Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Fall 2015

Author: jalang

Two kinds of Ethnographic Information

Throughout my ethnographic research I have asked a lot of questions of my research subjects much like everyone else. However, more recently, as I am nearing the end of my research process, the responses to my questions have become increasingly honest. This  honesty most likely stems from my level of comfort with the people I am researching and their level of trust in me. Much like we discussed earlier I am encountering the situation in which I am researching people who have become my friends.

The positive that comes out of this is that I have incredible access to inside information. I can ask personal, difficult questions to reach very specific answers. I can also have faith that the answers I receive will be truthful. In the end, such a close relationship with the people I am researching gives me two kinds of information. The first type is very general and available for use in my writing. The second is too personal or polarizing to use.

At first I concluded that there is only a certain level, and a certain amount of information that is accessible for use in supporting your argument in a paper. Once you reach a certain intimacy the information becomes unusable. But after connecting my observations and interviews together I found something very different. The deepest level of knowledge I had achieved through the depth of my relationships with my research subjects actually shaped my views of the broader level of knowledge. In fact, this seemingly useless crop of information that couldn’t be referenced explicitly in writing actually improved the accuracy of my argument and my thinking on the topic.

Copyright, “Blurred Lines”, and Marvin Gaye

This article on the copyright battle between Marvin Gaye’s descendants and the creators of the song “Blurred Lines”, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams brings up many of the faults in the copyright laws in the music industry. It seems the music industry may be looking at copyright from completely the wrong angle.

In his article, David Post writes, “…the question presented was the extent to which Thicke-Williams might have improperly taken elements from Gaye’s “musical composition.”  Anything they might have taken from the recording of Gaye’s song that was not in “the musical composition” itself… cannot be the basis for the infringement claim here, because those aren’t protected by copyright.” This statement very concisely displays the issue in the modern copyright system. Instead of looking at the recognizable aspects of Gaye’s composition that made it successful and made money, the music industry is looking at a very intangible, undefinable aspects of Gaye’s work, the ‘musical composition, that involve abstract analysis of his creation process. The underlying question ends up being, are certain ‘elements’ of Gaye’s song, “Got to Give it Up” present in “Blurred Lines”. As the author of this article, David Post, clearly states, this method of looking at copyright is missing the mark completely.

The purpose of copyright laws is to protect artists from having their art stolen, and thus, the money that the original art would have made stolen as well. This is why, when the Gaye Estate eventually won the copyright battle, they received millions of dollars in compensation for the copyright infringement by Thicke and Williams. However, the Gaye Estate won for reasons that strayed from the purpose of copyright law. We have discussed many of the difficulties in defining ownership of music while looking at Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man”, Madonna’s “Sanctuary”, and “Hindewhu”. This case brings up many of the same questions. To what extent do artists own their music? Do they own the chord progressions present in the music? The sheet music? The beat? The rhythm? The lyrics? There are countless ways to look at a musician’s ownership of their work. However, I think the only way to look at copyright law and cases like this, as David Post brought up, is through what makes the music successful and pleasing to the ear. This is what subsequently pays the artist and the money is what the artist is protecting in copyright cases. It should be impossible to look at copyright law without keeping in mind the inherent purpose of the laws. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/03/12/blurred-lines-and-copyright-infringement/

First encounters and Egyptian Islamic Sermon

In the chapter, “Hearing Modernity: Egypt, Islam, and the Pious Ear”, Charles Hirschkind uses the recent evolution of sermons in Egyptian Islamic religious practice, to support his argument on the development of a new kind of ‘hearing’. In short, Hirschkind’s argues that the way people listen in Egyptian Islamic culture, has evolved from a practice of ethical listening, to that of a static listener. Traditionally, the emphasis was on the listener’s ability to correctly apply what was heard. However, now there has been an increase in the importance of the speaker’s ability to convey the correct message effectively. Hirschkind uses the example of sermons to help track this transformation in communication. To analyze the traditional mindset in regards to listening, Hirschkind looks at old Muslim analysis of the Qur’an.  “In other words, Muslim scholars of language never rigorously pursued a concern for the civic function of speech…Instead of elaborating formal rules of speaking they gave priority to the task of listening (133).” Sermons were used as a vehicle to expose the perfection of the Qur’an to the listeners, who then simply needed to listen with the correct ethical intent to apply the teachings of the Qur’an effectively.

Hirschkind then contrasts this with old thinking on rhetoric to wrap up the section pertaining to the traditional form of listening, and transition into hearing modernity. This example comes from the Greek rhetorical thinker, Augustine, whose analysis of listening falls in line with the modern train of thought. This modernity is represented by the direction of the modern sermon, “…a new conceptual framework for the relation of the [preacher] to his audience: the latter is stripped of its agency, which now lies entirely in the techniques of opinion manipulation exercised by the [preacher]… (140)” In the modern world sermons are used to impart ideology onto people, as opposed to give room to develop ideology.

The contrast between these two ideas compelled me to return to Bohlman’s writing on first encounters. “[First encounters] profoundly change what we perceive music to be and how we understand its functions and meanings in the lives of human beings. First encounters with world music are never isolated, passing events (Bohlman, 1).” It seems to me that a lot of what makes music great, and anything new, is its ability to immediately transform the way you think. The more modern way of listening takes away from the interaction with music (if we can loosely prescribe the term music to Qur’an recitations). First of all, it moves away from direct use of the Qur’an, but it also removes the essence of the listener’s first encounter with the music. Instead of giving the listener space to interact with the contents of the Qur’an, a preacher tells them how they are supposed to interpret it. Bohlman describes first encounters as deeply changing events. By removing this element of first encounter, the modern form of Egyptian Islamic sermon is removing the ability for the Qur’an to deeply affect people in an individual way. This could be concerning for the direction of Islam in Egypt.