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Journal of Popular Music Studies, Volume 24, Issue 4, Pages 399410

Introduction: Audio Work: Labor, Value, and the Making of Musical Aesthetics
Jesse Weaver Shipley

Haverford College
Marina Peterson

Ohio University This special issue on music, labor, and value comes out of ongoing conversations between the editors about the troubling relationship between ahistorical notions of aesthetics and scholarly analysis of performance and music. Broadly speaking, we are concerned with how to productively interpret music as a social practice. The theoretical intent of this volume is to link expressive practices to their contexts of production and circulation through methodologies of analysis. In the process, we show the ways that contexts and musical texts are mutually constitutive. That is to say, we are interested in the work that goes into making sounds into music and the ways in which music then reflects back onto the social worlds from which it is understood to be emergent. What follows should be read in the spirit of a polemic or even rant meant to provoke dialogue on how to conduct rigorous research on aesthetic practices in context. In our own work, we engage with labor and value in part to achieve particular conceptual goals related to what we see as impasses in the scholarship on art, performance, and music (Shipley; Peterson). As anthropologists, we see labor and value as ethnographic, textual, and historical issues that are critical for teasing out aspects of music that have been largely occluded. In an age of technological production and reproducibility, thinking about value means examining the various kinds of work that go into producing music, the digital and electronic media that circulate music and shape the affective publics emergent through popular genres, and the registers of belonging and modulations of value afforded through song. In other words, labor is crucial to understanding changing audio technologies and the circulation of sound. It goes without saying that labor is not opposed to idealized notions of pure aesthetic practice (Bourdieu). Indeed, music is always caught up in markets, commerce, and laboring bodies, while its relationship to these forces is often obfuscated to foreground the notion of music as pleasurable experience. But

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Jesse Weaver Shipley and Marina Peterson

the production of this musical aesthetic relies upon the ways practitioners negotiate the pulls of various value-producing registers and institutions. In presenting a collection of essays on the theme of music, labor, and value by historians, anthropologists, cultural studies scholars, and ethnomusicologists, we intend that the cases and analyses will be productive in their own right, and that similaritiesand differencesbetween them might resonate across place and time.

Ethnography of Aesthetics

Many critics continue to fetishize aesthetic practices as exceptional. Ethnography offers an important modality for contextualizing art practices that is relevant for a number of disciplines. Since Boass work Primitive Art the study of various artistic forms has been an important, if marginalized, part of the field of anthropology. However, the anthropology of art, while contextualizing cultural production within specific sociocultural worlds, has tended to ignore the ideological implications that underlie the category of art itself. Anthropological studies of art have relied on a notion of culture against which art is reflected as exceptional. Instead of showing how an expressive/sensory phenomenon is created and understood in specific contexts, some ethnographies have made the mistake of blurring local expressive styles with analytic categories through an unproblematized idea of art, accepting without question formal generic categories of sonic, visual, and performance arts; or even worse, projecting their own tastes and ideas of what is and is not art onto the social field. Recently, anthropologists have begun to more fully explore the fluid relationships among sounds, images, and performances and discourses of Western aesthetics (Schneider and Wright 2006, 2010). At the same time, ethnographers largely rely upon the opposition between cultural producers and everyday life. Rather than foregrounding the processes through which art discourses are implicated in the construction of these oppositions, they reify the ideology of aesthetics by focusing on the objects of cultural production. Anthropologists have yet to provide an adequate critical analysis of various worlds of art production and consumption. Marcus and Myerss Traffic in Culture offers insightful studies of the intersection of local cultural productions and a postmodern global world. It opens up a dialogue between discourses of anthropology and Western art. However, by focusing on the dynamics of how global systems articulate with local lifeworlds, the volume leaves the given oppositions of modernity intact. They explore



