What kind of narrative space do migrants enter when they cross the border to the United States? And how does musical performances conjure up pockets of conviviality and belonging once there? In this episode, anthropologist and artist Alex Chavez attends to the aural and oral dimensions of Mexican migrants' lives in the United States. We talk about borders, nations, citizenship, and race through the (auditory) lens of huapango arribeño, a musical genre from Queretaro, Mexico. We also talk about what music-making allows for method-wise; the particular attunements it calls for; the research relationships it articulates. This episode features some of Alex Chavez's field recordings, excerpts from the album Serrano de Corazón, a track from Alex's grandfather taped in Queretaro, and lots of great reflections on what it means to play and perform Mexican music in the United States today.
Alex Chavez is the author of Sounds of Crossing: Music, Migration, and the Aural Poetics of Huapango Arribeño and producer of the Smithsonian Folkways album, Serrano de Corazón.
I (Celine) am a graduate student at Tulane University and dilettante pianist.
Intro song: All the Colors in the World by Podington Bear
Logo designed by Janita van Dyk.
Chavez, Alex. 2017. Sounds of Crossing: Music, Migration, and the Aural Poetics of Huapango Arribeño. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
Kun, Josh. 2005. Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America. Berkeley: University of California Press.
[0:00] [AnthroPod theme music, All the Colors in the World by Podington Bear, plays]
Celine Eschenbrenner [00:11] Today's episode is part of a series on borderlands and sound. This is the first episode. It's about what difference sounds like, how boundaries are heard and listened for, how belonging is voiced and performed through music. It takes place in Mexico, the United States, and in between the two; and brings up the nation, migration, belonging and exclusion, and the way all these manifest in sound. Our guest today is Alex Chavez, a scholar, musician, producer, and author of Sounds of Crossing, published at Duke in 2017, which we bring up throughout the episode. For no specific radio, this is AnthroPod. We hope you enjoy what follows.
Alex Chavez [00:58] I'm Alex Chavez, I teach anthropology. I'm a musician, artist, scholar, composer, producer, and I'm based in Chicago right now, but I've done a lot of work academically around sound and aurality with a specific interest in Latinos in the United States. Some of my work has dealt with language and music, poetics. I wrote a book called Sounds of Crossing that deals with one particular music genre, huapango arribeño, that encompasses all those things I just described, and beyond that we can get into that if you want.
CE [01:47] Can you say a bit more about your musical practice?
AC [01:53] I come from a musical family. So, music was always around growing up, particularly my father who played music. He sang and played guitar, but he played in professional projects, and made records, etc. But he and my mother actually they're both from Mexico, and they migrated to the United States in the early nineteen seventies, and so I was subsequently born in Texas where they migrated to. But, yes, so musical family, and something I realized later in life is that sense of my attachment to music and art is generational, beyond my father, so my grandfather and great grandfather were musicians, and in particular they played the music that I just mentioned, huapango, huapango arribeño, in the state of Queretaro, in north central Mexico. And so actually one recording that I kind of included for today is actually a field recording that I didn't do, but it's one that's archival in the sense. It's from the early nineteen seventies, it's a recording done in a small rural hamlet called San Isidro, in the municipality of Pinal de Amoles, in the state of Queretaro, and it's actually a huapango. You'll tell by the audio quality that's it's an older recording, but it's my grandfather and his two brothers who formed a trio and they played for decades all around Queretaro this music.
[Live band plays] [3:37]
AC [04:56] The way I came across this recording is, a teacher of mine, a huapango teacher of mine, his name is [unintelligible], he's a violinist, he began playing huapango music as a kid, as a child, and part of what drew him to it was being a child and going to fiestas, going to gatherings where huapango music making was happening. And so he recalls it as a kid, by that time as an adolescent, he and other friends, they would try to make recordings of some of the people that they would hear, and this is one of them. And so he had these old tapes, and so he, and he knew who my grandfather was, or rather he knew that I was his grandson, so he's like, “I actually have these old recordings.” And so we listened to them, and he let me make copies of them. And so this is, I can imagine him late at night with a big boom box recorder, huddled around wherever this was happening, outside for sure, and just kind of recording this performance. And what they're playing is a version of a traditional song called Las Flores, or the flowers. I met my grandfather once, I was like seven, eight years old. I didn't grow up with him. I didn't know him, but I met him once in Mexico. And then a year later, he passed away, so I never really had a relationship with this person, and so it's through these recordings that I was able to get some sense of his art.
