Month: March 2011

Four Weeks Left

The semester is coming to a close, and it feels like it just started. Thanks to a professor who has been out of town for a conference, I was able to sleep in for four days in a row. I am unbelievably grateful!

As you know, I use TeuxDeux to organize my life. It’s simple and quick enough for me to just compile everything in one spot, plus it’s got a handy-dandy iPhone app that syncs up to my mac in a lovely way.  While I appreciate that if you don’t complete something on a due date the item rolls over to the next day, right now that list is quite long and quite frankly, irritating. As long as I get one or two items crossed off per day, I’ll stay happy. Okay – I guess I’ll stop rambling.

I realized this morning that I hate humidity and I’ll be happy if I can spend the entirety of the summer somewhere without it. I’m not sure how I lived in New Orleans for so long and avoided making that statement. I just don’t like it. I hate walking outside and feeling like I’m breathing underwater. It feels the same here in Florida. It just makes me feel – dirty.

Speaking of summer, I’ve completely avoided making plans for it because every time I think about it, my head spins. I was offered two awesome volunteer positions overseas, but I’m worried about finances. I’m also not sure it would be entirely fruitful as I’ve decided that my thesis will be on the music of New Orleans.  I don’t want to spend the summer in New Orleans because most of the street musicians (at least those I’m working with) go north for the summer, there aren’t many tourists, and musically not a whole lot happens in NOLA after fest-season (until Satchmo Fest in August) – BUT I have a cool internship opportunity there, so we’ll see.  I don’t want to spend it with family because I spent over a week with them in December, and really, that’ll do for the year (just my mother in particular, really).  I also don’t want to spend the summer pent up in my home office in front of my mac. I’d get cabin fever after a day or so. Anyway, you get the point. My goal is that by the end of this week, I have a tentative summer schedule down.  Sorry I’m complaining so much  – its more of a venting process than anything. Two things I’m sure of: Bonnaroo to help lead Stan’s drum workshop (500 drums built in four days!), and Falcon Ridge Folk Fest with my sisters (which will also include some drum-building).  It’s a start!

Physically I’m doing much better, thanks to a curious doctor and a couple of prescriptions (that I’m hoping I can be done with soon, but it’s doubtful)…  my physical anxiety is about 80% better than it was a few weeks ago.

This week I’m focusing on the beginning phases of two research papers, one for Indonesia, and one for India. I haven’t narrowed down the topics completely yet, so that’s step one. My photo essay is finished and I’m a little disappointed that the copy center wants $75 to print one copy of my presentation – so needless to say, it will be digital. I have a concert tomorrow night with African and Gamelan, and several recording clips to catch this week for our Field & Lab video project. I have to keep my prospectus in mind as its due next month (not the official one, but close enough – 2nd lit review due this week), and I have a TON of papers to grade.  Add an IRB application, a grant application, two exams, four books to read, a book review, a thesis presentation,  and a transcription project and that about sums up my next four weeks (minus all the TA stuff, rehearsals, and actual classes).

I’m raising my glass to grad school about now…

(a show and tell will be coming up soon)

Rainbow Concert Clips 3/24

Thanks to my friends Cat (you should visit her blog) and Tristan for taking these video clips from our show Friday night. Check the link below and click through all eight sections on her channel to hear our awesome world music ensembles:

P.S. Isn’t the conga player in the above video super cute? 🙂

Doing Visual Ethnography in New Orleans

This past week, I had to read this book for a Field & Lab class. The text proved to be advantageous as an approach that manipulates one’s ethnographic mindset into thinking visually rather than textually. While it’s not a how-to manual for visual ethnography, it does represent a particular enlightening approach that many novice researchers could benefit from reading.  It is primarily for ethnographers who wish to incorporate visual facets into their work, and in that it achieves its goal.

Although it seems a rather simple concept, training the mind to consider various media as potential representations of knowledge (Pink) has rerouted my thinking much as though learning right-hand piano on the left hand would do. In my limited experience, I’ve generally used video and photography whenever possible, however not with the deliberation as a means to create and represent knowledge – instead, more as a supplement to fieldnotes, or simply a way to remember those intricate details of settings or outfits that my mind would let slip away (as a means to “inform ethnography”). Both certainly are beneficial.

Of particular relevance is that Pink spent a great deal of time discussing how important [and different] it can be to work closely and for extended periods of time with your subjects in order to access the personal happenings in their daily lives and to eventually record histories and narratives. While this is one of the chief standards of ethnographic research, Pink notes that doing so within the framework of visual ethnography would allow one to get more intensely personal photographs and video. Again, this seems blindingly obvious, however it creates a certain mindset for the ethnographers to center themselves within.

