Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Ethnomusicologist, Jaap Kunst
Last night I finished transcribing my final interview! I'm elated, although nowhere near done. I've still got the whole thing to write, you know! I've been devoting so much time to transcribing, I almost feel like I'm not sure what do to now, sitting down at my desk. I know what to do, and I'll dig into it as soon as I finish this little update. I have a bit more thematic coding of my blog writing (see this post) and of my beautiful interview transcripts. That should be pretty quick and simple. Additionally, I have yet to share most of the audio files of the interviews with the folks I interviewed. Not for stinginess, just because there's a bunch of stuff to do, and I haven't gotten to it yet. So that's what I'll be sifting through over the next week or so.
I've got 80+ hours of audio recordings from interviews and 25 hours of video from various events in Detroit. I often get asked who I've interviewed, so here's a list. It's not going to grow much over the next while, but after I get my dissertation completed, there will definitely be more interviewing in preparation for the book.
AUX88 - Keith Tucker and Tommy Hamilton
John Bileebob Williams
Bill Stacey (DJ Seoul)
Brendan M. Gillen
All right, I'll be back in a minute...
Monday, March 22, 2010
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Photo by James M Rotz
House Music Picnic, Belle Isle, Detroit, MI
Moodymann did an interview for this year's Red Bull Music Academy in London. He has been releasing music since the early 1990s, and has done three interviews to date, that I know of. The first was for Real Detroit Weekly in preparation for the first Soul Skate party during the Movement Festival weekend in 2007. It's the May 23-29, 2007 issue, page 28. It's not online anymore, sorry. It's a very short interview, most of the interview questions have more words than his responses!
The second interview was with Gilles Peterson for his BBC radio show. Nice interview...
But my favorite by a long shot, no contest, totally powerful and enlightening and moving is his recent interview with Benji B for RBMA.
He did the interview with a group of four women, including Traci, manager for Mahogani Music. He spent the first bit getting his hair done while chatting about Detroit. I know this presentation of his persona can turn people off a bit, just from reading comments on a few blogs. But it's clearly his representation of his Detroit. I'm not offended by this persona, nor am I wooed by it. I accept his version of Detroit and appreciate what he is going for by bringing it to London. What is way more significant to me are his words and ideas.
He spoke at length about identity and image in Detroit electronic music; specifically about Detroit artists tending toward invisibility, or masked identities. He first tributed this tendency to the Electrifying Mojo, Charles Johnson, Detroit radio DJ during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Mojo is heralded by most of the artists I have interviewed, and by most Detroiters who grew up during those years and were into music, as a defining institution in the history of Detroit techno and house music, but also for Detroit music more generally. Mojo kept his identity hidden. He did not do appearances, shows, or parties. He was on the air doing his thing and that was it.
Moodymann and other Detroit artists keep their identities hidden, mask their faces in performance, and participate very little in any kind of media representation; artists like Mad Mike Banks and Underground Resistance, Scan 7, and Gerald Donald in his many groups - Ectomorph, Dopplereffekt, and Drexciya, to name a few. They are generally not doing this from a philosophy of militancy, aggression, or racism. The philosophy, as expressed by Moodymann in this interview, and by Mike Banks in a few select interviews and in a conversation with me, is that the music is of foremost importance, it should be put out there, up front. The music should be out there for people to receive in some way with no human image attached to it. It doesn't matter who the person is that makes it, it's just music and the listener gets what she/he gets from it. And this leads into the concept that music is universal. This is a fundamental idea that fuels the productivity of a lot of Detroit artists. As an ethnomusicologist, I am not inclined to go along with universalism without interogating the concept. But I am willing to embrace it's importance in Detroit's techno and house music culture.
Finally, Moodyman explains that his reluctance to share his identity, ideas, and experiences also hinges on his daily life growing up in Detroit. He says the only white people he saw were the white man coming to turn off the gas, or the white man coming to take his father to jail. Protection of his identity and of his craft fueled his need for privacy. After years of traveling around the world and realizing that white people outside the US are way different from white people as a mass within the US, he has grown to understand and respect the interest that all kinds of people all around the world have for his music, and Detroit's music in general.
