Smithsonian Work for this Summer


People have been asking me recently what my research at the Smithsonian’s Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology will be, so I’ve decided to post my abstract. Maybe some of you have suggestions for books I could be reading?? 

Essentially, I’m taking a structural approach to examine the way musical instruments aren’t just transformed from raw material to ritual object, that there is some “mythological semiotic residue” that comes with the transformation- my 2nd question is “does this affect ritual efficacy?”
ABSTRACT: Seeing the Sound Divine: Carvings of Transcendence on Native American Flutes and Whistles

I am interested in using the vast collection of Native American flutes and whistles at the Smithsonian to do a comparative study of the connections between myths, ritual, musical instruments, and sound. Using a small sample of the collection, I wish to bring attention to the ways in which animals and bodies carved and inscribed in musical instruments interfaces with sound production. Musical instruments, in this regard, come to mediate a synthesis of visual image and sound image; a mediation that facilitates apotheosis, reinforces mythological motifs, and intensifies the ritual efficacy of musical performance.

Specifically, the questions that I aim to answer include: By what ways do images on instruments encourage, or are themselves, the process of apotheosis? Do the ritual images function differently based on social contexts? Are there any connections between instruments, their images, and the raw materials from which they are made beyond the ritual? In various mythological contexts, what is “in the world” first: the raw materials, the image, or the instrument? Do the gender politics that surround the raw materials transpose to the musical instruments, and in what ways do myths afford inspiration to these gender norms? What are the mythological connections between sound, instrument, and environment? Are certain instruments more pre-disposed to carry images of transcendence than others, and why? How does this vary cross culturally, and what does it tell us about the ways in which music and spirituality are regimented in various societies? And, finally, in what ways could this information be used in recreating the social existence of musical objects?

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