Defining “experimental” Part III

From earlier in Part I:

“… allow for exploration and experiment once we drop the cultural, political and commercial shackles around us.”

This may have rubbed a couple people the wrong way, so I think it’s worthy of further comment and clarification. Having an interest in cultural awareness and intercultural dialog, I want to be more clear on this point.

Yes, nothing can be viewed as separate from the culture within which it occurs. I get that. What bothers me is that we end up trapped by our culture, either by our own actions or by the prevailing constructions around us. By way of example, let’s take the shruti box.

A shruti box comes to us from the Indian subcontinent. Today rather than being only a manual or analog device, the shruti box has many digital and computerized versions. There are free mobile apps that will give you that shruti sound when you need it.

As one who has an appreciation for Indian music, I may be drawn to use such a device in composition and sonic experimentation. As one who is not Indian, and does not have an Indian cultural background or musical training (except for a few vocal lessons), I may pause or self-judge before I break out the ol’ shruti box. But why should I?

This is what I am referring to when I say my work these days attempts to “drop the cultural, political and commercial shackles.” I’m breaking with the assumptions that person A should make music within X and Y parameters and never venture into other areas.

If/when I use a shruti box, it is because the *sound* speaks to me and fits the desired application. I am not claiming to be East Indian. I am not trying to appropriate Indian music any more than Indian rock bands who use electric guitar. The device exists, so let’s use it. Period.

Whether or not the piece “works” is another manner :-)

I’ve used the shruti box as an example here. Other examples abound in the form of drumming and vocal styles, though I think in terms of vocals some additional sensitivity might be needed. If you are not from the culture or trained in the techniques of Tuvan throat singing for example, it is probably bad form to attempt those techniques… and may not sound very good anyway. Even so, if done with positive intention, it may be fine. Give it a shot.

It’s these judgements (from creators and listeners) that get in the way of otherwise joyous creation. I really want no part of that, and I don’t think it’s pretentious to declare this. In fact, I think it is pretentious to claim a certain device belongs solely to one people when it should belong to humanity.

In another 1000 years when someone pulls a shruti box out of the rubble, are they going to care what color a person’s skin was if the device works and makes music? Will it even be recognized as music by then?


By jjdeprisco

Sonic explorer, sound artist, guitarist in Fricknadorable, software designer.