I'm glad he doesn't do a lot of interviews, because this is a really meaningful and important interview.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Took a trip down to Bloomington, IN last weekend to visit friends and then up to northwest Indiana to visit family and then back up into Michigan and across to my lovely home in Ann Arbor. I love Indiana. It's a really fascinating, weird, beautiful state. I hated it growing up in North Judson, IN, population 1,800 when I was a kid. Apparently the population has gone down. Yes, Indiana is full of corn fields. But also mint around North Judson. In late August at harvest time, you can just smell mint in the air around town.The Ku Klux Klan has some substantial historical links to Indiana. Primarily southern Indiana, but I grew up surrounded by plenty of racist shit in a town with a handful of people of color and a large migrant worker population from Mexico. And the state went democrat in the last presidential election, when it's normally blue!
While in Bloomington while staying at my good friend's home nested in the woods a couple miles out of town, we heard and saw flocks of sandhill cranes all weekend on their migration north to Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ontario. The cranes congregate on a piece of land further north in Indiana called Jasper-Pulaski park in the spring and fall as a stop-off point in their migration. I went to see them in the fall of 2000, before I even met my husband or moved down to Bloomington or had any notion that I would be building an academic career on Detroit. Thousands and thousands of birds gather at Jasper-Pulaski. We didn't make it there this visit, but hopefully in the fall.
On our trip from Bloomington up to northwestern Indiana, along highway 65, we were surprised to see miles of gigantic wind turbines peppered across multiple small farms. Many of the turbines were operating, but there were some that were still being constructed. We got to see the pieces of the blades on the ground. We were all yelling with excitement. I had no idea what it was, I didn't know if it was a co-op of local farms. But that didn't make total sense to me because I couldn't imagine how a group of local farmers could amass enough money to purchase hundreds of wind turbines. I googled a few things once we were done with our trip and discovered that it is called the Fowler Ridge Wind Farm. It is a power plant which will provide annual power to 150,000 homes in Indiana. Construction began in 2008. In a video we found on youtube, my boys and I learned that it takes 6 hours to assemble an entire turbine. So yeah, sandhill cranes and wind farm - super exciting week for homeschooling in this family.
Okay, and now for the music part. I was hoping to take some friends of mine out to the first night of the Pit Stop Music Marathon in Bloomington. It's still going on now! Dan Coleman, local king of the music scene down there, and president of Spirit of '68, planned the festival as a pit stop for bands heading down to Austin for the SXSW festival. We ended up at the same venue but upstairs for the first part of the evening playing pool and darts - yes, all us ladies, and one dude who generously and graciously left early to relieve the babysitter! Video Saloon - lovely bar, tons of local brews on tap, and now a beautiful space downstairs with giant windows through which I gazed longingly at the final moments of Foreign Born as they played in front of those giant, crystal clean windows for a full crowd. We ended up chatting so much that we missed most of the music that was ending at midnight. So we walked in the cool fresh air down a street that I have not visited in about 2 years to a lovely spot called the Root Cellar. After missing the Pit Stop bands, I dragged my tired feet on down to this place because my girls told me it would be fun. "They play fun soul music. You like to dance right?" I had no idea what I was getting into. I thought I would go and just get more tired and worry if my 2 year old was still asleep. Hell no, that is not what happened. It was a glorious evening that I struggled to tear myself away from - all vinyl, funk and soul 45s, LPs, and 12 inches. The cases of vinyl lining the dj area were such a pleasure to see. I was so surprised. We arrived, I looked through the nice selection of Indiana beers. Picked one and started talking about food allergies and family diets. Yes, I am renaissance woman with many interests. The music was really getting into my head and I decided to go see what was going on over there in that tiny concrete area a few steps up with blue icicle lights covering the ceiling. Of course I had to go straight through the crowd to see what the set up was. I got excited when I saw a 45 spinning. I started dancing and got completely caught up in the night. And Dan Coleman is one of the three djs for the "Soul in the Hole" monthly at the Root Cellar. How fortunate that I came for a mildly last minute visit on this weekend!
I got to hear so many great things:
The first time I think I heard Double Dutch Bus was on a Mystic Bill tape!
And one of my favorite songs ever...turn up the bass!
Needless to say, we stuck around. I love Indiana. I love Bloomington. And now I have yet one more reason to miss this place.