Knowing by singing: song, acoustic ecologies and the overflow of meaning
Location SOAS Senate House - S110
Date and Start Time 02 Jun, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 6


  • Caroline Gatt (University of Aberdeen) email
  • Valeria Lembo (University of Aberdeen) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Paul Allain (University of Kent), Tim Ingold (University of Aberdeen), Nina Wakeford (Goldsmiths)

Short abstract

Can song be a way of knowing for anthropologists, rather than an ethnographic object? Can it be a practice of inquiry distinct from logocentric analysis? We invite experimental presentations that use singing to investigate topics ranging from memory and placemaking to forms of collaboration.

Long abstract

The performative mode of singing puts into relief two issues that are of persisting importance to anthropology: (1) language and meaning and (2) ecology and materiality. Song can incorporate language and meaning explicitly, and yet because of its musicality is always acknowledged as exceeding its semantic value. Singing emerges from an entire acoustic ecology, ecologies of practice, material and storied histories, and from the voices of particular singers. While song has been analysed anthropologically in terms of the senses, healing, colonialism and memory, the craft of song as a way of knowing offers a fruitful but as yet unexplored approach to these topics. Rather than considering song solely as an object of ethnographic study, we propose to take seriously ways of knowing inherent in different practices of singing. We ask: how can anthropologists explore song as an epistemic practice both in its own terms, and in dialogue with conventional academic ways of knowing?

We invite experimental presentations, in which presenters feel free to sing as well as talk, that explore the following topics.

What is a song?

Song in relation to memory, ritual, the living body and healing.

Singing in ecological perspective: singing, acoustics, materials and senses of place

Relations between movement, gesture and singing

Education of attention: pedagogies of singing and singing as pedagogy

Voice, sound, silence, noise

Voice as expression: affects, aesthetics, subjectivity and politics

Singing as collaboration: polyphony, choir, listening and attunement

Language and song

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Knowing Animals Through Singing

Author: Tamara Ranspot (University of Aberdeen) email

Short abstract

In communities where animals are also sometimes persons, how might we understand how people come to know animals through song? This paper asks how analyses of singing as epistemic practice can be extended to non-human persons, and how this contributes to conventional academic dialogues.

Long abstract

Among the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nations of Yukon, Canada, singing to animals is a common occurrence. This paper will examine how such musical practices at the human-animal interface can be considered ways of knowing animals, and further, of coming to know them as partners, friends, and even family. Conventional ethnomusicological and anthropological research has explored song as a means of forging, maintaining, and negotiating social relationships amongst human beings, and as a way of knowing each other. In contexts where animals are also sometimes persons, where they are sentient, intentional, emotional beings, how might we understand how Indigenous hunters/fishers and performers come to know animals through the practice of singing? In exploring this question, I will draw from 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork with the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in exploring the role of music in human-animal relationships in the context of both expressive culture and land and water-based subsistence practices. This research analyses singing as a practice of knowing animals as persons in its use as a means of calling in, expressing emotion, and giving thanks to animals. This paper will aim to demonstrate how an analysis of singing as epistemic practice can be extended to non-human persons, and how such an analysis contributes to conventional anthropological and ethnomusicological dialogues.

Musical notation and non-human voices in Sámi joik

Author: Stephane Aubinet (University of Oslo) email

Short abstract

This paper focuses on the Sámi tradition of joik. Sámi performers are able to perceive the phenomenal world as a musical notation to be followed with the singing voice. Written notation thus induces a fracture between human culture and non-human voices that Sámi singers do not endorse.

Long abstract

European musicology commonly distinguishes two sorts of songs: written and oral. By means like neumes or scores, written songs can travel far away and remain unchanged in time and space, whereas oral songs are nested in local communities, undergo more variations and usually have shorter lifetimes.

In this paper, I propose to reformulate this distinction by paying attention to a Sámi singing tradition called joik. Joiks are circular songs performed to summon the presence of humans, animals or places and engage with their memories. Joik is often presented as 'the most archaic musical tradition in Europe' and thus as a quintessential kind of oral music-making.

