fall fieldwork weekend in nola

I’m just returning from a productive weekend of fieldwork in New Orleans. I have several of these short weekends planned in the next few months – an unfortunate necessity that would be much better served if I could just spend a week straight on the streets. Shocker here – I can’t.  The ten years I did spend walking them is certainly an advantage, and I’m now realizing how much access and information I have that’s allowing me to complete this project – I’m grateful.

Saturday was highly productive. My partner and I systematically roamed throughout the quarter for several hours so I could make recordings, take photos, and note locations on my map.  I won’t write too much here (you’ll have to read the thesis to find out more), but suffice it to say that I’m surprised at how stationary these musicians are. The busking locations never deviate. It’s as if there are fifteen designated spots for these musicians to plant their feet and they come back to these spots, day after day (often switching between them) – of course, a lot of it is based on foot traffic.

Sunday was less productive, but I learned a lesson. It’s an odd thing to return to the city you call home and think of it as a research project. I never noticed before that during a Saints [football] game, the streets are empty – probably because I was always on a bar stool during the games. A game started at noon yesterday, so by eleven the streets were clearing out. For street musicians this means less foot traffic, less money, and less overall exposure. There’s no reason for them to be out there. As I was seeking them out, they were packing up to find a bar stool in front of a TV. The musicians that were out and about (such as Doreen’s band) were plastered in Saints regalia. My lesson? For future fieldwork trips, I need to consider game times (or at least talk about the game time phenomenon in my work).

In place of hanging with the musicians, I went down to the Louisiana Music Factory and Beckham’s bookshop on Decatur and spent a stupid amount of money on books and albums related to my work. I was slightly disappointed at the response from LA Music Factory when I asked “Do y’all carry any Bounce titles?” (The answer was no)…

Below are some photos from the weekend. I spent the majority of my time with two specific groups of musicians, as is evident in the photos:

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Storing Ethnographic Moments

I’m guilty of over-posting photos to facebook. I have an addiction to discovering ethnographic moments.  I really can’t deliver an apology for this – it’s what I do. When I lived in New Orleans, one day something clicked and everything became fieldwork. Every time I saw a musician, which was every day, I had to stop, listen, and snap a photo – even if it was my own ensemble or friends. My 16GB iPhone is bursting with video clips and photos (thousands of them).  Now that I’ve got this nifty digital camera, the numbers are multiplying.  As an aside, I’m excited about taking Matador U’s Travel Photography class this spring… p.s. Matador is my favorite website on the planet. If you haven’t checked it out, do so.

The problem? I’m not really sure what to do with all the photos and clips that are hanging out on my phones, hard drives, and memory cards. I’m hesitant to take them off my phone in case my hard drive has a stroke. Similarly, I’m afraid to keep them on my phone in case I lose it. I don’t know which photo-sharing site to trust. Flickr? Webshots? External hard drive? Perhaps a .mac account would be a good idea. I’m thinking out loud here. When I take notes or highlight articles, I have to have hard copies. I’m not quite sold on everything-digital yet. There are too many flaws – and when I say flaws, I mean I’m just not knowledgeable enough on safe digital storage options. I can’t imagine having boxes of photos lying around the house, but maybe it’s what needs to be done.

The American Folklife Center has a great website and a good concise guide to fieldwork that you can download as a PDF. I picked up a hard copy at the Society for Ethnomusicology conference in L.A. last month. It’s got a lot of great tips, though the equipment section (though meant to be super-basic) could use some updating. Thirty years from now when I write a textbook to be read by at least a dozen undergraduates, I might want to include a photograph of a Mardi Gras Indian that I took in 2006. Perhaps I’m just having some leftover “Katrina anxiety”. Losing the only home videos/photos I had of my father (died when I was 7) gave me a complex. It also taught me to keep everything important ziplocked and sealed in Rubbermaid containers. So, what do you do with your digital photos to ensure safe storage? Thoughts?


The Roving Ethnomusicologist

Do you like the title? I’m agitated because I can’t seem to narrow down where I want to complete fieldwork (resulting in a thesis). I mean I can’t even narrow down the continent. Cue my rant.

The more I learn about music on this planet, the more I realize how little I know, and how much more I want to continue learning.  I chose this field because I love it all, not because I love a pocket of it. Twenty years from now, I’d rather have spent my time roaming all corners of the earth instead of having written a college textbook on one particular culture. Twenty years from now, I’m going to regret having written that statement if I’m teaching at some University and publishing the third edition of my textbook that I force all of my students to use. Maktub.

This is really becoming an annoyance. I don’t just want to choose New Orleans music because I have several years of experience with it. I know that in several years, what I’ll have written for my thesis probably won’t matter anyway… however I do feel like it will set me on a path and I want to make sure it’s the right one.  On the other hand, I don’t want to sit here spending so much time thinking about it that I don’t actually ‘do’ it  (whatever ‘it’ may be).  Do people just plop their finger down on a world map and say, “this is it!”? I suppose not. There’s always a reason, an agenda, and a personal connection.

I have this world map on my office wall – one of those peel & stick decal things.  Every time I feel like I cross off a country on the “potential fieldwork list”, I soon find a reason why I’d just adore working there.  If we’re lucky, ethnomusicologists get to delve into two or three cultures in their lives. Most seem to capture one. I’d like to start by narrowing it down from a couple hundred…