". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Things have been so busy that we haven't made much progress these last 8 - 9 days with Assmann's, The Mind of Egypt: History and Meaning in the Time of the Pharaohs. We only began chapter 14 last night, the establishment of the New Kingdom with the wars of liberation against the Hyksos.

The inclusion in the Keynote Address at the conference of Assmann's structuralist paradigm reading lost historic information as messages, memories and traces worked out very well in terms of discussing the circulation of music in music's pre-history. The description of the Uluburun ship and its cargo ranging from the Baltic north to Nubia dramatized this circulation in a concrete, material illustration. Thinking only a moment about this, anyone understands that in these eras music was also circulating along those watery trade routes of rivers and seas and coasts.

People were the containers of music, and people circulated, whether musicians, slaves, sailors, soldiers, merchants, camel drivers, you name it. Music was contained in people and people always travel. The point of the presentation is that pre-recording technology, all music exists in the pre-historic realms. Musical notation is just that -- notation. It doesn't tell you how it sounded in its own milieu.

This seemed to impress the young 'uns quite a bit, never having thought in that way previously. One did raise her hand and inquire plaintively if Vaquero was telling them to study history and geography and anthropology* and archeology and literature, when they were ethnomusicologists and thus they studied music! When she finished her involved question, he answered, "Yes."

Nothing exists in a vacuum, including the past. That's another reason the past changes so much.


* Even now, often enthnomusicology is regarded as part of the anthropology dept., not the music dept., while the anthropology dept. regards ethnomusicology as part of the music dept., which can leave the students rather twisting in the wind, neither one nor the other, while not allowed a dept. to itself. At the same time this perhaps accounts for why enormous amounts of the primary research and best musicology still is accomplished by non-academics, non-faculty.


Graeme said...

Nothing against the purely academic folks, but I think it is great those that actually make wonderful music are interested in its historical implications.

Renegade Eye said...

That was really interesting.

With mass communication, globalization, and unified economies, isn't musical notation universal now? Isn't Do Re Mi the same in Los Angeles and Laos?

We have some idea about music as flamenco, because of the ghetto experience, it's a pure form.

I'm rambling because the ideas about notation raise so many questions. When was harmony invented? I could go on with dozens of questions.

OT: If oil prices rise, touring is not an option. I was thinking you should do a history/music CD, maybe with your book.

Foxessa said...

Ren -- Harmony wasn't invented, it was discovered.

Codified European harmonic practice dates to the 18th Century.

Notation is not acoustic, not music. This is one of the many reasons music historical recreation groups such les arts d' floresants exist (I love their performacnes, btw).

Have you read Robert Farris Thompson book on Flamanco?

That's what Vaquero is doing -- making a CD that goes with his book.

Love, C.

Foxessa said...

There's so much history embedded in music.

Vaquero calls it "music forensics.' He's been called a "sonic sleuth.' However, it takes a combination of skills / education that so many do not have, that includes linguistics and a good grasp of more than your birth language, and excellent ears and audio memory. Musicians, with the exception of linguistics -- few musicians have studied linguistics and semiotics, but Vaquero did, along with Chinese, composition, orchestration, direction, arrangement, and the other more traditional music requirements, in grad school -- thus he's been unique in his work, and thus so seminal. We see it every year. There are books written now that would not be written if he hadn't written Cuba and Its Music.

Love, C.