Writing about World Music

Section X, Fall 2016

Page 2 of 9

The Pedal Steel

Most country songs employ a pedal steel to achieve what has been characterized as a “high lonesome sound”; however, most people have no idea what this instrument is or how it’s played. A pedal steel typically has ten strings and features several pedals (hence the name) which typically tune strings a step or half step higher. When played in the context of major chords, a pedal steel is generally used to raise a second a whole note up to a third, resolving the chord. Because the pedal steel relies on a steel to play the notes it can be compared to a fiddle. The instrument doesn’t distinctly move from one note to another it slides from note to note.

The following video explains the mechanics of a pedal steel.

I have been a fan of pedal steel artists for about two years now. I discovered the instrument studying banjo in fact–the great Sonny Osborne often utilized steel licks in his banjo playing. One of my favorite steel players is Sarah Jory. She has been a very minor musician in the main scope of things. In fact she has not played with overly successful mainstream country bands; however, it’s her improvisational talent and body language that draws me most to her playing. The following video was captured many years ago and demonstrates her crazy style!

She is definitely in the zone! Her humorous faces and concentrated expressions reveal a connection between body, mind, and music. Her performance is especially convincing of genuineness.

One of the great advantages of the pedal steel is that its licks can be used on so any different instruments. Country guitarists often mimic the pedal steel. Foremost of these guitarists is Jimmy Olander of Diamond Rio. Olander plays Glaser guitars which have a built in pedal mechanism that mimics the sound of a pedal steel. The following video demonstrates the string benders.

Music in Iberia

What is the first impression of most people on Iberia? Answers must include sunshine, passions, food, and soccer. The music in Iberia is just as passionate and open as people’s impressions on the place itself.

My first impression of Iberian music is at an antiquated square by the sea in Lisbon, some street musicians play drums and violins on the square. It was in March, but the blue sky and warm temperature of Lisbon creates a cozy atmosphere which forces people to slow down their steps and enjoy the beauty around. Behind the musicians are the vast sea and gorgeous dusk, right in front of them stands several other people enjoying their music. It is noisy due to the passing cars and pedestrians in the street nearby, but the music grabs the full attentions of me. The music is elating, fast but full of transitions. The players immersed into their own musical world, becoming excited or happy as the music goes. Their performance has a passion I have never seen in other places. Their music sounds like the breeze in the sky or the warm sunshine distinct to Lisbon, getting rid of all my sorrow and depress.

The music in Andalusia, on the other hand, shows another kind of beauty corresponding to the area. Andalusia is wild and ebullient, so does its music. Street music in Andalusia is more wild: the music is more passionate, it is faster, lighter and more energetic. Sometimes a Flamingo dancer dances by musical players. She swings wildly, she steps her feet heavily, she claps her hands violently, she shows all her body strength to demonstrate Flamingo and the characteristics of Andalusia music and dance.

I was lucky enough to witness a formal Flamingo performance in Seville. It was the most passionate music I have ever heard. The guitar player started to play first, with some comparatively smooth music (actually they are really passionate compared with all ordinary guitar music). Then the dancer starts with the clap of hands and the stepping of feet. Gradually, the guitar music becomes so overwhelming that I even worried the string would be broken for many times. The tone changes quickly, the tempo becomes really fast, adding excitement and difficulty to the guitar music. The guitarist keeps creating powerful sounds without even stopping for more than ten minutes, totally immersing in his own music world, which reminds me of the Mbira players who can continue playing their music for hours. Sometimes the dancer takes some break, so the guitar player would stop and play some soft songs, to ease the atmosphere and maybe take a rest, and then restart challenging his physical strength by another twenty minutes’ passionate performing.

However, in Ronda, a beautiful mountainous town in Andalusia, the music is slightly different form music in cities as well. There is hardly any noise, music resonates in the narrow alleys. The white walls of houses stand high above the valley, which is a sheer contrast with the deep blue sky and green mountains in the far away background. The music here is purer, less passionate but deeper, even a little sad, which leaves spaces for people to interpret and think.

Non-musical connections with the Crowd

My observation this week was “Live Thursday”, which featured androgyny.  One of my main observances was how they connected to the crowd in a non-musical way, which I honestly think holds a lot of value in a musical scene.  If you think about all of the musical performances you’ve ever been to, the good ones probably have a mix between music and verbal communication between the performer and audience.  The best concert I’ve been to, Paul McCartney, had a nice mix of this.  Paul always spoke to us after a song.  And it was great, it let us know that we were in the same place.

