OACp Seminar with Steven Feld: Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra - Second Chorus, Blow Free

Dear all,

We do things differently here at the OAC, so we are doing a slightly different kind of seminar coming up next week with an illustrious figure in the anthropology of music and sound, Steven Feld. Steven has kindly offered to open a conversation about his book 'Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra' with a chapter made available here for the period of the seminar (FeldSecondChorus.pdf).

Of this chapter, Steven writes:

"Nii Noi Nortey: From Pan-Africanism to Afrifones via John Coltrane," is the second of four "chorus" chapters about specific musicians and these four chapters are the core of the book. The book itself is part of a multi-media collaborative anthropology of/in sound-image project; this includes 10 CDs and 3 hour long DVDs. The DVDs include "Accra Trane Station: The Music and Art of Nii Noi Nortey" (built out of three years of video conversations I did with Nii Noi) as well as 4 CDs of variations on Nii Noi's Accra Trane Station music group (I am both a performer and co-producer on these recordings.) The overall book writes Accra's jazz cosmopolitanism from below as a Bakhtinian polyphonic text, performing the vocality of how I encountered and absorbed cosmopolitanism's many vexed, contradictory, desired, imagined, vernacular practices. I intertwine biography, history, ethnography, and memoir in the writing in order to keep the focus on voice, dialogism, and the lived ironies and nuances of a vernacular cosmopolitanism. The book's setup for all this comes in earlier chapters, the brief introductory "Four Bar Intro: 'The Shape of Jazz to Come' " and longer "Vamp In, Head: Acoustemology in Accra-On Jazz Cosmopolitanism". My initial meeting with Nii Noi and the unfolding of how our mutual passion for the music of John Coltrane led us to play/tour/record/converse together since, forging a particular kind of collaborative anthropology, is revealed in those earlier places. That in the background, the chapter you are posting plunges right into our conversations."

The pdf is being made available courtesy of CAP, the seller of Duke University Press books in the EU, see first link, and for more detail for U.S. readers press the link below:

http://www.combinedacademic.co.uk/img/cms/Subject%20Leaflets/Steven...

https://www.dukeupress.edu/Catalog/ViewProduct.php?productid=48728&...

At the same time we want to share here a collaborative film project Steven has undertaken with Nii Noy and we are hoping that Nii Noy may be able to join us, with a little assistance, over the next couple of weeks. We are looking forward to it.

http://vimeo.com/49738961

Our seminar will begin on Tuesday, 4th June.

Views: 1322

Replies are closed for this discussion.

Replies to This Discussion

Thanks Huon.

I want to first try to summarize very quickly what I think about the specificity of "cosmopolitanism" in writing Nii Noi's story in/through dialogic editing.

Living in the present with a profound sense of the multiple pasts that musically and politically connect Ghana, Britain, the Caribbean, and the US though jazz, race, and the struggles for freedom, dignity, and civil rights, I think Nii Noi epitomizes the oxymoron of vernacular cosmopolitanism. Desire, imagination, artistic restlessness, a habitus of aesthetic and ethical reach, travel, education, class elevation – all are palpable in his words, music, visual art, outlook, everyday world, life story. But they easily go up in smoke. Why? Despite and because his art loudly announces Pan-African politics and aesthetics, Nii Noi’s base of support comes mostly from outside Ghana, from whites, from elites, from intellectuals, from visitors, from people who typically present, pay for, or patronize gigs at Accra’s British Council, US Embassy, Alliance Française, or Goethe Institut. More ironic and oppressive: that outside interest is directly proportional to an escalation of local jealousy and detraction that makes Nii Noi’s music and art even more marginal, less “Ghanaian,” more misunderstood, and ultimately less employable in the national scheme of things. Cosmopolitanism gone primitive? Vexed as it gets, I'd say.

Now, acoustemology and my riff on the need "to hear sound as both a herald of social formation and as a kind of laboratory, an experimental zone, for amplifying social imaginaries." In Nii Noi's sound-art fusion, evident in the Pyrasonix and Accra Trane Station films, you hear, like you do in his Coltrane-beethoven-Osei Tutu narrations in the book, the ambivalent, reluctant, edgy, searching, register of a cosmopolitan becoming and unbecoming. That is, you hear discrepant cosmopolitanism tensely IN PLAY. By "in play" I mean you hear it being assembled, chorus after chorus, phrase by phrase, bit by bit. You hear an unfolding that develops and embellishes and then backs up, checks itself in the mirror, readjusts, corrects, edits, partly erases, tries on something else, cries out in frustration, implodes, explodes, creates footnotes and side bars and parallel tracks. All this is a performance of the uneven ironies of cosmopolitanism in action - trying on for size how this and that idea fit this and that sound and this and that material art form and this and that resonance with other voices in space and time.