But in terms of my musical practice, beyond coming from a musical family and being a multi-instrumentalist, I began playing the piano, and learned the guitar when I was an adolescent, a teenager. [7:03] And then at that time, too, I got really interested in Mexican folk music more broadly. I mean it was around, but I didn't play it. Growing up in the States there was really no clear connection to how to do that, but once I got really interested in wanting to learn, which basically meant picking up some of these instruments, I began to do that when my family and I would travel down to Mexico. And so I would meet musicians, many of whom were family friends, and I began to learn from them. I play a number of traditional folk instruments in the huapango genre, but also other styles too. I stay pretty active.
CE [07:53] And you find the time somehow to be also an anthropologist?
AC [07:56] I was a musician way before I became an anthropologist.
CE [08:03] How did it inform your practice as an anthropologist to have been a musician first?
AC [08:09] I consistently cross that boundary between artist and scholar, being a professional musician, but then also engaging in music making alongside the people I've done research with. And so what that's done, you know, this kind of transformed my experiences into kind of a unique understanding of how people cross various types of borders. And that's sort of at the center of a lot of the work that I do beyond what I mentioned before, just my concern with expressive culture, with a focus on sound and aurality, you know, how it is that Latinx communities leverage sonic practices as aesthetic and communicative resources to kind of negotiate the transnational or national social structures in which they're positioned, right? What is the political efficacy of all that? And one idea, analytic notion that lends some perspective on that is this question of borders, or borderlands, to speak in the parlance of borderlands anthropology. So that's one thing, but then kind of embodying, from my perspective, the in betweenness of artist-scholar, or how you think about art as a process of knowledge production, or how intellectual projects might have an aesthetic dimension. That sort of back and forth, it has given me a unique perspective on border-crossing in a way.
CE [09:57] This might be the same question. If it is, just tell me. Does being an ethnographer also affect the way you play music, or is it mostly one way round?
AC [10:09] I'd say, not how I play music, not technically or in that regard, but perhaps it has shaped my appreciation of music, or musical forms. I mean when you kind of have a tuned ethnographic ear to what's happening in musical practice, as an appreciator, maybe you begin to ask certain kinds of questions that are historical or about the social dimensions of aesthetic practices, and how they open up worlds that maybe otherwise you know you might not reflect on as much. But for me, that's one kind of slice of that relationship. But also, not so much how I play music but I will say maybe, and this is more recent, particular approaches to composition, I think is one way that relationship has played itself out. And what I mean by that is that, and I'll give you a very concrete example, so I'm right now working on this project called “Sonorous Present,” and it's a creative project that actually grows out of Sounds of Crossing, the book. But specifically what grew out of that is, I was fortunate enough to give a number of talks, nationally and internationally, around the book, and often times I gave a more “traditional” lecture and sometimes I did something that was more performative. So, I would incorporate music, performance, story-telling, or kind of ethnographic song-writing, into how I was talking about the material and presenting it in more public forms. [12:19] And I often did that alone, just me, and I kind of had this idea of how to maybe recreate that in a live music ensemble.