What researchers have overlooked is the way the phenomenal world appears as a sort of musical notation to be read by Sámi performers. The line of the horizon, animal movements, and human behaviours are turned into melodic elements. The visualisation of people, places and animals serves as a mnemonic to retrieve a forgotten song in a fashion that recalls European medieval notation. Singing is then a way of becoming more acquainted with the world and its inhabitants.

Drawing from David Abram's argument in 'The spell of the sensuous' (1997), I compare the emergence of musical notation with the invention of the alphabet, transferring knowledge from the landscape to the written material and creating a new distance between human culture and non-human voices.

The presentation will be illustrated with a simple joik to be learned and performed by the audience.

Singing Our Place. Shall we sing your place ? Can we recreate our common world by singing our places ? A Nordic project about singing as a way to reconnect with our places.

Author: Katrine Faber (Teater Viva) email

Short abstract

Does singing have anything to do with our relationship with our environment ? Can we get to know our landscapes by singing ? Can we make a new connection to ourselves and our surroundings through singing ? How is the song of your favorite place ? How is the sound of our Future on our common planet ?

Long abstract

We live in a time of great change and challenges. The climate is changing, our places change and we debate, if our way of living in the world is also demanding a change.

Is it possible in modern societies to consider singing as a way of knowing and relating to our places and our common world ? We all have a voice. In many creation myths from all over the world - life begins with sound. We sing the world alive and the world sings back to us.

As kids we explore the world with our sounds. We explore our own resonance and the resonance of the world. Can we - like whales in the ocean - orientate by sound, find each other and exchange songs ?

In many ancient song traditions people sing the surroundings as a way to know them and orientate. The songs appear from the landscapes - and through the singing people and places become one. Can modern people rediscover and reconnect to their places and surroundings by singing ?

Can we enter a way of singing where each voice improvises and freely explores the sounds and resonances in the relation between the singer and the place we choose to sing about ? The Nordic project Singing Our Place travelled in Tuva, Nepal, Mexico, Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland. The project invites people to express their experience of their places and surroundings trough singing. Let me tell you about that and I will sing for you and with you

Periplum Petroleum : Noising the Plastic Touch

Author: Marie Lecuyer (Ottawa University) email

Short abstract

In a multi-site fieldwork that took place between Montreal and Ottawa, my practice has consisted in a becoming-noise. I listened to and recorded the noises of the circulation and transformations of matter and meaning of oil's concretion into plastic and plastic's deconstruction.

Long abstract

In a multi-site fieldwork that took place between Montreal and Ottawa, I have attended, through sounds, to the circulation and transformations of matter and meaning of oil's concretion into plastic and plastic's deconstruction. I have been listening and recording noises emerging from the frictions of oil and plastic's circulation, and have myself entered into a becoming-noise by interfering with a viscous milieu.This practice of "noising", as I call it, has been a synesthetic mode of engagement with the milieu whereby I try to render sensible the plastic touch (which in the original sense of the latin word fingere refers to both friction and fiction) by paying attention to, and recording, another field of sounds, exposing what has been rendered inaudible, sounds to which we have become insensible (Thompson 2017). Rendering sensible has also meant conveying how the slippery oil and plastic fields have been noising, messing up with me, at times incorporating me into their flow and at others throwing me away. As such, 'noising' has been a practice of resistance amidst a regime of undifferentiated sounds that work at silencing alternatives to the monologue of power (Attali, 1977).

Enabling Voices of Love: Acoustic, Social and Affective Attunement in Somaliland

Author: Christina Woolner (University of Cambridge) email

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.

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.

Tellings: Reconstructing the Repertoire of Songs used in English Lace Schools

Author: David Hopkin (Hertford College, University of Oxford) email

Short abstract

Tells were counting rhymes which controled the work pace in English lace schools, and allowed apprentices to express themselves. But while we have texts, we don't have tunes, and we don't know the rhythm employed. We work with singers and lacemakers to reconstruct this practice.

