In Volume 31, Issue 1 (Fall 2011) of the Department of Department of Popular Culture Newsletter of Bowling Green State University (Ohio), Pamela Wagner writes, “In September, Dr. Esther Clinton and Dr. Jeremy Wallach joined scholars from around the globe for “The Impact of Music in Shaping Southeast Asian Societies,” a conference held September 2 – 3 at the University of Philippines, Diliman. Dr. Wallach, who was an invited guest of the University, had the honor of being selected as the event’s closing speaker. Covering a broad range of topics, the conference was a multidisciplinary event that centered on the essential role music has played in Southeast Asian culture and history, particularly over its centuries of sustained contact with India, the Middle East, China, and the West. In addition to Jeremy and Esther’s friend Dr. Christi-Anne Castro from the University of Michigan, the conference attracted delegates from China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, as well as scholars from the Philippines and the US.
Conference sessions covered a variety of topics, including “Music Subcultures of Continental Southeast Asia,” “Ethnoaesthetics of Southeast Asian Music,” “Histories of Southeast Asian Music Modernity” and “Music in Critical Social Movements.” Adding local flavor to the busy session schedule, breaks in the conference were filled by concerts of classical and contemporary music performed by local musicians and students from the university’s music department.
While the conference had much to offer, Dr. Wallach’s favorite presentation (by Laverne C. Dela Peña of UP) detailed the emergence of “rap battles” in the Philippines. Combining the native Tagalog language with Spanish and English, these insult battles between rappers are watched by people throughout the country and have gained notoriety via posts on YouTube. Dr. Clinton especially enjoyed a lecture by Dr. Arsenio Nicholas of UP and Mahasarakham University on the ancient trade of bronze gongs throughout Southeast Asia, which explored how recent archeological discoveries from shipwrecks have led to the unearthing of historical trade routes and connections between regions.
While almost all the scholars at the conference discussed traditional Southeast Asian musics, Dr. Wallach’s closing presentation, titled “Technohybridity and Genre Formation in Democratic Indonesia,” examined the influence Western music has had on Southeast Asian cultures, as well as the need for scholars to study the variety of popular music genres that have emerged in Southeast Asia.
In particular, the presentation explored how while the global explosion of rock music coincided with decolonization in Southeast Asian societies, this did not mean that rock music was therefore a rearguard attempt at mental re-colonization, as many third world leaders and nationalist intellectuals of the time feared. Instead, Dr. Wallach stressed the parallel destabilizing role the music has played in both western and non-western countries. In addition, the presentation examined how popular American music has been appropriated and reworked by Southeast Asian youth, who have used it as a foundation to create innovative sounds all their own. The presentation was a unique and rare opportunity to address such a diverse and accomplished group of scholars, composers and artists and, to Dr. Wallach’s immense relief, it was met with appreciation and enthusiasm by those in attendance.
The Philippines conference was not the first time Dr. Wallach has been invited to present his research abroad; he has also been invited to speak at conferences in Semarang and Jakarta, Indonesia (see Vol. 2 No. 3), and in Leiden, the Netherlands. He has also given invited presentations on his Indonesia research throughout the US, at Colorado College, Duke University, Haverford College, the University of Denver, the University of Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin—Madison.
The conference was just one aspect of a busy week for Drs. Clinton and Wallach, who were guests of Dr. José Buenconsejo, Dean of the University of the Philippines School of Music and served as guest lecturers in a graduate seminar in ethnomusicology (topic: structural anthropology). During their stay at the University (the most prestigious school in the country), Drs. Clinton and Wallach were invited to tour the school’s music library and viewed its musical instrument collection, which includes a vast array of gongs, bamboo zithers, flutes, jaw harps, drums, and the like. Most notable was a tour of the University sound lab, where the massive collection of late famed composer and ethnomusicologist Dr. José Maceda’s one-of-a-kind field recordings of highland Filipino musicians and other Southeast Asian groups is being painstakingly transferred from audiotape recordings (some quite degraded) to highresolution digital wave files.
In addition to scholarly pursuits, Drs. Clinton and Wallach traveled to downtown Manila to meet family members of Dr. Wallach’s sister-in-law Cristina, who is from the region. They enjoyed a meal of local favorites before boarding the plane for the long trip back to Detroit early the next morning.
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