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Saturday, October 31, 2020

Keeping Track of Writing Projects

Scholar sharpening his quill, by Gerrit Dou (Dutch, 17th c.)



 

    Although I don't have a quill pen, as does the scholar in this painting courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons, I thought I’d offer readers glimpse into some of my scholarly writing projects going along during the second half of this calendar year, and where they stand. Compared to this blog which is aimed at the public, these projects may appear esoteric and begging for translation. That would be a useful future task for this blog. Yet this blog originally was intended as a research blog, a basket of ideas mainly for my own use. But the writerly voice that emerged wanted to write for the public, not mainly for myself. This entry will be a change of pace, then, because it's going to be much more like that basket.

    I want to say also that besides writing projects, like most people in the United States today I’ve been much absorbed this year with activities surrounding the upcoming elections, local, state, and national, to take place in only a few days, although the results may not be known as quickly this year as usual. But this isn’t a blog about elections and politics.

    It seems no week goes by without something needing to be done on an article, a chapter, or a review in progress. I couldn’t possibly have involved myself in these writing projects while I was a professor, because during the academic year I spent almost all my work time in teaching, advising, and administrative work. Now in retirement I have no teaching or advising obligations—at least, no formal ones—and the only administrative work I’ve been doing has been for the academic societies to which I belong. Before I retired, I was able to work on writing projects only during summers (when I had no teaching obligations) and semesters or years on leave with fellowships or grants, often combining those with sabbaticals. Now in retirement I have much more time to read freely, and to write when I wish to. Here, then, is a brief description of some in-progress writing projects.

    1. “Ethical Considerations for Ethnomusicologists in the Midst of Environmental Crisis.” This is my chapter in a book in progress edited by Jonathan Stock and Beverley Diamond called the Routledge Companion to Ethics in Ethnomusicology.  The initial draft of my chapter was due on August 31. I just barely sent it in by the deadline. The abstract: Ethnomusicologists’ “primary ethical responsibility is to their research participants,” according to the 2018 SEM Statement on Ethical Considerations. The Statement asserts further that in some cases this responsibility must be extended to “natural flora, and fauna, and human relationships to these.” What happens when these two principles are in conflict? I re-examine, from an ethical standpoint, a longitudinal research study among a musical community of coal miners whose industry harms the environment and themselves, rendering them vulnerable to both economic and environmental injustice. Resolution of this ethical conflict is rendered especially difficult because this community has a justifiable and longstanding distrust of outside do-gooders such as union organizers, social workers and environmentalists.

    1a. On October 23 I gave a brief and partial version of this chapter at a roundtable on “complicating the conversation about ethics in ethnomusicology” at the recent Society for Ethnomusicology conference.

    2. “Ethnography in the Study of Congregational Music.” This is a chapter on doing ethnographic fieldwork, with special attention to prospects and problems with ethnography in religious music-cultures. In this chapter I attempt to answer three questions: (1) What is ethnography? (2) What theories and methods offer a foundation for ethnographic research, and does religion present special difficulties? and (3) Why incorporate ethnography into studies of congregational music? The chapter is for a book long in progress that’s edited by Jeffers Engelhardt, Monique Ingalls, and Andrew Mall. It’s entitled Studying Congregational Music, also under contract with Routledge. This book has been in progress since 2015. Jeffers Engelhardt asked me if I’d write a chapter on ethnography for this volume in 2015; I accepted the invitation and submitted the chapter in May, 2016. More than four years went by as the rest of the authors wrote their chapters and the editors wrote their introductory material. Last month the manuscript underwent Routledge’s copyediting. My copyedited chapter was sent to me about two weeks ago, and I was given 7 days to go over the copyedits, answer questions, and make corrections. I managed to squeeze it in while also attending and presenting at the SEM conference, again just returning it before the deadline. Possibly I will see page proofs and have a chance to correct these as well, but it’s just as likely that the editors will take care of that. Most likely the book will be published in 2021, five years after I completed my chapter for it. That is a long time, but it’s not uncommon in an edited volume with a dozen or more contributing authors.

    3. “A Sound Economy.” This article is an expansion of one of the four topics of my “sound ecology” project. It is a chapter in a book in progress entitled Transforming Ethnomusicology, edited by Beverley Diamond and Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco, under contract with Oxford University Press. I wrote my chapter in 2017, basing it partly on my plenary address for the 2015 “Transforming Ethnomusicology” forum in Limerick, Ireland; and on one of my four public Basler Lectures at East Tennessee State University in March and April, 2016. A sound economy is characteristic of a sound community and arises from the recognition of co-presence and a universal kinship by means of sound experience. These ideas are much elaborated in my sound ecology project, the latest summary of it having appeared in the last chapter of my book Toward a Sound Ecology, published last August by Indiana University Press. Last month the manuscript for Transforming Ethnomusicology underwent Oxford’s copyediting. My copyedited chapter was sent to me about two weeks ago, and I was given three weeks to go over the copyedits, answer questions, and update the citations and references, and make other corrections. I spent a couple of days last week doing this in down time from the SEM conference, and have been working steadily on it this weekend as well. I hope to complete it and send it back to the editors in a few more days. Possibly I will see page proofs and have a chance to correct these as well, but it’s just as likely that the editors will take care of that. Most likely the book will be published in 2021, four years after I completed my chapter for it.

    4. “An Ecological Approach to Folklife Studies, Expressive Culture, and Environment.” This article, like the first three, came as the result of an invitation—in this case from a group based at Indiana University that go by the acronymn DERT, which stands for Diverse Environmental Research Team. DERT consists of folklorists, ethnomusicologists, and ecomusicologists. The article will be published in a book under contract to the University of Illinois Press, entitled Diverse Environmentalisms: Expressive Culture and Environmental Change, edited by John McDowell, Katherine Borland, Rebecca Dirksen, and Sue Touhy. In this article I attempted once more to advance an ecological approach to folklife and the performance of expressive culture, returning to a topic that I first broached in my 1988 book, Powerhouse for God: Speech, Chant, and Song in an Appalachian Baptist Church. The abstract: The performed word, whether spoken, chanted, or sung, offers more than an expression of culture in aesthetic form. From an ecological point of view, it articulates changing historical and contemporary relations among living beings and their environments. Theories from ecosystems ecology, when applied to sociocultural systems as well as biological ones, reveal that the performed word adjusts connections among people, material culture, animals, plants, landforms, and other aspects of the physical environment. Sacred language in particular is imbued with the power to alter relations and, therefore, to change beings, the environment, and the course of future events. The article goes on to illustrate these claims through a case study of environmental affordances, catastrophes, and life story narratives in a community in Virginia’s northern Blue Ridge Mountains, over a time depth of approximately 150 years. The DERT team editor that I worked with was more interested in the performed word than in ecology. In 2018 expanded the my 2017 draft of this chapter by adding a few pages about expressive culture, while I insisted on maintaining what I had written about farming, family, husbandry, and the effects of a changing physical environment, encouraging various adaptations and requiring others. I reviewed the copyedited manuscript two years later (i.e., in late July and early August), sending it back to the editors then. I hope to see page proofs either later this year or early next. We expect that the book will be published in 2021.

