EMS Proceedings and Other Publications

Importing the Sonic Souvenir: issues of cross-cultural composition

Manuella Blackburn

Manuella Blackburn, Liverpool Hope University


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Sourcing sound materials from distant and foreign locations has become a relatively common and elementary practice for the electroacoustic music composer to engage with. The ease and frequency of traveling has been responsible, in part, widening the availability of sound choice and collection and in turn providing a vast “acoustic palette as wide as that of the environment itself”.
This practice of cross-cultural sound sourcing may be understood by our attraction to the exotic, and the unadulterated soundworld sonic souvenirs can yield. The need for originality as a consideration for the electroacoustic music composer can be addressed through seeking out new and unique sound materials in this way.
With reference to terminology, ‘sonic souvenirs’ are discussed in an authentic sense and may be characterised by their environmental, instrumental or verbal origin. It is their significance and association with a unique place or culture that defines them. This paper attempts to make the distinction between elusive sonic souvenirs and more locally sourced sound materials, readily available within a composer’s vicinity.
In many respects, the analogy of the keepsake souvenir picked up on a holiday presents a point of departure. Souvenirs are attractive mementos, but also tend to be mass marketed items, symbolic of an original object, lacking genuine status. They provide a memory or representation of our personal traveling history, acting as trophies of our accomplished globetrotting. While in practice, importing sonic souvenirs into the studio remains unchanged from ordinary recording work conducted around and on our immediate doorstep, the significance of those materials can present a challenge in terms of their integration, consequence and reception of the finished work. The use of these sounds and the artistic endeavors that transform and sculpt these sounds into music raises a number of issues ofownership, integrity and appropriation. The need to be respectful in sourcing materials from outside ones own cultural home is often high on the composer’s agenda, but what does respectful borrowing entail? How do insiders and outsides of a given culture receive this practice? What are the benefits and positive outcomes of this hybrid format? And how does this practice relate to common areas of investigation within ethnomusicology?
To answer these questions my paper will discuss a range of sonic souvenirs found within a collection of electroacoustic works from the contemporary repertoire including Caspian Retreat, Pippa Murphy, (2003); Ho, Ricardo Climent (2008); Galungan, David Berezan (2010) and S.H.E.N.G, Leigh Landy (1995). Discussion of these works aims to identify the issues arising from this cross-cultural practice.
My own compositional work has also been influenced by this concept and on several occasions I have incorporated sonic souvenirs into my acousmatic music (Karita oto, Sonidos Bailables, Cajón! and Dance Machine). This research builds upon my previous investigations into cross-cultural borrowing in electroacoustic music. Cross-cultural issues are also discussed with reference to a new compositional project in conjunction with Milapfest – the UK’s Indian Arts Development Trust (currently based at Liverpool Hope University) where sound materials are sourced from entirely from musical instruments typical to traditional Indian music.

EMS11 Proceedings