Xth ESEM OXFORD (UK) 1994
— CONFERENCE REPORT —
by Wim van Zanten, Leiden University
The Xth seminar was held in the music-room of the Faculty of Music, Oxford University, from 29 August to 2 September 1994, and was organised by Gwen and Jeremy Montagu. The programme chairman was John Baily. The set-up was uncomplicated, and I found this to be one of the most pleasant of such events of the past few years. The schedule for the papers was disciplined, for having 30 presentations meant there were no parallel sessions, there was enough time for discussion afterwards, and with 60 or 70 participants it was a group process. Moreover, there was plenty of time to talk to each other after the official programme. The themes were (I) Musical instruments and the human body (John Baily as chairman, 12 papers) (2) Vocal performance and its social contexts (Peter Cooke, 12 papers) (3) Emotional expression, affective expression : from the tingle-factor to possession (Ir?n Kert?sz-Wilkinson, 6 papers). The themes were each well introduced by their chairmen. There had been a selection of the papers offered, but it was shown again how difficult it may be to direct a paper to a particular theme. Setting themes is useful in making people think about their contributions at an early stage, and may help to focus subsequent discussions. I rather like the “odd ones out” who cannot be accommodated easily in the given themes, and if accepted they stand a chance to have some costs paid by their institution. I was very pleased with the overall quality of the papers and discussions.
Most papers were allowed 30 mns for presentation (20 mns) and discussion. One session was only one hour, with four 10 mn papers and 20 mns general discussion. This worked very well indeed because the speakers kept to the tight schedule and, so to speak, restricted themselves to making just one point. By contrast, a session of 75 mns, with 3 papers of 15 mns, followed by a discussion of half an hour, did not work so well because the topics were too divergent and the treatment by each speaker was over-elaborate. Here, a separate discussion on each paper may have worked better. Nevertheless, the experiment with different lengths of papers was most instructive, and should be followed-up.
In my report on the 1991 Geneva ESEM (van Zanten 1992:133) I said I found some contributions from the former Soviet Union rather weak: no attempt at theory, lack of social context, and local musicians’ concepts ignored. Oxford was very much better. The contributions of Nadia Joulanova (Perm) on ‘Pan-flutes with Komi-Permiaks: Life of instrument and person’, and Katya Dorokhova (Moscow) on ‘Lamentations in the Russian folk tradition’ exemplified well-presented and interesting research. Joulanova explained how 3 to 5 separate (unbound) panpipes were made and played by women in the Urals. She cited comments : “That woman plays as if she can have five men during one night”. and the sexual symbolism was clear in the video showing the construction of the pipes (hollow stems from a sort of tall “broccoli”), which were “eaten” to be tuned. On Dorokhova’s video a woman sang a lament at her son’s grave. Some reaction turned on whether to film people in distress, one person saying audio recordings would be more “in place”. Katya explained she filmed only
after consultation, that it was agreed in advance, and she had a good rapport with the woman (as well, there exist professional mourners).
Agni Spohr-Rassidakis (Zürich) presented an interesting paper on ‘ “Emotion” and female singing in Crete’ in which she discussed ballads, laments and songs used for rituals. The women, not the men, are asked to express emotion in public, and when they do, they rather try to maintain the tradition than express themselves personally. Cretan women declare that laments are not “sung”, but “said”. Musical aspects become more important in the songs for rituals.
Remarkable papers from Australia I found the contributions of Udo Will (France/Australia), on ‘Structures of frequency organisation in Central Australian Aboriginal vocal music’, and Catherine Ellis (Australia) on ‘The “Two Women” series from Central Australia’ to be remarkable. Will argued, by means of acoustic analysis, that in this music the difference between two tones is determined by the absolute difference in Hertz (cps) and not by a ratio of frequencies (an interval in Cents). Ellis had accurately measured the pitch of songs used in a particular ritual (sung unaccompanied). She did this twice, with a gap of four years, and found almost exactly the same series of frequencies. The pitch of the songs rose when a new phase of the ritual began. It was not a technical question of singing (as happens with Western choirs, rising or dropping in pitch), but a systematic relation between the pitch of the songs and the different parts of the ritual.
