Friday, October 30, 2009
Thanks for the thoughts, guys. I appreciate your continued interest and support.
Tom: "almost exactly" ?? WTF, you mean it's not totally perfect! ;) And, if you want it, a copy of my completed dissertation is yours to have. I'm planning on sharing it with everyone who participated in my research - like people I interviewed and stuff.
It's tough to write about race and Detroit. I'm trying to not shy away from writing openly and honestly about this city, this music, and the people who are here, making and loving this music. It would be much easier for me to not make these things so public and just write my academic writings and share it with my dissertation committee and be done with it. Then I wouldn't have to pay attention so much to getting it right or getting it wrong, because what does my committee know about techno or Detroit? Writing this blog has been a great tool in preparation for writing something that can potentially reach multiple audiences.
Kent: I know that sentence/idea is jarring, but I think that's okay. You're right, I am referring to Blackness as an academic concept that has been written about by scholars of many diverse disciplines for decades. It's not that I'm trying to tell Black people who they are. No, I sure wouldn't head down to Coney Island at 3AM, or Belle Isle on a warm Sunday afternoon, or Submerge and say "Hey, my 'n-words', let me tell you about yourselves!"
That statement is coming from my academic background in ethnomusicology. Historically, anthropologists and ethnomusicologists would approach ethnography as data collection, "armchair ethnomusicology." Go somewhere far away, collect cultural artifacts, maybe talk to some of the "natives," and then head home to make scholarly assessments about the artifacts. And the assessments were based on the scholar's ideas and opinions and training, not based on indigenous cultural concepts, interpretations, creations, etc. This has not been commonplace in ethnomusicology for at least 25 years now, but some of these tendencies/concepts remain. I don't want my research to look like this: I go to Detroit, collect data about a NEW genre of African American music to add to the academic canon of Black music genres, and call it a day. Since Detroit is way more complex than this approach could ever demonstrate, I'm attempting to contribute a much more nuanced approach to music research and scholarship on race and culture.
As far as communicating this work to people outside of academia, in Detroit and out, that would be fantastic! I think, in answer to your question about whether I'm addressing ethnomusicologists only, or whether I could actually communicate something meaningful to Mike Banks, I would say both. I feel freaked out about reaching a non-academic audience, because I know that there are a lot of people out there who know their shit, and I don't want to look like a doofus. :) But I'm starting to feel more confident that I actually, finally, have something to give back. I want to contribute positive ways of thinking about and dealing with race and Detroit. But there are tons of little cool ass details that I think people should know. Like the first time Erika Sherman introduced me to Brendan Gillen, Brendan told me that I need to talk to Todd Osborn, Anthony Shake Shakir, and Carlos Souffront. He said that those are the guys who have extensive knowledge about Detroit electronic music and would have great things to teach me. I happily told him I had already interviewed all three of them. And Kyle Hall has everything Marcellus Pittman has ever released - that's a cool fact.
Oh, and I finally must say that the proposal was pretty jargon-free and lucid (thank you) because its a grant proposal that will be read by people outside my discipline. I've worked hard to keep it succinct and to the point. And sorry to disappoint, but here's my thoughts on academic writing, and jargon - I love it! I would surround myself in jargon just so I could read through it and struggle to figure it all out and then actually understand the ideas, the terms, phrases, and what that all references. And what better place for super theoretical academic concepts than a dissertation! I suppose I'm in a constant state of being between worlds, attempting something that might be impossible, but I'll get it under control! And let me just say, that being an academic is just another job, another profession, with it's own rules, expectations, customs, no better than any other job. Although, I know academics often come off as being superior, exclusive, arrogant, etc. That's not me, I'm actively trying NOT to be that. I'll do my best to be an awesome ethnomusicologist who can still communicate in meaningful, non-academic ways.
Getting more official tonight...
I am working on cleaning up my dissertation proposal for a final grant application from the American Association of University Women. Since I'm getting busy with my words lately, I figured it would be appropriate timing to post my brief proposal (it's six pages, dissertations going to be 200+, I'm thinking) to my blog. I would LOVE feedback from anyone who is interested in contributing ideas or suggestions. So thanks in advance. Here we go...