    5. “Earth Song: Music and the Environment.” Like the first four, this essay was written on invitation. In 2019 I was approached by Huib Schippers, then director of Folkways Records, about writing a short article for Alexander Street Press for a curriculum accompanying various albums featuring music and environment, in the Folkways Records catalog. It was to be a brief essay, no more than 3000 words (the first four averaged 8,000 words). I said I would do so, as long as I could write about the deep connections between music, sound, and nature. After they agreed, I wrote the essay and completed it shortly after Thanksgiving, 2019, and returned it then. In 2020 I’ve been corresponding all the while with Huib and some others who were hired for the project, advising them as they prepare a list of further readings to go with this essay and the curricular unit that it’s a part of. I’m not sure when it will be published; perhaps next year, perhaps later.

    6. A “response” chapter based on my presentation for an online conference at Dartmouth College, entitled “The Power of Song: The Cultural Politics of Singers Around the Globe,” to take place in early December. This, also, came about as a result of an invitation. I’m to respond to three presentations on “musical icons,” that is, people who make music and who have become performers who are more than just famous; they have become cultural symbols, they and their careers embodying beliefs deeply embedded in their societies. So far two of the three papers have arrived, but only one arrived by the deadline. As a result I’ve blocked out my response to that paper and will need to incorporate my response to the second paper shortly while I await the third. After the conference they will revise their conference papers and turn them into articles, and I will revise my conference response for publication in the book.

    7. “Eco-trope or Eco-tripe? Music Ecology as a Complex System.” This is an article in progress for a book edited by Aaron Allen and myself, called Sounds, Ecologies, Musics, under contract with Oxford University Press. The article is an expansion of part of my invited keynote address to the Irish ICTM conference in 2017, and part of the abstract goes like this: “Complex ecosystems analyses, environmental philosophy and ecological knowledges (from both Western science and indigenous populations) of sonic behavior, in both human animals and other-than-human animals, are complementary in ways that hold out the promise of re-centering sound connections and kinships. In this way, music/ecology becomes more than merely a metaphor. Employing ecological principles to understand sonic behavior among organisms and their environment, the music/ecology metaphor offers a path toward sound communities, sound economies, and a sound ecology.” My progress on this article has been gradual as I’ve been attending to the five that I listed above. I’m going to try hard to keep my desk mostly clear for the next couple of months so that I can finish up a draft.
 
 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Another Progressive College in Trouble... or Is It?

Last year I wrote about the difficulties being faced by many of the small, progressive, liberal arts colleges founded in the 1960s and 1970s when the so-called counterculture was able to establish experimental institutions for higher education. Hampshire College was the focus of my attention then. Early this year I learned that Marlboro College, in Vermont, had sold its beautiful, rural campus in southern Vermont and would become a "college within a college" at Emerson College, in Boston. Although Marlboro's students, faculty, and alumni hoped that it would be able to maintain its identity inside Emerson, the sale of its bucolic land in Vermont, which offered opportunities for science and nature study not so easily available in Boston, caused a great deal of sadness. I had visited Marlboro in the mid-1990s as a faculty member from another university (Brown) who was invited to be a member of a graduating senior's thesis committee. I came away very impressed with the college, its commitment to its students, and its pastoral setting. 

Now another rural, progressive school is in trouble: Unity College, in Unity, Maine. This college is one of a few in Maine specializing in environmental science, where the oldest and best-known of these is the College of the Atlantic, in Bar Harbor. In rural Unity and the region surrounding the college, there are many environmental opportunities. Nearby in Thorndike is the home base of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the largest such association in the New England Region, and one that hosts an annual fair that attracts 80,000 people. Unity college itself was known for its participatory and horizontal governance, giving faculty and students a significant voice in the college's decisions. Unity College had fallen on hard times before, in the 1980s, but had kept its identity and its campus; and it appeared in this century that it had turned the corner. An anonymous donor gave the school $10 million, while Half Moon Gardens and the McKay Agricultural Station in Thorndike were donated to the college. However, a new president and a new vision has transformed the institution, a transformation that was underway well before the pandemic put a strain on its finances. He is a graduate of University of Phoenix, a for-profit, chiefly online and distance-learning institution. In the past few years he and the college trustees have changed a horizontal governance into a hierarchical one, removing students and faculty from key roles in the decision-making process.

Unity College Campus, Unity, Maine

  In August Unity College projected a $12 to $14 million tuition deficit for the coming academic year. But the college had also been gradually ramping up its online educational component, and to the president of the college the pandemic offered an opportunity to convert the school to an online distance-learning model almost entirely. In August Unity's president announced that they would "permanently eliminate" its campus model. They are considering selling their 240-acre campus in rural Unity, while they have acquired a few very small properties elsewhere that can host gatherings. In any case, they will not be using the campus as a residential college much longer. In August the president also announced that eliminating the campus also means firing or furloughing 30% of its workforce. These drastic measures are meant to keep the college afloat during difficult financial times, but these measures appear permanent whereas the pandemic may not last more than a few years. The college's commitment to Unity and the surrounding region, filled with countercultural progressives of all ages, appears to be over. Predictably, there has been a good deal of opposition to the college's transformation, from faculty, students, alumni, and people living in the region.

