TALK: Field Recording as Vulnerable Dream: “Let Folks Dig their Potatoes in Peace,” Andrea F. Bohlman (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Event Date: 

Wednesday, May 17, 2023 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm

Event Location: 

  • Music Library 2406

As promises of mediation, efforts at amplification, and future-oriented projects, field recording projects are the stuff of vulnerable dreams: the facilitation of collective acts of listening and work that hopes toward a sonic commons. This talk asks how academic field recording, including but not limited to the discipline of ethnomusicology, was shaped by tape recording. First used on location to record dance, speech, and music in 1936 by Nazi researchers, magnetic tape became the standard format for academic sound recording by 1952. My presentation turns to three state-funded ethnomusicological projects devised to “catalog humanity,” as Katherine Lemov might put it, and made possible by early reel-to-reel recorders and shaped by the nuisances of mid-century maps, cars, and electrical wiring. I foreground scenes from these expeditions where sound and tape caused a problem: part-singing in South Tyrol, a Black spiritual in Southern Appalachia, and a harvesting song in Polish Silesia. Through my analysis, which takes into account the afterlives of these tapes, I interrogate how this format’s devices and affordances shaped the practices and ethics—even feelings and relations—of field recording, asking what it might mean to consider tape recording an infrastructure of and for ethnomusicology beyond this mid-century moment.

Andrea F. Bohlman studies the political stakes of music making and sound in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, weaving together archival and ethnographic methodologies. She is Associate Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA. Much of her writing thinks through questions of political agency and strategies of shaping social movements through sound and music in Central and Eastern Europe, as in her 2020 book Musical Solidarities: Political Action and Music in Late Twentieth-Century Poland. Bohlman’s research on the history of sound recording—on mixtapes, field recordings, oral histories, and electroacoustic composition—situates the practices in the everyday and the hands of a range of practitioners. A book in progress, provisionally entitled Magnetic Fields: Tape and the Sounding of Consent, Magnetic Fields is a material and cultural history of tape recording as a site of social intimacy and knowledge production from 1936 to the present.  She is also the executive editor of the online publication of the American Musicological Society, Musicology Now.
Co-sponsored by Ethnomusicology Forum and Musicology/Theory Forum.