Introduction to Field Techniques in Ethnomusicology

Introduction to Field Techniques
in Ethnomusicology
Marie-Christine Parent
PhD Candidate in Ethnomusicology
Université de Montréal / Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis
Presented to the National Heritage Division
Victoria, Mahé, Seychelles
February 16, 2011
Introduction :
A Brief History of Ethnomusicology
• The history of ethnomusicology and evolution
of the discipline have been influenced a lot by
• Diversity of ethnomusicological narratives
• Diversity of people’s backgrounds making
research in this area
What is Ethnomusicology?
• From comparative musicology to
• « ethnomusicology » was used for the first time
by J. Kunst (1950)
• Discipline based on cross-cultural and
interdisciplinary research methods into musical
• Distinguished body of litterature
• Confluence of semiotics and hermeneutics
• Subsidiary of both musicology and anthropology
Perspectives in Anthropology and
Ethnomusicology : 1980-2000
• With John Blacking (1981), « Western music must also
be treated as strange and exotic »
• « holistic model » from R. Joseph (1988) : based on the
convergence of four intellectual traditions :
- musical semiotics, derived from structural
linguistics ;
- performance and contextual approches, from
folklore on the one hand, and from sociolinguistics
on the other ;
- communication and meaning model, from
cognitive anthropology
Perspectives in Anthropology and
Ethnomusicology : 1980-2000
• Clifford Geertz’s « interpretive anthropology » found its
way into ethnomusicological debate (see Rice, 1986)
• Cognitive psychology contributed a layer of analytical
insight (Harwood, 1976)
• Influence of semiology inspired by Saussure (Boilès, 1982 ;
Nattiez, 1975)
• Postmodernism (Feld, 1974 ; Jairazbhoy, 1977; Nettl, 1975;
Turino, 1990; etc.)
• Impact of reflexive principles of phenomenology and
hermeneutics (Bourdieu, 1984; Blum, 1990)
• Analytical method in popular music (Frith, 1987 ;
Middleton, 1990 ; Shepherd, 1982 ; Tagg, 1982)
New Issues for an Ethnomusicology of
the 21th Century
• Description and analysis of music in a
transplanted environment ;
• Cross-cultural and comparative studies ;
• Ideology and politics ;
• Cultural policy ;
• Traditional music on stage ;
• Applied ethnomusicology ;
• Performance analysis and practice ;
• Etc.
Doing Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology
Some issues :
• Collaborative ethnography (see Lassiter, Araujo,
Impey, etc.);
• Ethics on the fieldwork (see Aubert, Desroches,
Parent, Shelemay, etc.) ;
• Visual anthropology or hypermedia anthropology
(see Pourchez, Taylor Anderson, etc.)
Field Techniques in Ethnomusiclogy
1) Preparation
Consultation of archives, library, private
collections, museums, internet and other
repositories : scholarly reports and
Be aware of reliability of sources : who, when,
context, etc.
What to observe / study / comment / record ?
1. Oral and Musical Tradition
Tales, legends, personal experiences, mnemonic devices, jokes, etc.)
Song : ballads, lullaby, children’s songs, work songs, etc.
Music : drumming, fiddle tunes, whistling, etc.
Dance : square dance, round dance, ethnic dance, etc.
Game, Play, and Strategy
Fieldwork (2)
2. Material Culture
• Artifacts : houses, barns, boats, musical instruments, etc.
• The Cultural Landscapes : physical and economic boundaries of regions
and neighborhoods, use of land and space, etc.
• Crafts and Trades : tool making, musical instruments making, rope making,
weaving, animal trapping, etc.
3. Family Life
• Traditions and Customs
• Religious observations
• Rites of passage: birth, birthdays, baptism, marriage, funerals, etc.
Fieldwork (3)
4. Foodways
Food preparation and recipes
Traditional meal preparation
Religious or symbolic uses for food
5. Beliefs
• Folk Medicine
• Religious practices
• Luck and magic
Fieldwork (4)
6. Festivals, Drama, Rituals
Seasonal and calendrical events
Saints and nameday celebrations
Feast days
Market days
Community festivals and pageants
Touristic scene
Fieldwork (5)
How to observe / study :
Listening ;
Taking notes ;
Recording (audio, video) ;
Fieldwork (6)
Doing fieldwork implies :
• Have notebooks, pens and pencils ;
• Make sure the camera is charged and that you have enough
cassettes and all the accessories needed (tripod, charger,
flash, microphone, extension cord, extra batteries, etc.)
• Have tape measure (for recording the dimension of material
• Dress properly, according to the circumstances
• Release forms (consent, permission)
• Maps, phone numbers, etc.
• Being able to elaborate a “questionnaire” and to “improvise”
with the answers
The « Questionnaire »
• The « questionnaire » is composed of
« open » questions and « closed » questions
• What is the purpose of this interview?