It remains to be seen whether a for-profit, distance-learning environmental science school can succeed at all. Environmental science, like most sciences, is a hands-on affair. It's hard to do science laboratories on line. In a biology lab, unlike in a history class, for example, professors and teaching assistants need to teach technique and supervise experiments, with living objects. In a good, small, advanced science class, such as one I took in experimental morphology when I was a college student, students become apprentices to the professor. We would, from time to time, adjourn from the lab to the professor's home for an informal continuation of the discussions. This is one of the important advantages of a small residential college, but it would appear to be endangered, if not lost, at Unity. 

The example of Unity College may be a harbinger for the sustainability of small colleges in the post-pandemic era, but it's important to ask what is lost as well as what is gained when online and distance learning comes to replace face-to-face education. So far, the forced experiment of online learning going on in the year 2020 suggests that if the financial balance sheet is sustainable only through distance learning, the educational balance sheet will come up short.


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Toward a Sound Ecology


 
My new book, Toward a Sound Ecology: New and Selected Essays, was published a few days ago by Indiana University Press. It is available in paperback, or clothbound, or as an eBook, either from the Press here, or from major booksellers, or from your favorite independent bookshop. The book is my selection of twelve previously published essays, plus a new essay published here for the first time, “Sustainability and a Sound Ecology.” 

This is the table of contents, with the year that the essay was written in parenthesis following the title:

Introduction

Section I: Field Work: Folklore and Ethnomusicology
1. The Life Story (1978)
2. Ethnomusicology as the Study of People Making Music (1988)
3. Text (1995)
4. Knowing Fieldwork (1993)
5. Applied Ethnomusicology: A Descriptive and Historical Account (2015)

Section II: Cultural and Musical Sustainability
6. The Real Thing (1999)
7. Music and Sustainability: An Ecological Viewpoint (2009)
8. Sustainability, Resilience and Adaptive Management for Applied Ethnomusicology (2015)

Section III: Toward a Sound Ecology
9. A Sound Commons for All Living Creatures (2012)
10. The Nature of Ecomusicology (2013)
11. Thoreau’s Ear (2014)
12. The Sound of Climate Change (2014)
13. Sustainability and a Sound Ecology (2018)

In the previously unpublished “Sustainability and a Sound Ecology” I ask what happens in those moments when we are in the world and know the world chiefly through sounds? What if we gave pride of place to sound worlds rather than object worlds, social group worlds, or text worlds? To put it yet another way, what happens in those moments when we feel our sensations, our being, and knowing centered in sounds? If we privilege how we feel and what we come to know in those re-oriented moments, how might we re-form our communities, economies, and ecologies and how would these differ from those as humans conceive of them at present? Is it possible by means of a thought experiment based in a sound connection to erect a just alternative to the alienated communities, neoliberal political economies, and behaviorist ecologies that drive humans toward injustice, and the planet toward extinction? To do so is to put us on a path of sound ecological rationality, which I believe will lead every being to a more sustainable world. This sound ecological rationality contrasts with and stands in opposition to the now-dominant instrumental economic rationality.

I’m grateful to the editors of the series it appeared in, Music, Nature, Place (they are Denise Von Glahn and Sabine Feisst), to the editors at the Press who kept after me to make this collection (they are Raina Polivka, Janice Frisch, and Gary Dunham), to the external reviewers who told the Press that it was worth publishing (I learned only recently that they were Kate Galloway and David McDonald), and to the production staff at the Press for producing a very attractive book.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Participatory Music and the COVID-19 Challenge

Old-Time Music Jam Session, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

    Live, participatory music-making is social, and the sociality of participatory music-making is threatened under the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve written extensively about how the sociality of making music together in groups such as the old-time jam session models participatory democracy, face-to-face exchanges in community, and a sound economy. Nowadays many of us are reduced to making music via Zoom, which on account of time delays built into the transmission of sound, is a poor substitute. Instead of all playing simultaneously in each other’s presence to create an emergent group sound that is greater than and different from the sum of its parts, we mute our microphones while playing along with a single unmuted leader who can’t hear what the others are doing. Nor can the non-leaders hear one another. Instead of participatory democracy we have a single leader and many followers. The followers can hear the leader but not each other. Leaders can only hear themselves. This is the opposite of the jam session ideal, socially and politically as well as musically.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Sustaining Blues, Sustaining Minneapolis


    The uprising in Minneapolis going on this week reminds me of the uprisings and the atmosphere surrounding African and Native Americans 1965-1971 when I lived there. The blues musicians I played with were concerned with survival—their own, and also that of the blues. Their paychecks came from bars, nightclubs, concerts and festivals where they performed. Blues was undergoing a revival then, and the blues audience was shifting in that decade from mostly black to mostly white. Work wasn’t hard to find, but the musicians were worried that the new audience would move on to something else, and they—we—didn’t know when that would be. (It turned out to be around the time Nixon resigned from the presidency.)

Looking back with today’s ideas about musical conservation and sustainability it’s easy to see that we were concerned about blues’s sustainability. My African American friends also were concerned about the sustainability of their lives. Police in Minneapolis were tougher on African Americans even than they are now. It was after all a time when the Civil Rights Movement was becoming militant and turning into Black Power. In 1967 a series of uprisings on Plymouth Ave., on Minneapolis’ north side, involved looting, burning, and shooting. None of my musician friends was directly involved with these uprisings, but the cops suspected anyone and everyone who was black. One of their friends, guitarist Sonny Rodgers—I was barely acquainted with him—was in prison. (His Wikipedia profile fails to mention this.) I don’t remember what charge he was convicted on, but I do know that my other blues friends avoided the cops whenever possible. When Rogers got out of prison, he got back to blues and in 1990 his recording of “Cadillac Baby” won a W.C. Handy award.

But I’m digressing here. It was a time of increasing demands within the black community, then just as now. In 1968 black students at the University of Minnesota occupied the administration building for eighteen days, demanding an African American studies program. The University established a Native American studies program, but African American studies had to wait for a few more years.

Some turned to the arts. Milt Williams, a black activist playwright, put together a musical “revue” that he called “Dat Feelin’,” a history of African American music. It was performed in 1970 in the city's most prestigious venue, the Tyrone Guthrie Theater. He asked our band, led by Lazy Bill Lucas, to represent blues. We were to be stationed in a slave hut, where Bill was to sing a blues song and we were meant to accompany him. I asked Williams if he wanted a white boy (to use the prevailing black vernacular) involved, playing blues in a slave hut. He said yes. He added, not unkindly, that I was a member of the band, I belonged there, and I would have to make the best of it. It wasn’t the first nor the last time I stood out as the only white person in an otherwise all-black group of people.

