Empirical Musicology: Aims, Methods, Prospects

By Eric Clarke; Nicholas Cook | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Documenting the Musical Event:
Observation, Participation, Representation

Jonathan P. J. Stock

Empirical approaches have contributed to research in the field now named ethnomusicology since at least the nineteenth century. Comparative musicologists and folklorists in Europe, the Americas, and elsewhere each drew on the new technologies of sound recording and mass publication in order to develop distinct forms of scholarly empiricism. More recent generations of folk music scholars and ethnomusicologists have measured their work against further empirical norms, and there remains today an intriguing relationship between the discipline’s research methods, available technology, and the pattern of its truth claims. Ethnomusicologists have developed empirical approaches to transcription, the analysis of musical sound, the distribution of instruments and repertory, learning processes, and performance interaction, and further chapters could be written on each of these areas as well as on several others. Nonetheless, this chapter focuses on the topic of participant-observational fieldwork, because fieldwork not only is of central importance to enquiry in ethnomusicology but also can be a powerful research methodology for other musicologists. This chapter looks at means of gathering empirical fieldwork data and associated issues of interpretation, authority, and representation. Before looking in detail at fieldwork, however, I shall discuss broader aspects of empirical work in ethnomusicology by means of a brief historical summary.


Introduction: The Empirical Urge in Ethnomusicology
and Its Antecedents

The invention of the phonograph in 1877 was almost a precondition for the discipline of comparative musicology as devised by European scholars in the final decades of the nineteenth century. Although some previous studies had used traveling musicians and sets of musical instruments purchased by colonial collectors, the new technology of sound recording made two crucial contributions to the new discipline: first, it allowed researchers to assemble for comparative analysis extensive collections of musical material from all around the world; second, repeated playback permitted the detailed study (and hence the transcription in modified staff notation) of non-Western musical sounds. Pitches were minutely measured and tonal systems postulated from these calculations. Meanwhile, instruments were categorized, not

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