So long story short, I did put together an ensemble, here in Chicago, and titling it “Sonorous Present” after a concept that I invoke in the book. But, yes it was really great. It was a number of people, Chicago luminaries, from jazz to traditional Mexican music, but we only performed once. We did it once, and then I was kind of inspired to attempt to grow the project. And I was awarded a couple of grants to do that, but then COVID happened and so we couldn't grow the project in a live setting. There was no way to do that, so my thought was to pivot into recording an album because I knew I wanted to do that at some point. But I wasn't interested in doing that right away because there wouldn't be the opportunity to grow the project, because I wasn't interested in kind of documenting what we had done live—that was just one particular experience, or iteration of that. But since we couldn't grow it live, and making an album seemed a logical next step and most appropriate given what was going on with COVID, I reached out to Quetzal Flores from the band Quetzal, in Los Angeles, California. He's a Grammy Award-winning producer, friend of mine for a long time. He's a partner, husband of Martha Gonzalez, who's the band leader, front woman of Quetzal, and also a professor at Scripps College. And I asked him to come and produce this record, and so that's what we've been doing, making this album. My point being that in the context of translating this live performance aspect of storytelling, of narrative, of song, of ethnographic song-writing, it's very hard I think to translate that onto a record. [14:41] It works in a live setting, but on record it's a bit different. So one of the things we started to do, and that Quetzal was really key in in terms of beginning to curate this was, to incorporate actual field recordings as part of compositions. So rather than talk about the field or tell the story, do I have sonic representations of those moments? And I did, I have an entire archive of all the work I did over a decade, and so we began to sort of dig through things and pick out certain sounds, certain representations of my experiences, or communities I was working with, this sort of world of performance that then became a foundation for a lot of the music that's on this album.
And so one example is actually one of these field recordings, so what this recording is is actually me leaving, and this is from 2007-2008, a while ago, but it's you know these huapango arribeño performances are all night performances, and so this is a recording of me leaving early in the morning at about 6 a.m., so you can hear the music still, it's already dying down but one of the ensembles is still performing. But you can hear the kind of echoes of that music, and then you hear me walking basically, it's a kind of a mile walk to the nearest major thoroughfare, I was gonna catch a cab to go where I was staying. So what you hear is this music fading and the entire kind of morning and surrounding coming alive, from the wild life to a creek I was walking next to, traffic, all these things. [17:00] [Audio begins playing] I made a recording in 2007-2008, it was, and so we used this recording of me walking as a foundation for a spoken word piece that the person I'm collaborating with named Roger Reeves, he's a poet. So he sort of tells a particular story. But then what we did is, you can clearly hear my footsteps the entire time, so what we ended up doing is we, very kind of hip-hop aesthetic in approach to production, we picked a portion of my footsteps, calibrated them to a particular BPM or tempo, and then just sort of looped them, so that they kind of provide the rhythmic foundation for the musical composition.
AC [18:13] It sort of collapses space and embodiment and temporality, you know so there are moments in the book where I write about how troubadour poets pick up the greeting, or craft an improvised greetings, as a request to people that are in attendance. And there's kind of a harkening magic to that because they take up those calls without hesitation, and the reason why is because there is this belief, in terms of bonds of sociability that are crafted through performance, that through improvised poetics you create this kind of cultural and spatial and temporal adjacencies in the moment. Because in some ways it's not about whether the intended person can hear this greeting, clearly they can't because they're not there. But it's about how their presence is brought into that present moment such that the person who requests the greeting for somebody, that improvised poetics is just as real as shaking that person's hand in that moment, and it's all sonic, it's all about aurality. So I use this idea of sonorous present to kind of represent these moments of congregation that are moving, moving literally because they're animating patterned footsteps and dance, music is a sonic filigree, and the strumming and the music. You can hear, it's washing over you and people are dancing, but it's also moving in terms of, it's emotive, think like moved to tears, so it's emotive in that regard and to think about that experience, this notion of sonorous present, is something that I talk about. [20:28] Now in the context of the project, it means all those things, but I also interpreted it as sonorous present, present as gift.
CE [20:41] Maybe we should get into the book itself, I guess there was two directions that I imagined this going, one, I mean we could do both, but one is about sound and the nation and the other one is about musics and politics. Does the nation sound like anything, or?
