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2010 Annual Conference

Soundscapes of the Spirit
Cosmology and Sound Art from the Black to the Aral Seas


Conference Overview

Dates: April 8–9
Location: Reading Room of the Levis Faculty Center (map)

For its 2010 annual conference, the Russian, East European and Eurasian Center (REEEC) will host an international, interdisciplinary symposium titled “Soundscapes of the Spirit: Cosmology and Sound Art from the Black to the Aral Seas” in conjunction with organizers Gabriela Currie (University of Minnesota) and Donna A. Buchanan (University of Illinois).

Through an investigation of song, instrumental melody, timbre, vocalization techniques, instrument construction, music iconography, local music theories and philosophies, and verbal arts such as oral poetry, chants, and incantations, this conference will probe the interrelationship between sound art and cosmology in the Balkans, Caucasus, and Central Asia from both historical and contemporary perspectives.

Click here (PDF) for a more detailed conference overview.


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Program


Click here (PDF) for a downloadable version of the conference program.


All conference events will take place in the Reading Room of the Levis Faculty Center except where noted otherwise.


Day 1: Thursday, April 8

• 1:00–1:10

Welcoming Remarks
Robert Graves (Dean, College of Fine and Applied Arts)

• 1:10–3:40

Session 1:
Spirit, Sentiment, and Power: Soundscapes of Belief

Denise R. Gill (PhD candidate, University of California, Santa Barbara)

Denise Gill (PhD candidate, University of California, Santa Barbara, ethnomusicology and feminist studies) has conducted thirty months of field research in Turkey (2003–2009) under the auspices of Fulbright and other grants. Her work focuses on musical and cultural practices of contemporary Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. In her dissertation, “‘May God Increase Your Pain’: Turkish Classical Music, Gender Subjectivities, and the Cultural Politics of Melancholy,” Gill explores how, through music, emotions become socially “felt,” widely expressed as, and claimed for particular gender, religious, and trans/national identities. Gill is the 2007 winner of the Ki Mantle Hood Award (Society of Ethnomusicology, Southern California Chapter), a Sakıp Sabancı International Research Award (2008), and has an article on Turkish music transmission practices (meşk) in the forthcoming edition of the Turkish Studies Association Journal. At UCSB, Gill has offered undergraduate courses on music, sex and gender, popular music practices in the United States, world music, transnational feminism(s), and music in Muslim communities. As a kanun (trapezoidal zither) player committed to the study of Ottoman-Turkish classical and Mevlevi music traditions, Gill has performed in concert halls in the U.S. and in Turkey, for the European Union in Brussels, and on Turkish radio and television programs.

“Ya Hû: Sound, Separation, and Spiritual Labor in Turkish Sufi Musical Practices”

Local Turkish Sufi music philosophies disclose the social processes in which sound itself, in both verbal and musical manifestations, produces the conditions for the synthesis of emotional and spiritual experience. In this paper, I examine how contemporary Turkish Mevlevi Sufi musicians create and remember sound experience as sacred and how this, in turn, shapes their subjectivity. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Turkey (2007–2009), I focus on the word “Hû,” a name like “Allah” that is believed to communicate God’s ninety-nine attributes when uttered. “Hû” manifests in devotional hymns and music ritual, in Ottoman and contemporary Turkish proverbs and poetry, as an incantation for trance, as a greeting or other form of social exchange in Turkish Sufi orders, and as a vehicle for musical and spiritual transmission. Musicians claim that the repetition of “Hû” as sound articulates the human condition of separation from the divine. Using “Hû” to interrogate the connection between sound, separation, and spirituality, I disclose the processes in which “Hû” inculcates senses and experiences of melancholy for individuals and communities that deploy it. I demonstrate the ways in which musicians justify and validate expressions of melancholy when sound itself is interpreted as sacred and spiritually-occurring. I further argue that musicians effectively mobilize “Hû” as spiritual labor that informs, directs, and validates their social and political relationships with other individuals and communities. What is at stake in this paper is therefore an understanding of how musicians employ belief systems about sound for the meanings and understandings of the self and the social and political worlds they negotiate.