I think one of the main reasons non-musical communication between the performer and the audience is an emotional thing.  As a performer, you want your crowd to feel like they’re part of the music.  This is akin to how in the “Soul of the Mbira”, everyone is taking part in the music.  Even though it is to a lesser extent, and in the mbira the music requires the crowd, good live music in a western sense is communal which I think is key to understand the difference in “World Music” and Western Music.

I spoke about this communal aspect in my first paper with Lortat-Jacob about how Sardinian music is basically de-facto communal music with the “guitar song” and the Serenade they had.  This lends to how much a community can make the music in a specific environment that much better.

I’ve heard many times and seen in videos about how Bob Dylan plays for himself and not anyone else.  Even though people say that’s his style, and that’s okay, that would repel me from going to one of his concerts just because I want to feel included in the music; I don’t want to be just an outsider looking in.

This lends itself to a large degree to our ethnographic research projects, in which we can’t just be outsiders looking in.  It is more difficult, if not impossible to conduct good research in an environment that is not inclusive.  Fortunately, my first observation was interactive and energetic and had the right means to get good research and have a good time too.  I think that might constitute some problems in my future observations: how inclusive the atmosphere is in order to conduct research.

Music and Studying

I often find myself “listening” to music while I study.

This goes back to a debate that we seem to have had throughout this course. While I study, I do not follow the model of ethical and responsible listening that we discussed. The type of music I listen to when I study is preferential and everyone has their own taste in music. For me, I generally do not know the music I listen to when I study. I use it as a tactic to be more engaged with my work as opposed to the music. The playlist I have formulated is called “Instrumental Study (TRANCE).” In this title it encompasses almost all of the songs that are on the playlist. They are songs, generally without words, that seem to put me into a sort of trance state when I study.

What is odd about the music, is that it somewhat resembles world music in the sense that almost all of them have distinct beats, and if they have words, the words are non-sensical. Everything is more along the line of sounds, and if you were to classify space as the world, this music would be world music. For me, this music is something that I can blast to drown out the noises around me, but the music is not distinct enough that I lose my focus on my work.

What is interesting to me is that each person has a different preference of music when they study. Some people like to listen to piano music, and some people just like to listen to their favorite tunes. This brings me back to what we talked about before in class. Are we really listening? In my opinion I think it is no. As I write this article, I have my playlist playing, and since I last checked, about eight songs have passed without me even knowing. If I try to listen to anything else, I easily lose focus and begin to sing along or think deeply about the music.  Perhaps this says something about music and its intentions. The songs I listen to are means of relaxing and focusing myself, while other songs are merely away to entertain and distract myself from everything.

Coming back to the thoughts of ethical listening, my question is do the artists who make music that do not have lyrics intend for their songs to be just background and ambient noise? Or do they intend for the listeners of the song to engage with what seems like a tune to put you to sleep?

What do you listen to when you study?

Controversy at the CMAs

In general, I do not enjoy country music. Therefore, every year, the Country Music Awards come and go, and I barely take notice. This year, when I heard that Beyoncé would be performing, I was intrigued (though not enough to actually watch the show). While the CMAs were going on, however, I saw that not only did Beyoncé perform at the CMAs, but she did so alongside the Dixie Chicks who have been almost completely shunned by the country music world for over a decade now.

Last class, we ended our discussion about Contemporary Carioca talking about the ineptitude of music awards shows in general and their often times questionable awards choices. The backlash that both Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks received after their performance only enforces my opinion about these award shows. Their performance was criticized by country fans for not being “country” enough, and both Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks were personally attacked on social media by fans of the CMAs and of country music. Obviously, they did not fit the stereotypical country performances that fans expected to see at the awards show and were criticized simply for performing at all.

I was not particularly bothered by any of this until I saw an article alleging that the CMAs had deleted all traces of the performance from their website and their various social media accounts. They, of course, deny this and everything has since been reposted, but to me, this entire encounter proves that these awards shows will do whatever it takes to appeal to their fan bases (who keep them in business) instead of recognizing the talent and work of great artists.

Here is the video of the performance if anyone hasn’t seen it and wants to.

http://abc.go.com/shows/cma-awards/video/most-recent/VDKA3492984

Thomas Edison’s Need For Fame

I am not a fan of Thomas Edison. As a middle schooler I was forced to do a presentation impersonating him in which I described all of his fabulous inventions and his contributions to society. I discussed the lightbulb and the gramophone, two of his most famous inventions. Upon researching the man, however, I discovered articles which described how he was not the great man he was made out to be. The invention of the light bulb is a very shady historical event that many believe was the invention of the great Nikola Tesla, not the patent-hoarding and blueprint-stealer Thomas Edison. So when we used the gramophone in class, I was seriously shocked and disappointed.

