Endeavors--now almost taken for granted as "how some music is or "has gotten to be"--can only do what they do but cannot, as some of us would love to believe they might, resolve those larger problems our many disparate Worlds manifest, also abundantly and on a moment-to-moment basis. "Imagine," indeed.
Yet on every conceivable local and person-to-person level, much such hybridized work has been extraordinary. Many of the earlier controversies and issues--exploitation, appropriation, removal from context, self-reflexivity--still lurk about in some quarters, but they no longer seem as relevant, or they've been put to rest for the time being. With such work, access into another world, another mind seems to be--also for the moment--revealed; yet concomitantly so are our differences laid open as we "try others on": it is critical that cultural and interpersonal impenetrabilities are acknowledged as well. Some of us start out "bright-eyed, bushy-tailed," wanting to take all that newness in and then put it out; not put it out as "fact," rather as "here's something I heard, came across, just learned, that I'd like to figure out some way to make part of me"--and sometimes it does, and sometimes the artwork is the least satisfying manifestation of the encounter.
In my first draft I'd also written: "Crossings-over-into worldwide; ongoing violent and xenophobic eruptions also worldwide." And today, Tuesday, September 11,2001, our world has, once again, been overturned and ruptured, not for the last time. Such events almost make much of what follows seem puerile, trivial, meaningless. But it would be far more disastrous to retrogress, to cancel what has already been accomplished so long as uncertainty, ambiguity, and skepticism can be accommodated as part of the reality of crossing over.
"Some of the most interesting things in history and culture happen at the interface between cultures."
Stuart Hughes, History as Art and as Science, 1975
"... from a creative perspective, the misinterpretation of one culture by another can be both significant and productive."
Jamake Highwater, The Primal Mind, 1981
"What is of lasting value is that the enrichment yielded by any study of the various musical languages is positive insofar as it has the power to exert a fructifying influence and is transcended."
Pierre Boulez, "Traditional Music: A Lost Paradise?," 1967
Has, thus, the mythic image of the melting pot finally been reified (the fulfillment of which seems undesirable since how weird to want to be indistinguishable, to want to lose those kinks that make us the "we-who-we-are" or me the "I-who-I-am")? Or if the intent in jumping in the stewpot is to show just how much we-all "have in common," won't those unique cultural, personal, or means-of-expression attributes get to be subjugated, denied, lost? Sooner or later. Or is it too soon to know what to make of these new amalgams? Too soon to hear them as free-standing discrete creations? Do they demand of us that we know their ontogeny?
"It is culture that clones us, and mental cloning anticipates any biological cloning. It is the matrix of acquired traits that, today, clones us culturally under the sign of monothought--and it is all the innate differences that are annulled, inexorably, by ideas, by ways of life, by the cultural context."
Jean Baudrillard, The Vital Illusion, 2000
"Losing one's cultural memory, losing the continuity with the past, is the devastation of Time, its demonic form [Kala]. The dialectic tension between 'speaking the past,' i.e., remembering, conserving, and repeating and 'speaking the present,' i.e., innovation and creativity, is what gives any culture its vitality. A pronounced emphasis one way or the other is deleterious. Too much remembering leads to an inertia, a treadmill of repetition and dullness. Too much forgetfulness leads to the belief that the present is one's s own creation, or the creation of one's immediate past.
Judith Becker, Gamelan Stories: Tantrism, Islam, and Aesthetics in Central Java, 1993
"The value of cross-cultural work is that personal boundaries are revealed and made more conscious--not discarded but made more malleable. We can make musics previously unimaginable which ideally say different but comprehensible things in all languages."
Evan Ziporyn, "One Man's Traffic Noise: A Case Study in Cross-Cultural Collaboration [with Nyoman Windha]," 1990
"... [there is a] basic dynamic experienced by anyone curious about or infatuated with an element of a different culture: a dynamic in which--whether that person is an Indonesian teenager obsessed with an American pop star, a Francophile from Iowa, or a composer investigating various aspects of a foreign musical culture--at some not inconsequential levels, and whether or not it is intended, 'thinking like' (or even 'thinking about') naturally begets some level of acting and 'sounding like,' which can also lead quite naturally to being meaningful as."
