moments before the wind.

April 20, 2007

EMP Pop Conference #1 – Jazz and Global Politics

Filed under: authenticity, distribution, folk, music, recording, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 8:37 pm

In our dangerously polarized world, the various ways in which cultural politics mix with politics politics are more than thought-provoking – they are immediately relevant to the world we live in. Hearing Robert Bennett speak about the State Department’s Jazz Diplomacy program from the 50’s felt like a call for action. Stories of Louis Armstrong as an ambassador make me realize how much we’ve grown accustomed to a government with such unrecognizeable goals.

Not that Cold War politics are something to aspire to, especially as Bennett illustrated the paradox inherent in the US government’s use of politically radical jazz, music that directly critiqued them, as representative of America. The music was watered down a lot, but it’s still one of those incredibly ironic, “Born in the USA” kind of flubs that poetically (tragically) reveals the inability of the government to accurately represent its people.

There was no mention of Paul Robeson in this talk or in the comment section of the panel. “Go Down Moses” isn’t exactly jazz music, but it could have been an interesting addition.

This seemed to be a discussion that Danny Goldberg should have been in.

And then Rob Wallace gave us a history of the drumset, eventually leading us to the fact that the drumset as we know it is a pure American invention, like the assembly line and the atomic bomb. The origins of each basic element of the kit come from all over the world – the snare from Sweden, the cymbal and marching band from Armenian Turks, the tom-tom and wood block from China, the rhythm from West Africa. As any student of the modern age would not be surprised to find out, these elements arrived in America independently of one another, and it was up to the American populace to appropriate the elements into the modern pastiche known collectively as the drumset.

Without being exceptionally esoteric, Wallace demonstrated the global creative force at work at a timely moment. We had just been told about ways in which the government employed music for certain kinds of cultural interactions/warfare, and now we are learning about the ways in which the spread of music is a force all its own. The fact that globalization makes the world a smaller place means it is easier to destroy ourselves as we attempt to destroy our enemies, but it also enables the mixing of communities that, well, change everything. A simple tale of origin became poignant, that’s all.

A lot of anxiety surrounded the American drumset, since its associations lay with either the military or the slaves (apparently it was a Creole man who put together the first kit). It’s interesting to then think of the development of jazz and r&b and rock in the 20th century in this way. In my mind it was always the electric guitar that was responsible for the anxiety, but that’s because I did not know anything about the drums, not really. Now I see it a little differently.

Also, this is the first time I’ve seen a YouTube clip at a panel here. Throughout the day I proceeded to see many more.


  1. Hey Ali —

    I live in town but due to various circumstances I have to miss even more of the conference than I did last year, which was nearly all of it, so thanks for these reports.

    I sometimes wonder whether the inventor of the drumset wasn’t the most influential musician of the 20th century. I had understood that the invention happened in New Orleans. Did the presenter name the inventor?

    Comment by john — April 21, 2007 @ 5:36 am

  2. Oh gosh, he did name the inventor, and it was all in New Orleans, but I didn’t write down the name. He showed a picture of him in a group, and said that not much more is known about the guy.

    Hope to see you there, John!

    Comment by alimarcus — April 21, 2007 @ 6:36 am

  3. […] Tim Hecker spoke about Glenn Gould, always a fascinating figure to mull over. It sort of centered around the ineluctable existential conflict that lived inside of Gould, his inability to rise above himself. The amount of paradox is too much to bear. But in particular, his simultaneous feeling of liberation and anxiety surrounding the recording studio, his fervent desire to escape his bodily restrictions, the interiority of his reclusiveness versus his megastar status. (Semi relevant factoid: apparently Gould was the first North American musician to tour the Soviet Union after WWII – see here.) […]

    Pingback by EMP Pop Conference #3 - Music Sound « moments before the wind. — April 21, 2007 @ 7:44 am

  4. Hi! thanks for the post– I had read this after the conference and never gotten back to you. Just one correction: the snare drum is not from Sweden– I think you were referring to the info I presented about the Swiss Guard, known historically for their mastery of snare drum technique. Seems that the Swiss and the Swedes get mixed up frequently, thanks to that “sw” sound. Also, I’d hesitate to say the drumset was a “pure American invention”– it’s precisely the “impurity” of the kit, and the fact that the name “America” encompasses a wide variety of different and sometimes conflicting ideas, peoples, and cultures that makes it all so interesting. Thanks!

    Comment by rob wallace — May 11, 2009 @ 11:18 am

  5. Thanks for the infos.

    Comment by Shousyflusy — January 1, 2010 @ 5:01 pm

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