21st century ethnomusicologists, as reflected in Music and Technoculture, a series of essays edited by Lysloff and Gay (2003, Wesleyan University Press), are applying their analysis of music as culture beyond the study of so-called â€˜nativeâ€™ cultures to new cultures developing here and now in the western world. I like this book for its questioning of exoticism. Third-world cultures have evolved as they are affected by technology and modernism; there is a complex interactivity between the new and the old, even down to the way the music is recorded on location by ethnomusicologists themselves, who are looking for an authenticity that may be completely out of date, and therefore altered.
These very same recordings find their way into pop songs, from Brian Jones gathering soundtracks in Morocco for inspiration, to the height of new age music, with the case of Enigmaâ€™s use of Taiwanese vocal polyphonies. The Enigma CD sold seven million copies worldwide. The license for the recording of the polyphonies was obtained from the Chinese Folk Arts Foundation, but the Taiwanese singers never got paid beyond the initial small fee they received for the performance. Somehow, and completely legally, an ethno-error was perpetrated.
Another article presents the case of muzak used in commercial spaces, frighteningly pointing out that by numbers alone, this is what the majority of people worldwide actually listen to.
An essay devotes itself to Madonna and BjÃ¶rk, emphasizing any creative input they may have had in the production of their tunes; my only objection is, these commercial superstars chosen to represent women in music act as a foil to only further hide the work of serious women composers and skew the perception of womenâ€™s role in musical evolution.
Most interestingly, an article comes up with a new term, Mod culture â€“ not the sixties Mods, but the module-oriented culture of shared music on the internet, a new form of culture in which songs are digitally synthesized, exchanged and recreated by multiple authors, with a striking revelation: the very notion of single authorship and ownership of a piece of music is possibly on its way out. ‘Composers’ in a traditional sense, as all-powerful controllers of musical content, are already an endangered species, while “we are moving from a modernist culture of calculation to a postmodernist culture of simulation” (Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen, 1997). The rational simplicity of modernism with its predictable geometry is replaced by the complex, interactive, decentralized, iterative postmodernism with its fractal geometry of chaos, which means that creatively we may have to decentralize the composing process, which is not so unfamiliar, as some of our forefathers have experimented with chance elements and collective participation in their compositions, but in time this may become the mainstream as opposed to the avant-garde.