Natasha Kipp Maki (PhD candidate, Illinois)

Natasha Kipp (PhD candidate, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, ethnomusicology) specializes in the South Caucasus. She is currently completing her dissertation “Organological Geopolitics and the Balaban of Azerbaijan” with the aid of a University of Illinois Dissertation Completion Grant. Other academic awards include an IIE Fulbright award and two ACTR (American Councils) research awards, which allowed for language study in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2003, as well as for 16 months of dissertation fieldwork in Azerbaijan in 2005–2006. Kipp takes particular interest in combining the study of music with issues of intra- and inter-ethnic relations and social politics, the performance and shaping of national identity, religion and spirituality, and socio-linguistics. In 2008 she received the JaFran Jones Prize for best student paper at the Midwest Society for Ethnomusicology meeting, and she is the author of “Creating a Cultural Battlefield: Musical Masterpieces and the Role of UNESCO,” forthcoming in Cultural Archetypes and Political Change in the Caucasus, ed. Nino Tsitsishvili.

“The Principle of Sacrifice and the Sorrow of the Azerbaijani Balaban

Many people find the timbre of the Azerbaijani balaban, a double-reed woodwind, arresting—even soul-stirring—but the significance and symbolism of this instrument are much more layered than simply its sound might suggest. The balaban is tightly connected to foundational principles of Azerbaijan’s spiritual heritage and culture. I intend to show meaningful links between certain Sufi beliefs and practices of central Eurasia, the balaban, and related spiritual underpinnings of sorrow and sacrifice in the context of everyday life within Azerbaijani culture.

The structure of the balaban is simple, consisting of a cylindrically bored body, traditionally of apricot wood, and a reed mouthpiece. Both the wood and the reed have symbolic importance, but it is the reed which will be the focus of this paper. Reeds figures prominently in Sufi analogies regarding the purification of the human soul, as do references to the “breath.” These Sufi analogies promote the willingness to sacrifice one’s own will to that of God and, by extension, the nobility of martyrdom. Based on ethnomusicological fieldwork carried out with balaban players and instrument makers in and around Baku from 2005–2006, my paper considers the spiritual and emotional symbolism of the reed and the breath in association with the balaban’s construction, its primary repertory, and the personification of its “voice.”

Gabriela Ilnitchi Currie (University of Minnesota)

Gabriela Currie (PhD, NYU, musicology) is Assistant Professor of musicology at the University of Minnesota. Currie specializes in medieval music theory, the intersection between musical and scientific thought in the early- and pre-modern eras, iconography, and travel accounts as early ethnographies of Byzantine, Balkan, and Ottoman musical traditions. Several of her research projects have been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Association for University Women, and the Belgian-American Foundation. She is the author of The Play of Meanings: Aribo’s De musica and the Hermeneutics of Musical Thought, published in 2005, and of articles on subjects such as medieval musical cosmology, medieval Latin liturgy, and Balkan music iconography that have appeared in scholarly journals as well as edited collections. Currently she is constructing a database of Post-Byzantine music iconography in the Balkan churches and preparing a book on the intersection of late scholastic natural philosophy, mathematics, theories of sound, and musical cosmologies in the works of Nicole Oresme.

“The Sounds of the Circumcision Festival in Surname-i Vehbi: Rites of Passage and Imperial Power”

Ottoman royal festivals (sur) held to celebrate various rites of passage in the imperial family—the births of sons, weddings of daughters, and circumcisions of princes—were often recorded in “books of festivals” (surname). One such book, the Surname-i Vehbi, records the festivities surrounding the circumcision of the four sons of Ahmed III in 1720, and contains a large number of full page illustrations depicting an astounding array of musical activities. With imperial Istanbul and the Bosphorus as the theatrical backdrop for the celebrations, the musical moments succeed one another in near cinematic fashion; the spectacle of the bear trainers gives way to acrobats and pehlivans, and the dancing köçeks to the hieratic sufis; instrumental ensembles head the guilds in their celebratory processions; barges on the Bosphorus carry musicians, masked actors, and acrobats that perform for floating audiences of Ottoman dignitaries and foreign guests. In the very background of the historical narrative is the circumcision of thousands of boys from poor families, the imperial alms that lead to the circumcision of the princes themselves. I will suggest that the imaged sound of the festival forms a narrative that runs parallel to, and at times intersects the pictorial and textual narratives. The manuscript is indeed a bande dessinée of sorts, a narrative of characters, entertainment acts, and imaged sounds, all participants in the most magnificent of the imperial Ottoman public celebrations. A sonic crescendo marks the unfolding of images and leads to the glorious boom of the imperial mehter, whose procession marks the culmination of the publicly projected princely rite of passage.