Minneapolis, 1970. L-R: J. Titon, W. Lucas, G. Buford.
There was other unrest in Minneapolis at this time, especially over the Vietnam War; but nothing like the Plymouth Ave. uprisings that lasted, off and on, for a year. We were on the north side of Minneapolis from time to time, playing blues in all-black bars, but never during the uprisings. Besides, Bill lived on the south side, in an apartment just off Lake Street; and we spent many hours in his apartment drinking Fox Deluxe beer (it cost only $3 a case, including the deposit), eating (fried chicken, mostly), and playing blues. 

It turns out that the Minneapolis uprisings going on this week were on the south side, not the north side, of the city. In fact, the 3rd police precinct building that was burned Thursday night was only a few blocks from Bill’s apartment. This photo of myself (on the left), Bill (center), and George “Mojo” Buford (right), was taken in 1970 in an alley across the street from where Bill lived. Bill died in the last century, but the uprising was happening right in his old neighborhood. I recognized some of the buildings. History repeats itself. Will we learn anything this time?

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

BLAST: a citizen initiative to stop noise pollution



BLAST

"Ban Leafblowers And Save Our Town"

How can noisy machines help clean the world, when noise itself is a form of filth?--Ashleigh Brilliant, BLAST "leader by default"

On the evening of the Santa Barbara municipal elections, self-described BLAST "leader by default"Ashleigh Brilliant paraded about the election station. Brilliant was armed with a push broom and a victory statement reinforcing Santa Barbara's disgust for "the noise, dirt, and pollution of a device which should never have been permitted in our city in the first place." Finally, three tries at a referendum and fifteen years of work to ban leafblowers won out for Brilliant and his coalition. According to Brilliant, leafblowers are "...the least justifiable and most obnoxious technological monstrosity I can think of. And it's not really a leaf blower, it's a dirt blower. I mean, how many fallen leaves do we have to deal with?"

"A ban is a very easy law to understand," he says. "You just can't do it at all with that machine." Before the ban was in effect, Brilliant resorted to self-help measures, once physically removing the leafblower from a nearby gardener's back. One year later, Brilliant grabbed the leafblower from the gardener and repeatedly smashed it to the ground, but only after begging the gardener on bended knee to stop using the blower.
Leaf blower decibel count. LOUD!
It is no surprise that forty cities in California alone, and over three hundred cities nationwide, have banned leafblowers. There are as many ways to describe the noise that leafblowers emit as there are people who are disturbed by them. From fifty feet, gas-powered leafblowers create up to 70 decibels of noise. Most would identify with the high grinding whine we know so well, not to mention other environmental hazards created by leafblowers such as exhaust fumes and swirling clouds of airborne debris.

Leafblowers grew in popularity since the 1970's. Santa Barbara has "regulated" leafblowers for the past ten years, but the city still suffered with lack of enforcement and regulations that were not restricitve enough. At one time the city tightened existing regulations, but to no avail. BLAST was formed in February 1997, and fifty unpaid volunteers collected more than nine thousand signatures asking to put the issue on the ballot in November of 1997. In early November, 54.5 percent of voters elected to place a total ban on all leafblowers within the Santa Barbara city limits.

Some of the resources that BLAST used to quiet the neighborhoods include an official "ballot argument" stating BLAST's position, bumper sticker, an "initiative measure" containing the ordinance purpose, summary and language; and the "notice of intent" to circulate the initiative petition, containing a statement of the reasons for the ban. To view these items, click on the links from each phrase.

BLAST's pre-election opposition came in the form of the City Parks and Recreation Department, professional gardeners and landscapers, garden supply shops, and one of the nation's leading leafblower manufacturers. They formed a coalition to oppose the ban called CORE: Citizens Opposed To Radical Enactments. These parties claim that irresponsible leafblower users are the problem, and recent market innovations include leafblowers that are half as loud as the former machines. They raised more than $10,000 to further their opposition, while BLAST's campaign was so low-budget that they did not reach the threshold requiring that they report their spending. CORE members claimed that owners of commercial and office buildings will be hit hardest, where leafblowers are used on a grand scale to clean parking lots and walkways.

Money is also a consideration, with leafblower advocates claiming that leafblowers save a great deal of time and labor and contribute to the appearance of the city. Brilliant counters this by stating that if all gardeners have to compete under the same restrictive regulations, nobody will have a competitive advantage. Also, "cleanliness" has gotten out of control-- what about the need for a natural setting? Brilliant believes that it is not a matter of right and wrong: "Our opponents are just as interested in a beautiful city as we are. It's just that they have a more narrow vision of that beauty."

The ban takes effect in February of 1998, although the City Parks and Recreation Department stopped using the machines shortly after the election, beginning a process of major change for the City of Santa Barbara.

From the BLAST web page, archived on the NPC (Noise Pollution Clearinghouse) Quietnet website. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Noise Pollution and the EPA: Celebrating Earth Day



Planet Earth: the "blue marble" photo.
Today is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day and Earth Week. The NASA “blue marble” photograph of Earth, taken from space, was published two years later. The photograph gave us a new perspective. It showed once and for all how all Earth’s creatures were bound together on a journey through the solar system, bounded as we were by Earth’s fragile biosphere.
Hazardous chemicals. Wikimedia Commons.

Environmentalism in 1970 was all about curbing pollution of the commons: air, water, soil. The villains included atomic waste, pesticides, toxic metals, automobile exhaust, sewage, factory smokestacks, plastics, and so on. We were intent on making Earth a healthier place for humans primarily, but also for other species, especially endangered species. In response President Nixon set up an environmental council and, following their recommendations, asked Congress to set up a federal agency to monitor the environment, to organize and coordinate federal programs and to assist states, and to issue guidelines and regulations, all to reduce pollution. Seven months after the first Earth Day, the Environmental Protection Agency was established.
Industrial noise pollution. Wikimedia Commons.


