Note: This post, together with part II, will be the last for awhile. I’m going to take a class this spring and plan on being very busy; also, I’ve discovered I’m not real into this blogging thing, to be honest. However, with any luck, I may use this space to post some clips from a film I’ve been working on – which would be only slightly off the blog topic (music is still the subject matter). To anyone who signed up to follow the blog or “liked” the blog, thank you, I appreciate it. Feel free to check in from time to time (you can also check out http://www.davidwhitmerfieldrecordings.net, which has some repeated material from the blog but a lot of other stuff as well. Meanwhile, on with the posting, which begins–dubiously enough–with some song lyrics:
I’m charged up, don’t put me down
Don’t feel like talking, don’t mess around
I feel mean, I feel o.k.
I’m charged up … electricity
-David Byrne, “Drugs”
When I first started traveling in search of traditional music I had certain ideas regarding the purity and authenticity of the music I was looking for. Traditional music, I was certain, would be untainted by contemporary influences … distinct from the pop culture that shapes conventional tastes and listening habits, apart from the fleeting aesthetics that characterize commercial trends. Most of all, I thought, it would not be electric.
It was not a realistic set of expectations. The contemporary world eventually overwhelms us all, and music–like every other phenomena in the entire universe–is subject to change over time. Traditional music, I was naively surprised to find, was made by people not unlike myself, all of whom were living in some variant of the contemporary world, and thus subject to many of the same influences. Perhaps, I’ve thought, it is only a matter of choosing to what degree a musician wishes to let music from outside their native musical culture change their that culture. An instrumentalist from any one tradition–be it a Mexican son tradition or Indonesian karanguts–might shy away from sounding like music they hear on the radio, but that doesn’t preclude other types of modernization. Can you, for example, blame a player for putting a microphone in front of his traditional instrument if it allows him to be heard by a larger audience? And how large a step is it for that same musician to go from putting a microphone in front of their instrument to attaching a guitar pickup? How profoundly might that change the sound?