the ways in which the ideology of modern art structures non-Western objects rather than questioning the construction of this ideology in specific social contexts to query how the notion of modernity is predicated upon privileging cultural producers. Other recent work argues for an affinity between anthropology and modern art, positing ethnographers as artists who organize and present aesthetic content comprised of non-Western lives. Ideas of primitive expression have been crucial to the development not only of modernism but also art history, ethnomusicology, performance studies, and anthropology. The figure of the primitive continues to provide an often unspoken counterpoint to notions of modernity and modernism. Over twenty years ago, scholars such as James Clifford, Sally Price, and Marianna Torgovnick showed how signs and objects are constructed as primitive through the discourse of art and conversely how the primitive acts to construct art as a category. Structurally, art and the primitive stand in a similar position in relationship to modernity. Art and the primitive are, in different ways, on the margins of modernity, in the process defining social value at its center. Tropes of the primitive continue to ground modern aesthetics and its analysis across various realms. This comes out in the study of music when it emphasizes the ethnographic study of exotic sounds and genres, thereby reinforcing an imagined social landscape in which the primitive becomes a space for art as socialthe space of the ethnographicwhile modern art remains opposed to sociality. We want to use ethnographic, historical, and textual analyses to examine the processes through which art construes itself as asocial and the related ways in which the contexts from which art is removed are concomitantly imagined. This ideology of the aesthetic, as Terry Eagleton dubbed it, grounds modern art practices in bourgeois ideology embedded in specific forms of commodification, public life, and individuated productive subjectivities. Eagleton writes, [t]he emergence of the aesthetic as a theoretical category is closely bound up with the material process by which cultural production, at an early stage of bourgeois society, becomes autonomous . . . of the various social functions which it has traditionally served. Thus, art becomes an isolated enclave within which the dominant social order can find an idealized refuge from its own actual values of competitiveness, exploitation, and material possessiveness. While at the same time [T]he idea of autonomy . . . a mode of being which is entirely self-regulating and selfdeterminingprovides the middle class with just the ideological model of subjectivity it requires for its material operations (Eagleton 89). Eagletons sweeping explanation of the ideology of the aesthetic gives us a starting


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point from which to consider the relationship of subjectivity and art. At the same time, it is incomplete insofar as it only looks at art in relation to culture and capitalism within the metropole. The aesthetics of modernity around the world are necessarily shaped through the multitude of local articulations of capitalism (Comaroff and Comaroff). The autonomy of art, the notion of art for arts sake, is, as many have pointed out, historical (Bourdieu; Horkheimer and Adorno). It takes a lot of semiotic work to maintain the idea that cultural products are separate from daily life, institutions, and processes of circulation. Similarly to the ways that a gallery or a museum appears to be a neutral space for the display and contemplation of images, musical contexts are occluded, foregrounding the idea of music as meaningful in and of itself. Moreover, analysts often reproduce the logic of autonomous art when examining music, when causal relationships between music and other social spaces (i.e., politics) are demanded (and at the same time doubted), or when it is asked what makes music special. All of these operations presume and produce art as separate from the social. Autonomy haunts the anthropology of art and music, which ultimately has not figured out how not to buy into modernist epistemologies. It should be requisite for analysts of art (and music) to engage with the particular logic of autonomy with which Euro-American art is saddled. Autonomy as such is a kind of black hole for anthropology: seemingly, there is no there there. We want the world. But already the world is construed as different and separate from art. Here, we are faced with the impasse of the autonomous art object, a division that, in buying into the logic of our subject, gives us two optionsart as separate from society or art in service of social ends. Anthropological analysis offers a way to examine the processes through which autonomy is produced and naturalized and, in the process, how the social contexts of aesthetic distancing are themselves made. In most contexts, historians and anthropologists are good at paying attention to social and cultural conditions supporting modes of meaning making, even ones carried by regimes of value over time. But studies of artistic genres seem to have trouble recognizing the relationship between text and context. Here, we suggest that a more productive approach is to consider how the arts are entangled in the world in rich and complex ways that require a reconfiguration of the mutually constitutive relationship between the two. While we might productively acknowledge the social significance of a notion of art for arts sake, we must not rely on this to gain analytic purchase. And rather than simply examining arts in context, which further



naturalizes a separation between artistic products and the surroundings in which they are situated, we consider the semiotic practices through which a notion of artistic autonomy emerges, maintaining art as a separate aesthetic realm and the surrounding social worlds and their power dynamics as mundane contextual background. Daily life as formal context therefore is produced semiotically by art and music, through imagining themselves as transportable texts understood as formal content.

