Posts tagged with Thailand

A.N. and I met a musician while walking around the Mo Chit neighborhood last week. Mo Chit is the last stop on the SkyTrain, right next to Thailand’s largest weekend market.

To play legally, street musicians in Bangkok must be licensed. The licenses restrict when and where one can play – unlike some cities, the subway is not at all fair game – but they also protect musicians from getting hassled by the cops or anyone else.

The fellow we met was blind – music is a common vocation here for people with disabilities. Like many people from the rural Northeast, he came to Bangkok because he was no longer able to make a living in the provinces.

The field recording above has two parts. First, a song, and then (around 4:00) a short conversation, translated within the audio. The piece he’s playing is Northeastern string music, and he’s accompanied here by recorded drums from a tape deck. You see the instrument, the Phin, pretty often on the street, but the double-necked version is rare. Thanks to B for help with translation.

Zoning, which has so much to do with how places sound, is never an entirely formal process. Although cities usually do their best to centralize decisions about where people live and work, they have to contend with other, much smaller and more local political economies. When one hears something from an establishment that’s completely out of place, that establishment is often getting protection from someone whose main gig isn’t urban planning, to put it nicely. This happens a lot in Bangkok, and accounts for surprising – and special – aural aberrations.

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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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Khlong Saen Saep, under Witthayu Road. image by author.

Snaking through Bangkok’s concrete tonnage are khlong, natural canals that feed into the Chao Phraya river. Many have been filled in to build roads, but there are still plenty within the city boundaries. They’re crucial for understanding Bangkok’s massive and sometimes inequitable 20th century spatial transformations.

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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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เดือนหน้าผมจะไปกรุงเทพฯเพื่อศึกษาวิจัยเกี่ยวกับเพลงและเสียง


แอโรบิคทางใต้สะพานลอย

สนใจในวิธีการที่เพลงและสถาปัตยกรรมที่พัฒนาร่วมกัน ยังสนใจว่าเสียงมีผลต่อผู้คนในเมือง

ถ้าคุณพูดภาษาไทยหรือถ้าคุณอาศัยอยู่ในกรุงเทพฯและสนใจในเสียงโปรดส่งผมอีเมล(datageneral@gmail.com)นะครับ เวลาผมอยู่ในกรุงเทพฯผมต้องการจะพบเพื่อนใหม่และเพื่อนร่วมงาน

เช่น
-คุณมีปัญหากับเสียงในกรุงเทพฯไหม?
-คุณมีนักดนตรีหรือไม่?
-คุณอาศัยอยู่ในเมืองนานและคุณอย่าลืมว่ามันใช้เสียง?
-คุณสนใจว่าเสียงถนนมีผลต่อชีวิตประจำวัน?

ขอบคุณครับ

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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The city of Pattaya, Thailand, closish to Bangkok, hosts an annual laughing contest.


The winner of the 2008 contest, who laughed for more than 12 minutes and reached 110 decibels

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In the wake of the first domestic use of sound cannons, against protesters at the recent, sparsely-picketed G20 summit in Pittsburgh, which comes just a few weeks after the same technology was used to suppress protesters at a factory in Bangkok, I want to discuss sound as an absolute phenomenon – that is, at the point where a human listener experiences acute physical harm through exposure, where sound stops being musical or aesthetic and becomes quite literally indistinguishable from a blunt object or explosive device.

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