AC [20:59] Short answer yes. That's why we have these debates around national official language and particularly English-only initiatives and all the rest, clearly there's a way that the nation becomes embodied through language and therefore through sound, right? So in relation to music, I feel like my thinking about it is tethered to a number of other people who've been writing about this, but I'll sort of get into it. So Josh Kun in a book called Audiotopia, he makes a case for how the American racial imaginary has been generated in part through experiences of music and through experiences of sound, so there's a way that selective listening has constructed kind of an aural harmony in the service of the project of the U.S. white racial hegemony because what it does is it silences the kind of presumed dissonance that racial and ethnic difference introduce. So within that context he argues that those differences ultimately sound out against the kind of constraints of this monocultural vision of American citizenship, that they have a capacity to disturb the national aesthetic of unisonance, a one singular sound. And I think that's all true and in Sounds of Crossing, I extend that argument to suggest that the kind of construction of what he calls the American audio-racial imagination is not only about how America hears itself kind of domestically, but equally about what it hears itself against. [22:58] Those sounds from outside, for instance, outside its national borders, in other words the sort of policing of American national culture in these English-only kind of initiatives, but that policing is definitely the sort of segregationist project that necessarily kind of extends its aural attention beyond the physical space of the nation.
And even though kind of muting the kind of audible resonance of this sonic cultural flows across national borders is impossible, these emergent transnational musical geographies reach into nation-states and often re-signify and appropriate to affect social silences in the service of this kind of broader nationalist project. So one of the things that I talk about in the book at the beginning is this notion of a Mexican sound, that it has in a sense musically “bled” into the space of the U.S. nation-state in this kind of dialectical fashion, but because throughout the twentieth century, Mexican music as kind of an audible signifier, is one of an otherness which the United States has defined its own racial project against. So among other things, Mexican music in the American mainstream appears as a racialized index, and it connotes often times, I'm sure listeners can sort of imagine this, it often connotes like primal festivity, or that it's carefree and unserious expression, that it's pastoral backwardness, you know. And so this is an aural construction, and it owes a lot of its power to the kind of project of Mexican musical nationalism, that's another discussion. But I think that all of this sonically, what does it mean, to answer your question: yes, sound participates in a kind of U.S. racial mark in the structure, particularly Mexican music broadly conceived as a kind of sonic index for a derided Mexican otherness. [25:09] That's definitely a part of this national imagining that, to me, to kind of fold the argument back in on itself, there is an aspect of this that is sonic in nature, and for the purposes of this book, I deal with music more broadly.
CE [25:35] How does that support or contradict other kind of difference-making practices based on visuality or other senses?
AC [25:42] I don't know if it contradicts or is better than, or you know, I wouldn't put the sensorial or aspects of the sensorial in sort of degrees of relative social worth. I think they're all interesting and valid and revealing. I think maybe one way to think about this is this concept that I animate in the book, at least to lend some specificity to sound, and in particular aurality, the condition of listening, that is that I sort of mobilize this concept of aural poetics to refer to this interplay between embodiment and aesthetics. And in doing so, which you know all senses are embodied, but in doing so I'm relying on Jose Limon, anthropologist, his designation of cultural poetics as acts of cultural interpretation that are aesthetically salient. And in some ways culturally embedded through textualities and enactments, and what I'm doing completely overlaps with his designation that I just described, but I augment it with the term aural to lend specificity to the field of aesthetic cultural production that concerns sound and specifically sort of these musical poetic textualities that are huapango arribeño and how they're made legible through this kind of relational process of sonic enactment and reception. And that's a process that possesses its own aesthetic sensibility, or poetics.
