For my Plan of Concentration I have chosen to explore music through multiple avenues: ethnography, composition, performance, and music video analysis. A personal fascination that has linked my areas of study together is the difficulty of articulating the popular culture of the present moment. I set to find out through a multi-modal approach. My methods of inquiry have been both writing- and creating-based. For the writing portion of my Plan I conducted a cyberethnography of fans of the enigmatic record label and music collective PC Music, as well as a music video analysis of Senegalese Mbalax star Aida Samb’s “Gëstu.” For the other portion of my Plan I set about making my own singer-songwriter compositions arranged for cello, voice, electronics, and bass guitar, as well as a number of electronic dance tracks with corresponding choreography. Thus, I have attempted to understand the ever-shifting ways of pop culture through immersion (by doing) and thinking (by writing).
Fans find PCM to be surface music while still being complex through its creative use of pastiche. Seemingly contradictory statements like these have recurred within this paper, and yet the contradictions are part of the larger definition of PCM created by its fans: no one fully agrees on what PC music is, or what its members intend, and yet what all the fans I interacted with had in common was their investment in PCM. I was continually astounded by the magnitude of fans’ knowledge—such as the mentioning of links and articles on PCM that I had not been able to find during my many searches on the elusive collective myself. PCM has many informed fans who keep stride with the collective’s every move. While there is some frustration about the lack of releases, PCM’s fans are fervently loyal, awaiting whatever comes next.
My first experience of Mbalax star Aida Samb’s “Gëstu” was one of awe and confusion. I was overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity of the rhythms and intrigued by the complexity (to my uninitiated ears) of the percussion, the dancing, and Samb’s voice, which floated over the music unencumbered. I was drawn to dig deeper to understand what I was hearing and seeing. I thought that by separating and analyzing the components of “Gëstu” individually I would be able to grasp both the song and music video. While well intended, I see now this approach would have created unnecessary binarisms between “Gëstu’s” (and by extension, Mbalax’s) influences, i.e. traditional/ modern and Western/ African. Creating these binaries would have been problematic not only because they create a false divide between facets of culture but also because of my role as a researcher and “representative” (i.e. cultural insider) of the West.
The inspiration for my Plan was My curiosity and fascination with my topics—wanting to figure them out like a puzzle. I will always remember giving every fiber of my being to my Plan’s creation. I loved being able to delve into my own, personal world of research.
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