Steven Nuss, "'Yes, I Wrote It but I Didn't Mean It': Hearing the Unintended in Niimi Tokuhide's Ohju," 1999
What's wrong with dipping into new resources, with expanding one's vocabulary? Who owns "culture"? Aren't such multi-lingual syntheses a Natural outcome of our Earth world wherein gradual yet constant metamorphosis, global interchange and contact--of every sort--are simply how it is, how it's always been, how it will continue to be?
"The lively trafficking in polymusicompositionality ... is one of the most exciting facets of musical life in the 1970s. All cultures are mixtures. One more distinction is becoming blurred. Music students in Western cultures will have to have expertise in ethnomusicology in order to study the composers we will all be confronted with in the late 20th and in the 21st centuries. I see new cultures, large and small, emerging all around us, and I rejoice that the human species and what we create are so varied, so variable, and so interesting."
David McAllester, "The Astonished Ethno-Muse," 1979
On the other hand, if a "dying" tradition is encouraged to be revived because someone on the inside or outside is interested in it for her own purposes, what then? What's the harm? Are the possibilities for misunderstanding limitless? Does an insistence on the virtues of preservation and maintenance--attributes of societies and cultures whose "world-outlook," sense of history, and technologies are predicated on retrieval, hard copy, and preservation--subvert a society or culture which prefers to rely on oral transmission and constant renewal, or is inclined toward process rather than product, or whose ecology abets attrition? Or are such sentiments extraneous, especially since many so-called traditional societies and cultures have long benefited from the economic rewards of revival and "cultural tourism"?
"All of us are caught in modernity's inescapable momentum. Something similar occurs whenever marginal peoples come into historical or ethnographic space that has been defined by the Western imagination. 'Entering the modern world' their distinct histories quickly vanish .... [Given] the forces of "progress" and "national" unification, the results have been both destructive and inventive. Many traditions, languages, cosmologies, and values are lost, some literally murdered; but much has simultaneously been invented and revived in complex oppositional contexts."
James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture, 1988
"Tradition is change."
Wayan Sadra, 1989
Or are such questions yet another manifestation of "cultural imperialism," which, under the guise of promoting self-determination, may also ensure the death of older values, mindscapes and landscapes in order to encourage global-modern-ization? Irony abounds in these musings since we of the so-called West have been characterized as having created a society which doesn't value tradition, a mass culture which lives for but rarely "in" the moment. Yet not to move on is to prescribe extinction.
"For affluent Westerners--who don't have to worry about standing in line for food, who use only 10% of their disposable income for food ... food is not much of an issue. We're not faced with the kinds of choices that someone in Africa or Asia or in parts of Latin America are forced to face: 80% to 85% of their disposable income goes for food, and not having food or not producing a crop is a matter of life or death.... To feed the millions of people still starving around the world today ... we have to use the absolute best technology, which includes genetic manipulation, something mankind has been doing through selection and crossbreeding for 10,000 years."
Robert Goldberg, UCLA Science News, 2001
"My musical autobiography, that of a North American composer who found compelling alternatives stepping through a looking-glass half a world away [Bali] has gradually come to seem a comparatively common kind of adventure rather than the novel one it felt like when I set out. If one's goal is to create new music, the notion of importing a haul of exotic discoveries from a distant pocket of the planet is by now cliched, the impact of such import diffused in an omnibus chorus of others ... however ubiquitous they are, borrowings are no prerequisite for transcendence."
Michael Tenzer, Gamelan Gong Kebyar, 2000
Ultimately--locally, globally, privately, publicly--if any of the many crossings-over was to arouse a compassionate awareness of the value of different realities obtaining between any two of us or among groups of our shattered, violent, and interdependent planet, then such an endeavor, even if only for the moment, will have been worthwhile.
"When an earthling for the first time can literally embrace the earth and become aware of the simultaneity of all stages of culture and the fantastic manifoldness of musical forms of expression and ceremonies, the narrow specialization is undermined. With the danger of not yet being capable of mastering the instrument of all human vibrations and now and then plucking on the wrong strings, the most creative spirits from now on will try to play in all registers."
Karlheinz Stockhausen, "World Music," 1979
ELAINE BARKIN's most recent composition is SONG FOR SARAH (2001), a violin solo composed with and for Mark Menzies.
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|Title Annotation:||comments on intercultural communication through music|
|Publication:||Perspectives of New Music|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2001|
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