A Woman, Thinking

Local Culture - Artifact of the Past?

Words on WordsPoppy LochridgeComment
World Music

I just finished and turn in my first writing assignment for "Listening to World Music", which I am taking through Coursera.org. Here it is, for your review. Enjoy!

The Question:

Steven Feld argues that some ethnomusicologists who have studied traditional music have expressed a certain anxiety about commercial market forces in relation to 'traditional' and 'local' music-cultural practices. Others celebrate the potential for intercultural communication and collaboration that made possible with new forms of musical travel. In what ways do you think processes and forms of mass mediation have changed in the last two decades? How might these changes confirm, challenge, or otherwise problematize the anxiety/celebratory takes on musical change? How might contemporary forms of mass media affect our understanding of 'local' or 'traditional' musical practice? Such newer forms of mass media might include the internet, file-sharing, YouTube, iPods, Tablets, etc.: what others can you think of?

Since the creation of “World Music” as a commercial category, several technological changes have occurred that change how Westerners conceptualize music, such as the development and spread of the Internet, the ability to sell music as digital units, and the ability to stream video content.

These technological developments confirm both the anxious and the celebratory viewpoints about music-cultural practices. On the one hand, the ability for artists to market their work globally using online music stores, such as iTunes, reduces the barrier for entry into the music industry and expands access to that artist’s music internationally. However, these stores also enable the purchase of individual songs, which pulls each track out of the context provided by the artist in selecting what order to perform them in. Also, while access to both international music and to cultural information via the internet have expanded, there is no connection between them, and therefore not only is the ability to purchase a particularly enjoyed song individually disconnected from the context of the original album, it is also disconnected from other sources of inter-cultural understanding, such as blogs and documentary videos.

Video sharing platforms such as YouTube have a similar effect. Enabling original artists from around the world to distribute a video personally allows them not only to distribute their music, but to also create their own visual representation of the music’s cultural elements. However, because the ability to create and distribute videos online is open to all, it’s also possible for the uninformed to use the same technology to promote their own understanding (or lack thereof) of each piece, creating not only a rupture between the music and its original culture, but promoting that rupture as being equally valid to the artist’s vision.

As BJR observed in our discussion (https://class.coursera.org/worldmusic-2012-001/forum/thread?thread_id=5004), before the internet, people were limited to what media was selected for them by tv/radio broadcasters and purchasing agents for music retailers. This affected which mass media became part of our cultural identity as citizens of X, and thereby our understanding of “local”. The intervention of the internet distribution channels, like iTunes and YouTube, combined with an enormous growth in global media content, has encouraged every internet-connected person to specialize, to curate their own content channel, and changes the value that we place on content created local to us. Likewise, particularly in the United States, a historic cultural focus on the melting pot narrative altered the definition of “traditional” - we no longer had any “traditional” music unique to ourselves. And so, lacking meaning for “local” and “traditional” in our own experience, we have a greater difficulty understanding the same terms in relation to another culture - all cultural expressions become equally local and global in the modern world.