Chair: D. Fairchild Ruggles (Professor, Landscape Architecture, Illinois)


• 3:40–4:30

Coffee break

Mini-concert: Balinese gamelan of the Robert E. Brown Center for World Music
Fourth floor, Levis Center
Guests are also welcome to tour the Center's offices, located on the same level.

• 4:30–6:00

Opening Keynote Address

Jean During (CNRS, Paris)

Jean During (PhD, State Doctor) is director of research at the Centre de Recherche en Ethnomusicologie (CREM/LESC) at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), Paris. He has spent eleven years in Iran and five years in Uzbekistan where he conducted systematic ethnomusicological fieldwork on the music systems of Inner Asia but also on Sufi and shamanic rituals. Prof. During has published twelve books on the musical traditions and cultures of Inner Asia. He is the author of The Art of Persian Music (Mage Publishers, 1997), The Spirit of Sounds: The Unique Art of Ostad Elahi (1895–1974) (Cornwall Books, 2003), La voix du Chamane: Etude sur les Baxshi tadjiks et ouzbeks (Harmattan, 2007), Musique et Extase (Albin Michel, 1989), etc.; as well as of more than a hundred articles in specialized revues and encyclopedias. Prof. During has also released more than 40 CDs with scientific notes. Texts of his have been published in French, English, Italian and Persian.

“On the Action of Music, Between Myths and Facts”

The aim of this paper is to sketch a holistic picture of music’s effect—or at least the effect of sound, taken in its totality—on human beings, including their biological, psychic, mental, emotional and spiritual levels. I will rely upon objectively witnessed data as well as legends and traditions. This does not mean that we should take for granted the data provided by myths and transmitted by traditions, but for ethnomusicologists it makes sense to collect this kind of information without forgetting that modern science and Western culture also constantly produce myths which are even necessary to their progress.

So I will investigate the different levels of the hypothetical or effective action of music, starting with minerals and plants, then considering animal perception, and finally the human levels. In quoting ideas and traditions pertaining mainly to Muslim culture I will systematically attempt to link them to facts or ideas belonging to Western modern thought.

Introduction by Bruno Nettl (Professor Emeritus, Ethnomusicology, Illinois)


• 6:00–8:00

Opening Reception
Second floor, Levis Center
Featured soloist: Denise R. Gill, kanun
Other participating artists include Angela Glaros, Paul Hartley, Ulugbek Nurmukhamedov, Behrouz Touri, Ioannis Tsekouras, and Derviş Vural.




Day 2: Friday, April 9

• 9:00–12:15

Session 2:
Ecologies of Sound: Antiphonies of the Senses, Borders of Belief

Angela Glaros (PhD candidate, Illinois)

Angela Glaros (PhD candidate, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, anthropology) is currently writing her dissertation, provisionally titled “Soundscapes of Tradition: Singing Gender in Skyros, Greece,” with the support of a Paleologos Graduate Scholarship from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Her research centers around gender and musical performance as embodied knowledge in ritual spaces and beyond. Angela conducted fieldwork on Skyros in 2007–2008, supported by a Fulbright IIE fellowship and the Tullia Magrini Scholarship Award for Research on the Anthropology of Music and Mediterranean Cultures, administered by the University of Bologna, Italy in conjunction with the International Council on Traditional Music. Her publications include “The Tsifte-teli Sermon: Gender, Identity and Theology in Rebetika Dance,” in The Passion of Music and Dance: Gender, Sexuality, and the Body, ed. William Washabaugh (Oxford: Berg, 1998).