Long abstract

This presentation concerns a Knowledge Exchange project at Oxford University. See: http://torch.ox.ac.uk/themes/tellings-reconstructing-repertoire-songs-used-english-lace-schools

No nineteenth-century European lacemaker has left an account of her own life. However, lacemakers sang while they worked, and these songs were recorded by folklorists. Some songs were sung for entertainment, but others, in particular those used in Flemish and German lace-schools, provided a work rhythm. Such 'Tellingen' and 'Klöppellieder' have a particular form - counting pins placed in a pillow - and they comment on the work process and the life experiences of the apprentices. Through their collective performance they became 'broken' to the trade.

English lacemakers also had a comparable repertoire of 'tells' made up of bits of ballads, prayers and improvisations. Some of the Flemish and English tells are so similar they may be considered the same song. Tells provide access to the visceral history of hunger, exhaustion, domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse which was so often lacemakers' lot.

However there was no sustained attempt to collect English lacemakers' tells. Local antiquarians sometimes noted the words, but they seldom took down the music. There are approximately seventy known English tells, but only three have tunes.

Our first aim is to reconstruct these tells by recovering their tunes - not impossible given that tells borrowed elements of better known songs. It also means finding their rhythm, by applying them to the lace production process. For this I would bring singers together with contemporary lacemakers from the Lace Research Network.


Where does this voice come from? Acoustics, senses of place and self-knowledge through singing.

Author: Valeria Lembo (University of Aberdeen) email

Short abstract

This paper aims to reflect on voice in ecological perspective. Drawing on my personal experiences in singing apprenticeship and on notions of acoustic space (Shafer 1985) and senses of place (Feld 1996), I argue that voice is a relational, emplaced and processual event.

Long abstract

My apprenticeship in singing through different techniques (Atem, Tonus, Ton; Research and Laboratory Theatre; but also yoga and taijiquan) has opened up and showed me a path of self-knowledge. Through specific-oriented tasks and exercises, teachers have been inviting me to take a journey within my own depths. Voice has thus been like a probe, through which engaging in sensual and affective investigations 'from the inside' of vibrating flesh, bones and memories.

However, this process of self-knowledge has never been merely individual and it has always been emplaced. Its effectiveness has actually depended upon the ability of refining listening and relational skills by encountering other beings and 'things'. Self-knowledge and self-discovery processes have not been separated from knowledge and discovery of my singing partners (both human and non-human, living and non-living).

Drawing on my singing practice and on notions of acoustic space (Shafer 1985) and senses of place (Feld 1996), this paper aims to reflect on the intertwined dimension of the relations between beings, materials and places from a vocal and musical perspective. By linking together a phenomenological and auto-ethnographic analysis of my vocal apprenticeship process with notions of acoustics and history of architecture, I argue that voice is a relational, emplaced and processual event, which needs to be considered in ecological perspective.

Singing anthropology: The voices of the pages at work with the processual epistemology of laboratory theatre

Author: Caroline Gatt (University of Aberdeen) email

Short abstract

In this presentation I explore the voice of the pages through a meeting of the way of knowing of anthropology and that of laboratory theatre in song. I ask what an academic exploration might be like, when exploring other qualities of voice, beyond those of reason and logic.

Long abstract

While the theory of embodiment seems to sweep through academic departments, the voices from the books on my shelf jostle to be heard. Embodiment theories tend to discount the texture of words, the deeply moving experience of thought, and thus further entrench the mind/body duality that they purport to transcend. And yet we still need to heed the critiques of scriptocentrism that identify text (Conquergood, De Certau), rationality and reason (Pertierra), and analytic thought (Ingold) as complicit in the entrenchment of the binary oppositions of mind and body. But what about text enables the hegemony of logocentrism? Philosopher Adriana Cavarero argues that the logos lost its voice to the systematic aspects of language. The historian Mary Carruthers traces a shift in the pedagogies of reading from medieval forms of meditation and lectio to the detached analytics of the contemporary academe. Reading and writing become appropriated by logocentrism through a historical and political process.