Modernist Sounds

John Cage famously argued that all sounds are music (Gann). Even more celebrated is his belief that there is no such thing as silence; this was his conclusion after going into an anechoic chamber and hearing two sounds, which he was told were his nervous system and the blood moving through his veins. With these statements, Cage made legible (and is now given credit for) certain strands of work in twentieth century European and American composition that opened musical sound to that of the world around us and brought sounds of everyday objects and processes into composition. As others have pointed out (Samuels, Meintjes, Ochoa, and Porcello), recording technology was central to developing this work, allowing sounds in the world to be captured, manipulated, and replayed for a range of compositional practices from the abstractions of musique concrete to the idealism of acoustic ecology, and much in between. In particular, anthropology shows that the relationships between sound and music must be understood in social contexts within which participants produce and contest aesthetic generic boundaries. For anthropologists of sound, these compositional practices sound like what we do, providing a means of engaging with the world aurally. But locating an anthropology of sound in compositional practice relies on an aesthetic form that insists on the autonomy of art. Cage was not interested in the social life of Sixth Avenue, or the political economy of natural resources, when he listened to the traffic, but rather aimed to abstract what he heard, taking it as sound as such. Hence, what sounds like the world to us is, for Cage, already an abstraction, one formulated through modern musical discourse. Along these lines, scholarship on expression needs to be careful not to treat the world as content for ready framing within an idiom of contemporary art; any cultural signs from any contexts can be drawn in and given equivalent meaning and value in the context of modernist composition.


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As we describe above, not only are everyday sounds abstracted, they are put in the service of compositions that are part of a Euro-American aesthetic in which art (and music as an art form) is framed as autonomous. (Feld came to similar conclusions regarding the soundscape work of Schafer, but aimed for a synthesis in approaches.) It is relatively common to take Cages statements out of context, drawing on them as general definitions that help direct ones aural attention to the sonic environment. Such reliance on compositional precedence precludes an anthropology of sound that listens with an ethnographic ear rather than an aesthetically tuned one; one that pays attention to the social processes of production, circulation, and reception through which aesthetic value is made rather than assuming that soundscapes are framed by similar generic structures, tastes, and notions of value. Instead of taking modern musical genres and their critiques as creative inspiration for social inquiry, we propose investigating the social practices through which sounds are organized and made meaningful. Ethnography that relies upon modernist compositional practices are missing two crucial opportunities to show that expressive practices must be understood in relation to how practitioners foreground them from their specific contexts of production, circulation, and reception (Silverstein and Urban): first to examine the sociohistorical contexts within which modern art has maintained itself as a separate sphere of aesthetic composition; second to examine sonic expressive forms that offer different ideologies of expression from the standard Euro-American modernist one. We ask, what might an anthropology of sound be that does not take modernist aesthetics as foundational? We might start by listening, and listening to how people listen. Listening is a way of paying attention and being present, both by participants and researchers. Sound has a duration (though it is not necessary to make an ontological claim for this to be meaningful in practice). We might listen anew to the ethnographic, considering the roles that listening plays in and for our research. Sound is, in fact, banal and everyday, and an anthropology of sound might productively engage with how social actors orient themselves via the aural, how expertise is enacted through listening, and how social attachments of kinship and friendship cohere around an attunement to sounds. Listening is a practice that people do already as a way of knowing about things. This might provide a unique way of knowing something (i.e., the mechanic who can diagnose an engine problem by its sound) or an entirely commonplace (and hence general) way of being in the world (as in everyday conversation). In the study of music



as a kind of sound, it is especially difficult to avoid modernist assumptions and problems of autonomy. But by starting with this approach to sound, and using labor and value as frames, we hope to point to some newly productive ways of understanding musical practice, or music as practice. We propose that analysts should begin with the ways various forms of labor are coordinated to make, organize, and distribute sounds and shape the subject positions of those involved in these processes. Lastly, as analysts of music as a social practice, we are, it seems, blinded by tautologies of scale, which, like other modernist myths, hide their own particularities. Scale is an equally self-fulfilling prophecy, as notions of musics ubiquity become the basis for any number of claims about its universality. We need to find ways to take our tools for analyzing particularities of so-called local social and cultural phenomena and scale up, not buying into logics of universality.

Labor and Value in Musical Genres

The authors in this volume examine music through the lens of value as made, circulated, and experienced in specific performance and institutional contexts and labor as a form of embodied practice that creates, challenges, and transforms value, as expressive practices invoke various social and historical registers. We endeavor to show that aesthetics and the way that people understand them are made and contested in sociohistorical context. A crucial way that music, across a variety of locales, operates is to produce itself as separable from mundane social life. We examine how aesthetic genres, that claim to be separate and separable from their social worlds, are made as such, in the process producing the landscapes they inhabit as contrasting mundane social contexts (Duranti and Goodwin). Foregrounding labor and value in relation to music is our way to engage with the longstanding dichotomy that opposes aesthetics to productive labor. By placing labor at the center of the analysis of sound, we hope to shift conversations around music by relinking aesthetic value to its complex modes of production. Aesthetic value is made and contested through various kinds of work/production. Analysts must take account of the ways in which participants make and make sense of sound in relation to established genres and registers (whether musical or otherwise). In order to do so, analysts must pay particular attention to the reflexive/self-conscious aspects of sound and how participants actively make connections between aesthetic registers and labor and economic value. At the same time, in many locales,