“‘My St. George the Skyrian’: Singing a Saint into a Greek Island Landscape”

In this paper, I examine the intersection of religion, landscape, and sonic expressive culture on the Greek island of Skyros. A small Aegean island of approximately 3,000 inhabitants, Skyros represents itself as a community that strives to maintain a “traditional” identity in architecture, decorative arts, dress, and dance, as well as the often richly ornamented songs that characterize Skyrian vocal music. My discussion will focus upon one song in particular, “My Saint George the Skyrian” (Agie Mou Giorgi Skyriané), which addresses Saint George, the fourth-century martyr of dragon-slaying fame and patron of Skyros, to whom the monastery that overlooks the island’s main city, Chora, is dedicated.

In contrast to Greek Orthodox ecclesiastical hymns that laud St. George’s deeds and virtues in terms of a universal Christianity, “My Saint George” celebrates the saint in Skyrian terms, and its verses literally sing him into the local natural landscape, as well as the built environment. Moreover, the song’s melody—which it shares with other sets of verses bearing different titles—identifies it as a kalés, a slow, processional dance performed at weddings and other ceremonial occasions. Thus, when Skyrian dancers begin public celebrations by performing the kalés to “My St. George,” they also inscribe the saint into the social landscape of Skyros.

Furthermore, through its dense imagery of St. George as the protector of the island and her people, the song’s symbolic valences extend beyond musical performance to cultural and environmental politics—including the recent debate surrounding the proposed erection of 110 wind turbines on the island. Indeed, as part of a musical heritage in the midst of transformation, if not decline, and as an emblem of the Skyrian community itself, “My Saint George” offers a platform for Skyrians to articulate their identities in relation to a “traditional” soundscape and to the land itself.

Gerald W. Creed (Hunter College, CUNY Grad Center)

Gerald Creed (PhD, CUNY, anthropology) is Executive Officer and Professor of anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center and Hunter College. He is a specialist on agrarian political economy, ritual, and identity in eastern Europe. He has been conducting research in Bulgaria since 1987 examining the impact of collectivization, socialist agrarian reforms and subsequent privatization efforts on village household economies. This research is synthesized in his book Domesticating Revolution: From Socialist Reform to Ambivalent Transition in a Bulgarian Village (Penn State Press, 1998) which won the 1998 Book Award from the Bulgarian Studies Association. Prior work examined the relationship between industrialization and agriculture under socialism (American Ethnologist 1995) and how the threat of repeasantization has driven many Bulgarian villagers to support the Socialist Party in free elections since 1989 (Slavic Review 1995). He has also edited an interdisciplinary collection of essays with English Professor Barbara Ching on rural identity and the politics of place cross-culturally entitled Knowing Your Place: Rural Identity and Cultural Hierarchy (Routledge, 1997), co-authored a piece with Janine Wedel on foreign aid in post-communist eastern Europe (Human Organization 1999), and more recently, completed a review of anthropological literature on “domestic economies” (Annual Review of Anthropology, 2000). Professor Creed has recently received fellowships from the Howard Foundation and the Agrarian Studies Program at Yale University for research during the 2000–2001 year on agrarian rituals and the notion of community. His new book, Masquerade and Postsocialism: Ritual and Cultural Dispossession in Bulgaria, is forthcoming later this year from Indiana University Press.

“The Sound of Belief in Modern Masquerade”

Postsocialist Bulgaria has experienced a noticeable increase in the popularity of New Year and pre-Spring masquerade rituals known by various local terms, most commonly survakari and kukeri, respectively. Although traditionally intended to drive away evil and assure fertility/abundance, most contemporary participants do not express much faith in the rituals’ effectiveness, and instead emphasize its masculine and nationalist affect. Nevertheless, the drive to perform these rituals is often traced to one’s “soul,” and there is an evident, if still minor, increase in expressions of supernatural belief. These expressions are rarely categorical and are often made in dialogue with secular, modernist ideas. Based on fieldwork in numerous towns and villages between 1997 and 2006, this paper suggests that it is the importance of sound in these rituals, specifically the central role of bells, that mediates the apparent opposition between the supernatural and the modern. Sound allows participants to be incorporated into, and partake of, the supernatural aura created by sound, without having to express belief in potentially premodern ideas; indeed, they can benefit from them while denying them.