In this presentation I explore the voice of the pages through a meeting of the way of knowing of anthropology and that of laboratory theatre in song. This exploration is a tentative one. Ways of being/knowing generate particular bodies in life that affect "what is known and what is knowable" (Downey 2007). Reading develops foveal vision, whereas performance and martial arts develop peripheral vision. In both the actual physiological visual apparatus is changed. Consequently, I offer a speculative presentation, what an academic exploration might be like, when exploring other qualities of voice, beyond those of reason and logic.

What is a Song? Embodied Research and the Audiovisual Body

Authors: Ben Spatz (University of Huddersfield) email
Nazlıhan Eda Erçin (University of Exeter) email

Short abstract

We propose an open, semi-theatrical presentation through which to explore the potential of new audiovisual forms to articulate the ontology of song. Our presentation interweaves dialogic exposition and duo songwork with screenings of video essays tracing laboratory-based experimental practice.

Long abstract

We propose an open, semi-theatrical presentation through which to explore and present the potential of audiovisual forms to articulate the onto-epistemology of song. Our presentation interweaves dialogic exposition and duo songwork with screenings of extracts from a new series of video essays that trace the laboratory-based experimental practice of the AHRC-funded project 'Judaica: An Embodied Laboratory for Songwork'. These video essays — 'He Almost Forgets That There is a Maker of the World', 'Diaspora', 'Şişeler / Shishelai: Identity in the Laboratory', 'Labour', 'nefs: embodied self', 'Działoszyce', and others — locate the act of singing within a broader ecology of technique, identity, and place, using strategies specific to the audiovisual domain.

Song — or rather what we call songwork, the whole field of elaborated practice around song — can help us understand audiovisuality not as a technological medium (audio + video) but as a zone of embodiment defined by its capacity to be inscribed be these technologies. We invite audiovisuality, in this sense, to act as a third term that breaks open the vexed dichotomy of writing and embodiment (often glossed as 'theory' and 'practice'). What does this mean for the university, as an institution built on equating knowledge with the archive? What does it mean for our understanding of embodiment in a world increasingly saturated by audiovisual media? We propose to explore these questions in a live scholarly setting, linking new media technologies to the audiovisual body.

A singing orna/mentor's performance or ir/rational practice

Author: Elisabeth Belgrano (Nordic Network for Vocal Performance Research) email

Short abstract

A singing orna/mentor's acts are to follow, to divert, to oppose, to compose, to clarify, to reassure. They are sounds in multiple versions, isolated mad scenes, landscapes governed by wilderness creating a desire to continue an irrational performance of ornamented translations of an original doing.

Long abstract

Entering a(n original) line, making it part of an everyday breath; taking a good look at a specific detail: spiralling into its very centre, starting to cut and chop it into parts, searching for every possible aspect of the thing-in-itself, touching its surface and finding it all tremendously curious; in the midst of the sensuous experience silence rises like a bridge ahead - opening up for unknown points on the other side: points being other narratives, other imaginations, other associations…

The singing orna/mentor's path is irrational, allowing curiosity to guide. What's left in the orna/mentor's footsteps is a trace being crystallized and clearly visible. The dots that were ahead, they have become a firm line behind. The orna (read as: urn, pot or thing-in-itself) has been cared for by a mentor's mind and doings. The orna/mentoring hand. The vocal caring has created endless variations of sounds-in-themselves: ornamented versions of the original. The doings of the orna/mentor are original and can never be made the same. The effect can be read as a translation of one doing of another doing of another doing. Creating multiple understandings/narratives/fabulations/doings based on a simple original doing.


Singing as Life Practice: catharsis, transformation and empowerment through singing.