Whats is significant for a dialogically sounding anthropology here is how Nii Noi uses me --like he uses all audiences-- quite literally as a sounding board. He sounds off and he listens to the reverberations, the echoes, the feedback, the repeats, the fades, the dissolves, the resonances with other sounds, other voices, other forms, other actors and actions. Some of what he tries out is well rehearsed and polished and he keeps honing it and refining it and shaping it. And some of it is off the cuff and spontaneous or try-out juxtapositions, scanning the possibilities. Avant-garde sound/music/art practice is both a safe zone, a laboratory for free experiment, and also a place where one is likely to meet up with difference (for example, me showing up and getting into the jam session) and work on how the push/pull tensions that offers allows for hearing oneself "reach beyond your little horizon." That layered riffing, that overlapping and alternating and sounding with, sounding at, sounding on, sounding through --I think that is EXACTLY what Bakhtin evokes at the conjunction of utterance and polyphony ("each word is half someone else's"-- as he so powerfully put it). So that is exactly where I fit the "riff" into what you call the "social potentials" in polyphony as (simultaneously) counterpoint and entity. Acoustemology IS relational ontology.

 


Huon Wardle said:

Steven, I have been wanting for a while to open up more the music-speech-cosmopolitanism dimensions of your project with Nii Noy. To me, of central importance in what you are doing with this book is to shift the inquiry about cosmopolitan experience into the field of music and sound. You have opened up the idea of acoustemology to look at cosmopolitan change in our listening and sounding (I remember the bells project which was a wonderful expression of a customary field of sound, by the way - how bells become a habitual acoustic dimension of rural environments).

you told us that there was a need now to rethink the acoustic dimension of social experience: to " to hear sound as both a herald of social formation and as a kind of laboratory, an experimental zone, for amplifying social imaginaries."


I personally find this extremely helpful because it allows us a means to join up cosmopolitanism with a current concern with ontology - the reticular 'thinginess' of situated human experience, if you will. 

I want to ask you about jazz again and the notion of the riff and this is said out of curiosity not out of a particular knowledge of music - though I did carry a copy of Soultrane around with me religiously when I was a university student. It strikes me that it would be hard to listen to blues without recognising elements of a nomadic philosophy often expressed literally - 'you gotta move'. Equally, in Jazz, though, there is the development of the riff as art form.

So, I want to ask you to help us think in more detail about music-sound, and specifically about the idea of the riff, in cosmopolitan terms. Bakhtin tells us that language is made up of utterances, not sentences. An utterance is the full account of what the person involved has to say, but is always responsive, attending for a response. There is no more meaning to be found in the sentence in itself than in the phoneme as a sound. In those terms, the riff comes to mind as strikingly similar - it is an intrusion of personal interpretation that is still open-ended, attending for an answer in order that the overall sound organisation can be altered.

You have set us up with Bakhtinian conversation as a way of framing how you understand your relationship with Nii Noy as a cosmopolitan one - you are sounding and interpolating rhythms together in a cosmopolitan field. I want to shift our attention to the whole musical situation. How does the riff fit into an account that includes polyrhythm, counterpoint thought of as social potentials? Is the 'riff' to musical, as 'the utterance' is to idiomatic/vernacular cosmopolitanism?

Stephen, I am looking forward to hearing you and Huon continue this conversation in regard to cosmopolitanism. Off the top of my head (I cannot claim to have read the relevant literature), I can think of at least four ways of being cosmopolitan.

1. The classic dictionary definition cosmopolitan who is at home, i.e, at ease, everywhere.

2. His antithesis, who feels at home nowhere. 

3. The struggling cosmopolitan who claims a betwixt-and-between identity and an idealized homeland with which his actual relationship is ambivalent and fraught. At the moment I see Nii Noy in this light, with the idealized homeland Africa writ large.

