So Very Academic Jet-Set

Last night, Carrie and I arrived in the airport on different flights 10 minutes apart and shared a cab home. It’s been that kind of month. In fact, the only reason I’m writing this morning is because the Quebec election has meant that classes today are cancelled. So much as been going on this month that I wish I had been writing more regularly, but I will just press on as if I had been.

I spent this past weekend in New York City. It was an absolute blast in the way that New York usually is. Thursday I conducted a seminar in the Center for Ethnomusicology at Columbia which was a lot of fun in the way that those arrangements usually are: lots of good questions that I wouldn’t have anticipated, and I got to be the center of attention for 2 hours. Later in the day, by sheer luck and coincidence, there was a seminar at NYU by Louise Meintjes and Catherine Admay (visiting from Duke, where Carrie was at a conference on feminist theory–see, everything is interconnected) on music an human rights law. Specifically, they were looking at whether music could be evidence of incitement to genocide in Rwanda. It was a stunning and heartbreaking talk.

The next two days were taken up with a conference called “Technologies of the Diva” at Columbia. When I was originally invited, I declined, protesting that I knew nothing of opera and would basically arrive as a pretender. The organizers wrote back and said that I didn’t have to know anything about opera. They wanted someone who knew something about sound technology — a topic about which I am considerably more comfortable speaking. The conference turned out to be a wonderful learning experience for me. Not only do I know a whole lot more about opera (though occasionally I had to do things like google “Carmen plot summary” during a discussion period), but also I spent two days with the leading lights of opera studies. It was really a privileged introduction to a field. And it turns out that opera studies and media studies are much closer together than you might imagine. Maybe this is old news to some people, but it was news to me: the problems of stardom, circulation and the tense relationships between art and commerce remind me very much of certain strands of cinema studies. Also the sense of humor and light touch in dealing with their objects of study. It’s been a long time since I’ve actually sat and read music while at a conference (or more accurately, followed along since as a bassist I never really learned to follow the treble clef in my head) and this had to be the first conference where I’ve actually seen a speaker break into song for a second to make a point and it made sense and wasn’t precious or odd at all. It fit perfectly with the talk. But don’t worry, I won’t be bringing my bass to any academic lectures anytime soon. Even if I do get around to that “low end theory” paper I’ve been meaning to do.

To round out the weekend, I had meals and drinks with old friends and new interesting people. I went to Labirynth Books yesterday and picked up a few, including a new book on war correspondence for Carrie. While in Durham, she bought me a (modern) zoopraxiscope.

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