History, Heritage, and Identity in Detroit Electronic Music
Through a complex of history, heritage, and identity, people involved in electronic music in Detroit conceive of and construct this music as African American. Techno, house, and electro, the primary forms of electronic music in Detroit, are not typically identified as African American musics on a national and global scale outside of Detroit. For this reason, my primary theoretical approach is to explore, using ethnographic research, musical, verbal, and other cultural evidence of the discursive construction of an African American identity for Detroit electronic music. I address this objective using three points of inquiry: First, what in the performance, sound, and discourse of Detroit techno, house, and electro tie them to African American culture? Second, why is it important to make these claims of cultural identity in connection with this music? And third, baring the evidence of these musical foundations in African American history and culture, what are the implications of Detroit musicians, of color and white, stating proudly that this is no longer Black music?
Marcellus Pittman, Detroit DJ and producer, explained, in an interview I conducted, what makes Detroit electronic music African American,
The history, the history behind it…There were a lot of drug gangs in Detroit [in the 1980s]…A lot of kids would stay in and just listen to the radio, Mojo and Jeff Mills. That was the only thing that we had that we could look forward to without anything bad happening. We would tape the sessions from the radio…It's also Black because Black people made it. It's this confusion of the Kraftwerk thing and the whole German thing…that was techno too…It was inspiration for us and we fed off that. And we came up with our own style and called it techno.
Marcellus, as well as other electronic musicians/DJs in Detroit, explained that the musical and cultural past for African Americans in Detroit informed the creation of techno and house music, and continues to impact production and performance of Detroit electronic music to this day. Further, many Detroit electronic musicians emphasize the contemporary global impact of techno, house, and electro, minimizing the African American identification in the music and culture. Central to my research, are the concepts of history, Detroit, and African American culture.
Time, space, and human interaction are key markers in the African American identity of Detroit electronic music. I investigate the concepts of music and identity in time and space in order to understand the manifestation of Detroit electronic music as African American, and as not African American. Time emerges in my analysis in various manifestations, including musical time, performance duration, and historical periods. The concept of space is significant, from the layout of musical electronic equipment in a DJ booth or production studio, to locations where electronic music happens in Detroit. Even Detroit itself provides an expansive site from which to investigate identity and legacy, given Detroit's complex socio-historical development. Finally, interaction and communication, in a complex of mentoring, DJ and production partnerships, and institutional upkeep, demonstrate explicit links to African American culture and history in Detroit.
Detroit has a powerful history of musical abundance, extreme innovation, and prosperity prior to the mid-1960s, and extreme poverty, disenfranchisement and violence beginning in the mid-1960s. With the gradual exodus of Detroit's white population to suburbs during the 1960's, and 1969's violent and devastating race riots referred to as the "Long, Hot Summer," the city has continued to struggle with misguided leadership, profound disenfranchisement, and crippling racism. However, in spite of all this struggle, electronic music culture in Detroit is thriving today. I have seen surprising levels of dedication and civic mindedness from Detroit's citizens in connection with electronic music culture. Contrary to widespread views of this city as being a wasteland of crime, abandoned buildings, and poverty, Detroit is full of life, and cultural and civic activity.
The model I will use to investigate time in Detroit electronic music is based on the work of ethnomusicologist, Ruth M. Stone. Stone has established a multifaceted model of time in her work on West African musical performance. Stone is "concerned not only with the rhythms of sound and the placement of text, but also with the larger flow of events, and ultimately with the movement of time for both the individual and the family" (Stone 1998: 124). In Detroit, time can refer to musical time, or the beat, in electronic music. Time also refers to the performance event including the duration of musical segments, duration of a DJ set, and duration of multiple DJ sets in a single night. In addition to the music and performance applications, time applies to historical periods. Taking this approach to Detroit electronic music, I demonstrate how techno, house, and electro are linked to identity, and to broader notions of heritage and legacy. My focus on varying notions of time stems from indigenous concepts of time and musical production among electronic musicians in Detroit. In conducting this research with DJs, producers, record label managers, booking agents, record store owners, club and event promoters, and fans in Detroit, I have found that there is a particular catalog of sounds, musical references, and music production choices that are unique and characteristic of Detroit.
