Author:Christina Woolner (University of Cambridge)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores musical apprenticeship - specifically, learning the oud in Somaliland - as a mode of ethnographic attention and an embodied process of acoustic, social and affective attunement through which subjectivities and (intimate) socialities are produced.
Paper long abstract:
Drawing on anthropological work on apprenticeship (Herzfeld 2004, Bryant 2005, Downey 2005, Weidman 2012), this paper explores musical apprenticeship as both a mode of ethnographic attention and a process through which subjectivities and (intimate) socialities are produced. Using my own experiences learning to play the oud in Somaliland, I explore musical apprenticeship as an embodied process of acoustic, social and affective attunement. To begin, apprenticeship involves a "visual-aural-kinesthetic" (Rice 1995) process by which one learns to embody specific techniques used to produce particular kinds of sound. In a setting where music-making is contested, this is also a process whereby one learns to occupy a specific social (and political) role, and to relate to those within and outside an artistic community of practice in certain ways. Finally, as the oud-player's primary duty is to enable singing, primarily about love, apprenticeship represents an intimate and collaborative process of affective attunement that requires cultivating an acute awareness of one's own (instrumental) voice and its relationship to the affectively-charged voices of singers. Songs, therefore, are more than just sung textual representations of experience (though they are this too); they are also distillations of a set of musical, social and affective sensibilities and socialities. In addition to providing an entry into nonverbal, embodied modes of knowing, I argue that musical apprenticeship represents an ethnographic approach to studying song that throws into relief songs' sonic-social-affective substance, and the intimate collaborative processes by which they come into the world.
Knowing by singing: song, acoustic ecologies and the overflow of meaning