• 10:30–10:45

Coffee/tea break

Donna A. Buchanan (Illinois)

Donna A. Buchanan (PhD, University of Texas, Austin, ethnomusicology) is Associate Professor of musicology and holds a zero-time faculty appointment in anthropology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She specializes in the musical styles of Bulgaria, the Balkans, and the NIS (especially Russia and the Republic of Georgia). Her scholarly interests include music as symbolic communication, music in aesthetic systems, music and power relations, music and cosmology, and music and social identity. A faculty affiliate of the Russian, East European and Eurasian Center (REEEC) since 1998 and its Director from 2005–08, she also established “Balkanalia,” the University of Illinois Balkan Music Ensemble, which performs regularly under the auspices of both REEEC and the School of Music. Her first book, an ethnomusicological monograph entitled Performing Democracy: Bulgarian Music and Musicians in Transition (University of Chicago Press, 2006, with accompanying CD-ROM), is the result of more than ten years of intensive ethnographic research in Bulgaria. A second, edited volume, Balkan Popular Culture and the Ottoman Ecumene: Music, Image, and Regional Political Discourse (Scarecrow Press, with accompanying VCD), was published in 2007. In 2007 Buchanan also began new research concerning Bulgarian music, spirituality, gender, and postsocialism; and music, memory, and the politics of the Armenian genocide among Bulgarian Armenians.

“Pealing Voices: The Sonic Ecology of Bulgarian Bells”

Based on ethnomusicological fieldwork conducted in Bulgaria from 2007–09, this paper considers the historical and contemporary cosmological significance of bells within a diversity of cultural performances and contexts. In sound and as metaphor, bells bear critical import for instrumental technique, ornamentation, music theory, and aesthetics, and figure prominently within the innovative multimedia dramatic productions, revived village music-making practices, and revitalized pre-socialist rites that have emerged in tandem with an expanded, post-1989 spiritual panorama, including new institutionalized worship communities.

My preliminary work reveals bells as the most potent sonic signifier linking the cosmos (and spiritual), place (landscape), time (history), and nature in an “ecology of sound” as intrinsic to past pastoral lifeways as to the national ethos. As physical objects bells are manifestations of ancient Thracian guild secrets pertaining to metallurgy and remain tokens of wealth for shepherds, who continue to distinguish their herds by the pitch and timbre of carefully selected bell suites. The diverse typology of Bulgarian bells finds expression in a large technical lexicon that spills across expressive modalities, such that vocabulary describing properties of bell sound also characterizes beautiful music. Bells appear often in song lyrics with the kaval, a shepherd’s flute once associated with animal husbandry and nature worship. An entire genre of mimetic kaval melodies, called çan havası [bell tunes] in Turkish, once existed throughout much of the south Balkans; although supposedly extinct in Turkey by the 1930s, I will show that they are still known to Bulgarian musicians today. Church bells are personified and their “voices” sonically circumscribe village Orthodox Christian communities to such an extent that the Ottoman Turks razed or forbid the construction of bell towers until the 1800s. Since then, enormous bells have been locally forged and internationally exchanged as diplomatic harbingers of goodwill. In sum, my paper will demonstrate that bells represent multivalent, acoustemological indices weaving together sound, sentiment, and the sacred across the pre-socialist–socialist–postsocialist continuum.