Author: Emma Bonnici (Manchester Metropolitan University) email

Short abstract

By mapping the voice in the body and observing the placement in resonators and the ability to hold certain intervals, singing can reveal to us our blockages and offer a chance to dialogue with them. Folk song further illuminates this journey, drawing on generations of expression and life experience.

Long abstract

Song as place, song as story, song as healing was revealed to me through the death of my father. Singing the polyphonic harmonies that stretched back to the ancients allowed me to express and be held.

Work with Siberian folk singers first illuminated the connection between song and the place and history of a people. Song is storytelling freed from logic and a concrete method of side-stepping the pre-frontal cortex. But stories are often trapped by physical blockages and prevent us from accessing this resource. Could song be a way of unlocking and discovering the body, the body a way of unlocking the voice, both interwoven with self and identity? I believe it is.

This paper builds on Linklater's pathway of resonators, craniosacral therapy, and vocal anthropological research to delve into the modalities necessary for reading the voice and body as a map, for understanding chords and intervals as pregnant with stories, and how resonators illuminate resistance and habit. It researches the connection between vocal alienation and contemporary mental heath issues.

Emma Bonnici is a singer, performer and teacher whose work is rooted in Grotowski inspired theatre. Company member of Song of the Goat Theatre and Teatr Zar, she is founder of Song As Life Practice, which runs residencies in Poland and the U.K. An Associate Lecturer at MMU, Rose Bruford and Cabuia (Argentina), she delivers courses for Kerry Nicholls Dance, Dance City and numerous private clients worldwide. She delivered 'The Power of the Voice' for TEDX Warsaw in 2015.

Chalk Lines

Author: Cindy Wegner email

Short abstract

It takes an invention and excuse to go outside and explore music without musical skills. The study is designed as an artistic practice that approaches the theme of limits in voice, music and language in space. It explores its capacity to create relationships.

Long abstract

"The arrival is a clash. The dissonance is clear which has always existed. An absolute confirmation of not-belonging, the language comes out in an artificial way."

This research approaches the issue of limits and relates to the question of inclusion and exclusion in the context of space, accessibility, artistic drive and language. What drives us to create music? What practices enable musical connections? What or who defines the in- and outside?

It includes practices, ranging from whisper translation to Grindcore, which I have exercised during my SenseLab residency in Montréal from October 2017 to January 2018.

Singing: an expansion of perceptions

Author: Domenico Castaldo (Laboratorio Permanente di Ricerca sull'Arte dell'Attore di Domenico Castaldo) email

Short abstract

Melodies generate a resonant field around the group singing. A different reality reveals itself. You feel peace in this condition. War has been going out from daily life and enter singing, to refine the tools: body, awareness.

Long abstract

I breathe, I walk, I listen. Without my intending it to air flows in and out through my nose. I listen, I calm down, and my heart slows down, a new space opens in me. Between my navel and my solar plexus a light vibration rises, wrinkles my skin. So I start singing.

A vibration comes out of my body and reality changes consistency. I see! I see my own thoughts and the human being singing with me. Awareness rises, answers all the questions coming in this momentum.

Melodies generate a resonant field around us. One feels peace in this condition. The battle has been to detach from daily life and enter into singing, which refines our perceptual tools of body, of awareness.

Melody flows in me; the more it fills the spaces that I offer it, the more my body burns singing. Like wood surrenders to the flame and transmutes (ash, air), so my flesh transmutes in a new matter. All the thoughts that pollute me stays out and watch, distant, this metamorphosis. When I return to flesh, my weakness return. If I could keep these pollutants out forever, to exist would be song.

During a Liturgia's session (an open action of LabPerm) I had this vision: "Do you know how ancients started singing? They were resting watching the clouds, astonished by their dance, and gave out a sound following them with their eyes. A voice, then many voices, a melody that never ends until you stay astonished."