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aesthetic valuations are employed to detach assessments of good/bad and pleasurable/uninteresting from the institutional, social, and other contextual realms in which sounds circulate. The relationship of labor to music is often obfuscated for example, as debates over musical value focus on competing notions of the value of copyright, or in the context of changing notions of composition and production as digital audio technology evolves, or as participants consider the relationship of music to the race, nationality, or spirituality. In fact, legal and economic structures of musical authorship have long obscured music as labor, whether as organized labor or in a more general sense of practice and performance. While labor has been occluded from considerations of musical value, participants in many locales contest whether or not music is a form of labor, how it can be quantified, exchanged, and transformed, and who reaps the benefits of it. The ephemerality of sound makes its transformation into other media both difficult and full of potential. Indeed, transposing value among various realms both technological and symbolic takes work. For example, circulating songs across airwaves involves labor, as does making and maintaining the semiotic connections between voice and divinity. Moments when music links to commerce and the market are often sources of anxiety about musical meaning. Considering music as a form of production raises questions about under what conditions its value is separable and circulatable, how various participants, technologies, and institutions contribute to its valuation, and finally, who controls it. This volumes musical examples and cases are set in a variety of places and are not simply about pleasurable or aesthetic experiences but illustrate broader points about value, labor, and subjectivity. Vicki Brennans ethnography of a Nigerian Pentecostal church choir shows the crucial ways in which transpositions of musical value work. Mediation provides a critical term for understanding how the circulation of music between immediate and mediated forms is central for musics role in religious mediationhow, in other words, the use and circulation of recordings help choir members reach their spiritual goals. Yet, mediation, she suggests, is masked such that religious transcendence is achieved through a labor of immediacy. Brennans article conveys the richly productive imbrication of live and mediated sound, and the ways in which both are caught up in particular kinds of musical workboth in terms of the work of making sound, and modalities of semiotic work that allows music to mean or to help people achieve extramusical goals.



David Gilbert examines black music and James Reese Europes Clef Club in New York at the beginning of the twentieth century through examining the changing relationship between musical value and race. In particular, the article is concerned with tracing the transpositions between professional value and cultural value. Gilbert argues that Europes Clef Club is emblematic of the evolution and legitimation of black music in the American musical landscape before World War II. The Clef Club as New Yorks first labor union for black musicians specializing in popular music opened up possibilities for black artists to work and be paid as professional musicians. The inclusion of black music and musicians in popular, professional realms of New Yorks music scene sets the stage for later developments in black music. The article shows how the institutionalization of black music both provided possibilities for black music while structuring it within a popular American culture industry and its forms of labor and value. Music, even a specific genre, is neither uniform nor determinative of value. As Matt Delmont outlines, 1950s rock n roll was used to sell products and support politics of civil rights. While the commercialism of Dick Clarks American Bandstand has yielded a dominant notion of midtwentieth-century American popular music and its role in the rise of a consumer citizen, Philadelphia DJ Georgie Woods work in promoting civil rights efforts shows how music might be put in service of different (and sometimes overlapping) ends. These examples reflect how scale is produced even as it provides a basis for musical meaninga national television network enabled consumerism to be melded with national identity, while the local broadcast range of WDAS enabled political mobilization while limiting its import for notions of musical meaning. Kirstie A. Dorr examines Andean street musicians in San Francisco, describing how an international network of performers and producers both capitalizes on and subverts spatial logics of a dominant world music market. Unlike the North American world music industry, the Andean music industry is a grassroots network with recordings produced in small runs, sold on the street where the musicians play. Its success is grounded in the sonic otherness of the panpipe, a semiotically significant instrument in the world music pantheon, representing Latin America. At the same time, sonic space intersects with politics of public space and immigration law, affecting where, when, and how musicians might work. Shannon Garland examines the relationship between ideologies of labor and new technologies of circulation in a Brazilian informal musical economy, Fora do Eixo. An independent music production network based on


