What is “Cross-Cultural Music Making?”
Recently, one of my favorite styles of music is electronic music. Its potential is seemingly unlimited. Electronic House and Trance artists conjure clips of bass, computer, and voice recordings, shaping them into an audible experience often times never heard until the 21st century. The cool thing about electronic music is its incredible adaptability and meshing with different styles. Under every genre of music you listen to lies an electronic sub-genre. It has re-defined what we classify as music, and has changed the meaning of a music note. The most enjoyable type of music I listen to right now falls into the Electronic House category. As a fan of this music, in addition to my growing relationship with Vietnamese culture, I unconsciously sought Electronic House music by Vietnamese artists.
“Cross-cultural music making” is a term that recently emerged and is generally applied in the context of “interaction and integration between cultures” (20). I see the term as borrowing different musical elements (instruments, beats, styles, genres) from different parts of the world and creating a single song. Creative predecessors often inspire new generations of artists, whether it be in film, music, or photography. Additionally, one’s own environment may also inspire a creator.
In an article, Kim sums up four points about “cross-cultural music making.”
- ) “Cross-cultural music making” is an intra-cultural process and a characteristic process of music making in general. (29)
- ) “Cross-cultural music making is a dynamic, complex process depending on evolving relations between different systems of reference. (29)
- ) The “local and global” permeate each other in this field, with an ever-changing point of reference. (29)
- ) “Cross-cultural music making” is a creative process in and of itself and is not simply a conglomeration of two entities. (30)
Kim doesn’t forget to mention that underlying hierarchical power dynamics exist in the background of this process. He goes on to say that these power dynamics quietly influence mentally conscious decisions and repetitive, routine acting (28).
I find myself disagreeing with the author’s point about the asymmetrical relationship between the involved cultures. Since I have been looking at the cultural cross-sections of music making, I cannot help but notice that there are many examples of East Asian music blended with African music, or South American music with elements of Southeast Asian music. Yes, there are examples of Western culture being the more “dominant” style of music, but that doesn’t negate the the importance of Vietnamese Southern Trap music, or Vietnamese Reggae.
The trans-cultural music making process that Kim refers to neglects the fact that the West is not the only frame of reference for “cultural domination.” There are many fusions of other multi-cultural arts that involve no mention of European countries. I don’t intend to downplay the issue of “cultural domination” by shifting the issues away from the West, but rather I hope to refute Kim’s view that is the only perspective. In fact, the entire field of musicology sees things in the dichotomy of black and white, of “musicology” and “ethnomusicology.” I think this field’s heavy reliance on this framework for the vast majority of research blinds Kim’s interpretation of trans-culturalism. International relations involve both political and economic pressures, and therefore, these influences can be observed in many forms of intra-cultural music and art, regardless of which culture provides the “frame of reference in the creative process.” (27).
The next step in my journey to understand popular Vietnamese music starts at the opposite end of the spectrum: if cross-cultural music making involves non-European music, how does it serve to uphold or disagree with invisible power dynamics? What else can I learn about “cross-cultural music making” if I remove the problematic dichotomy of West versus East? Tune in next time!