Thursday, March 23rd, 5-6:30pm
Playlists—sequences of songs—are a routine interface for the use of information and communication machines. What kind of data are playlists? How can ethnographers interpret technologically assembled, affectively charged sound sequences? Thinking about playlists as artifacts involves considering how they come into being, what the relations between their elements symbolize, and how they capture collective moments. A genealogy of playlists calls forth histories of recording industries and playback technologies in relation to nations, regions, languages, and styles. It involves the materiality of storage and transmission—mixtapes, SD cards, Bluetooth, or individualized streaming services. In this session I present a playlist copied from the mobile phone of a youth consultant in the highlands of West Papua. It exemplifies the region’s characteristic eclecticism, including contemporary American R&B, Indonesian pop, and European techno. The most frequent style is the reggae- and country-inflected pop of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. There are also local productions that mimic this broader Melanesian style, or that layer customary forms and electronic sounds. I briefly interpret the associations of these styles with reference to the region’s recent experience as an end-point in circuits of commodities and political power. I focus on two songs that were particularly popular and evocative at the moment of fieldwork. I invite participants to propose alternative methods by drawing on their own research and experiences.
Workshop Facilitator: Jacob Nerenberg, PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto