Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Popular Music Existed Before Rock & Roll

Popular Music In England
1840-1914 A Social history
Dave Russell
McGill-Queen's University Press
p. 1987

  One of the cool aspects of reading about history is that it has a tendency to stay the same over time.  By understanding wider swaths of time, events in the present look less confusing.  A difference between the production of knowledge and the production of a product is that the market for knowledge has no motivation to move on to the next idea.  In fact, given the limited number of people who care about acquiring knowledge in more esoteric areas, an idea needs to stick around for 20-30 years before it can make a dent.

  Popular Music is not an area that lends itself to history for two reasons.  First, people who wrote books were not sure that Popular Music was intellectually important until the middle to late part of the 20th century.  Second, those who wrote about music in this time period were largely people who talked about the relative aesthetic value of different types of music and musicians (musicologists) rather then people who talked about the social nature of Popular Music as a phenomenon.

  Popular Music In England is a great example of an early attempt to shift the dialogue about music out of musicology and into the realm of history.  It's right there in the sub-title "A Social History."  The place and time period chronicled is important because it really represents the best documented place and time of the emergence of  Popular Music as a widespread phenomenon.   The word "popular" pre-supposes wide spread, and the difference between "Music" and "Popular Music" is the existence of a narrow or limited audience for the former and a broad audience for the latter.

  Popular Music in England is useful because it clearly and simply illuminates the emergence of Popular Music in the mid 19th century.  All the changes outlines happen as a direct result of the industrial revolution and the changes it made in England at the time.  One of the most indirect, but significant changes was the move by the Victorian Middle and Upper Classes towards being interested in the welfare of Workers.  This shift increased at the same time as the wealthy were themselves increasing demand for Popular Music, largely in the form of religious songs.  A third shift was the growth in people who were interested in profiting from the sale of music: performers, song writers, bar and theater owners.   These shifts were set against the back drop of a working class that was gaining outlets and time for leisure, and music was a popular choice, as indeed it always has been in rural, pre-modern communities.

  At the end of the time period surveyed (1914) the outlines of the modern Music Industry have been sketched.  The only major piece missing is the mass media, and that is a story well told.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Review: Nueva Cronica y Buen Gobierno

The Drawings of the Indian Chronicler
Guaman Poma
New Chronicle and Good Government
Published by Piki, Cusco Peru

This is a book of drawings by the author, a Peruvian of mixed Indian/Spanish ancestry. He was only two generations removed from the conquest. It's important to understand that he wasn't Incan himself, rather his Indian family had been officials in the Empire but not ethnically Incan. Bizarrely, this book was "discovered" in a libarary in Copenhagen Denmark- in 1908! Pretty incredible if you think about, even more so when you consider that is one of the best sources on Pre-Contact Incan civilization (It Poma's perspective is largely one of indignation and outrage on behalf of the Native Population's treatment at the hands of the Spaniards.

In fact, the introduction explains that the function of this book originally was to obtain for the author the Spanish granted title of "Indian Advocate." It's certainly worth seeking out, first because, as a picture book you can read it in five minutes, and second, it is really interesting to see the Pre-Contact civilization depicted so accurately.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Incan Cross

Incan Cross At Pisaq

   You can't let relativism interfere with the basic capacity to compare one group of people to another.  The categories you pick and ways you talk about those categories influence the value of your observations.  For example, it's easy to talk about the ways people are different but such observations are likely to place groups of people in different status positions.  Religious differences, social classes, economic disparity.

  Cultural comparison was very much on my mind during my recent trip to Peru.  As a geographic place, the tourist region around the city of Cusco is a rich cultural environment.  The history of multiple levels of cultural conflict plays out on a physically remarkable environment.  While you're there it's perfectly appropriate to consider the history of the place.

  The larger area of Peru and Equador was a culturally rich place in the Pre-Columbian era.  Advanced civilizations were making anthropomorphic pottery and sophisticated human featured sculpture before Christ was born.  The Incans were heirs to this broad, long running tradition in much the same way the Romans were heirs to the Greek/Mediterranean civilization.

  The larger Peruvian civilization was handicapped because of a lack of writing.  History mostly requires the presence of written language BEFORE events can be considered history.  Thus, for civilizations without written language, you are looking at physical remains.  Thus, the Incans are at the very cusp, with no written language tradition but physical remains that are top of the table.  Most compelling for me is the symbol of the Incan Cross, pictured above at the Sun Temple in Pisaq.  Wikipedia calls it the Chakana:

The Chakana (or Inca Cross, Chakana) symbolizes for Inca mythology what is known in other mythologies as the World Tree, Tree of Life and so on. The stepped cross is made up of an equal-armed cross indicating the cardinal points of the compass and a superimposed square. The square represents the other two levels of existence. The three levels of existence are Hana Pacha(the upper world inhabited by the superior gods), Kay Pacha, (the world of our everyday existence) and Ucu or Urin Pacha (the underworld inhabited by spirits of the dead, the ancestors, their overlords and various deities having close contact to the Earth plane). The hole through the centre of the cross is the Axis by means of which the shaman transits the cosmic vault to the other levels. It also represents Cuzco, the center of the Incan empire, and the Southern Cross constellation. (WIKIPEDIA)
       Pretty sophisticated concept, no writing required to explain it necessary.  You come across that in a ruin at 10,000 feet up and you get it.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Traveling Conversion Suitcase: Peru

This traveling conversion suitcase was used by Catholic Missionaries during the 16th and 17th century in Peru. It actually folds in on itself to the size of a large trunk. The figures tell many of the stories of the Bible, and the idea is that the Priest would point out the stories to the natives and use them to illustrate different Christian ideas. The condition of this piece was excellent, I can only surmise that it was kept well maintained by craftsman or was barely used for it's original purpose.

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