"Some guy's signing a song- it's all over the news; we can't even get interpreters for a job interview": lessons learned through signed-songs and other musical 'access' in austerity Britain

Author: Kelly Fagan Robinson (UCL) email

Short abstract

Sign-interpreted pop & sign-song choirs have received international online attention. But as one interlocutor put it, deaf people still "can't even get [sign] interpreters for a job interview." This paper mobilises deaf perspectives to navigate debates around austerity, music & what 'access' means.

Long abstract

Interpreted versions of pop songs, sign-song choirs, and other so-called 'deaf accessible' music have become increasingly popular on social media and in the press. Meanwhile cuts to UK arts and equalities budgets have led to fewer accessible training and employment opportunities for UK deaf artists. Despite 'sign-led work' still being funded, interlocutors believe that the art that gets made is "missing the entire point of sign language and the role it plays for deaf people" and is more reflective of hearing perceptions of what access means, rather than what deaf people want and require. Interpretation and captioning are preferred by some, but for other deaf sign-language-users experiential inclusion in musical events, being able to use visual-tactile dominance as part of a cross-sensory engagement (for instance making music experience-able via vibrations), is preferred.

This paper contends with 'deaf access' as definitions emerge through songs and music. Concepts of access (as understood by hearing persons) versus ACCESS and INCLUSION (as understood by deaf signing persons) are unpacked using case studies of sign-mangling Amy Winehouse impersonators; one deaf schoolboy's mandated (and resisted) participation in a sign-song choir; and a music organisation's commitment to interpretation on-stage because "it reminds hearing people that deaf people need access."

Ultimately different ways that deaf people engage with pop is used as a way of understanding divergences between access and ACCESS in arenas beyond songs, such as in administration of welfare support. This paper uses ethnographic data to highlight why one person's Winehouse becomes another's epistemic injustice.

Song or Singing

Author: Geremia Lorenzo Lodi email

Short abstract

By "announcing one's existence to the universe" singing is a powerful tool to free oneself from oppression. Songs have the power of transforming one's condition, hence the social environment. What is the rule of words and what is the rule of singing in such process of emancipation?

Long abstract

Bernice Johnson Reagon, Social Rights Movement activist and founder of the choir Sweet Honey in the Rock, stated in an interview with Bill Moyers: "When we sing we announce our existence. Songs are a way to get to singing. […] and singing is running sound through your body. You cannot sing a song and do not change your condition". Yet she also underlined the necessity for the black community to carry the Gospel repertoire over to the next generation for the meaning that theirs words bear. What is the relationship between the vibrational component of the music, that moves the bodies and transforms singers' very being, and the words carried through those songs? An answer will be searched in David Abram's analysis of aural traditions and the power they attributed to words in themselves. This analysis may lead to examine the ritualistic components of music, dance and words for their different and integrated ways of establishing a communication with the more-than-human world of nature. Meredith Monk's wordless embodied singing practice and Pauline Oliveros' theory of Quantum Listening will be employed as example of contemporary music practices that relies on a conception of the sound and its power similar to the traditional aural understanding.

The act of singing or the act of poetic reterritorialisation

Author: Miléna Kartowski-Aïach (Idemec - University of Aix Marseille) email

Short abstract

As an anthropologist and artist, singing has been an organic and poetic way to approach my field researches, always related to my own history and family memory. Singing to learn a forgotten language, to retrieve the broken thread of filiation and sometimes to face a traumatic and hidden past.