[27:44] So then if that's sort of the focus, to think about sound in relation to the senses, maybe to circle back to your earlier question on ethnography, then there was this attempt from me to lend this music what Veit Erlmann calls an ethnographic ear because it's telling a story that's broadcast through the perpetual field of voicing. And the concept of voice is interesting, right, because there's a very literal material sense of it, right, what you hear, as something sonic in scope, but also the voice has subjectivity and so when someone says “I have a voice,” they mean “I have an identity,” “I have a claim,” “I matter.” And so voicing kind of collapses that binary between the material and sonorous aspects of sound and the immaterial, agentive, and political meanings of sound. And so lending an ethnographic ear was lending attention to that. Yes, sounds, in their kind of literalness, but also their meaning, their sort of positionality. And what they revealed in a way, to think about “why sound,” well you know it's my position that to think about the social life of sound phenomenologically, that sound is heard through culturally and historically situated forms of listening, right? These modes of attention that circulate within fields of meaning and experience that are always contoured by power, politics, economy. So to claim that voicing matters, that it resonates materially and immaterially, I think is to account for this embodied musical poetic performance as a form of communication that is attuned to living or migrant life across borders. [30:01] So, you know, that's at least for me what sound enabled, and to conclude, within the context of migrant life, is to therefore necessarily attend to this issue of borders and borderlands, which necessarily brings up to your first point, this question of the nation.
CE [30:23] What makes huapango more telling of the transnational migrant world you describe than other musics?
AC [30:30] I wouldn't say it does necessarily, and here I'm falling on the work of, there's a lot of scholarship on music culture, music-making, in proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border, or within the context of borderlands, so in other words people doing research and work and telling stories of how music participates in the story of the migrant experience. And this is everything from [unintelligible] music to banda norteña, chicano punk, all kinds of stuff, and all that work very much attends to the very complex cultural exchanges within this broader sense of Latin American social formations, trans-hemispheric. And much of it to theorizing around the consumptive politics of popular culture, or the kind of transnational flows of musical symbolic formations, etc. I think one difference here, and all those are really important testaments to the sort of trans-hemispheric, transnational kind of cultural formations within which you can locate the migrant experience. I think one distinctiveness, one distinctive aspect of this huapango arribeño, even though it circulates alongside those musical forms, it possesses its own kind of unique circuit or circulation, distinct from those other musics. [32:23] I think in part because it is this kind of embodied aesthetic, it's this performance. It doesn't really circulate, even though there's the example of the Smithsonian Folkways album which is really singular and unique, but it doesn't circulate in the same ways as like musica norteña or something, so there's a difference. In other words, you have the potential to tell another dimension of the story of migration.
And so there's an element here of, maybe even to return to one thing we talked about earlier, honing in on this particular expressive practice, poetic, musical, embodied, I think afforded a couple of things for me that I began to understand, and that is that kinds of social processes that are shaping the dynamic of difference making in the United States, particularly operative in constructing Latinx within the U.S. racial formation. How this is continuously being reproduced, and that means that there is what Leo Chavez calls this kind of broader generalizable sense of a “Latino threat,” and most of it tethered to migrants, border-crossers. I mean we see what's happening on the border right now, this sort of zero tolerance policies, the denying of asylum to people seeking asylum. So that as part of the American racial project illuminated, or brings to light, this kind of broader instance of things. If that's a context here, a situation, how is it then that migrants are lending meaning to their own migration? Often times it happens like this, in these ways, right? Through performance, through improvised poetics, through these embodied aesthetic forms that in the moment sort of refigure citizenship, belonging, crossing, all the rest. I'm interested in what border-crossing sounds like, and this particular musical form is one such sound.