C. Nadia Seremetakis (University of Peloponnese)

C. Nadia Seremetakis (PhD, New School for Social Research, anthropology) is Professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Peloponnese, Greece. Her research focuses on gender, emotion, lament, divination practices, embodied labor, and expressive culture. Since 1991 Seremetakis has published six books, three as author, two as editor, and one as co-editor, and numerous articles in international and Greek journals. The Last Word: Women, Death and Divination in Inner Mani (The University of Chicago Press, 1991; now in its 4th ed. in Greek) won the Victor Turner award in 1992. Seremetakis has been honored by the Greek Ministry of Education (1999) and the municipality of Oitylon in Mani (2000). Other celebrated publications include Ritual, Power and the Body: Historical Perspectives on the Representation of Greek Women (New York: Pella Publishing Co., 1993), The Senses Still: Perception and Memory as Material Culture in Modernity (University of Chicago Press, 1996; now also in its 3rd Greek ed.), and Crossing the Body: Culture, History and Gender in Greece, now in its 2nd edition (Athens: Livani Publishing Organization, 2008; orig. 1997). Professor Seremetakis’s publications also include a book of poetry, Come to Eros (Athens: Livani Publishing Organization, 1999).

“Border Echoes”

The discussion of the antiphony of the senses, coined by Seremetakis in The Senses Still and The Last Word, has shown the intertwining of aural, visual, textual, and sonic media in Greek cultural memory as well as in the process of its ethnographic documentation. Drawing on this, “Border Echoes” will discuss dialogical performance and its technique, antiphony, as discourse and experience of and about the border, and it will explore how these are (re)audited in (post)modernity.

Chair: Maria Todorova (Gutgsell Professor of History, Illinois)


• 12:15–1:30

Lunch

• 1:30–3:45

Session 3:
Cosmology and Sound Art: Songs, Shrines, and Sagas of Belief

Kevin Tuite (Université de Montréal)

Kevin Tuite (PhD, University of Chicago, linguistics) is Professor titulaire d’ethnolinguistique in the Anthropology Department of the Université de Montréal, where he teaches courses on the Caucasus, ethnolinguistics, and the anthropology of communication. He has been studying the languages and cultures of the Caucasus, and in particular Georgia, since the mid-1980s. Among his primary research interests, and the principal focus of his fieldwork since 1995, are the syncretic religious practices of the Georgian provinces of Pshavi, Khevsureti, Svaneti, and other districts of the central Caucasian highlands. He is the author of the books Language, Culture and Society (Cambridge University Press, 2006), Kartvelian Morphosyntax. Number Agreement and Morphosyntactic Orientation in the South Caucasian Languages (Studies in Caucasian Linguistics, 12; LINCOM Europa, 1998), and An Anthology of Georgian Folk Poetry (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994) as well as six edited collections. His most recent scholarly interests and ethnographic work include the political and social significance of highland shrines in post-Soviet Georgia and Central Caucasian religious systems and social ideology in the post-Soviet period.

“The Incantations of Traditional Priests from the Georgian Highland Province of Khevsureti”

In the northeast Georgian mountain provinces of Pshavi, Khevsureti, Tusheti and some neighboring districts, a distinctive religious system functioned well into the Soviet period, and to varying degrees still operates today. Religious practice in these communities was centered around complexes of sacred buildings (shrines) and sites, believed to have been founded by the divine patrons (usually called ghvtishvilni, or “children of God”) of each highland commune. One especially salient feature of traditional northeast Georgian religion is the special role of shrine priests (khevisberi or khutsesi) and oracles (kadagi), who are chosen by divine vocation from particular lineages in each shrine community.

Over the past fourteen years I have had the privilege of making the acquaintance of some of the handful of ritual specialists still active in the northeast Georgian highlands. My topic in this talk will be the shrine priests (khutsesi) of Khevsureti, and in particular the invocations they pronounce at communal festivals, when bread offerings and sacrificial animals are presented to the shrine. Unlike their colleagues from neighboring regions, Khevsur priests chant (rather than recite) their invocations. A typical invocation begins with a sung glorification (sadidebeli) of God, the shrine patron, and other divine beings. There follows a chanted “liturgical” text, which contains rather garbled renderings of material from the gospels and the Georgian Orthodox liturgy, but intoned so rapidly that one can barely make out the occasional word. The final section is mostly spoken, at a normal pace, as the priest blesses the offering.

