Ecomusicology: Tributaries and Distributaries of an Integrative Field

Ecomusicology: Tributaries and Distributaries of an Integrative Field

Mark Pedelty, Aaron S. Allen, Chiao-Wen Chiang, Rebecca Dirksen, and Tyler Kinnear

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Abstract: Ecomusicology engages scholars in interdisciplinary exchanges concerning music-and-environment. Ecomusicological research is environmental, relational, holistic, systemic, explanatory, and crisis-oriented, bringing the field into conversation with several disciplines and sister fields. The authors of this article suggest the “watershed” as a metaphor for understanding ecomusicology as a transdisciplinary conversation, a stream of inquiry fed by multiple tributaries.These arterial influences feed back into a number of intellectual distributaries, making ecomusicology a transdisciplinary nexus, rather than an easily locatable and definable discipline. This article brings together key contributions to ecomusicology from musicology, ethnomusicology, popular music studies, and acoustic ecology, while acknowledging major influences from sound studies, zoömusicology, music education, music theory, anthropology, communication studies, bioacoustics, geography, political science, and sociology, among other disciplines. In turn, ecomusicology has contributed to environmental research in each of these disciplines as well as the broader study of sound-and-environment. This review is intended as an introduction to the field for those who are new to ecomusicology, while adding novel perspectives for scholars already engaged in ecological study, teaching, and music performance.

How to cite this article: Pedelty, Mark, Aaron S. Allen, Chiao-Wen Chiang, Rebecca Dirksen, and Tyler Kinnear. 2022. “Ecomusicology: Tributaries and Distributaries of an Integrative Field.” Music Research Annual 3: 1–36.

About the contributors: Aaron S. Allen is director of the Environment and Sustainability Program in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Sustainability and an associate professor of musicology in the School of Music at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. A fellow of the American Academy in Rome, he earned a PhD from Harvard University with a dissertation on the nineteenth-century Italian reception of Beethoven. His BA in music and BS in ecological studies are from Tulane University. Allen and Kevin Dawe are the co-editors of Current Directions in Ecomusicology: Music, Culture, Nature, which was the 2018 recipient of the Ellen Koskoff Edited Volume Prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology.

Chiao-Wen Chiang is a PhD student in the Ethnomusicology Program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and a recipient of the Gary S. H. Lin Fellowship at the East-West Center in Honolulu (2020–2022). Her research focuses on music and identity, Indigeneity, the environment, political resistance, and activism. In 2018, she published a Chinese translation of Folklife and Fieldwork: An Introduction to Cultural Documentation, by Stephen Winick and Peter Bartis. She was the executive producer of the album Sound Memories of Past Palau: Music in Belau (Palau), 1965–1966, recorded by Yamaguti Osamu, which in 2015 was nominated as the Best Traditional Album at the Golden Melody Awards for Traditional Arts and Music, in Taiwan. 

Rebecca Dirksen is an associate professor in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University and is co-founder and current director of the Diverse Environmentalisms Research Team (DERT). She was previously selected as a fellow of both the Yale Institute of Sacred Music (2020–2021) and the Harvard Radcliffe Institute (2016–2017). Working across the spectrum of musical genres in Haiti, she focuses in her research on cultural approaches to development, crisis, and disaster; sustainability, diverse environmentalisms, and ecomusicology; and applied/engaged/activist scholarship. Dirksen is the author of numerous articles and the book After the Dance, the Drums Are Heavy: Carnival, Politics, and Musical Engagement in Haiti. She also co-edited the volume Performing Environmentalisms: Expressive Culture and Ecological Change, which was a project of DERT, and serves as co-principal investigator for the Mellon-funded Humanities Without Walls project Field to Media: Applied Ecomusicology for a Changing Climate.

Tyler Kinnear is an instructor in the David Orr Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts at Western Carolina University and an adjunct instructor in the School of Music at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. His research interests include sonic art and the environment, histories and theories of listening, and global music studies. His work has been published in Chigiana: Journal of Musicological Studies, Ecomusicology Review, Intersections: Canadian Journal of Music, and Organised Sound. He is principal investigator of Sonic Histories, an interdisciplinary initiative researching how students experience histories of race, class, and belonging at an institution of higher learning through sounds heard and imagined.

Mark Pedelty is a professor of communication studies and anthropology at the University of Minnesota, where he also serves as a fellow in the Institute on the Environment. His research examines environmental music and musicianship, with a focus on community organizing and ecopolitical aesthetics. His ethnographic field projects in Canada, Mexico, and the United States have resulted in numerous books and journal articles, and his films and music videos have garnered forty festival selections and awards. He is a co-principal investigator for a global, Mellon-funded research project titled Field to Media: Applied Ecomusicology for a Changing Climate, which includes colleagues doing fieldwork in communities in Bangladesh, China, Haiti, and Tanzania. Pedelty also directs a music and media production team, Ecosong.Net, and produces the Public Lands Podcast and the Together Alone project (TogetherAloneMusic.Net). He teaches courses in musical communication, audio production, environmental communication, and research methods.

ISSN 2563-7290