[34:47] That said, there's this particular musical example here, it's actually a field recording in Mexico, of the group Guillermo Velazquez y Los Leones De La Sierra De Xichú, and it's the same group that is on the Smithsonian Folkways album. This is a field recording, and the story behind this, this is a field recording in Xichú Guanajuato, on New Year's Day, at about three or four in the morning. So every year, there's a festival, performance, of huapango arribeño, and very quickly the kind of ideal context I suppose for huapango arribeño is what people call a topada, from the word topar, to collide. What it is is a musical and poetic duel, a musical exchange that lasts for hours between two ensembles. So it's like musical and poetic fighting and dueling for hours, and this is what this recording is of, it's Los Leones playing at a topada, it's three or four in the morning, and it's this kind of really wonderful example in my mind of the kind of verve and energy of these moments of congregation where the music takes flight. And all of this is cascading improvised poetics and music and sonic filigree are kind of washing over you in this way that is quite, has you believe you're transported, and you'll hear there's an aspect of this music that's quite repetitive, but it's a total groove. You kind of live in it and you just let it take you. [36:41] And this is precisely what you see on the dancefloor because these two ensembles are positioned at opposite, this is outside, and so they're positioned on the opposite sides of the central plaza, and there are thousands of people in between them, dancing. This is what it sounds like, New Year's Day, Xichú Guanajuato, at about three or four in the morning.
[Live band plays] [37:01]
AC [38:59] There isn't anything necessarily, inherently political about this music. That's not the claim that I make, so I'll say two things. One, in some ways the secret of the book is that it's actually not about this music. It's about how this particular expressive practice, this cultural form, offers a window into the contemporary conditions of migrant life, of Mexican migrant life in particular, which then brings up these broader questions which is what I'm most interested in across all of my research: borders, citizenship, the nation, race, so there's that. That's the kind of secret of the book, but I mean to your point, and to what I mentioned earlier, it's not so much that there's inherent politics in that regard, in this overt way, like protest music or what have you. But what I will say is that it's the context in which this music becomes politicized, that's the story. So there's nothing inherently political about a performance in central Texas where troubadour poets are casting out improvised verses into the night about the kind of workaday experiences of people, who they are, their relationships, you know. But it's the very fact that that's all happening vis-à-vis the sort of juridical violence and narrative violence of the project of illegality in this country. [40:56] So when migrants are at best illegals, at worst rapists, culprits, anchor babies, all discourse of that ilk, that's a particular narrative space that exists and that we all sort of encounter and that they have to live within that violence. So then when they themselves then narrate their own experiences in ways that are quite distinct from that, sort of recuperate a kind of intimacy around living across borders, calling multiple places home, the connections between all of it, in other words not an illegal but a mother, a daughter, a father, a son, there's a way in which that narrative has a particular kind of resonance to continue on with the kind of sonic metaphor. And so where there's an amplifying of those experiences. And so that's part of the journey of one revelation in the book and thing I've traced out.
So there's a piece, actually it's a track, it's called Brota mi canto y se ufana, my voice springs forth loudly. It's sung by Isabel Flores, who's a member of Los Leones De La Sierra De Xichú, they're a group from Xichú Guanajuato. This is a track actually of the Smithsonian Folkways Album, Serrano de Corazon, Highlander at Heart, which I had the wonderful opportunity to produce. It's a multi-year project, with Smithsonian Folkways recordings, we went down to Mexico to create this album. It's available everywhere, one of the really cool things about producing, so people listening along, if you go to Smithsonian Folkways and look up this record, you can download the liner notes, which will give you all the lyrics and their translations. But I got to write those liner notes, which is a really fun experience, it's one of the things I love about Folkways records is you know they come with these really wonderful extensive liner notes that give you context and stories, so I was able to do that. [43:15] So this is a track called Brota mi canto y se ufana, and it's Chavez Flores singing it and it's really wonderful. She's narrating a sort of story around being a Mexican woman, and really kind of illuminating contradictions, undermining stereotypes, and claiming powerful subjectivity, she's sort of crafting in this set of decimas that are part of this track. And in a way, not about migration clearly but it is an example of this narrative space of performance when it comes to what's happening or what can happen through huapango arribeño in the moments in which it takes on these other more politicized dimensions.
[music plays] [44:00]
CE [45:56] You mentioned developing ethnographic ears during fieldwork, does that mean you learn to pay particular attention to some things or?
