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In the Shadow of the Phonograph

Ritual, Remembrance & Recorded Sound.

This collaborative research project involves Ian BiddleNanette de Jong and Richard Elliott. They are producing a co-authored book that deals, both through critical engagement with recent developments in the theory of technology, and through a number of historically and geographically located case studies, with the part played by music in public and private acts of mourning, remembering and forgetting.

Sound reproduction technologies have intervened in and shaped ways in which we have come to think about memory. Drawing on recent developments in the field of ritual studies, the authors assert that memory work (the ways in which memory is put into and shaped by the public and private domains) operates according to a logic of ritual in which strategies for marking and remembering the past are repeated according to a set of rhythms and cycles that anxiously mark the site of potential forgetting.

Drawing on a range of materials from North AmericaEurope, the Caribbean and Africa, and from a range of historical locations from within the so-called long twentieth century, the researchers examine the extent to which the musical underscoring of public and private mourning and ritual serves as a symptom of broader cultural and historical shifts in public consciousness about agency, democracy and community.

Across six substantial chapters, an introduction and a conclusion, the resulting book is organised around case studies, but will also cover a range of subthemes relating the headline topics of ritual, remembrance and recorded sound. These themes include:

  • bringing the ethnographic understanding of ritual into a critical relation with other methodological fields;
  • understanding the history of sound reproduction technologies as part of an informal or vernacular modernism;
  • putting the various practices of collectors and collecting in relation to more formal archiving processes;
  • understanding ritual as part of a broader set of musico-social practices (such as listening, collecting, exchanging, performing);
  • and contextualising the notion of memory work within sound studies.