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Accepted Paper:

Raucous rhythms: the audiopolitics of medieval Japanese folk music  


Ashton Lazarus (University of Utah)

Paper short abstract:

This paper traces the rise of folk music during Japan’s medieval period. Hitherto dominant court music, with its emphasis on order and cosmological orientation, encountered the unscripted and multidirectional social trajectories of folk music, producing hybrid forms and new discourses on music.

Paper long abstract:

The culture of classical Japan emphasized etiquette, political order, and cosmological coordination above all else. Everyday court life was dominated by systems of rules that mediated sociality and structured hierarchies. Success as a courtier depended on learning how to negotiate these rules, which specified everything from the color of one’s robes, to seasonally appropriate words to use in poems, to geomantically prohibited directions for travel. Music and performance were similarly systematized and integrated into the yearly calendar, aiding the imperial endeavor to coordinate court and cosmos and thereby consolidate power. But as the bureaucratic state entered into a phase of dysfunction, new forms of culture entered from beyond the court. Folk music and performance can be found in the earliest Japanese texts, but often in naturalized forms that made it legible to courtiers. It is not until the early medieval period (ca. 11th through 14th centuries) that stories and records of direct encounters appear in significant numbers. These texts, written by educated courtiers and members of the Buddhist clergy, typically cast folk music and performance as noisy, unconstrained, and unintelligible, but also novel, entertaining, and liberating. Noise hence signified both disorder and freedom, an ambiguity that contributed to folk music’s transgressive capacity. This paper examines folk music’s increasingly frequent passage from the external world to the inner aristocratic ear, and the new forms of identification that proliferated as a result.

Panel Res10b
Whose rules? Conflicting regimes of authority and shared social space