AC [46:10] For me it's a whole what animates the desire to approach things in this way. I think one obvious reason is I'm dealing with music, right? So there's a way that aurality is key, is through the importance I think, but the other thing is that, and I talk about this in the book, is that within the broader project of anthropology and more specifically this methodological praxis of ethnography, the interview, often times the kind of methodological approach we rely on the most, can impede us from getting competence, for instance in particular repertoires and modes of communication particularly to the people that we're working with. And so it sort of has this conventional meta-communicative routine that veils its own performative capacity, the interview. And so I found that okay, well, I didn't interview people until years later, after sort of playing music alongside with them, so actually that's how I came to the project, I was playing this music. And then it became this kind of more official research project. And sort of approaching things in this kind of way through ethnographic performance, so engaging in music-making alongside people, and or, relying on performance as a way to gain insight, I think, definitely had to attune you to listening in this sort of very intimate and embodied way.
So for instance, there is so many things, particularly I think it is chapter two where I really detail this sort of musical form. [48:13] There is so much of that that I realized I could have asked questions in an interview context, and I do believe, I know this, I wouldn't have understood it in that way. It would have been a very different experience, as opposed to having to learn how to do it and having the sort of experience of engaging in these bonds of sociability that emerge through performance in this way. And so where certain things, certain processes, certain approaches reveal themselves. Part of that is, to answer your question, a kind of attunement that involves your active listening. It involves new experiences and being open to them, but in a way too, it's also meta-pragmatic, when you think about talk about talk, there's a way that through performance you really get a sense of how the vernacular theorizing is happening around performance through performance itself. And so that was very key to me in terms of having this particular ethnographic approach, or you know, choosing to go in that direction.
CE [49:49] I just really want to talk about the music sheets before I let you go. So ,there's lots of them in there. The general question would be: why did you put them in there? And then maybe some more specific questions about is this broadening the scope of your audience or is it, do you know what kind of effect it produced? Do you even care?
AC [50:15] That's a good question. A few things. So, there was an aspect of doing that for posterity. Doing the engraving and having the sort of musical transcriptions there. Posterity, kind of archival in a sense, and I think also, I also understood and imagined, and that has been the case, that this work was going to be speaking to multiple audiences, including those from an ethnomusical perspective that would be interested in musical transcription. Also, why not? This music, why wouldn't it be deserving of being represented that way? All those things were kind of part of the decision process of kind of doing that from my perspective.
CE [51:25] Do you know if anyone played the book to themselves or to other people?
AC [51:32] I don't know, to be honest with you. But I know that, I worked quite closely with the people doing the engraving and transcription, so we did have to sort of play it to make sure it was an accurate enough representation of it, yes. And there's also this element of, which is interesting and I actually engaged in this conversation before, which was animated by this particular question, there seems to be a lot of music scholarship where whatever style is being written on, sometimes there is an in depth kind of description of the sounds themselves, and whether it takes the form of transcription or otherwise. And that's fine you know, I don't have a preference one way or the other, but I do notice that pattern. There are other forms of Mexican music maybe that like appreciators of Mexican music, who have kind of a lay understanding or reference, you might have some sense of it or some memory of it or whatever, but not with this music, unless you're from that region. And I have to really try to illustrate you know what is this, what does it sound like.
CE [53:03] I'm just looking at the last question on the thing here. I'm not sure it's a relevant one, but you do write beautifully, so if you have something to say about the way you listen to your own writing, if you have something to say.
AC [53:19] I was really inspired by these musicians, these poets, and what they do, so I felt that, and it's always a challenge when you think about ethnography and part of it involves renderings in textual form, it can be difficult to represent something and there's always a politics involved, but I think beyond that just at the level of just the act of writing, it can be difficult to represent or have the writing kind of embody the energy and presence of what it is, what the work is, what the context was, what the “topic” is, and I think that's always a challenge. And no less with respect to this book. And so what I attempted to do, but it's up to readers such as yourself to determine whether I did so or not, but I tried to write and approach the writing in the vein of the people I was working with, in terms of their poetry, their art, in order to be able to represent the verve and vitality of these settings, of this community, of their aesthetics, of their art.
[music plays] [54:46]