some musings on representation and research…and the weekend’s listings

I’VE BEEN thinking a lot about the difficulties of representation through ethnography – the responsibility that comes with delving into people’s lives, their work and their music and then writing about them, representing them in writing.  Making music can be a highly personal affair and the motivations and meanings of it may not always be communicable or translatable in an hour long interview.  I’ve recently been on the receiving end of a journalistic interview myself (with a very charming and interesting writer) and had the experience of seeing my research represented through someone else’s words.  It was eye-opening in the sense that it made me recognize that in the interviews I’m doing in my own work I need to continue to strive to be aggressively committed to listening as fully as possible to what is said to me, what’s left unsaid,  to what’s asked of me, in addition to the music and the lyrics I’m recording nightly.

As I come into the sixth month of research I’m trying to take stock and to get a sense of where this dissertation might go – I’ll be spending another one or two years of my life writing the diss itself – but I don’t think I’ll ever stop being interested in it or trying to educate my students about this topic, wherever I end up teaching. Three years ago when I embarked on this work I was coming from a background of study in three areas: the cross-cultural collaborations or musical sharing between India and the west; the politics and problems of commodification and consumerism in relation to musical culture; and the study of popular music, primarily local rock scenes. In 2007, when I came to Bangalore for a month (on my way to study Hindi film music in Mauritius) I was struck at the outset by two things – the creative commitment of the bands and music people I met in Bangalore and the fact that in the absence of a large audience or support from the national popular music industries, rock performances had often come to rely, at that time, on corporate sponsors.  Today in my research I’m struck by so many other things other than corporate sponsorship (much of which has dried up in the face of the global recession in any case) but that initial visit directed the project at the time – through the books I read, the classes I took, and ultimately the grant I wrote that brought me back to Bangalore in 2009, “Rock Brands/Rock Brands: Performance, Mediation and Commodification in Bangalore’s Rock Music Culture.”

It is in no way unusual for corporate sponsors to stage and underwrite popular music performances anywhere in the world, I’d suggest; but in my research what I wanted to understand was what types of effects such collaborations might have on a scene like Bangalore’s and how or if the symbolic connections between rock music, consumption, and transnational media may or may not have shaped the dimensions or direction of the scene.  Throughout my last months of research, though, and in talking to many open and interesting people my focus has shifted somewhat – to try to understand not just the industry, but what Bruce Lee Mani from Thermal and a Quarter recently called an “ecosystem” of rock music in Bangalore — the musicians, students, fans, writers, the platforms, gigs, pubs, pub owners, the media and the corporate sponsors who all, in different ways, contribute to a scene that is distinctively and particularly of Bangalore, even while it is connected through people and networks to scenes in, for example, Shillong, Delhi, Mumbai, New York, London, or Oslo, etc etc. In that sense I wonder if perhaps playing rock music is something of a metaphor for understanding some aspects of being a particular type of Bangalorean in the globalized city/world of 2010. Being a rock musician here is in some ways like being a rock musician anywhere (the practices, processes of song-writing, the struggles of collaborating closely with other musicians) while it also has issues and meanings that are specific to Bangalore and its politics and culture.  To play rock music here involves, I think, being aware of and attuned to the transnationally recognizable repertoire that is rock and roll and popular music, while also following personal inspirations and motivations  for making particular sounds – whether metal, fusion, or classic rock; whether partaking in the distinct pleasures of singing a Pink Floyd cover song or performing experimental original music; whether the lyrics are in English, Kannada, Malayalam or Hindi, whether using Indian instruments, didgeridoos, the classic rock lineup or a combination of all of those.

So anyway…some musings.  There are some good shows coming up this weekend and I’m gonna try and hit them all.

Thursday 4/1: Slain at HRC

Friday 4/2: Whiplash Psychedelic rock fest at BMSC

Saturday 4/3: Chilly Potato at Urban Solace

Saturday 4/3: Blues Before Sunrise at Kyra

Sunday 4/4: Pseudo Code at Legends of Rock

Hope to see you there!

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Published in: on April 1, 2010 at 7:18 am  Leave a Comment  

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