Posts published during November, 2009

For many people, Mazen Kerbaj is just Mazen Kerbaj, an accomplished graphic artist and trumpet improviser who’s toured and recorded in France, the US, Lebanon, etc. He’s gotten plenty of well-deserved, enthusiastic press for his playing.

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Sound was a persistent, if at times inscrutable, undercurrent to the 2009 SEM conference. HVBE6GGVBHTQ

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Plaza Garibaldi, Zona Rosa, is a mariachi band supermarket. Peaking in numbers on Friday and Saturday nights, bands gather to perform for potential clients. (Anyone.) As no band is more than a few feet from several others, the air is thick with mariachi music. Sometimes in sync, often not. An occasional harpist or guitarist performs alone.

The musicians do not play full songs. Instead, disconnected snippets – a brass section, unaccompanied, showing off how good it is – just imagine if you hired them to play with a full band for your quinceaƱera (Mexican sweet fifteen party)!

(P.S. Check out Billtron’s recording of the exact same event.)

In Mexico City for the SEM conference, we passed a small but loud street protest this evening, flanked by many police cars. It came out of nowhere and none of us knew the protesters’ cause. Apparently these are very common – as in, more than daily – around here.

Fair warning: Posts during the conference will be a bit more tossed-off than normal. I generally don’t like posting about things I can’t explain at least somewhat credibly, but that’s not likely to happen much this weekend. Feel free to comment with context/translation.

The annual Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) conference starts Wednesday; look for live updates here, and via the #sem09 tag on Twitter. This material will comprise the rest of the week’s posts. Expect some combination of panel reactions, SEM celebrity gossip, and sound snippets from around Mexico City. For today, please enjoy browsing a late draft of the paper I will be presenting at the conference on Thursday. Comments and discussion are most welcome.

Apologies, incidentally, for the lack of updates over the past six days. (I got hitched.)
Wedding! Wedding!

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Commercial design’s visual basis is all but assumed. But the sound sculptures of Harry Bertoia are a notable exception.

Bertoia Sculpture

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The other day, a man with Tourette Syndrome got on the subway. The scenario played out as it usually does – people were jolted by an out-of-place sound, looked straight at the source for a few seconds until they figured out what was happening, and then slowly turned their attention back to what they were doing before. There’s an overwhelming normative pressure after a few seconds to look away – he can’t help it, don’t make him feel awkward. But what are the ethics of listening in a situation like this?

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Something “lite” for Friday. (Trying to make this the routine.)

Most of the interview snippets concern race, obliquely or head-on. If you ask New Yorkers open-ended questions about anything, the conversation will almost always end up there sooner or later. The movie anthropomorphizes common New York objects in a generally random fashion (with the exception of the Italian luggage, I didn’t read any associations between thing and identity), but the matter of race remains, both explicitly and implicitly. Explicitly, when the red emergency services box speaks about her pride as a black woman, when the big and little newspaper boxes discuss their Cherokee ancestry, etc., and implicitly when accents and other vocal details suggest individual histories – the smoker’s cough of the Bronx-born free-used-car-info box seemed, to me, particularly suggestive. Also notable was the Asian (?) pay phone’s awkward reference to “some black people” blasting music from their car, although the remark was obviously well-meaning.

Thanks to TM for the original link.

Next week: the ethics of recording involuntary outbursts, and the sound sculptures of Harry Bertoia.

What are the consequences of believing in the synchrony of representation and space? Usually not confusion. More often hucksterism.


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Last week, the New York City Police Department began outfitting patrol cars with a device called The Rumbler, a pair of subwoofers that serve as an alternative to sirens.


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