(blog) The Sounds of Texas: UT Humanities Institute Research Grant

I am proud to announce that I have been selected as a recipient for a 2015 Community Research Grant from The Humanities Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.  This fall I will work with a UT humanities faculty member and access the University's archival and library holdings to do research related to Texas music recordings.  This project will help advance Texas Folklife's work with communities to sustain local musical traditions.  Here's a bit more about my project: 

One issue Texas Folklife is currently exploring with communities across Texas concerns the sustainability of local culture and traditions.  Historian Dan Margolies has been challenging us to look at how ethnomusicologist and folklorist Jeff Titon's models of sustainability can help ensure the continuation and nourishment of regional music and music cultures in Texas.  Over the past two years Texas Folklife has worked with stakeholders in the accordion-based zydeco and German, Cezch, and Polish polka communities to advance a model for sustaining these historically important regional musics and their respective cultures.  Unlike zydeco and polka, Texas-Mexican conjunto is thriving across the state, in part due to a sustainable ecosystem of education, performance, and recording circulation.  Recording, documenting and presenting these music forms are important avenues of continuation and cultural circulation that Texas Folklife is exploring as a viable earned income and fundraising model to help sustain our community-based programming.  This project seeks to address what role traditional music recordings, as well as their circulation, consumption, as well as the development of several key recording labels, have had in helping to nurture and sustain localized cultural production and regional music of Texas. 

For this project I will research the history, business models, and impact of Texas and other regional music recording efforts old and new, including the well-known Smithsonian Folkways and Arhoolie Records, undertakings by state folklore agencies such as Alabama Folklore and Florida Folklife programs, regional South Texas record labels like Ideal Records and Falcon Records, academic field recording pursuits by John and Alan Lomax, John Henry Faulk, the current impactful record labels like Dust 2 Digital and Soul Jazz Records, who specialize in repackaging archival audio recordings or exploring a particular geographic regions across the US, as well as newer modes of content delivery through streaming media, online blogs, and amateur recordings made on mobile devices.  This project will involve reading about the history and personalities of those who engaged in regional Texas music recording production, researching the patterns of circulation and consumption of these musics historically and at present, as well as interviews with key record label, musicians and folklorist/archivist personnel.     

In undertaking this project, I hope to help Texas Folklife develop a plan to create a media division that continues to produce albums comprised of digitized archival recordings, field recordings, live concert performances, and explores new ways of delivering compelling content to our constituents and the music communities they help to nurture.  A major goal by the end of the program is to gauge the potential impact of a Texas Folklife media division and by preparing for the development of a business plan to that end. 

My participation in the program will benefit Texas Folklife by helping to gauge the feasibility of a media division within the organization.  This could potentially aid in developing new revenue streams to support our free and low-cost community public programming, open up opportunities to work with specific communities to showcase a particular regional music tradition and culture, and allow us to strategically integrate with existing archival curation efforts.  We have already begun an effort to organize and eventually digitize the organization’s deep archival holdings of audio recordings, slides and photographs, and video recordings of a wide variety of Texas cultural traditions.  I have no doubt this project would aid in the efficiency and impact of our existing efforts

There are several UT faculty members that could assist me with this project, all of whom I know personally as colleagues or whom are familiar with Texas Folklife as an organization.   Suzy Seriff, Department of Anthropology and trained folklorist, has done work with Texas Folklife in the past and would be a good resource for gaining more insight into folklore methodology and working with local communities across the state.  Ethnomusicologist Veit Erlmann is a global media studies specialist and can assist me in developing methodologies for thinking about sound recording circulation and its effect on shaping musical traditions.  Ethnomusicologist Sonia Seeman, whom I have collaborated with for years in her Bereket Near East Ensemble, will be helpful for understanding what’s at stake in music industry regional recordings, as well as important issues of music and identity.  I am in dialogue with these scholars about collaborating with me on the project.    

There are a number of University of Texas resources that would be helpful to me as I pursue this project.  The UT Folklore Center Archives held by the Briscoe Center for American History has a large amount of material related to audio recordings made by folklorists, including Américo Paredes, John Lomax, William Owens, and John Henry Faulk.  The UT Fine Arts Library Audio/Visual Collection will be extremely useful in accessing recordings made by the variety of record labels I mentioned above.  The Benson Latin American Studies Collection also holds vital material related to Latin American influenced music of Texas, including the Américo Paredes archive.