I expected the cylinders for the gramophone to be unique pieces of musical history, but instead I found that they were products of advertisement. Each wax cylinder was plastered with the face of Thomas Edison. They were not all the same either, at least four different renditions of Edison staring solemnly were posted on the various canisters. His signature was featured 2 to 40 times on the canisters, with the one that I was examining exhibiting 40. The signatures formed a band on both the top and bottom of the canister, ensuring that nobody in their right mind could ever mistake the name for another.

The worst part of the canister was that I could not tell what the song was. Was this not the primary purpose of the canister and the gramophone itself? The consumer’s primary goal when purchasing this product was to listen to music, not to be assaulted with photos and signatures of the patent owner, a character whose significance to the individual record is insignificant when compared to the musician themselves. While I was and still am very intrigued by the invention of the gramophone, I am very disappointed by the man who created it and his relentless need for fame.

Carioca Dance

 

When I was reading Contemporary Carioca, it interested me that Rio de Janeiro and Brazil as a whole is a sort of mixing pot in that they have people from other cultures that bring their own customs to the area and merge them with those of their own. The music of the South Zone that reaches from the beaches combines with music of other areas to contribute to a completely unique sound. Moehn describes the sonic phenomenon as a form of miscegenation that does not apply to race but to the sounds themselves. The exact roots of these sounds can prove to be somewhat difficult to trace in that they come from a variety of locations. One area of Carioca that I wish to learn more about is dance.

The word “Carioca” comes from the word that Brazilians attribute to themselves that means “house of whites” or “white house” of the Portuguese inhabitants of Rio. Usually applying Samba music, the Carioca dance is generally a group dance that consists of people holding hands with each other and swaying to the sound of the music. Similar to the Machichi, the Carioca dance invokes elements of the Foxtrot and Rumba movements.  The dance is intended to allow Brazilian people to forget their everyday troubles by engaging in dance. Also, the Carioca dance is a wonderful opportunity for Brazilians to come together in a unified fashion that simultaneously fosters camaraderie. It is not relegated to a certain age group, for those of all ages are welcomed by the rhythmic gyrations of the Carioca dance. Due to the movements required by the typical Carioca dance, those of certain ages with limited mobility are not encouraged to participate in the dance. Even still, if one is physically able, the Carioca dance serves as an excellent thoroughfare to enjoyment.

Though native to Brazil, the Carioca dance was unknown to the United States until the early twentieth century.  In 1933, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers popularized it with their movie “Flying Down to Rio.” Because the two did not have enough time to choreograph their own movements, they appropriated from an earlier version of the “Fanchon and Marco Carioca dance routine” into their film. Though immensely popular following the release of the film through subsequent modifications of song and dance, the dance itself still remained largely unperformed by the masses in America. This could in part be due to people’s fears of feeling foolish after watching Astaire’s and Roger’s alacrity on the floor. Also, it could be attributed to the fear that some unfortunately possess of things unknown to them.

Even after the advent of the Carioca ballroom dance, the influence remains in the United States as seen by certain conventions such as ballroom dancing and ethnically charged motions. Although it may seen difficult, Carioca dancing is an entertaining way to exercise as well as it is quite enjoyable as a form of dance. It may have originated in Brazil, but it has since made its way to other continents as a dance form.

Works Cited:

http://www.streetswing.com/histmain/z3caric1.htm

Moehn, Frederick. Contemporary Carioca. Duke Press. 2012. Print.

 

I Don’t Like Coldplay

This week I wanted to write my blog about something that seems like it might be an unpopular opinion among my classmates: my dislike for Coldplay.  To be clear, I’m not writing this post just to be antagonistic, I just want to  express my feelings about an issue that I take seriously.

In my opinion, there are three main reasons that Coldplay sucks.  First, they’re incredibly vanilla and bland.  Second, Chris Martin’s lyrics are boring.  Third, everyone still likes them despite all this.

Coldplay’s music is, in my opinion, boring, unoriginal, and forgettable.  It’s the type of music your mom says she likes when she’s trying to be cool and listen to current songs.  They are very reluctant (or maybe unable) to create any sort of musical originality, a fault that manifests itself in bland piano-pop abominations like A Rush of Blood to the Head.  While they have progressed sound-wise since their beginning, they have done everything but good-music-wise.  They feed off of what’s currently popular, changing to a more pop-sound for Ghost Stories for example.

