Monday, June 2, 2014

The place of music with place

Image above: An image from Karl Jenkins music piece called Palladio.

Related links to Spatialworlds 
Spatialworlds website

Australian Geography Teachers' Association website    

Where am I??  
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

In some form, music is a popular, constant and fundamentally important aspect of all cultures. The study called ethnomusicology has found that for cultures around the world, music not only provides entertainment and enjoyment but is also important in defining a place and its people. When we listen to any music, our geographical imagination takes us to a place we consider is the origin of the music. When listening to the instruments, voices, structures and rhythms of traditional/indigenous music we are taken to a place we associate with the music, whether Africa, South America, China, Ireland, Australia and so on. With modern music it is somewhat more difficult to associate the music with a place due to the global similarity of instruments and singing style. Even then, it is sometimes possible to pick a Celtic singer, instruments and song structures compared to a European music maker of the same genre. The Eurovision song competition is an interesting test of such a theory. I have even spoken to heavy metal fans who say that they can identify differences in voices, timings and song structure from place to place. Whilst not a music expert, it think it can be safely said that there is a strong link between place and the music of that place as an identifier of place.

The article titled Ethnomusicology and Place supports this view when it says that:

‘The relevance of ‘Place’ is that the environments in which individuals are subjects condition the formative construction of their and their ‘symbolism of self’. As well as influencing the formation of identity, an individual’s consumption of music is central to that persons ‘narrativization of Place’ whereby they make sense of the place in which they are situated. Thus there is reciprocity between individual and their space where both are defined in a constant process of identity negotiation and production’.

The article also provides some fascinating thinking on the changes to the connection of place to music as a result of technological change, in particular that:

‘The advent of media technologies and their use in the mass dissemination of  commercially produced music has played a significant role in the way that music is used to articulate notions of place.’

The article goes on to ask whether the world is becoming a ‘No Place Space’.  Have the processes of globalisation as a result of technology and the  mass dissemination of commercially produced music resulted in the ‘intermeshing’ of the local and the global and the blurring of geographical boundaries, meaning that individuals now exist ‘simultaneously in a local, a regional, and a global context’. They summise that this has led to the alteration of traditional conceptions of ‘Place’ as bounded entities separated in space and time, as often reflected in the difference of music from place to place. Are the local and the global becoming ‘inextricably bound together making it harder to see regional differences in fundamental cultural components such as music?'  The question is asked, "is it going to become harder and harder for people to have a sense of place beyond the global?" Music has always played a major role in providing place identity and meaning for people. Such questions go beyond the field of music alone (food, clothing etc) but they are certainly interesting to ponder when one considers the future of music attached to place.

My interest in the association of place and music was stimulated by the work of Karl Jenkins His work is an interesting study in trying to disassociate music from place and to not be a place identifier. The music Jenkins creates is often call world music because it comes from no particular place and is an amalgam of all sorts of music.  His music even goes so far as to not even have a language from any place but a ‘made-up’ vocalisation of sounds. As the commentary on his music says:
'Each Adiemus album is a collection of song-length pieces featuring harmonised vocal melody against an orchestra background. There are no lyrics as such, instead the vocalists sing syllables and 'words' invented by Jenkins. However, rather than creating musical interest from patterns of phonemes. The musical language of Adiemus draws heavily on classical and world music.'

As a composer, Jenkins breakthrough came with the musical work Adiemus. The Adiemus: Songs of Sanctuary (1995) album topped the classical album charts.

Interestingly, as you listen to his work you think you have a purchase on a place for the music but then another place appears in the music. Although some of the work has definite Celtic overtones, it does transport us to many places. The connection between place and music has been studied by cultural geographers for many years and it is an area worth discussing with students when exploring the concept of place in the Australian Curriculum: Geography. 

Here are just a few examples of the spatial aspect of music through maps of …

A map depicting locations that are mentioned in songs or locations of events that are alluded to in songs.   
* GeogSpace: the geography of Rock Festivals

·    * Music map: Finding an artist

Whilst music differences can be mapped across space, I have not been able to find such a map at this stage to include in this posting. What certainly can be said is that music provides a great discussion point on the aesthetics of place and the sense of and uniqueness of place, all of which adds to the richness of the ‘Place’ concept in the teaching of the Australian Curriculum: Geography. In short, music is very important in terms of the ‘meaning-making’ of place for people and in turn connecting the identity of people to a place. Furthermore this meaning-making of place through music is changing globally and possible diminishing in reality as we continue to globalise. The beautiful Adiemus music and the world music phenomena could just be part of such a change.  

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