In my talk I will discuss the structure and content of Khevsur invocations (illustrated by audio and video recordings from my fieldwork). I will also seek to situate this and other distinctively Khevsur religious practices in juxtaposition with those of the neighboring district of Pshavi. Despite their numerous similarities, Pshav and Khevsur traditional cultures contrast in interesting ways, with implications for the ethnohistorical study of the central Caucasus. If time permits I will also discuss Khevsur evidence of so-called “shamanic” beliefs and practices, which can be compared to those observed in Inner Eurasia.

Margarethe Adams (PhD candidate, Illinois)

Margarethe Adams (PhD candidate, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, ethnomusicology) is a recipient of Fulbright-Hays and Social Science Research Council fellowships for her ethnographic doctoral research in Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and northwest China. She is currently completing her dissertation, “Holiday Music and Entertainment in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan: Legacy and Ideology,” with a dissertation write-up fellowship from the SSRC Eurasia Program. Through the lens of Soviet and post-Soviet music, television, and cinema, her dissertation explores the forward-looking ideology of the Kazakhstani state, on the one hand, and the persistence of Soviet political and cultural legacy on the other. In addition to her work on ideology, cosmology, and popular culture, she has also written on the subjects of Muslim pilgrimage and religious healing in Central Asia.

“Same Time Next Year: Cosmology, Ideology and Seasonal Television Programming in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan”

This paper examines the expression and experience of multiple calendars and cosmologies, as reflected in holiday television programming in post-Soviet Kazakhstan. I discuss the social and political meaning of calendars, particularly their connections to everyday rhythmicity, to social memory, and to political power. Eviatar Zerubavel writes about human beings’ strong need for temporal order. If schedules, clocks, and calendars all provide a comforting level of predictability, it follows that extreme change in the ordering of time—as, for example, represented by the creation of a new calendar after a regime change—deeply affects human beings’ social environment.

As a seasonal medium, television both reflects and interacts with the lived calendar year. In post-Soviet Kazakhstan, the rub between the old Soviet calendar and that of the post-Independence era is underscored by the annual broadcasting of holiday films and programs. Soviet-era holiday films shown around New Year constitute an important part of the holiday celebrations. With their popular soundtracks and vivid portrayals of Soviet life, these films reconnect present-day viewers with Soviet life in a very tangible way. The fact that this viewing is often collective and synchronized with real-life celebrations further facilitates the connection. Whereas these televised Soviet films support the social memory of the Soviet era, many newly produced Kazakh programs portray a way of life that, while no longer experienced by most Kazakhs, forms the basis of current Kazakh cultural production and nationalism. The latter programs, particularly numerous during Nauryz (Persian and Central Asian New Year, occurring at the spring equinox), feature traditions associated with mobile pastoralism and Kazakh cosmology. Holiday television, in supporting core concepts about the holidays, essentially pins each holiday to its ideological calendar and historical timeline. In doing so, it reflects the multiple cosmologies and ideologies present in the making and marking of the Kazakhstani calendar year.

John Colarusso (McMaster University)

John Colarusso (PhD, Harvard, anthropology) is Professor of anthropology and linguistics and languages at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, where he teaches mythology and linguistic theory. He maintains scholarly interests in linguistics, historical linguistics, comparative mythology, the size of language, and international relations (culture and nationalism). His geographic interests are centered on Inner Eurasia, especially the Caucasus, and cover both modern and ancient periods. He is the author of the 790-page Myths from the Caucasus: The Nart Sagas of the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and Ubykhs (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, series “Mythos,” 2002) and of numerous articles in journals, volumes, and collections. At times, he has also served as an informal diplomat and advisor in matters concerning the Caucasus and its peoples.

Abstract: “Nart Sagas of the North Caucasus”

One of the most haunting and also most baffling experiences of translating folklore is the encounter with the great artist. Translators can often tell within a few lines whether or not they are in the “presence” of a great artist or merely dealing with the usual folktale. This effect is as dramatic as any other encounter with great art. The effect reaches to the heart of what it means to be art and what constitutes artistic quality.

