Response to Munro’s "Different Drummers"

23 Feb
I very much appreciated Martin Munro’s book, “Different Drummers.” Not only does it track the history of the meanings of rhythms, but it also I find it fascinating that rhythm has become racialized and interpolated into meanings within power structures and social hierarchies, especially when, as Henri Lefebvre suggests, rhythm is intrinsic in the body, that the body is made up of rhythms: “respiration, the beating of one’s heart, the circulation of blood, the flow of one’s speech.” (location 918 on Kindle) Interestingly, classical music does not use drums until much later. Baroque and Classical, and even most Romantic era music do not use drums. If they are used, increasingly starting in the Romantic era, they are usually used sparingly, and not so much rhythmically – or to keep a rhythm. This makes me question popular music nowadays, which cannot seem to exist without a rhythmic drum beat. Drums, percussion, a rhythm track are fundamental instrumentations for today’s pop culture, no matter what race the artist or writer is.

Munro also discusses how temporality is perceived differently in different cultures. I never thought of our temporal culture as linear, as goal-oriented, but how true that is. Our music tell a story, gets somewhere. Rarely is it simply sound. I know this might be a bad example, but I watched Andrew Zimmern in Namibia (this is what happens when you’re stuck at home being more sick than you’ve ever been in your life), where he visited a tribe out in the middle of the dessert (I know, how incredibly stereotypical, right?). At night, they made what was akin to a drum circle, but with clapping. When Zimmern asked if there were any order to dancing, or if anyone can dance, he was told that anyone can dance however they wanted to. In a tribe where everything else was hierarchical, the dancing seemed to be the most egalitarian event of all. Such non-order, though, implies a cyclicalness, rather than a linearity that one would find in Western cultures. Even in jazz, there is less order and rule, less structure than strict classical music, where everything is framed by the rhythm.

It is interesting to see that the ideas of rhythm, drumming, and noise coming back, especially how “noise” has implications of class and social status, and how rhythm is used as a form of resistance against racism. It is as if, as Munro says, “[i]n a region shaped by historical genocide (and thereby silencing) of one group of people, by the brutal displacement and enslavement (and attempted silencing) of another, and by the complete (and univocal) mastery of another, the control of sounds, voices, and languages has long been associated with defining and circumscribing identity.” (location 5164 on Kindle) In other words, rhythm and sound is the means by which these disenfranchised groups establish an identity in order to not be invisible or silent, and to have a voice, to create not only a spatial space, but a space within the soundscape.

Sound historiography has been something that I’ve written about in this class, as well as something I’ve thought about for other classes, and Munro brings up questions in his conclusion that have been plaguing me as well – “We may think we know – from old images, paintings, and even films – what slavery looked like, but how did it sound?” (location 5047 on Kindle) As the discussion leader for one of my other classes, I asked my fellow classmates to read the Smith piece on Antebellum America, and one of my classmates pointed out that we can write about what we hear, but we can’t actually hear the sound because of the lack of sound recording technologies back then. He then went on to ask if the emphasis on sound now means that we should have studies that focus on taste, smell, and touch. The interesting thing is, though, we have no way to record and reproduce these other senses. So does this mean that sound does, indeed, have a hegemony over epistemology? At least more so than the other senses other than vision?

One last thing. I read the Munro on Kindle. As can be seen from this response, I had a difficult time citing direct quotes on Kindle, because Kindle doesn’t give page numbers, only “locations.” Just another example of how the archaic systems of academia and the advancements of technology are at odds with each other.

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Posted by on February 23, 2011 in Uncategorized


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