The EPA soon became concerned with noise pollution as well. Although local governments had long enacted noise ordinances, the 1972 Noise Control Act gave the EPA authority to regulate noise associated with construction and transportation. The EPA began to work with aircraft manufacturers, airlines, and airports to reduce engine noise and re-route takeoffs and landings to avoid the most heavily populated areas. In 1979 the EPA established a new noise label program to give home products like vacuum cleaners, shop tools and chainsaws decibel ratings, indicating those to which prolonged exposure was unhealthy. I recall when I bought my first chainsaw in the early 1980s that I also purchased noise-canceling headphones. Coordinating efforts through the EPA Office of Noise Abatement and Control, the EPA also got Congress to establish the 1978 Quiet Communities Act. 

One of the most important things the EPA did in its early days was to encourage scientific research on the psychological and physiological effects of noise pollution. In 1978 the Noise Abatement Office published a helpful pamphlet, Noise: A Health Problem. It summarized research on the effects of noise on hearing loss, heart disease, special effects on children and the unborn, intrusion at home and work, sleep disruption, and mental and social well-being. Among its conclusions were the following:

*Noise can cause permanent hearing damage, and people with hearing loss suffer discomfort and social isolation.

*Noise produces stress that contributes to heart disease and other illnesses.

*The fetus is not fully protected from noise. Noise may threaten fetal development.

*Noise may hinder language development in children.

*Noise hampers work efficiency.

*When sleep is disturbed by noise, work efficiency, health and well-being may suffer.

*Noise can cause extremes of emotion and behavior.

*Noise can obscure warning signals, causing accidents to occur.


In 1981 the Noise Abatement Office published a lengthy and still very useful Noise Effects Handbook: A Desk Reference to Health and Welfare Effects of Noise. Whereas Noise: A Health Problem was aimed at a popular audience, the Noise Effects Handbook included data from scientific research and made a convincing case for the harmful physiological and psychological impacts of noise pollution.
Pittsfield, Maine. Photo by Jeff Titon

Although funding for the Noise Abatement Office was stopped by the Reagan Administration in 1982, as the federal government gave over noise abatement responsibilities to state and local governments, the Noise Control and Quiet Communities Acts were never rescinded. They remain in effect today, although they are unfunded and unenforced. Meanwhile, a great many state and local citizens groups and NGOs organized in opposition to noise pollution. Among them were HORN (Halt Outrageous Railroad Noise), and BLAST (Ban Leafblowers and Save our Town), a Santa Barbara, CA organization. The next blog entry shows how BLAST became a model for citizen activism through the ballot with petitions, bumper stickers, and other measures. When a majority of the citizens of Santa Barbara voted in favor of the ban in the November, 1997 election, it took effect the following February.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

A sound way to think about novel coronavirus protein structure

MIT composer and engineering scientist Markus Buehler has created a musical composition based on the patterns in the novel coronavirus' spiked protein structure. The music, which sounds to me a little like a serene composition for gamelan, can be heard here. A story in today's Washington Post goes into more detail. Buehler hopes that this sonic way of perceiving the protein structure may help medical researchers understand the virus in a new way and may aid in finding ways to fight it.
Novel Coronavirus Spiked Protein Structure

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Coronavirus soundscape - an ecocentric perspective

Hairy woodpecker. Photo by J. Titon
 What is the new soundscape of the novel coronavirus? In the built environment I hear less noise. Less noise from traffic, from shops, restaurants, factories. In the mix of traffic noise, more from work trucks and emergency vehicles with sirens; less from cars. More prominent in the spring soundscape now are the songbirds, singing away at dawn and through the day, staking out territories, looking for mates to build nests, and raise new broods. The human sounds, called anthrophony by soundscape ecologists, have diminished. More prominent now is biophony, the sounds of animals, and geophony, the sounds of wind, rain, thunder, and the like. Scientists tell us that songbirds find their acoustic niche in the soundscape so they can communicate with the least amount of interference from other sounds. Those who dwell near highways have evolved to sing in a higher-pitched range than others of their species who dwell far from highways. With less highway noise for a while, those birds will find less interference and be able to communicate better. Every morning at dawn I hear a pair of woodpeckers drumming their song, one closer and louder, the other farther away and softer. While human life seems to be in a mostly suspended state, it is comforting to hear the songbirds.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Musical Sustainability and the Novel Coronavirus


Coal miner, West Virginia. Wikimedia Commons.
While musicians throughout the world respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with new songs and virtual performances and concerts meant to express solidarity and hope, musical and cultural sustainability is yet at great risk from the novel coronavirus. As I’ve written here before, as the last century drew to a close, arts policy had settled on a strategy of marking outstanding musical traditions as cultural heritage worthy of preservation and encouragement, and marketing these traditions so that they would become economic engines, wittingly or unwittingly transforming them into commodities in the process. International arts policy emanating from UNESCO considered the greatest threats to musical traditions to be modernization and development that would cause cultural drift and the abandonment of traditions by succeeding generations. Alan Lomax warned in the 1970s of what he foresaw as “cultural greyout” as a result of Western media dominance throughout the world. I became aware of environmental threats as well, such as those from floods, mine cave-ins, and earthquakes, after working with communities in the mountains of Virginia and Kentucky. When I began thinking about sustainability it occurred to me that economic threats, such as regional overdependence on single industries such as fishing, or coal mining, to the communities that sustained musical traditions, could put a population out of business in short order, causing out-migration, cultural dispersal, and disruption of musical as well as cultural traditions. I don’t know that any of us in the world of public folklore and applied ethnomusicology in the US envisioned a threat to musical sustainability from a pandemic.

Now we know. And we know, also, that the most experienced and wisest tradition-bearers in those communities are the elders and by virtue of age and health conditions, therefore among the most vulnerable in those communities. A recent newspaper article highlights the risk faced by Kentucky coal miners, where black lung disease, on the decline until a resurgence in the 1990s, compounds the likelihood of death from COVID-19. Although mining now employs less than ten percent of the population of Appalachia, in some areas such as southeastern Kentucky a majority of the elder population were coal miners earlier in their lives and one in ten now suffer from black lung, while the area has a higher incidence of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes—all conditions of comorbidity with the virus. A retired coal miner, Jerry Coleman, said “A lot of people don’t understand coal mining and the damage it’s done to our lungs. Now that everyone is phasing out coal, they’re all forgetting about the poor old coal miner.” Making things worse, rural hospitals in the coal mining region of Appalachia, like rural hospitals all over, have been closing due to lack of funding, and in some areas the nearest hospital is an hour or more distant. “Nobody knows what this virus is going to do when it gets to this area,” said Jimmy Moore, a 74-year-old black lung patient in Shelby Gap, Kentucky, who spent 22 years in the mines before retiring in 2000. His 51-year-old son, he said, has an even more serious case of black lung. “It’s probably just going to wipe us out.”

