Georgina Born

“Power and the Circulation of Digital Musics”

Abstract: How can we better theorize the workings of power in the circulation of digital musics? In this presentation, I bring this question to recent research on music’s transformation by digitization and digital media in several countries of the developing and developed worlds. I do this with reference to studies of, inter alia: the upsurge in North Indian movements for the digital recording and archiving of vernacular musics, with an ear both to local, national and “world music” markets; the growth of a “born digital” recording industry in Nairobi, Kenya rooted in the patronage of international NGOs aiming to foster both economic development and a Kenyan popular music to salve postcolonial anxieties over Kenyan national identity by providing the “soundtrack of civil society”; and political and legal struggles within the state in Argentina attendant on attempts to “modernize” copyright institutions so as to support an ailing popular music sector both stimulated and undermined by the combined effects of digitization and liberalization. In face of radical shifts in dominant regimes of circulation, I suggest that power has to be conceptualized anew: its operations have to be traced through social processes at distinctive scales as they interfere with and refract one another. We have, in music, to trace power at work in the face-to-face socialities of the music festival, the recording studio, the outdoor market, and in the transforming divisions of musical labour. But we have to also analyze how music becomes a mediator of global and national processes of adjustment to the crises of capital, whether in the idea of “creative economy” as it is translated into development, or in the conflictual attempts to reform copyright institutions as they obstruct or ameliorate new digital-music-financial regimes in relation to older forms of musical capital. To analyze power in these cases means addressing both micro socialities and macro political and economic formations as they are mediated by music, since both are material. However, the aim – as the presentation will show – must be to analyze them not in isolation, as is too often the case, but, critically, in their mutual interference.

Bio: Georgina Bornis Professor of Music and Anthropology at Oxford University. From 2013-15 she is Schulich Distinguished Visiting Chair, Schulich School of Music, McGill University, and in 2014 she is also Bloch Visiting Professor in Music at the University of California, Berkeley. Earlier, she was active as a performer and improviser, playing with Henry Cow, the Mike Westbrook Band, Derek Bailey’s Company and the Feminist Improvising Group, among other groups. Professor Born’s work combines ethnographic and theoretical writings on music, media, cultural production and interdisciplinarity. Her books are Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde (1995), Western Music and its Others: Difference, Representation and Appropriation in Music (edited with D. Hesmondhalgh, 2000), Uncertain Vision: Birt, Dyke and the Reinvention of the BBC (2005), Music, Sound and Space: Transformations of Public and Private Experience (CUP, 2013), and Interdisciplinarity: Reconfigurations of the Social and Natural Sciences (edited with A. Barry, Routledge, 2013). She currently directs the research program “Music, Digitization, Mediation: Towards Interdisciplinary Music Studies,” funded by the European Research Council, which examines the transformation of music and musical practices by digitization and digital media through comparative ethnographies in six countries in the developing and developed worlds. In 2014, Professor Born was elected a Fellow of the British Academy.