The Music, Language, and Culture Workshop

February 20, 2012
by wfaber

Bennett Zon, Feb 21st

Announcing a special workshop co-sponsored by the Music History/Theory Workshop, the EthNoise! Ethnomusicology Workshop, the 18th/19th Century Cultures Workshop, and the Nicholson Center for British Studies.  On February 21, @3:00pm at the Fulton Recital Hall, Professor Bennett Zon, from Durham University UK, will present his work on “Evolution and spiritual selection in Victorian musical culture.”

ABSTRACT:  The history of religion and science has often been caricatured as strewn with mortal conflict. Early books on the topic, like John William Draper’s History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874) or Andrew Dickson White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896) did nothing to dispel this view.  The battle between religion and science was, however, never as consistently divisive as these books might suggest, and during the Victorian period there was at times an amicable, albeit dynamic, relationship between the two. Like twins separated at birth, religion and science occasionally rediscovered one another in the booming culture of post-Darwinian Britain, to find abundant similarities and curiously engrossing differences. This is the story of such a relationship, exploring the influence of evolution within the science and religion of Victorian Britain, and then tracing its impact on England’s leading music philosopher, Joseph Goddard (1833–1911).

Because Goddard published regularly throughout most of the Victorian period his work provides a helpful glimpse into the development of Britain’s musicological mind. That mind was deeply immersed in contemporary scientific, religious and philosophical debates, not least as they relate to changes in evolutionary theory. Indeed, as evolutionary theory evolved, so too did musicology. Goddard’s philosophy of music reflects those changes very clearly, from his early days as a flag-waving Spencerian to his later, more circumspect time as a devout Darwinian. Like many other intellectuals of the time, however, Goddard fell sway to the Darwinian argument, abandoning neither his good Spencerian principles nor his fundamental belief in the spiritual nature of the universe. To the extent that Darwin failed to resolve his own religious conflict, he was similarly compromised.  Darwin calls it his ‘muddle’, and it is that so-called muddle between scientific knowledge and religious belief, played out in vast swathes of Victorian intellectual culture, which one finds represented and resolved in Goddard’s philosophy of music.

This paper charts the history of Darwin’s muddle as emblematic of Victorian debates about religion and science, looking closely at the relationship of natural theology and the emerging science of evolution. It examines the resolution of that relationship into a theology consonant with evolution yet true to its religious roots, and then situates that theology broadly within Goddard’s philosophy of music.

Persons who require assistance to participate fully in this event should contact Andy Greenwood at in advance.

February 6, 2012
by wfaber

Feb. 9th, Dr. Kelly Askew

Please join us for a special EthNoise! session cosponsored with the African Studies Workshop, as we welcome Dr. Kelly Askew (Associate Professor, Anthropology and Afroamerican and African Studies, University of Michigan).  We will meet on Thursday, Feb. 9th, in Regenstein Library, Room 264, at 4:30 for her talk, “‘Poetry in Motion’: Ethnography vs. Cinematography in a Swahili Music Documentary.

Poetry in Motion: 100 Years of Zanzibar’s Nadi Ikhwan Safaa is a (2011) documentary film about the oldest taarab orchestra in the world: Zanzibar’s Nadi Ikhwan Safaa (“The True Brotherhood Club”). Taarab is a genre of sung Swahili poetry popular along the coasts and off lying islands of Kenya and Tanzania. The music of coastal East Africa is an aesthetic manifestation of the confluence of Indian Ocean dhow trade networks with caravan trade networks from central and southern Africa for it was at the East African coast and through Swahili middlemen that these two trading systems would meet. In taarab performance, therefore, one hears the rhythms of local ngoma dances, South Asian vocal timbre, and Arabian instrumentation. Swahili, a Bantu language with significant Arabic vocabulary, ties these together into an urban genre that varies in musical inflection up and down the coast as do the dialects that mark Mombasa Swahili as distinct from Zanzibari Swahili. In this presentation, I wish to share and invite discussion about the challenges we faced in trying to escape from the formulaic genre that “African music documentary” has become.

The “African music documentary” genre was created around West and South African musical forms. Among other things, it entails cutting the visual to a driving beat. But what does one do when the musical form, though “African,” does not have a beat as driving as expected? How does one maintain visual interest? How does one accommodate Western expectations about African music when the selected musical form (a variety of orchestral music) is not easily identifiable as “African”? How do you elicit audience interest in a genre for which conventional performance practice is the affectation of studied disinterest? And how do you deal with the problem we faced of centering the film on a single event—the 100th anniversary concert—and having that event go catastrophically badly? Do you stick true to “documentary value” whatever the damage to the film’s original objectives?

I welcome this opportunity to share these dilemmas from the filming and post-production processes of Poetry in Motion, showing a few selected clips from the film and interspersing them with discussion about the challenges they entailed. I expect this to lead us into a more general discussion about generic constraints in film production and the use of editorial—not to mention artistic—license in reconciling documentary value with cinematic value.