Punk Ethnography: Artists & Scholars Listen to Sublime Frequencies (Wesleyan University Press), edited by Michael E. Veal and E. Tammy Kim
The Sublime Frequencies indie label curates albums of music from the Middle East, Asia and Africa—often culled from flea market cassettes and taped radio broadcasts—that transcend the stuffiness of academic ethnomusicology and the calculations of corporate world music. Its aesthetic is steeped in the pointed irony and rule-breaking spirit of punk rock.
Punk Ethnography is an essay collection on the label edited by Yale ethnomusicologist Michael E. Veal and The New Yorker’s E. Tammy Kim. The editors and contributors have mixed opinions: Some cannot escape the academic deathtrap of specialists speaking only to specialists—the very thing to which Sublime Frequencies stands opposed. Yet despite the politically correct clucking over “Orientalism” and tut-tutting over the label’s refusal to comment on the political situations of the countries whose music they explore, the editors concede that Sublime Frequencies’ concern for “magic above analytical rigor” reflects how “the vast majority of humanity experience music and visual art.” Too bad more academics can’t join the party.