Posts tagged with anthropology

The sixth and final installment of my podcast series “Bangkok is Ringing” is online now at Triple Canopy. Or, listen to it right here.

This last episode takes us through some of the distinct sonic spaces of the 2010-2011 Red Shirt protests. The diversity of these spaces tells us something important about the movement, namely that it’s heterogeneous. The language of protest movements is often compressed by the media until it fits a single index of complaint – unequal rights, no jobs, censorship – and the Red Shirt movement was no exception. But protests are rarely that simple. People have all kinds of motivations for turning to dissent, and protesters often disagree with each other. Such (very normal) internal difference (see: Wall Street, Occupy) is taken by some as a signal that movements are disorganized, or at the extreme even pointless.

We might have to work a little harder to find patterns, but there are always patterns. History, anyway, will sort things out one way or another. But we can understand a lot in our own time. In the case of the Red Shirt protests, they raged with noise always, and that noise (music, speeches, conversation, etc.) was rich in meaning. The question is, what did we hear?

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The fourth installment of the ongoing podcast series, Bangkok is Ringing, is up now at Triple Canopy.

Or listen to it right here:
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The third installment of the ongoing podcast series, Bangkok is Ringing, is up now at Triple Canopy.

Or listen to it right here:
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Save malls, Lumphini Park is the largest and most utilized public space in Bangkok. At all hours, the 150-acre Lumphini teems with performance and exercise programs that may involve anything from flags and matching uniforms to swords and tea, from high-octane aerobics jams to casual rounds of badminton between siblings. It is easy, actually, to find a quiet spot. But walk twenty feet and you might find yourself in the audible orbit of something completely different. Everyone, it seems, is busy honing their mind or body.

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Today is the debut of Bangkok is Ringing, a monthly podcast I’m producing for the online magazine Triple Canopy. Check it!


Image by Seth Denizen

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Everything Changing Real Soon

After March 28th of this year, Weird Vibrations migrates to Bangkok, Thailand. This trip is what the blog was created for, and what all the content so far has led up to. I’ll be there for one year, writing in this space as often as possible. Whether you came to WV through another sound site, or by accident, or because you know me, I hope you’ll keep checking in.

I can promise, at least, the following in return: erudite anthropological analysis, high-fidelity stereo sound recordings and concerned photographic documentation, political insight, what I’m pretty sure are actual dragons, danger-zone maps, nicknames like “Pizza” and “Dream,” sweat, rain, noise, the nexus of Buddhism and Bohemianism, and a brand of earnestness that can only be described as avant-garde.

Here is the deal:

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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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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.

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Me and S visited Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin last month for her birthday. It’s about three hours’ drive from Madison. We reserved a room in a bed & breakfast fifteen miles from the bay itself. When we called to make the reservation, we were really impressed by the owner’s thick upper Midwestern accent.

Conversation between Door County bed & breakfast hosts and guests, July, 2009

During our stay, we ended up talking to her and her husband for quite a long time. (In the recording, they talk about their next-door neighbor, a musician who’s planning to lift a piano to the top of his grain silo to play when he retires.) His family immigrated from Belgium and hers from Ireland, both in the mid 19th century. Both families have been in and around Door County ever since. The b&b house itself is about that old as well. It’s built on a farm where the couple used to raise cattle, and where they now grow corn, hay, and soy beans, They run their b&b, I think, mainly for company.

In the previous post, I took for granted that “Thai” and “American” ears were absolutely distinct, but our experience in Door County should cast at least some doubt on the assumption that national citizenship can be uncritically mobilized as an anthropological category. While we obviously spoke the same language, the couple’s accents were for us a pretty profound marker of difference. As soon as we first heard the hostess’ voice on the phone, we had the sense that our trip would take us pretty far out of our normal environment. And when we sat down and talked, our differences were a primary subject of conversation. America, like Thailand, and probably like any nation in the world, is a place of significant internal difference rather than homogeneity. It is also a place whose contours have been shaped by patterns of migration and exchange. Spend a couple hours in Bangkok, and you’ll hear embodied residues of the same sorts of migratory histories – Chinese immigrants, farang (foreign) ex-pats, migrant laborers from Isaan, etc.

In language classes, we might well notice that native Thais tend to speak English with particular intonations, or that Americans tend to do the same with Thai. But at least in anthropology, these surface-level observations can’t substitute for an awareness of the ways that nations – all nations – are internally fragmented. Accent can be a useful clue to this fragmentation, as it was for us when we made our reservations.

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