Catching the “Wild Note”: Listening, Learning, and Connoisseurship in Old-Time Music Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Decosimo, Joseph
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of American Studies
  • As we approach the century mark for audio recording projects that began documenting traditional music forms in the southern U.S., it is worth interrogating the profound ways that old commercial and field recordings shape contemporary performance practices and understandings of these genres, especially as copies of older recordings circulate widely and unexpectedly and accumulate new meanings. This project examines the ways that sound recordings and technologies mediate contemporary performance practices, aesthetics, and social relationships in the context of Old-time music, especially among Old-time practitioners in East Tennessee, a site long associated with the genre. An ethnography of listening, learning, and performance practices among expert Old-time musicians, this dissertation brings conversations about the splitting and circulation of sounds from their sources to bear on long-standing concerns about modes of transmission of traditional and local knowledge. Thinking about the transmission of traditional music as a process thoroughly imbricated with sound technologies yields new questions, stories, and understandings about Old-time music making and the study of expressive culture. This project traces a circulatory flow that runs from Old-time’s emergence as commercial and field recordings into the learning, listening, and performing bodies of contemporary musicians and, then, back into the realm of recorded sound as contemporary experts make new recordings. Based on the author’s experience as a performer/researcher, and on fifteen years of fieldwork with expert musicians around Chattanooga, Tennessee, and beyond, this project reveals the intensely creative processes of emulation that lead to masterful performances on fiddle and banjo, the intimate relationships that form between players and between listener/learners and sound recordings, and emergent forms of connoisseurship. As this project foregrounds and interrogates the role of sound technologies in mediating and sustaining local forms of expressive culture, it invites researchers to consider carefully the entangled relationships between technologies, aesthetics, and masterful performances in contemporary traditional art forms. Rather than dismissing artistic projects that draw on recordings as less authentic than projects built around face-to-face learning, this project invites researchers to recognize the creative labor and social relationships that form as mediated repertories and styles return to embodied performances.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Meintjes, Louise
  • Engelhardt, Elizabeth
  • Bohlman, Andrea
  • Hinson, Glenn
  • Herman, Bernard
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018

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