• Make a list of the main ideas to take over
• Prepare a few questions on each idea to be
• Make sure you will be able to make the
transition without having to start over again
each time you want to « go somewhere else »
Fieldwork (7)
Some hints and issues about recordings :
• When setting an interview, mention you plan to record it
• Before making the interview or recording some music, tell the
informant or the musician(s) what the recording will be used for
and make she he/she understands and approves.
• A release or consent form might be signed
• Make sure you know how to use the camera or sound recorder
before the interview and try to not be preoccupied by the recording
machine during the interview
• Always use high quality material (tapes…)
• Be aware of ambient noise
• Number your recordings as you take them and register the title of
the project, the name of the musician / group / speaker, the name
of the interviewer, date and location of recording, the context, key
subject recorded, etc.
Release Form Example
I,_____________________________, am a participant in the_______________________
project, (hereinafter "project"). I understand that the purpose of the project
is to collect audio- and video-tapes and selected related documentary materials
(such as photographs and manuscripts) that may be deposited in the permanent
collections of __________________________________. The deposited documentary
materials may be used for scholarly, educational, and other purposes. I understand
that the ____________________ plans to retain the product of my participation as
part of its permanent collection and that the materials may be used for exhibition,
publication, presentation on the World Wide Web and successor technologies, and
for promotion of the institution and its activities in any medium.
I hereby grant to _____________________________ ownership of the physical
property delivered to the institution and the right to use the property
that is the product of my participation (for example, my interview,
performance, photographs, and written materials) as stated above. By
giving permission, I understand that I do not give up any copyright or
performance rights that I may hold.
I also grant to_____________________________ my absolute and irrevocable
consent for any photograph(s) provided by me or taken of me in the course
of my participation in the project to be used, published, and copied
by ______________________________ and its assignees in any medium.
I agree that_______________________________ may use my name, video or
photographic image or likeness, statements, performance, and voice
reproduction, or other sound effects without further approval on my part.
Collector: __________________________Tape no. ______________________
Recording title (informant or event): _______________________________
Corresponding Data Sheet No. ______________Photo Log No._____________
Fieldnotes (dates or other retrieval no.): __________________________
Format: ____________ (cassette, disk, sound card, digital video, etc.)
Length: __________
Machine model used: ________________________________________________
Interview date: ___________________Time: ___________________________
Place of Interview(s): ______________________________________________
Setting and circumstance: ___________________________________________
Subjects covered: ___________________________________________________
Additional Notes: ___________________________________________________
Time or meter Topic/informant
Fieldwork (8)
About recording and filming…
What do you want to document?
• The sound?
• The way of playing? The way of dancing? The relation between the
• Playing or signing techniques?
• Costumes?
• Musical instruments?
• Anything else?
Make sure you get theses informations in your recordings !
After Fieldwork…
Organizing and preparing the material for
archival preservation
• After an interview, listen to it and make a “log” or a topic-bytopic summary for each recording
• Make sure the label on the recording is matching the recording
• Make sure to store recordings in a dry, temperature stable
atmosphere away from electronic and magnetic equipment.
What To Do With a Recording or
Pictures ?
• Store on an external hard drive and transfert on
CDs or DVDs : always keep more than one copie
in different places and keep the best quality as
• Give a copy back to the informants / musicians
when it is possible
• Live a copy to be stored at a National Archives or
any organization responsible for the conservation
of heritage
How can we use these documents?
• Research purposes : analysis, education, etc.
• Documentaries, publications
(pictures),valorisation projects, etc. - not for
commercial purposes
Before using some material, tell the informant that
an extract of an interview or a music will be used
for a specific project. If the informant is not alive
anymore, talk with the family. In any case,
specially if we think the project might end up in a
commercial one, a new agreement is sometimes
Doing fieldwork is nowadays not only about
techniques, but mostly about ETHICS and
RELATIONSHIPS with the people you work with.
Of course, a good knowledge of the discipline, some
technical skills to make good fieldwork
(intervews, filming, etc.) and a good preparation
is necessary.
In my conception, applied ethnomusicology is
based on some kind of collaborative ethnography,
in the way that it tends to respond to the local
needs and preoccupations.
Selective Bibliography
• LASSITER, Luke Erik, 2004, « Collaborative Ethnography »,
AnthroNotes, Spring 2004.
• PORTER, James, 1995, « New Perspectives in Ethnomusicology : A
Critical Survey », in Transcultural Music Review, # 1. (consulté pour
la dernière fois le 7 février 2011)
• POURCHEZ, Laurence Pourchez, « Multimédia et anthropologie : de
la mode à la narration réflexive »,, Numéro 16
- septembre 2008 [en ligne]. (consulté
pour la dernière fois le 7 février 2011)
• TAYLOR ANDERSON, Kevin, 1999, « Ethnographic Hypermedia :
Transcending Thick Descriptions », in SIGHTS – Visual Anthropology
Forum, www. (consulté pour la
dernière fois le 25 janvier 2011)
Questions, comments and more…
[email protected]
(under « enseignement »)

similar documents