labor in Experimental Music," was completed at Northwestern University in March 2017.