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Internet circulation, it demonstrates how aesthetic and economic values are being reconfigured in the Brazilian context. This research links the making of a musical aesthetic to changing technologies of circulation. It traces how digital and Internet technologies reshape the transpositions between cultural/musical and economic value. Falina Enriquez also takes up the issue of Brazilian musical circulation in relation to objectifications of culture and state discourses of cultura. In focusing on voicings in rehearsals and performances, this article examines how different musical genres intersect with notions of race and culture. In the institutional mediation of music, ideas of culture become ways that musical value is produced and contested. Janice Protopapass article shows the links between musical value and historical memory. It examines performances of Sikh hal e d a div an or verses of attack services as a musical archive of historical conflict and narration through which subjects position themselves in relation to broader social registers. Developed in the context of ongoing fighting against British rule in the nineteenth century, the rhythmic and lyrical force of the hymns both antagonized the British and provided a point of articulation for community unification. Spiritual responsibility is linked to political rebellion in the musics performance. Hymns channel the power of meditation and affect as forms of bodily moral responsibility grounded in the performance. Performances transform musical value into narratives of historical and spiritual unity. Shane Greenes piece on punk underground in Peru argues that punk is a critical practice that emerges from the dystopic dissatisfaction at the center of capital production, circulation, and consumption. Greene places his work in the genealogy of cultural studies while criticizing their understandings of popular styles as merely rituals of rebellion. Punk must not be seen simply as a decontextualized semiotic register or text nor should opposition politics be seen only through dichotomies of complacency and rebellion. Rather Greene argues that the lesson of punk is to under-fuck the system through inversions and implosions of daily practice and forms of value. Examining punk in Peru from the mid-1980s, this article elaborates on a notion of underness as both material form and a critique of material production. This article not only reflects on punk as critical practice, but also itself embodies the authors formal critiques in its writing and organization. While perhaps less an explicit concern of these articles, a crucial theme in thinking about music, labor, and value is sincerity. Performance stances, emotional registers of interpretation, and modes of circulation



require belief in the power of music. Sincerity points to the way that affective stances of participants shape musics potential to mean, be autonomous, or afford alternative social formations. The presentation of music as sincere or irreverent, spiritual or commercial frames the emotional and sociological potential of words and sounds to make and transform value. Articles in this issue take account of the importance of sincerity/insincerity to the meaning of sound and its institutional circulations, from punks fuck-off DIY attitude to Sikh hymns fervent anti-British stances to Dick Clarks eager corporate sheen. The tone of music, the inflection of lyrics, the ways that reverent and irreverent modes of musical delivery give authority to music and concomitant audiences make it appear as a separable asocial realm for aesthetic contemplation, thereby giving these aesthetic practices authority to shape social subjectivities. Sincerity, then, is an aesthetic modality that can obfuscate relations of labor, race, gender, and power that underlie musics production and circulation, instead presenting performances that reflexively claim a form of transcendence from daily action. Sincerity masks reflexivity. It presents a normative idea of social subjectivity masking critical self-conscious potentials of music and performance that emerge when they present and aesthetics of reflexivity. Punk musics ironic irreverence and active reflexive subversions and inversions of aesthetic value are equally critiques of the sincerity of labors discipline across bourgeois contexts. The emotional power of music to evoke sincere sentiments or to critique them is directly connected to how economic labor and aesthetic value are linked and unlinked.

Works Cited
Bourdieu, Pierre. The Historical Genesis of a Pure Aesthetic. In The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature. New York: Columbia UP, 1993. Comaroff, John L., and Jean Comaroff. Ethnicity, Inc. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2009. Duranti, Allesandra, and Charles Goodwin, eds. Rethinking Context: Language as an Interactive Phenomenon. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. Eagleton, Terry. The Ideology of the Aesthetic. Oxford: Blackwell, 1990. Feld, Steven. A Rainforest Acoustemology. In The Auditory Culture Reader, eds. Michael Bull and Les Back. Oxford: Berg, 2003.


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Gann, Kyle. No Such Thing as Silence: John Cages 4 33 . New Haven: Yale UP, 2010. Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment. London: Verso, 1979. Marcus, George, and Fred Myers. Traffic in Culture: Refiguring Art and Anthropology. Berkeley: U of California P, 1995. Peterson, Marina. Sound, Space, and the City: Civic Performance in Downtown Los Angeles. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2010. Samuels, David W., Louise Meintjes, Ana Maria Ochoa, and Thomas Porcello. Soundscapes: Toward a Sounded Anthropology. Annual Review of Anthropology 39 (2010): 329345. Schneider, Arnd, and Christopher Wright, eds. Contemporary Art and Anthropology. Oxford: Berg, 2006. , and . Between Art and Anthropology: Contemporary Ethnographic Practice. Oxford: Berg, 2010. Shipley, Jesse Weaver. Living the Hiplife: Celebrity and Entrepreneurship in Ghanaian Popular Music. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2013. Silverstein, Michael, and Greg Urban, eds. Natural Histories of Discourse. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996.