Monday, February 24, 2020

Toward a Sound Ecology: New and Selected Essays



Indiana University Press has announced my new book, Toward a Sound Ecology: New and Selected Essays, to be published in August, 2020. The book gathers together a dozen of my published articles from 1980-2015, along with a new essay that's a summary of my ongoing sound ecology project. The table of contents:

I. Field Work
     1. The Life Story (1980)
     2.  Ethnomusicology as the Study of People Making Music (1989)
     3.  Text (1995)
     4.  Knowing Fieldwork (1994)
     5.  Applied Ethnomusicology: A Descriptive and Historical Account (1995)

II. Cultural and Musical Sustainability
     6. "The Real Thing": Tourism, Authenticity and Pilgrimage among the Old Regular Baptists at the 1997 Smithsonian Folklife Festival (1999)
     7. Music and Sustainability: An Ecological Viewpoint (2009)
     8. Sustainability, Resileience and Adaptive Management for Applied Ethnomusicology (2015)

III. Toward a Sound Ecology
     9. A Sound Commons for All Living Creatures (2012)
    10. The Nature of Ecomusicology (2013)
    11. Thoreau's Ear (2015)
    12. The Sound of Climate Change (2016)
    13. Toward a Sound Ecology (new)

I've discussed aspects of much of this writing in previous blog entries. Here instead it might be of some interest to recap a few of the steps that led to this book. This could be helpful to other scholars thinking of publishing with a university press.

Book publishers are always looking to find good manuscripts to publish, and university presses, which publish scholarly and scientific work, are no exception. But whereas the commercial (trade) presses usually deal with agents that try to sell their authors' books to the highest bidder, academics who publish with university presses very seldom have agents while the presses usually don't give advances on royalties. Younger scholars--that is, those who have not yet published a book or very many essays in scholarly journals--are best advised, when they have book manuscripts in mind, to seek out university presses known to publish heavily in the area of their specialty. For example, in American folk and popular music, these are the presses associated with the universities of Illinois, Mississippi, Tennessee, Indiana, Wesleyan, Oxford, and California. 

Editors from these and other presses regularly attend the annual conferences of scholarly societies such as the Society for Ethnomusicology, the Society for American Music, the American Folklore Society, the American Musicological Society, and so on. Of course, other academic disciplines have their own societies and conferences: for instance, the American Anthropological Association, the American Psychological Association, the Modern Language Association, and many others. Younger scholars are well advised to travel to these conferences and seek these editors out at the book exhibits and make appointments with them to meet in person at the conference and discuss the book they have in mind. Most often, it's a book that's based on their PhD dissertation. The editors will show varying degrees of interest, usually writing down the details and, if they think the topic fits within the scope of the books they're currently bringing out, asking the scholar to contact them when ready with a book proposal detailing the book's projected contents, and saying something about the market that the author envisions--chiefly for libraries and for students taking courses, or with some appeal to a general audience as well. 

The young scholar then submits the proposal to the press that seems to have the best "fit," the one that is most desirable, and/or with the editor who's shown the most enthusiasm for the book project. The press conducts an in-house review of the proposal, and they may also send it to an external reader. If the proposal generates enthusiasm, the press will offer the scholar an advance contract (though usually without a monetary advance). The contract usually states that the author will submit the manuscript to this press (and no other) when it's ready, and that the press will then give a formal review to the mansucript and let the author know their decision. Such a contract doesn't guarantee the author very much except for a review, but it does provide psychological help to know that a press is interested. 

After the young scholar submits the manuscript, it gets an in-house review and, assuming it's positive, the press then sends it to external readers, usually two of them, for their assessment. This external review is often conducted "blind" -- that is, the reviewer isn't told who is the author, although often it's easy to figure it out if the reviewer so chooses. If the external reviews are negative, the press tells the author that they won't go ahead with publication. If they're positive, they usually come with some suggestions for revision, in which case the press asks the author to respond to the reviews--that is, to write a response--and then to make the revisions that they think will be helpful. Often there's some negotiation here between the author and the press over how much revision is needed or wanted. Regardless whether the reviews are negative or positive, the names of the reviewers are withheld from the authors. With positive reviews, suggestions, and negotiations, the author revises the manuscript and re-submits. Often the revised manuscript is returned to the external reviewers for their approval, but not always. The press then usually decides to go ahead with publication, and the author prepares the manuscript, obtaining necessary permissions, making certain that it conforms to the "style" that the press follows (footnote form, bibliography, citations, references, etc.), and then returns it to the press. Some time later, the press puts it into production and gives it to a copyeditor who may make suggestions for improving the writing (usually for clarity) and will make sure it conforms to the press "style." It's then returned to the author who reviews the copyedits and makes further revisions before sending it back to the press. The press then gives it over to a printer who makes page proofs. These are then sent back to the author who checks the whole manuscript for accuracy. At this stage only very small changes in the form of correction are permitted. Returned once more to the press after the proofs are checked, the printer is given the go-ahead and the book takes its place in line at the printer's, to be published some months later. 

In its entirety this is a time-consuming process. My first book, for example, Early Downhome Blues: A Musical and Cultural Analysis, grew out of my dissertation. I completed the dissertation in 1971 and sent it to the University of Illinois Press. They returned it with an advance contract and some suggestions for revision made by an in-house editor. Because I was also teaching full-time, it took me quite a while to turn it into the book I wanted. In January of 1974 I sent the press my revised manuscript, and they sent it to two external readers. After six months passed, the press sent me back the reports, which were positive. I made some revisions and returned the manuscript at the end of 1974, and they issued me a formal contract. I had no more to do but review the copyedits and page proofs. For reasons having to do with the press' production schedule, and the fact that they wanted to put the book into a new series they were launching (Music in American Life) but not as the first book in the series, publication was delayed until 1977. When it fell out of print about fifteen years later, the University of North Carolina Press asked me if I'd write a new Afterword for a second edition. I agreed, and they published the second edition in 1995.

