Friday, October 1, 2010

Ireland Musicology Tour

I am I think the only person in the residence at Maynouth college. The room is Harry Potter like and looks out at what I’m told is an abandoned castle. Today was talk number five in five days and I’m afraid these folks got the short end of the stick—a little bit punchy and definitely slurring words. I did have the greatest thrill ever which was to see a student actually reading my book and in paper back too. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone other than a family member looking at it though. Melanie and I may have traumatized the nice student by taking her picture. I have given five talks in FIVE days. The talks included Orfeo’s Echo, Castrati and Machines, Kate Bush, Anatomy of the Female Voice and a theoretical discussion about Toni Morrison’s Jazz. Melanie Marshall from Cork University was the brains and logistics behind this operation and I’ve met few people with as much spunk, creativity, organization chops and drive not to mention the ability to wear me out! It was especially sweet of her to work it out so that she Laurie Strass and I could be in the same place at the same time for a really intoxicating collective riff on the parallels between castrati and nuns. I have nothing more up my sleeve.

It’s been fun, fascinating and even surreal. I continue to find that it makes our situations in the states look good. We complain a lot about the economic crisis and the effects on higher education and our own budget cuts that at times seem crippling. But it could be much much worse. They just had a pay cute, pay 8E per ILL book after a certain number, and had a government mandated hiring freeze in which no faculty were hired in the entire country for two years. The policy on sleeping with undergrads is that as long as you recuse yourself from their committees it's ok. There is exactly ONE female full professor in the country. And recently students tried to start a pro choice group on campus and were told that the U already had a group interested in abortion--that would be the anti choice group. Abortion is still illegal here. I gave my Kate Bush talk yesterday to predominantly undergrads and music faculty and it was super fun. A few undergrads stopped me in town to tell me how much they liked it and that it had changed really effected them. I’m sure they were exaggerating but I’m also sure that feminist theory and gender issues have a different resonance here and that in fact it might make a difference t them. They also told me they knew KB from their mothers but.....

The science gallery talk was totally weird and could have been called "wired women, female musicoloigsts and the male acoustical gaze" I gave my voice/sex talk and Melanie gave a very smart talk about whiteness in early music which managed in one fell swoop to leash critical race theory onto early music and theorize the voice. I've shown erotic pictures in talks for over a decade and it's the first time I actually felt uncomfortable. I don't know if I'm becoming a prude in my old age or if the weirdness of the men in the audience inflected my feelings. The acoustic boys then got up and gave power points about how to quantify emotion and proved in no uncertain terms that music can make you sad or angry. duh. They had graphs but they were ridiculous--no definition of what x and y is etc.... It also featured my favorite genre of new music—the kind that wires up women and gets them to dance in this case in the service of quantifying feeling. They explained that they had nothing in common with us and proceeded to ignore everything we said. It was like the worst of electronic music meets the worst of bad science meets the worst of patriarchal culture. The other problem was that we were in a sound installation. This was extremely cool for the first hour. It was one of those things where they make your pulse into music, you can control sounds by jumping on squares, and you can crawl in a model of the human ear. But five hours in the building made me completely nauseous from sound overload. Oddly enough despite all of this technology they had the loudest projector ever and it was a sort of Bb minus a1/4 note--close enough to a pitch to catch your ear but far enough to be grating. The professor emeritus from Edinburgh who makes brass lips was however quite a trip and we all went to Ireland's only Moroccan restaurant. The hotel was a trip and looked more like a brothel than an academic accommodation. It was on top of a fire station but the rooms and hallways were all plush velvet. The room had mood lighting spotlights, a huge bed, a bathroom with a huge jacuzzi that opened out into the room, and random crimson pillows strewn about.

The most surreal experience was a pub on Tu night. I said I needed a pub experience since mostly what I’d encountered were ethnic restaurants, wine and people that are not Irish. So Juniper and Melanie took to a local pub, which had declivous locally brewed Guinness style beer and lots of old men drinking and asking where we were from. After chatting for a while we were literally hit in the face with a green penis shaped balloon --and no we were not tipsy in the least. One of the old men had shot it with a balloon bow and arrow. We then encountered Aaron the balloon man who proceeded to make us all balloon corsages. Mine was a pink and white penguin with a green egg, which I had to fertilize myself. Aaron turns out to be writing a book about making balloons around the world and had much advice on how we ought to finish ours. Just to make it even weirder and even older guy hobbled over on his walker, which he then sat on and proceeded to hire Aaron to work as his festival--mad pride. Mad pride is apparently a national effort to reduce the stigma around mental illness. He sat on his walker drinking beer with a whiskey chaser and chatted us all up.

Those are just a few highlights of what has been quite musicological tour.

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