There were two more papers on the analysis of sound. Giovanni Giuriati (from Rome) showed what a number of bassoon players did at the opening of Strawinsky’s Sacre du printempts on a very detailed scale, having used a Melograph. The present author tried to relate the precisely-determined sonic characteristics of several vocal genres in West Java to social characteristics of the performers and the performing situation. It appeared that an almost purely “intensity-vibrato” only occurs in genres greatly influenced by Islamic culture (in Java).
As bad as divorce
Iren Kertesz-Wilkinson’s (London) paper was ‘Xatjares? Do you understand it/feel it?’, about the solution of a problem at the beginning of her fieldwork. It was to be on Gypsy music in Hungary. The local (Hungarian) police did not understand how a non-Gypsy could have any interest in the Gypsies. They accused Ir?n of being a part of some wheeler-dealing. Ir?n’s presentation analysed the evening when these problems were “discussed” and emotionally resolved in singing and dancing. She had video fragments of how the parties came to an agreement to live together again, and that she (Ir?n) could now start her fieldwork.
In his paper ‘I don’t want to sing with Salvatore any more’, Bernard Lortat-Jacob (Paris) also portrayed a situation where music and its organisation expresses ways in which people interact. Here, it was about groups of men in Sardinia who sing ensemble. The groups should be very cohesive, with the men eating, drinking and singing together – and of these forms of social interaction, singing is the most intimate. Not wanting to sing with Salvatore was as bad as divorce.
Anna Czekanowska delivered the 3rd John Blacking Memorial Lecture, which she called ‘John Blacking. the ideal musical man’. Personal memories were her starting point. Anna spoke of the influence of Blacking on the development of ethnomusicology in Poland. In the 1970s, people were acquainted mostly with the approaches of Lomax and Merriam. Then Blacking showed them his methodology. “John Blacking was a structuralist, but, unlike us, he based his views on empirical research”
The printed version of the 1st JBML, given by John Baily, was presented to all participants at Oxford (cf. Baily 1994).
Satisfaction with this seminar was expressed at the final business meeting. The ESEM membership list had been culled, and hstood at about 225 paying members, who would all receive INFO and other communications The financial situation was slightly better but still not solid. Vice-President Anne Caufriez (Bruxelles) presented a report indicating that the EU may subsidise ESEM at about 8000 ECU (= c. US$11 .000), but nothing was yet in writing (subsequently, 4.000 ECU have been received as a “first slice”). Plans for the XIth ESEM (published in INFO-23) were discussed, and ‘music and nationalism’ was dropped as a theme. Wim van Zanten was elected Chairman for the Holland ESEM 1995, and he expressed his gratitude to Frank Kouwenhoven, who will join in with the organisation. Possible venues for 1996 were put in order of preference : (I) Helsinki, (2) Jerusalem, and (3) Toulouse. Thessaloniki is a candidate for 1997. Publication of the proceedings of X.ESEM.OXON.94 on computer disquette(s) was then discussed, with Peter Cooke of Edinburgh as editor-compiler. It could be supplemented by a photocopied booklet containing illustrations and/or a cassette tape.
REFERENCES BAILY, John, 1994. John Blacking : Dialogue with the ancestors. London: Goldsmiths College (University of London). ISBN 0901 542 75X / 20pp. ZANTEN, Wim van, 1992: “8th European Seminar in Ethnomusicology. Geneva, 23rd – 25th September, 1991”;The World of Music 34 (l):132-5.
The proceedings of this conference, X.ESEM.OXON.94, which had been compiled and edited by Peter Cooke, Edinburgh, were available on the Internet. The page has been closed.