Another part of what really irks me about Coldplay is that many people  see them as poets for some reason, beautifully expressing their feelings through the power of emotionally-charged lyrics.  If you ask me, that’s major bullcrap.  Their lyrics are almost as boring as the music itself.  They seem like something an angsty high schooler would write in his diary.  Martin’s ability to connect with such a large audience shouldn’t be attributed to him tapping into an extremely deep and emotional part of his soul as much as it should be attributed to his ability to create vague lyrics that makes every 13 year old girl and 40 year old mom feel like he wrote the song just for them.  Some of the lyrics are just dumb, too.  “Every Teardrop is a Waterall”?  Get over yourelf.

Lastly, and maybe most annoyingly in my opnion, is the fact that even though they suck, they’re incredibly, amazingly popular.  They’re so popular that they even let them ruin the haltime show.  I’m pretty sure they’ve never tried to be cool, and I am sure that they’ve never have been cool.  You might think this attitude would turn people off, but you’d be wrong.  That didn’t stop millions of tweens from learning the riff from “Clocks” on piano and somehow turning them into one of the most defining pop-rock icons of our generation.

 

At least they admitted that they’ll never be as good as Radiohead.

Sources consulted:

http://www.ranker.com/list/why-coldplay-sucks/jacob-shelton

https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/coldplay-sucks-right

https://noisey.vice.com/en_us/article/do-they-actually-suck-coldplay-and-the-black-eyed-peas

Ethnomusicology

I have been fascinated by ethnomusicologists since we learned about them because there is so much bias and so many ways to interpret other cultures. Ethnomusicologists have an interesting yet difficult job and I really wanted to learn more about it. The article I read about ethnomusicology also deals with world music in a way because it talks about the universality of music that researchers try so hard to stay away from yet science proves the ethnomusicologists wrong. I want to be a neuroscience major and this topic is where neuroscience and music collide. The article says “The music experts insist that every local performance tradition is unique and incommensurable, while across campus the scientists are demonstrating that all song traditions converge on the basis of universal human characteristics.” This quote shows that there is a universality to music because there are universal aspects to the human condition. This fact that there is some universality interested me because ‘world music’ generalized any music not from the West but how does this new information about music play into how music is defined and talked about across borders. From the readings in class, I have learned we shouldn’t generalize music yet this data shows that there are music universals. I am curious how people in class would respond to this and how this can impact the study or world musics. We try to  be unbiased and fair to not look down on other cultures by making generalizations but the generalizations can be true sometimes. I think this point can actually help us to appreciate and respect other cultures more not because they are different but because they share a universal human condition. Globalization definitely helped with the spread of ideas and I think these universalities will lead to complications with proper credit given to creators and artists. I would love to know what other people think on the topic the article is as follows:

Face the Music

Sports and Music

The Cubs haven’t been to the world series in 71 years. The infamous billy goat curse is something that has haunted the cubs for years. They have not won a world series in over 100 years. The fans have continued to be loyal even after a crazy dry streak. That is until this year where the team made it to the world series. I have family from Chicago, and that is where my dad grew up. My Chicago family has been waiting for the day the Cubs will finally win again. The past few years the new team line up has given the team a fair amount of success. Today my dad was able to get tickets for game 5 of the series for my Grandmother, who has seen every other major Chicago team win titles including the ’85 Bears, the Blackhawks continued success in the past decade, the Bulls hot streak of the ’90s and even the White Sox’s world series win in ’05. With the cubs comes their Anthem which is known throughout the  Chicago Cubs fanbase. I found an article on NPR about the immortalization of the anthem:

http://www.npr.org/2016/10/29/499867708/remembering-steve-goodman-the-folk-singer-who-immortalized-the-chicago-cubs-anth

This had me thinking about songs that are related to sports. Although my high school did not have a fight song, I know that many schools do. People will vivaciously chant and cheer for their school and join in unison to sing the school fight song. Sports can be family traditions as can songs. What is even better is when they are combined. One of the greatest sports associated songs I knew growing up was the ’85 Bears Super Bowl Shuffle. Come to think of it music is very important to a sports experience. Although I am not an avid international sports fan. It says something about sports when each sports network has a theme song and distinct tune that is recognizable to non-religious sports fans. The song screams victory or even strength. The World Cup even has a song, as we saw in one of our earlier classes.

When watching sports live, there are occasionally musical performances at halftimes or songs played during the game and breaks. There are even the famous songs that we know such as “Take me out to the ball game” that are tied to the sports experience. We must face that songs are inevitably a part of almost everything we do.

 

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