This paper examines two dimensions of great art as exhibited in two Circassian folktales, two so-called Nart sagas. In the first, a prose piece, “Lady Tree,” the bard has opposed elaborate narrative language to sparse dialogue on the part of the characters. A skillful contrast of actions and emotions linked with each sort of delivery lends this piece a profound and moving quality.

In the second piece, the poem Khimishuquo Pataraz, the bard has made astonishing use of the morphological peculiarities of the language to produce a moving narrative and discourse that carries the reader to the tale’s climax. Almost every line of the piece ends with an elaborate verb that stretches the morphological resources of the language to their limits while producing a dramatic and compact coda.

In both pieces a link between conceptual and linguistic levels seems to lie at the heart of great narrative art. Central to this greatness is the bard’s exploitation of the peculiar linguistic resources offered by the language of the culture. In this way folklore and written literature can achieve a common quality of greatness.

Chair: David Cooper (Assistant Professor, Slavic Languages and Literatures, Illinois)


• 3:45–4:30

Coffee break

Mini-concert: Balkanalia (the Illinois Balkan music ensemble)
Gamelan room, Fourth floor, Levis Center


• 4:30–6:00

Closing Keynote Address

Theodore Levin (Dartmouth College)

Theodore Levin (PhD, Princeton University, ethnomusicology) is the Parents Distinguished Research Professor in the Humanities at Dartmouth College and specializes in music, expressive culture, and traditional spirituality in Central Asia and Siberia. His two books, The Hundred Thousand Fools of God: Musical Travels in Central Asia (and Queens, New York) (1996) and Where Rivers and Mountains Sing: Sound, Music, and Nomadism in Tuva and Beyond (2006) are both published by Indiana University Press. As an advocate for music and musicians from other cultures, he has produced recordings, curated concerts and festivals, and contributed to international arts initiatives. During an extended leave from Dartmouth, he served as the first executive director of the Silk Road Project, founded by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and currently serves as Senior Project Consultant to the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia, and as a member of the Arts and Culture Network sub-board of the Soros Foundations’ Open Society Institute. He is currently working on a book on culture and development in Asia, and completing a 10-volume CD-DVD series, Music of Central Asia, released by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. At Dartmouth he teaches courses on ethnomusicology and world music, sacred music in East and West, and, in 2008, began teaching a new interdisciplinary College Course on the Silk Road.

“Music, Spirit and Nature in the Age of Hybridity”

Throughout Central Eurasia, vestiges of Soviet culture policy have reemerged in the form of nation-centered initiatives, often abetted by inter-governmental organizations, to preserve and promote “cultural heritage.” These initiatives have attracted significant numbers of musicians and local music scholars working in and with tradition-based musical styles and repertoires. Other musicians and scholars, however, have sought to liberate “tradition” from “heritage” with the aim of exploring the evolutionary musical possibilities opened by innovation, hybridity, and cross-cultural collaboration. Contrasts between these two opposing camps are apparent not only in the way they perform and represent music, but in their political alignments and in their spiritual beliefs and practices. Partisans of cultural heritage preservation often align themselves with state-sponsored religious establishments, while more cosmopolitan musicians may be nourished by a spirituality that is more personal and practical: praying to the spirits of one’s teachers or to the spirits of place, making pilgrimages, consulting shamans, or sanctifying life cycle events through festivity and celebration. Tradition-based arts and the spiritual beliefs and practices that nourish them cannot only thrive in cosmopolitan, post-traditional societies, but can make important contributions to their development. The defining feature of tradition in the context of pluralist modernity is that an individual’s embrace of transmitted practices or beliefs ought to represent a choice, not a necessity beholden to lineage, caste, religion, ethnicity or other inherited social markers. More specifically, in the domain of art, tradition as a system of transmitted formal and stylistic constraints ought to become simply one among many possible sources for creativity and imagination. Ethnomusicologists working with tradition-based music and musicians in Central Eurasia ought to serve as advocates for forms of artistic innovation, collaboration, and experimentation that challenge the ethnocentrism, nationalism, and sham authenticity of many “heritage” initiatives.

Introduction by Gabriel Solis (Associate Professor, Ethnomusicology, Illinois)


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