4. The semi-cosmopolitan. I think of myself, comfortable in many parts of the world, especially in Europe and East Asia, not so much in other parts. South Asia, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union come to mind. Africa and Latin America recede to the edges of my mental map. North America? Where I was born. Home, yes. But in the betwixt-and-between sense described in 3.

Thanks John.

Yes, I think it fair to say that Nii Noi characterizes himself, as I would characterize him, as a struggling cosmopolitan, struggling in the sense of vexed, reluctant, hopeful, watchful, suspicious, wondering, waiting, uneasy, OPEN to what is coming.

John McCreery said:

Stephen, I am looking forward to hearing you and Huon continue this conversation in regard to cosmopolitanism. Off the top of my head (I cannot claim to have read the relevant literature), I can think of at least four ways of being cosmopolitan.

1. The classic dictionary definition cosmopolitan who is at home, i.e, at ease, everywhere.

2. His antithesis, who feels at home nowhere. 

3. The struggling cosmopolitan who claims a betwixt-and-between identity and an idealized homeland with which his actual relationship is ambivalent and fraught. At the moment I see Nii Noy in this light, with the idealized homeland Africa writ large.

4. The semi-cosmopolitan. I think of myself, comfortable in many parts of the world, especially in Europe and East Asia, not so much in other parts. South Asia, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union come to mind. Africa and Latin America recede to the edges of my mental map. North America? Where I was born. Home, yes. But in the betwixt-and-between sense described in 3.

That openness is essential for the struggling cosmopolitan. Without it he isn't cosmopolitan at all. He's parochial, stuck in the local world into which he was born.

Thanks again Steven. What strikes me there once more is the aspect of cosmopolitanism as subjective-collective change, where in this way we can recognise small incremental additions to the rhythm of life but also sudden bursts of subjective interjection. There is a great chapter by Karl Reisman from the seventies called 'Contrapuntal Conversations in an Antiguan Village'. I kept thinking about it when I read your chapter here and watched the film. Reisman describes how in Antigua people don't wait to talk, they overlap and interject in their speech - making a noise is a virtue because it is part of how the social scene is created. When someone enters the bar or the shop, no-one acknowledges them; they have to sound something out and that 'riff' then becomes part of the noise-scape, if you like: until there are a whole set of overlapping noises going on; and that is social life thought of as a polyrhythm/contrapuntality - egalitarian, noisy, democratic. He makes a nice contrast with Northern Europe where silence evokes a kind of sincerity - 'silence is golden'.

So, maybe there is a question there about a certain political-economy of noise-making and how Nii Noy sees himself in that light, is there a theory of political action involved - are there certain kinds of noises-sounds-musics that are good to think with in social-political terms?

That layered riffing, that overlapping and alternating and sounding with, sounding at, sounding on, sounding through --I think that is EXACTLY what Bakhtin evokes at the conjunction of utterance and polyphony ("each word is half someone else's"-- as he so powerfully put it). So that is exactly where I fit the "riff" into what you call the "social potentials" in polyphony as (simultaneously) counterpoint and entity. Acoustemology IS relational ontology.

Thanks Huon. Many people have weighed in on a politics of noise as a politics of presence and a politics of drowning out and a politics of talking back to being quiet and docile. Just think of those banging pots and pans in Istanbul square to those who banged them last year in Quebec to those who banged them and otherwise went in for 'rough music' in generations long past. Not to mention those who have used amplification and feedback for the same purpose (one only need think of Jimi Hendrix playing the US National Anthem at Woodstock). Attali called noise the political economy of music because he was interested in all the ways that heralding, repeating, amplifying have asserted agendas that talk ahead and talk back to authority. So this topic is huge and there are many places that one could enter a conversation on agency about why sound is good to think and better to make. In the context of Nii Noi's story I would just make the observation that he focuses on the horn and drum connection linking Africa, diaspora, and Europe (check the "Africa Brass" riff in the film, or the one about Coltrane's "Alabama" or the "ancient" riff about how the double reed connects African, Middle Eastern, and European music histories and that it touches Coltrane's approach to soprano saxophone because of an awareness of how far and how long that sound had traveled. But Nii Noi also brings in the string instruments into the picture, and one of the major things he does here is resist any essentializing narration of Africa that only focuses on the drum and on rhythm. So what I hear in Nii Noi's playing and speaking is an attempt to make sonic connections, to equally link and cite the sonic markers of histories of oppression and racism as well as liberation and revelation.