Long abstract

As a grandchild of holocaust survivors, singing was a way to overcome the trauma of the genocide and fulfill the vacuum of lineage. Through singing and ethnographic field research, I re/learned Yiddish, the language which I was unconsciously already carrying since birth and could reconnect with the murdered culture of mine. Singing led me to explore the bloody lands of my family in Poland and Germany, but also to reterritorialise myself into the yiddishkayt international artistic world. Through listening old recordings, I mastered breathing, chanting, vibrating and singing Yiddish songs in the traditional way. That was a living bridge to the lost world of mine and a political act of resistance in front of the death and inner exile. I followed the same process in Morocco, tracking the judeo-berber roots of my father, lost since generations. In the villages of the Atlas Mountains, I led an ethnography with the old Muslim population who was leaving with the Jews since their departure sixty years ago. In the empty mellahs, I tried to collect fragments of judeo-berber songs, last traces of the Jewish millenary existence. The echoes of absence were running through the broken and patchy songs. Nowadays, I use singing as a collaborative and therapeutic way to help young yezidi Iraqi refugee girls, survivors of the genocide perpetrated by Daech, to reconnect with themselves organically and reterritorialise in a present of exile where their language and culture can be meaningful and vibrant.

Kant's Noumenon in North-East Siberia: Area spirits and pop songs

Author: Eleanor Peers (University of Aberdeen) email

Short abstract

This presentation considers song as mediating presences that surpass the perceptive categories we normally use, though they are an integral aspect of life. The ethnography traces the continuities between two forms of song, both situated in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), in north-eastern Siberia.

Long abstract

Beauty, with its horror and power, is a difficult phenomenon to situate within the post-Enlightenment tradition of analysing and describing life. Scholarly discussions of aesthetics - the apprehension of beauty - have a capacity to re-frame an experience involving the whole person and her surroundings into contrasting arrangements of abstracted aesthetic, ethical and political values. This presentation considers aesthetic experience as mediating and embodying presences that surpass the perceptive capacities and categories we normally use, although they are an integral aspect of life. It seeks to enhance the post-Enlightenment discussion of beauty, by returning to a prominent line of thought in the Enlightenment tradition - namely, Kant's theory of the aesthetic. The ethnography traces the continuities between two forms of song, linked by their situation in a single territory - the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), in north-eastern Siberia - and community, the Sakha people. Both the Ohuokhai choral dance and Sakha pop music are beautiful because they mediate deep, partially hidden interrelationships. This is a beauty that cross-cuts distinctions between 'indigenous' and 'Euro-American', or 'traditional animist' and 'modern secular'. It shows that Kant's positioning of aesthetic experience in the interstices, and yet also beyond, knowledge and communication provides a useful set of preliminary markers for the examination of both spiritual practice, and popular culture.

Untouchable songs: The epistemology of sacred singing in rural Bengal

Author: Carola Lorea (IIAS) email

Short abstract

A local Bengali proverb (gane jnan) equates songs with knowledge. Focusing on the local system of oral exegesis of Bengali Tantric songs, I discuss how an ethnography of metaphorical speech can challenge conventional academic ways of studying sacred songs.

Long abstract

A rich corpus of Bengali Tantric songs, transmitted among low-caste rural practitioners, generally known as Baul, represents an encyclopedia of beliefs on the body and the universe, promoting equality and a metaphysics of love.

Listening to, memorizing and performing songs is perceived as a means to attain supreme knowledge, a ritual and meditative practice to attain liberation (sangit sadhana), as well as a path to self-realization (gane siddhi).

According to local beliefs on the body and the cosmos, sound is related to the bodily substance of seed, and singing, requiring breath control, is related to yoga. Equally performed on public stages as well as in private gatherings of initiated disciples, Baul songs conceal their esoteric teachings through a complex web of ambiguous meanings, enigmatic statements and a thick embroidery of metaphors: an idiolect known as ulta bhasha, the upside-down language of songs. Listeners and performers are positioned at different levels of the protocol of access to the songs' knowledge. This demands a methodological attention to the practitioners' semantic and emotive values associated with songs. Conducting an ethnography of (metaphorical) speech (Hymes 1962; Basso 1976), I looked at ways in which the local system of oral exegesis can contribute to the academic study of sacred songs.

Decolonising Tantric studies from below, and integrating local perspectives on metaphor, meaning and singing, this paper looks at Bengali songs of low-caste practitioners and their sophisticated interpretative devices as a model to evade from the constraints of both textual and ethnomusicological approaches to sacred songs.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.