Furthermore, as I investigate time and culture as fluid, reflexive, and dynamic concepts, diverse notions of space become important. The locations where electronic music happens within Detroit are essential to the legacy of this music, as is the connection of the music to Detroit itself. Electronic music has a strong local, independent presence in Detroit where record stores, internet and college radio, roller skating rinks, outdoor festivals, gay and straight dance clubs, bars, cafes, restaurants, museums, and out in the street, are all central to the existence and proliferation of electronic music. These locations impact the local music scene, but they also provide a backdrop for the international success of Detroit musicians. Detroit cultivates musicians providing them with inspiration and community, launching a select few on to international success. Detroit electronic music has typically demonstrated international success, particularly in Europe and Asia, yet in the United States, this music is nearly invisible and inaudible. International success began in the late 1980s and continues to this day; coupled with it came a severe disconnection of the music from its African American and Detroit-centered history, making cultural appropriation an important issue for Black electronic musicians. Nevertheless, the music has a strong presence in Detroit. Space, geographic or otherwise, is central to the exploration of history, heritage, and identity in Detroit electronic music.
Through eclectic methods and diverse relationships, mentoring, partnerships, and the maintenance of musical institutions are the primary processes of human interaction by which electronic music culture thrives in Detroit. Women mentor female and male DJs and producers, and men also mentor female and male DJs and producers. Some musicians maintain a solitary production and performance schedule, however, many enter into partnerships, or crews, with other like minded musicians and artists, striving to represent Detroit in their own ways. Local institutions make profound contributions to Detroit's electronic music culture: radio stations and particular radio programs, a local record pressing plant, a local record mastering company, numerous local record labels and management companies, and historically significant promotion crews and dance club locations. I contend that these methods of interaction and communication are clear indications of the impact of African American heritage on Detroit electronic music culture.
Academic attention to electronic dance music, in general, has increased in recent years. However, Detroit electronic music is still overlooked and replaced by a focus on the global dimensions of this music. There are two scholarly articles published that focus entirely on Detroit techno music, one of which argues that Detroit techno is post-soul and in effect, no longer African American (Albiez 2005). The author of this article did not conduct ethnographic research. The second article, written by techno historian Beverly May, appears in a recently published anthology on African American music and is a wonderful introduction to the history of Detroit techno music (May 2006). This article is also not based on ethnographic research, rather the author did a series of journalistic interviews over a period of five years. Serious academic attention is due this music, and the culture of Detroit. Through my analysis of Detroit electronic music's history, heritage and identity within the context of time and space, I will devote needed attention to the musical culture of this city.
In my ethnographic research, I focused on the perspectives of Detroit DJs and fans. I conducted various types of ethnographic interviews with individuals and with groups of DJs. Topics addressed in the interviews include musical production and creativity, history, African American culture, Detroit history and culture, musical influences, and the international circulation of Detroit electronic music. I spent a year and six months, from February 2008 to July 2009, attending over one hundred DJ performances in Detroit, videotaping many of them. The opportunity to closely observe DJs performing, and then to analyze their video recorded performance, has been undeniably valuable in my research.
I engaged in participant observation in order to understand fundamental elements of production and performance in Detroit electronic music culture. Close attention to the ways in which the DJ manipulates the electronic and digital equipment, transitioning between different audio sources, adjusting volume, the various levels of treble and bass, and other musical parameters gave me a much more nuanced understanding of what a DJ does in performance. I developed a heightened awareness for the role of fans in performance as feedback providers for the DJ, guiding and altering the performance as needed through a cycle of verbal and non-verbal communication. Finally, interviewing, and listening to and talking about musical recordings has provided me with important tools for musical analysis.
