Friday, October 24, 2008

The "global village" comes to ethnomusicology: the 2008 SEM meeting

This is my first entry during this year's meeting of the Society of Ethnomusicology, an international organization whose annual conference is being held this year at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut--which has one of the longest running programs in the U.S. dedicated to the study of what is now more popularly called "world music" (see the link in the lower left hand of this page for a definition of ethnomusicology). But as we shall see in the course of this conference, the approach of ethnomusicology may be applied to an analysis of such western-based and contemporary phenomena as YouTube, as well as to traditional music systems from around the world.

At the moment, I am sitting in the Center for the Arts Cinema at Wesleyan, using the University's wireless Internet network to access, while an array of 12 international scholars are discussing at the moment the success of a new venture for the Society--an active scholarly exchange with colleagues overseas with the aid of the Internet.

It was in this very location that earlier today three interactive two-hour video conferences were held with China/Taiwan, Indonesia, and Africa, with the Wesleyan-based panel of scholars alternating with colleagues in those countries reading papers, and conducting discussions which included the audience here in the Cinema; in addition, anyone anywhere in the world who could access the appropriate Website could thereby contribute questions to the panelists, and view and hear their responses.

In fact, as I just now discovered, in proofreading the published version of this blog to make certain all the links are operable, TONIGHT's Plenary Session is also being streamed live--and visible to anyone anywhere on earth with the necessary computer hardware and software!. Ah, the global village of ethnomusicology!

During the next four days, I will, when time permits, bring you some of the details of this extraordinary experience, with participants in as many as eleven simultaneous panels examining a vast range of topics dealing with both historical and contemporary musics from every corner of the world. To see a preliminary listing of the panels and the papers being presented, go to The Society's Web page for the program, where you can download a pdf file with all the details confirmed as of 3 September 2008.

At the moment, a scholar from China is commenting (in Chinese, with a subsequent English translation) on her excitement this morning about having a first-hand visual exposure to research projects being conducted by colleagues in countries beyond China and North America.

And now, at THIS moment (since I am typing as the discussion continues), an ethnomusicologist from Indonesia--speaking in Bahasa, again followed by English translation--is sharing similar sentiments about how technology is bringing all of us who study world music closer together, in a new (21st century) incarnation of the oral tradition.

And finally, in his closing remarks on this evening's "plenary session", Professor Mark Slobin of Wesleyan is describing today's event as what he calls "an experience of cosmopolitanism", and while the experience is currently exclusive--in that it is limited to those who currently have access to computers and the Internet--he hopes that such an approach will result in "a rainbow effect" in opening up a system of cross-communication for ethnomusicology.

I'll return again tomorrow for further observations.

More to come.

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