This course will start by asking: What defines popular music? What influences it? Where is it rooted? And how do we listen to it? As we answer these questions, we will follow the intersecting, entwined, ever shifting paths of people and music as they move across continents and through oceans. The course will begin with a brief tutorial on basic music skills (rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre, texture, etc) as a way to inform the critical listening that we will practice. Course topics will be selected based on the regions we visit, to take advantage of the unique opportunity we have to experience the music that we study firsthand. For example, before arriving in Dakar, Senegal, we will listen to and critically engage with Senegalese hip-hop; before arriving in Yokohama, Japan, we will listen to and critically engage with Japanese metal. With our extensive listening assignments, we will read critical writings on popular music cultures from the fields of history, musicology, sociology, ethnomusicology, cultural studies, and journalism. In addition to reading and listening critically, students will be expected to form and articulate written arguments and opinions of their own in response to listening and readings. At the end of this course we will have become better cross-cultural listeners and we will have dealt with issues of appropriation, authenticity, genre, technological effects of production/consumption, ritual, gender, identity, migration, ethnicity, social relationships, cultural identity, global economics, politics, and ideas of the sacred. When we leave the boat, we will have an enhanced, deepened enjoyment of cross-cultural popular music, and we will be able to think critically through listening. No prior musical experience is necessary.
Field WorkCountry: Myanmar (Burma)
Day: 2 - Friday, 19 February
The field lab will take place in Yangon, Myanmar, on Friday, 19 February. The lab will include first-hand insight into the pop culture in Myanmar. With a local guide, the students will visit a Yangon recording studio, where they will interact with local artists and technicians, and gain a behind-the-scenes perspective of what goes in to making a recording. After lunch, the students will then encounter the Me N Ma Girls, Myanmar’s first all-girl pop act, and one of the premiere pop groups in the country. The Me N Ma Girls are a creation of Nichole May, a dancer who came to Myanmar from Australia to select five artists from a pool of candidates that saw over 120 responses from advertisements in the local newspaper and via radio shows. The group released their first album in December 2011 and since then have recorded a music video in Bangkok, Thailand. This was the first time out of the country for all of them. They have plans to return to Bangkok so they can become “Famous and Globally recognized”. Despite their fan support, the group still has an uphill battle, fighting familial expectations, government censorship, criticism from people set in more traditional ways, and lack of financial support, in addition to the practical obstacles—including power-cuts in the middle of their gigs—that often affect up-and coming groups.
The field lab will include personal interactions with business manager Nicole May, and then meet with the Me N Ma Girls themselves. A cross-cultural discussion session will provide the students with an opportunity to discuss the challenges and rewards of the Myanmar music industry. Through these activities, students will connect to the vibrant musical culture of Myanmar. Issues that will be explored include:
• The production of Myanmar popular culture
• The differences between recorded music and live music
• The impact that sound recording technology has on music and culture
• The differences between popular music in the United States and Myanmar
• The influence of traditional and foreign music on local pop music
• How the media is being used for social change and awareness
• How recording technology has changed the way we listen to, perform, and compose music.
Students will keep thorough notes of all aspects of the event, and then write a 1000-word reflection paper on the experience.
1. The production of popular music in Myanmar, the differences between popular music in the United States and Myanmar, and the influence of traditional and foreign music on local pop music.
2. The differences between recorded music and live music, the impact of sound recording technology on music and culture, and how recording technology has changed the way we listen to, perform, and compose music.
3. How the media is being used for social change and awareness.