Wednesday, October 19, 2005


There has always been a deep connection between ethnography and poesis; the encounter with "the other" provokes precisely the kinds of misunderstandings and speechlessness that productively feed the imagination. The encounter with the unfamiliar is an opportunity to rediscover the strangeness of the familar. The habit of ethnographic production is addictive and infectious, and even forgoing physical travel altogether is insufficient propholaxis. Marco Polo's diaries or Castaneda's Don Juan "field notes" are not less readable because they are frauds; the imagined lands of Swift or Nabokov's Zembla are not less ethnographic because they are fictions.

Some musicians reimagine musical history and ethnography: Bach's "French" music is not French music, but German Baroque music with French music as a topic. Stravinsky played this game all the time; his music is inevitably music about some other music. But some musicians have gone beyond purely musical concerns, and have found that they need to imagine the whole culture around their music. Two favorites: Kraig Grady, an Angeleno composer and just intonation instrument builder in the Partchian tradition has become our Ambassador to the Island nation of Anaphoria, not only providing us with the music, music theory, and instrumentation, but also the shadow theatre, mythology, cultural geography, and fragments of everything else that is anaphoriana. This is a project of decades, no sudden impulse, and the development in his instrumental design, performance practice, and the emerging clarity of his compositional project show that. Another musician, Herman Miller, has chosen to report from several lands elsewhere unknown, and provides us with information about both their languages and musics (mostly in non-12-tone-equal temperaments).

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