The first couple chapters situate themselves in this idea of mindset. How do we train ourselves to become visual ethnographers? The endless premeditated reflexivity of our own research is one possible answer that seems to recur regardless of what we’re attempting to progress towards, and certainly a recurring theme of our disciplines’ ideology.  The text piqued my curiosity in consideration of an anthropological approach to consumption: of material possessions, and perhaps of visual media itself. What will the photographs I include in my work conjure thoughts of for those who read/view it? Pink briefly discusses how visual images and technology are woven into the culture of those we study as well as the academic culture in which we work. If there were a credo to visual ethnography, these points would unquestionably be bulleted.

A couple weeks ago in New Orleans, I found myself sitting on an elevated sidewalk in the French Quarter listening to a band of street musicians. The members were all homeless street kids, those I would consider “gutter punks”. Moments after sitting, I realized I had sat next to a couple who also fell into this category and after making small talk about how we both enjoyed the group, without being prompted the female began talking with me about their transient lifestyle, her own musical experiences as a street artist, and the relationship dynamics between those in their community. Although I wasn’t expecting it (nor was I prepared), I asked her if she would let me record our conversation. Two hours later, it ended up being the most productive unstructured interview I’ve concluded. This taught me several things about preparation, which Pink discusses throughout her text. I had two pieces of equipment with me at the time – an iPhone, and a 14 megapixel digital camera which does not record audio or video. Luckily, I had already downloaded several recording applications to my iPhone and was able to swiftly place it between us in an unobtrusive way. This allowed me to record the entirety of it. It also allowed me to take various video clips of the band as I was recording our conversation with the same piece of “equipment”. Towards the end of our time together, I was able to use my digital camera to take photos of them, and of the couples’ fantastic [and significant] tattoos.  In this way, visual research unexpectedly became part of my project.

Pink discusses visual media in many cultures as being an understood and “un-taboo” practice. In this New Orleans instance, various ethical issues arose that also came up in this text. Towards the end of the week, I found myself seeking out this gutter punk community, especially after my interview with a particular woman (above) where she clued me in on where they typically hang out, and where they sleep (I found this to be privileged information). For the first couple days, I found myself paying them for photos (anywhere from $1 for a photo to $20 for an interview, which I always offered and they never specifically asked for). Towards the end, I felt as though I were “stalking” them, taking high-resolution photos from several yards away using zoom, and at one point sneaking next to one sitting on the steps of the river and pretending to take a photo of the river when in fact I was interested in him, in his particular location, in his particular moment. Is this  part of fieldwork? As an aside, my purpose for this is that I’m documenting their locations in order to create a mapped delineation of their community – using visual representations to create knowledge. Ethical issues arose from the gutters themselves…

…as Pink states in this text, often ethical decisions cannot be made until you’re standing in the field. This is a continuous process.

Building Drums & Spirit: Recapping a Workshop with Stan the Drum Man

Although it’s been a few weeks since I hosted a drum-building workshop in my back yard, I wanted to recap the event here, and include a few photos.

Stan Secrest leads drum-building workshops all over the country. I first met Stan (and, subsequently, built a drum with him) in 1998 – I’ve built several with him since.  Stan leads both child and adult workshops (and if you’re ever interested in hosting a workshop,  let me know).

We created this particular event as a weekend-long workshop that began early on Saturday and ended during the wee hours of Monday morning.  Stan drove down from New York with shells in tow that he had constructed in the weeks leading up to the workshop.  Essentially, he brings everything you need to create an excellent-quality drum, and then spends the weekend walking you step-by-step through the process.  Below are some photos of the process – not in order (because WordPress hates me).

The first step for a djembe involves sanding the shell. This can take anywhere from an hour to several, depending on how silky smooth you’d like your wood to be. For a dunun, there was some planing involved. It was quite a lot of fun once I got the hang of it.  Two of us created African sangba’s (a type of dunun – I’ve seen this spelled in various ways), as depicted in the double-headed shell below. The small shell seen is a Native frame drum.

The second step is decorating and staining your shell. Most folks did some wood burning, and some painted intricate designs. I was feeling brave and decided to see what the propane torch would do (you can see the result on the dark dunun). I was pretty happy with the result. Stains varied, and produced very different (yet all beautiful) results depending on the hue, the number of coats, the saturation,  and the wood type & grain.

Now comes the hard part: welding rings, cutting fabric and wrapping the rings, knotting the rings with rope, gluing the djembe sections and leaving them over night, soaking your skin, Tye-dying the skin if you want to,  pulling the hair off the skin if necessary (or in my case, scraping the tissue and fat off of a cowhide for several hours), measuring the rope, threading the drum.. and last but not least… (and certainly the most tedious)… tightening the drum.

I can’t wait to do this again next year! Many of us are performing with our new drums this coming Friday.

You can find out more about Stan and the process by checking out these links:

Stan the Drum Man – Build-a-Drum Website – Drum-Building Steps