This penultimate unit combines several themes and case studies. As you make your way through the Unit 5 folder in Course Materials, the following notes will help you make sense of the materials, as well as drawing connections to material from previous unit.
First, a series of robust Wikipedia articles offer some very useful analytical tools, starting with a definition of the term World Music, which can be used in several different ways. Depending on your perspective, “World Music” might suggest the whole catalog of the world’s music, an extension of a racist colonial world order, and/or a marketing gimmick. (Ideally, you will be able to discern how the term is used in all of these ways and more, sometimes simultaneously!) Similarly, the article on Organology (the study of musical instruments) will offer several ways to identify and categorize musical instruments. Note the diversity of ways musical instruments have been categorized and studied by different people in various times and places, as well as the way “electrophones” have become ubiquitous and — arguably — the de facto way we interact with music.
Building on these two analytical concepts, the readings and playlists in the unit present complex, layered case studies in the way musical traditions can move through space, time, and culture. Gamelan is ostensibly a genre of music associated with Indonesia, yet is has been incorporated by adventurous artists for more than a century; it has become a distinct part of the 21st century’s musical vocabulary, and it has been a musical and cultural element in many experimental approaches to music technology. Similarly, “Pygmy” Music is associated with indigenous rainforest communities in central Africa, but it has made its way through numerous genres and styles of music, including considerable experimentation and cutting-edge technology.
Both case studies offer examples of “non-Western” musical traditions which are, by any measure, deep and extremely sophisticated, yet they are iconic examples of “primitive,” “exotic,” or “folk” music. Both have had a profound influence on artists from very different backgrounds,“mixing” (“… like a DJ, or a bartender … or both”) sounds from diverse cultures. Both case studies are also meant to draw our attention to the ways World Music involves complex relationships between a musical tradition and the identity of an “original” community (Javanese, Balinese, Bayaka, et al), particularly in terms of technology and ethics (cultural appropriation, exoticism, intellectual property, colonialism). As you reflect on these case studies, it will help to keep the various meanings of “World Music” in mind …
A Bonus playlist includes a few more examples of ways musical traditions move “from roots to robots.” If you read, watch, and listen, I trust you will find a story about music and culture with numerous, intersecting “plot lines” …
Answer any two of the following questions in brief (4-8 sentences) reflections:
How do you relate the contested nature of the term “World Music” to your own musical tastes and listening habits?
Describe the physical, acoustic, and cultural identities of a particular instrument you encountered for this time in our course materials.
What is most interesting, troublesome, or surprising about the circulation of Gamelan and “Pygmy” music beyond the local communities with which they are associated?
Describe the ways one of the following genres or styles might (or might not) be “World Music”: Bachata, Salsa, Reggaeton, Afrobeat, Afrobeats.
Describe “Gypsy Music” or the didgeridoo in terms of World Music, Organology, and/or music technology (“from roots to robots”).
Wherever possible, refer directly to a specific recording. Be as clear as possible in your description of instruments, sounds, traditions, and identities.
It will be evaluated according to its levels of clarity, thoughtfulness, and attention to detail.
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