PS- I love that piece by Riesman and develop that kind of these in the context of overlapping, alternating, and interlocking sound making agency in Papua New Guinea, a piece titled "Aesthetics as Iconicity of Style" in the collection I did with Charles Keil, Music Grooves (U Chicago, 1994).


Huon Wardle said:

So, maybe there is a question there about a certain political-economy of noise-making and how Nii Noy sees himself in that light, is there a theory of political action involved - are there certain kinds of noises-sounds-musics that are good to think with in social-political terms?

If I may be excused a tangential question, do either Stephen or Huon know of studies of cultural differences in the significance of (response to, reception of) noise level?

My mind drifts back to 1998 when our daughter talked my wife and I into joining a group of U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen (all women, but that's another story) and various family members into climbing Kilimanjaro. Our party was one of several climbing the mountain and whenever we arrived at a camp it seemed like war was breaking out between our guides and porters and the guides and porters for the other groups. Had it been Japan, the amount of noise we were hearing would have signalled imminent violence. But after a bit of shouting and handwaving, things soon settled down and the campsite amicably divided. Now, thanks to Huon, I recognize that something like Reisman's contrapuntal conversation had occurred.

Flash forward to last year when I was waiting at Haneda airport as part of of a largely Chinese crowd for a China Eastern flight to Guangzhou. The scene was permeated with what the Chinese call *renao (literally hot noise), or what I would call joyous uproar. I was struck by the difference from the usual silent scene when Japanese, American, or European passengers are waiting to board and airplane. 

Any thoughts?

We are in the closing phase of our seminar now. Steven has been a great conversationalist. Many thanks for giving over your time to this, Steven, and any one who wants to add a last comment or question before we close should take their chances over the next few hours. Thanks for those examples, John. The noise/information contrast is one that interests a lot of different disciplines; but Steven is the expert on that. 

Thanks John. A number of people are working on these kinds of issues. The CD/booklet/installation publication "Air Pressure" by Rupert Cox (Anthropology, Manchester) and Angus Carlisle (Sound, LCC) addresses this around Narita. Cox has been active in working on this issue with Japanese colleagues for some time, from Narita to Okinawa. David Novak (author of Japanoise, Duke U Press, just out) has also been working on these issues. For a broader context see the Routledsge Sound Studies reader (edited by Jonathan Sterne).

John McCreery said:

If I may be excused a tangential question, do either Stephen or Huon know of studies of cultural differences in the significance of (response to, reception of) noise level?

My mind drifts back to 1998 when our daughter talked my wife and I into joining a group of U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen (all women, but that's another story) and various family members into climbing Kilimanjaro. Our party was one of several climbing the mountain and whenever we arrived at a camp it seemed like war was breaking out between our guides and porters and the guides and porters for the other groups. Had it been Japan, the amount of noise we were hearing would have signalled imminent violence. But after a bit of shouting and handwaving, things soon settled down and the campsite amicably divided. Now, thanks to Huon, I recognize that something like Reisman's contrapuntal conversation had occurred.

Flash forward to last year when I was waiting at Haneda airport as part of of a largely Chinese crowd for a China Eastern flight to Guangzhou. The scene was permeated with what the Chinese call *renao (literally hot noise), or what I would call joyous uproar. I was struck by the difference from the usual silent scene when Japanese, American, or European passengers are waiting to board and airplane. 

Any thoughts?

Thanks Huon.

I've enjoyed following the questions and ideas and appreciate the chance to participate this way in OAC. I particularly appreciate your interest to bring both acoustemic approaches to ethnography as well as a multimedia text-sound-video interplay into the conversational arena.

Nii Noi joins me too in thanks to everyone for the warm appreciations voiced for his engagements with cultural politics through sound and visual arts.

Huon Wardle said:

We are in the closing phase of our seminar now. Steven has been a great conversationalist. Many thanks for giving over your time to this, Steven, and any one who wants to add a last comment or question before we close should take their chances over the next few hours. Thanks for those examples, John. The noise/information contrast is one that interests a lot of different disciplines; but Steven is the expert on that. 

Stephen, thank you so much. A rare opportunity for conversation that inspires.

Well, that's a wrap as they say. Thanks again to Steven and to Nii Noy once more for bringing something new to the series and to everyone who participated.

RSS

Translate

OAC Press

@OpenAnthCoop

Events

© 2019   Created by Keith Hart.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service