2. Acquiring material: recording programmes

Within the space of this short survey it is not possible to deal with the question of archival programmes for every method of approach and every school of research in ethnomusicology. However, a few observations on the principal possibilities may usefully serve for illustrative purposes.

Particularly at a time of rapid cultural changes, more and more research should be given over to traditions which are threatened by these changes and may be in danger of disappearing altogether. In cases where musical styles or musical instruments are in danger of dying out because of the age of performers or because new generations have adopted different styles, even a researcher who takes an unromantic view of life and does not pass qualitative judgements on cultural changes, will be formulating recording programmes which will be devoted to at least the documentary preservation of these aspects of music. Where there is no list of priorities for such urgent programmes, one can be drawn up based on a general survey. If, on the basis of a thorough survey, a list of priorities is established, then it is essential that a balance be retained between personal research interests and inherent necessities as seen from the viewpoint of the culture in question. Ethnocentric preconceptions and western concepts of art should not be allowed to dominate one's views, and care should be taken to ensure that the wishes and self respect of the individual proponents of tradition are given due regard. Minorities should be given particular attention. The smaller their numbers, the greater consideration they should receive, particularly when they have been subject to pressures of acculturation and integration.

As the organizational pre-requisites of recording vary enormously from case to case, it is possible here to give no more than a few general guidelines. Where it is a case of programmes being conducted well away from the site of the research institution itself, it will be necessary to remain in the field for some time, although just how long depends on how well acquainted the researcher is with his informants or with the subject of his research. The researcher who is willing to make do with a recording specially arranged for his purposes, with its consequent lack of immediacy and its lower degree of authenticity, can generally put together appreciably more material in a shorter space of time than one who insists on contextual authenticity. Despite the lower level of productivity, however, it is easy to understand why the latter approach is nonetheless becoming increasingly popular. For, unlike Western concert music, most ethnic music simply cannot continually be restaged without losing certain ritual, psychic or atmospheric conditions which are pre-requisites for the creation of genuine music.

If a recording programme is designed to produce comprehensive documentation, then a twelve month stay in the field, or at least several extended visits at different times of the year, will be necessary if all the festivities which take place in the course of a year are to be taken in.

By contrast, programmes devoted to the study of the music of the present in its social context and acculturated state require a different approach. Intricately bound up with this approach is the demand that recordings of music should be absolutely live, so that one captures not only the music itself but the whole occasion i.e. its atmosphere and every interaction between the performers and the audience. With this form of sound documentation the foundation is laid for a type of musicological research going beyond the mere examination of melodies. If such research studies are to be established, one should first of all gain a thorough familiarity with the culture or region in question by examining previous studies. As a practical exercise in familiarizing himself with this approach fieldwork within the researcher's own home area could also be useful. A network of reliable informants who can provide advance notice of events such as weddings, funerals and so on is indispensable. A rapid form of transport, which generally means a car, and a willingness on the part of the researcher to give freely of his spare time, are just two of the basic pre-requisites for this sort of programme. Although the researcher has to be prepared for any chance eventuality, his programme still has to fit into a framework which will provide a regional, stylistic and contextual balance in much the same way as a well-planned sampling does.

Whatever the subject of research, it should be remembered that sound recording provides an ideal basis for diachronic studies. When several recordings are to be made of one informant, one subject or of similar situations, the (relative) objectivity of sound recording allows one to draw certain valid conclusions about stability and change; that is about the dynamic nature of culture. This facility to record the same subject a number of times over also helps us to distinguish more easily between chance and normative occurrences. One can trace both the development of an individual musician and his style, as well as the development of the whole musical context in which a tradition has grown up. Just how long one should leave between one recording and the next depends on the subject under investigation, but one should never leave too long a gap. Similarly, it is impossible to lay down a general rule on the number of recordings which should be made of one subject; this may be expected to vary between one study and another.

We have already touched upon the main difficulties of choosing a subject for recording when we discussed how research interests can sometimes conflict with the inherent viewpoint of the culture. In the same way, different levels of awareness and understanding can dominate in these cultures, with the result that political or social authorities, for example, might recommend a different viewpoint from that of the musician. The researcher might well find himself in the middle of a potential conflict situation, when faced with the problem of choosing subjects or occasions for recording. Each recording situation, therefore, demands a measure of skill in trying to avoid conflicts of interest or in balancing them out among the various groups within the society which is being examined, if a suitable order of priorities is to be established for research programmes.