The primary contribution to the humanities and social sciences offered by this study is its proposition that cultural and musical identity take shape according to the multi-dimensional communication involved in performance. Furthermore, I offer new perspectives on the concept of Blackness and how this is manifest in the productions of DJs in Detroit. I am basing this on anthropologist Maureen Mahon's model of Black American rock musicians. Mahon moves beyond "racialized thinking" in order to explore and expand the boundaries of what Blackness may encompass or signify. She exemplifies Black rock as an ideological, cultural, and political "breach of racial etiquette" and an expansion of contemporary notions of Blackness (Mahon 2004: 8). Finally, my research will establish a model for investigating other identities manifest in electronic music as well as the dynamic and expansive dimensions of African American culture.
Albiez, Sean. "Post-Soul Futurama: African American Cultural Politics and Early Detroit Techno" European Journal of American Culture, 24, no. 2 (2005): 131-152.
Mahon, Maureen. 2004. Right to rock: The Black Rock Coalition and the Cultural Politics of Race. Durham: Duke University Press.
May, Beverly. 2006. "Techno." African American Music: An Introduction. Mellonee B. Burnim and Portia K. Maultsby, eds. New York: Routledge.
Pittman, Marcellus. Interview with author. August 13, 2008.
Stone, Ruth M. 1998. "Time in African Performance". In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: Africa, edited by Ruth M. Stone. New York & London: Garland.
Monday, October 26, 2009
RBMA Radio - Whodat (As The Point Turns, Detroit) - Train Wreck Mix
This mix is by my friend, mentor, and research consultant, DJ Whodat (Terri McQueen). I have written about her alot on this blog. We've done three interviews together, she taught me the basics of playing records and using analog equipment, and she taught me a whole lot about Detroit. She has started here own record store, Ya Digg Records. It is online right now and she plans to have a location in Detroit open by December.
Whodat is? Whodat, of course!
Sunday, October 25, 2009
I've done most of my secondary source reading already, so just in case you thought I was doing this all from and about me, don't worry, that's not really what ethnomusicology is.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that I can keep up this blog with any regularity while doing all that. Sorry, I know, it’s devastating for me too. So I will try to make monthly posts to keep you up to date and share any interesting things with you.
Here’s an interesting thing: Mike Banks and Carl Craig playing together at the Amsterdam Dance Experience this past weekend and speaking at a conference there. Carl Craig appears at parties in Detroit a few times a year. I’ve seen Mike Banks out once since I moved to Detroit in 2008, and he was in the crowd during James Pennington’s set. The only other times I have seen him here is when I actually went to Submerge for an event and then a second visit to meet with him, attempt to interview him, have things get a little lost because of miscommunication, and then spend the evening talking, joking, and telling stories. Recorded interview will actually be happening in the coming weeks, so I’m really looking forward to that! Anyway, the thought of getting to see Mike Banks on keyboards with Carl Craig in Detroit gives me the shivers and causes my heart to flutter. I guess I can figure out a few reasons why this doesn’t happen in Detroit. For one, Mike Banks has dedicated decades to this city and continues to do so in ways that don’t usually involve live musical performances. Submerge is a remarkable, renowned, and crucial institution in the city of Detroit. It’s global impact is just as profound. The musical and cultural contributions of Underground Resistance are substantial and far-reaching. Also, he keeps pretty quite in the United States in general, including Detroit. He tends to put energy into people and places that already know and care who he is and what he stands for. So doing a show in Detroit that would probably draw lots of people from surrounding areas, and maybe even lots of people from the whole Midwest region, seems like it might not be something he would really devote himself to. And this is all just my own speculation, yes, I’m admitting that to you and not just pretending that I know exactly what I’m talking about. I don’t really know why Mike Banks doesn’t play much in Detroit. Maybe I’m kind of right, but it’s not really something that is publicly discussed. I would fall all over myself to see him play here. Actually to see him play anywhere, I’ve never seen him play. Freaking terrible, I know.
Well that’s what I’ve got for you tonight. I’m going out now to see Todd Osborn and a *secret party* at the Elbow Room – I’ll get to hear Choir of Young Believers, Chris Bathgate, and Matt Jones. Let’s see how much work I get done!!!!
Oh yeah, and I’m going to see Dam Funk on Halloween in Detroit. I don’t even have words. And Kevin Reynolds and Matt Abbott are also playing. I’m totally, completely, utterly, stoked.