After an author has published a book or several articles and begins to get a reputation as someone who's knowledgeable in an academic field, it is easier to find a university press. After an author has become an acknowledged expert, press editors may be the ones to initiate contact with authors, asking them if they are working on a book manuscript that would be suitable for them. For example, in 1977 I'd won a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a list of fellowship recipients was made public along with the research subjects the scholars proposed to work on. A month later I received letters from editors at the University of Texas Press and the University of North Carolina Press asking me what I was working on and to keep them in mind when it came time to publish. Nevertheless, even with established scholars the same review process takes place, involving a proposal, review, manuscript submission, further review, etc. It took me another ten years to complete the book for which I'd held that fellowship. Powerhouse for God: Speech, Chant, and Song in an Appalachian Baptist Church was published by the University of Texas Press in 1988. It fell out of print about ten years later, but it was published in a second edition, with a new Afterword, in 2018, by the University of Tennessee Press.

In 2013 an acquisitions editor at Indiana University Press inquired about my work in ecomusicology. Possibly my name had been recommended to her by one of the editors of a new series they were starting, called Music, Nature, Place. It happened in 2012 I'd given a paper at an ecomusicology conference, and in 2013 just before she contacted me I'd  given a keynote address on ecomusicology to the Brazilian Society for Ethnomusicology. A year earlier I'd also published my appeal for a sound commons for all living creatures. I forwarded them to this editor who read them and said that if I were working on a book in this area, she'd like to be able to consider the manuscript for IU Press.

Toward a Sound Ecology was solicited in this way: in 2015 the same IU Press acquisitions editor asked me if I'd have lunch with her and the director of the press, at a folklore conference. At the lunch they asked me whether I'd made any progress on my sound ecology project and I replied yes, but that completion was likely still many years away. I told them I'd been asked to step out of retirement to occupy an endowed chair as a visiting professor, and that one of my duties was to give a series of four public lectures. I intended to explore four aspects of that project, one in each lecture: sound presence, sound community, sound economy, and sound ecology. The project, I said, was still expanding and I kept getting new ideas. They then asked me then whether I'd be willing to propose a different book to them for now, one consisting mainly of my already-published essays on topics that were still current, including a few of my most recent ones on aspects of the sound ecology synthesis that I was seeking, adding one or two new essays to the group. I said that I'd be happy to do so, and that is how this forthcoming book was born. Its third section, "Toward a Sound Ecology," gathers some of my essays related to that topic, and ends with a new one that summarizes my thinking at the time of its completion last summer. 






Sunday, February 16, 2020

Sustaining Music by Sustaining Insects?

Rhinoceros beetle, courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Sustaining music means sustaining not only the cultural soil but also the physical soil; that is, the environment upon which we all depend. That's why it's important to conserve not only music, culture, and the people that make and carry it, but also the physical environment that sustains it all.

This may seem a little counter-intuitive at first. Asked what species were abundant in nature, Darwin is said to have replied that God must have been inordinately fond of beetles. In fact, there are so many different species of beetles that many are still being identified and scientists estimate that there are a great many more still unknown. In the face of all this, one might legitimately ask what difference does it make if a thousand unknown species of beetles go extinct? And for good measure, how about black flies, mosquitoes and poisonous snakes, not to mention deer ticks?

The answer, of course, is that we're all connected. Everyone knows about food chains and food webs, but a point that’s sometimes overlooked is that if you break too many strands in the webs or links in the chain, the ill effects are felt all the way along them. We hear about significant losses in bee populations and we might be tempted to think, well that’s good, now I don’t have to worry as much about being stung. But of course bees are among the greatest of plant pollinators, and a major bee die-off means fewer wild and domestic fruits and flowers, fewer vegetables, and less food for all the creatures that feed on them, including us. Humans are dependent on insects, and worms (in the soil), and so on all the way along the chain. And we’re also likely dependent in ways we don’t yet fully comprehend. And so, it’s not an either/or proposition, either we try to improve the lot of humans or we try to improve the lot of plants and animals. It’s both/and because we’re all connected. 

A study published this month in the journal Biological Conservation warns about insect extinctions and makes the same point, more forcefully and eloquently than I ever could. The study reviews what is known about “the drivers of insect extinctions, their consequences, and how extinctions can negatively impact humanity.” The abstract continues:

"We are causing insect extinctions by driving habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, use of polluting and harmful substances, the spread of invasive species, global climate change, direct overexploitation, and co-extinction of species dependent on other species.

With insect extinctions, we lose much more than species. We lose abundance and biomass of insects, diversity across space and time with consequent homogenization, large parts of the tree of life, unique ecological functions and traits, and fundamental parts of extensive networks of biotic interactions. Such losses lead to the decline of key ecosystem services on which humanity depends. From pollination and decomposition, to being resources for new medicines, habitat quality indication and many others, insects provide essential and irreplaceable services. We appeal for urgent action to close key knowledge gaps and curb insect extinctions. An investment in research programs that generate local, regional and global strategies that counter this trend is essential. Solutions are available and implementable, but urgent action is needed now to match our intentions."

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Musical Sustainability, Permaculture, and the Democratization of American Folk Music

     Musical sustainability strategies are best off when nurturing the cultural soil. On this blog in 2009 I explained that meant “to concentrate efforts in musical and cultural sustainability on improving the conditions that give a life to traditional music and expressive culture, rather than simply targeting endangered musical cultures for support, as UNESCO (the major institution involved in cultural sustainability throughout the world) has been doing in its efforts to safeguard intangible cultural heritage.” I picked up on the same analogy in a paper delivered to the American Folklore Society in 2010, “Reconciling Ecology and Economy by means of ‘Nature’s Economy,’” published on this blog: “From organic agriculture to culture, apply the principle ‘Feed the soil, not the plant.’ Do not intervene to bolster specific expressive cultural genres—these will come and go naturally, and today in the internet age all are capable of staying in one form or another. Direct support to the social, political, and economic conditions or the cultural soil under which expressive cultures flourish and upon which they depend.”
The Land Institute: Research Plots on the Kansas Prairie
     Rather than discuss how scholars and practitioners have adopted and integrated that principle into their work in public folklore and applied ethnomusicology, I would like to trace one its sources, one that I didn’t fully acknowledge in my earlier writings: the work of Wes Jackson and The Land Institute. Jackson’s insights did not come from organic farming, as mine did, but I was aware of his radical agricultural work. A biologist and a professor in California, in 1979 he was struck by the ways in which industrial agriculture had all but destroyed the prairie ecosystem in his native Kansas, replacing it either with crop monocultures (corn, soybeans, wheat) or overusing it for cattle grazing. Overgrazing combined with weather events had destroyed and eroded much of the prairie land. Crop monocultures had replaced the original prairie ecosystem with an intensive agriculture on virtually all the arable land, one that required enormous amounts of energy to keep it going, all while the new ecosystem had to depend for life support upon chemical fertilizers and pesticides which destroyed the natural ecosystem and substituted an artificial one for it.
     In the next few years, Jackson developed a vision of a different kind of agriculture for the Kansas prairie, one based in principles of permaculture. Jackson wanted to restore the mixed perennial climaxed ecosystem that had been natural to that region prior to the arrival of industrial agriculture. But in addition, he wanted to find perennial crops that would grow in fields that would constitute agricultural patches within the surrounding prairie, a different agriculture and one that would be compatible with the prairie ecosystem. These would be perennial grains and legumes that would feed animals and humans. Once established along with companion plantings for mutual benefit, they would grow without need for much care until harvest. They would not need chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and they would not deplete the soil—rather, the legumes by gathering nitrogen from the air and moving it to their roots would enrich the soil. The grains and legumes would not need replanting every year, the way monoculture crops did.
     In 1981, in a lecture he presented to the Schumacher Society, he outlined his vision: “Our current agricultural system, which features annuals in information-poor monoculture, is nearly the opposite of the original prairie or forest, which features mixtures of perennials. If we could build domestic prairies, we might one day be able to have high-yielding fields that are planted, say, only once every twenty years or so. There would be mostly harvest after establishment, and from then on we would be counting on the species diversity that breeds dependable chemistry.” In the nearly 40 years since he founded it, The Land Institute has searched throughout the world for perennial grains and legumes that could be bred (by traditional methods and without genetic modification) for food production. Perennial grasses do exist, and animals feed on them; but they are not as high-yielding as they would need to be for human use, nor do they have the characteristics that humans want and need for their traditional uses as grains in food. If, for example, they are ground into flour, the flour needs to be able to work properly in breads, oatmeal and other cereals, and so forth. Jackson did not expect to solve these problems quickly and, indeed, it has taken all this time to find and develop a few promising perennial crops. One is the grain they are calling kernza; another is a potential substitute for soy, a plant in the sunflower family called silphium integrifolium. 
Kernza, courtesy of The Land Institute
Kernza grows successfully mixed into the prairie ecosystem, but its yields are not yet high enough. The sunflower plant is in an earlier stage of development, while they are still looking to identify potential species of legume crops for the mixtures of perennials that they want to introduce on a larger scale. Kernza is already being used in brewing craft beers, and The Land Institute is making seed available for farmers to test in other ecosystems besides the prairie, to see if it may be viable there. If I were twenty years younger I would plant a test area here on this island in East Penobscot Bay, where the natural ecosystem is a transitional area from deciduous to boreal forest. Meanwhile I’ll be in touch with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to learn if anyone is testing kernza in the state of Maine.
     The analogy between what Jackson has done, and musical sustainability, appears at first glance not to extend to methods in which perennial musics, so to speak, are found and developed and then introduced into the music culture in order to feed, as it were, the cultural soil. But on further reflection, this is what happened in the last century when American folk and traditional music gradually democratized to embody the nation’s cultural diversity and pluralism. In the first half of the century, the musical landscape consisted chiefly of popular and classical music. Folk music was thought to be chiefly Anglo-American, with ballads (particularly the canonic Child Ballads) the highest achievement. You could find lyrics to “Sir Patrick Spens” and other Child ballads in the American literature anthologies that high school and college students studied from. Negro spirituals also were recognized as major achievements. Efforts had been underway, though, to broaden the canon. 

Collections of folk music published in books by John and Alan Lomax, and by Carl Sandburg, were popular among the middle classes who wanted to sing folksongs in church, school, or home. African American worksongs, and blues, were included, as well as occupational and regional songs such as cowboy songs, and songs from various European immigrant groups. The folk music revival of the 1950s popularized blues further, while a few Jewish and Israeli songs (e.g., the Weavers’ hit song “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena”) were added to the mix, making it possible for folksingers like Theodore Bikel to entertain audiences with Yiddish, Hebrew and other songs, and for Pete Seeger to broaden his concert repertoire to include some African and Latin American songs.
     Arguably this musical democratization through diversity and cultural pluralism reached a climax in the 1976 American bicentennial, with at least two major events that cemented its legitimacy. One was the series of New World recordings. New World was funded by The Rockefeller Foundation to produce 100 albums of music representing not only classical music but also the music cultures of a great variety of ethnic groups. Of course this was not the first of these recording series—Folkways Records had presented music from a culturally and regionally diverse nation for thirty years beforehand—but as this series of recordings began to appear on LPs in every major public, college, and university library in 1976 and the few years to follow, it became a part of public culture in a way that it hadn’t before. The second major event was the 1976 Smithsonian Festival of American Folk Music (as it was called then), which took place on the Mall in Washington, DC, for the unprecedented period of two summer months, in which musics from various cultural groups and regions throughout the United States were presented, and in addition many were coupled with their sources and counterparts in a section of the festival called Old Ways in the New World. Musicians from Europe, Asia, and elsewhere were brought to the United States where they mingled with their American musical cousins and where connections between these musics were highlighted—and where some additional connections were discovered. I was fortunate to work at this festival as a presenter, and to experience some of it firsthand.
    I will have more to say about festivals and the movement toward a United States that recognizes cultural pluralism and diversity in future posts. Revisiting this movement, its fight for legitimacy, the ways it has been critiqued, and where it stands today in the so-called culture wars of American democracy, seems timely and appropriate.