Acoustemologies in Contact: Sounding Subjects and Modes of Listening in Early Modernity

Acoustemologies in Contact: Sounding Subjects and Modes of Listening in Early Modernity Emily Wilbourne and Suzanne G. Cusick

In this fascinating collection of essays, an international group of scholars explores the sonic consequences of transcultural contact in the early modern period. They examine how cultural configurations of sound impacted communication, comprehension, and the categorisation of people. Addressing questions of identity, difference, sound, and subjectivity in global early modernity, these authors share the conviction that the body itself is the most intimate of contact zones, and that the culturally contingent systems by which sounds made sense could be foreign to early modern listeners and to present day scholars.

Drawing on a global range of archival evidence—from New France and New Spain, to the slave ships of the Middle Passage, to China, Europe, and the Mediterranean court environment—this collection challenges the privileged position of European acoustical practices within the discipline of global-historical musicology. The discussion of Black and non-European experiences demonstrates how the production of ‘the canon’ in the cosmopolitan centres of colonial empires was underpinned by processes of human exploitation and extraction of resources. As such, this text is a timely response to calls within the discipline to decolonise music history and to contextualise the canonical works of the European past.

This volume is accessible to a wide and interdisciplinary audience, not only within musicology, but also to those interested in early modern global history, sound studies, race, and slavery.

Acoustemologies in Contact: Sounding Subjects and Modes of Listening in Early Modernity
Emily Wilbourne and Suzanne G. Cusick | Forthcoming
ISBN Paperback: 9781800640351
ISBN Hardback: 9781800640368
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781800640375
ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 9781800640382
ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 9781800640399
ISBN Digital (XML): 9781800640405
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0226
BIC:  AVX (Music recording and reproduction), AVA (Theory of music and musicology), HBLH (Early modern history: c. 1450/1500 to c. 1700) ; BISAC: MUS051000 (MUSIC / Genres & Styles / Choral); MUS007000 (MUSIC / Instruction & Study / Composition), MUS020000 (MUSIC / History & Criticism).


1. Listening as an Innu-French Contact Zone in the Jesuit Relations (OLIVIA BLOECHL)

Acoustemologies—or ways of listening and knowing the world through sound—are culturally specific; they have had a role in histories of colonial interaction and integration within sense-based ‘contact zones’. This chapter illustrates the role of contact and acoustemologies with a case drawn from the history of missionization in Nitassinan (Innu territory in eastern Quebec/Labrador), as documented in the Jesuit Relations (1632–1673). Especially in the earliest field reports, the priests' minute documentation of song, sound, and listening outlines distinct Innu and French Jesuit acoustemologies, whose differences clearly mattered for all sides. Focusing on these listening ‘bodies in contact’ (Ballantyne and Burton, 2005) offers a unique perspective on the close, improvisatory engagement of Indigenous and European people in a period of enormous regional upheaval. It also directs our attention to the larger stakes that are attached to sonic micro-interactions in world history.

2. Native Song and Dance Affect in Seventeenth-Century Christian Festivals in New Spain (IRERI E. CHÁVEZ BÁRCENAS)

Ceremonial song and dance traditions were essential for Nahua cultures at the time of European contact. In the first hundred years after the conquest, devotional songs and dances in Nahuatl were considered essential for the wholehearted engagement of native converts with the Catholic faith and they were thus incorporated into religious ceremonies organized by the mendicant orders. This chapter explores early descriptions of Nahua music-making along with four villancicos in Nahuatl in order to demonstrate a particular kind of hybrid devotional singing in colonial context. The narrative posited by the surviving villancicos includes the representation of native characters as humble, suffering workers, underscoring the exploitative conditions of native workers in seventeenth-century New Spain.

3. Performance in the Periphery: Colonial Encounters and Entertainments (PATRICIA AKHIMIE)

When early modern English travellers relate their exchanges with the people they have met in far-flung places, they frequently include descriptions of music both familiar and strange, performed by foreign visitors and Indigenous peoples alike. The presence of music, however, and its seemingly transparent meanings enables perilous miscommunications. Failures of musical interpretation or sudden alterations of meaning in musical exchanges proliferate in reports of English and European encounters in the New World. This chapter argues that the English carried with them an epistemology of musical meaning that was predicated on the ways that music functioned in European entertainments, particularly those associated with English country estates.


4. ‘Hideous Acclamations’: Captive Colonists, Forced Singing, and the Incorporation Imperatives of Mohawk Listeners (GLENDA GOODMAN)

Music and sound mediated all manner of interactions between European colonists and Haudenosaunee Indians during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, from diplomacy to trade to sacred worship to warfare. This chapter focuses on scenarios in which Mohawk Indians took colonists captive and forced them to sing. Forced singing was frequently accompanied by acts of physical violence performed by the captors. Unlike European torture rationales, the Mohawks’ aim was not merely to inflict pain nor to extract information or confession. Rather, the ritual practices were aimed at aiding the incorporation of captives into Indigenous society and thus were a necessary part of their survivance. Drawing on captivity narratives, proto-ethnographic descriptions, and descriptions warfare, this chapter considers the implications of instances of forced singing both for how they illuminate the importance of vocal music for Haudenosaunee peoples and how we might reconsider the discourse on music, torture, and warfare by focusing on such musical encounters in extremis.

5. Black Atlantic Acoustemologies and the Maritime Archive (DANIELLE SKEEHAN)

On the surface, the slave trade’s systematic documentation—in the form of ship’s logs, insurance documents, sales legers, and account books—appears to record the erasure and suppression of African voices, cultures, and resistance. This chapter proposes, however, that there may be something in these records that we have failed to hear. By understanding the writing of the Middle Passage as an early audio technology—rather than simply a history of exploitation—we can think about sound as a new language of resistance particular to the pathways of the Middle Passage and embedded in the writing itself. In these accounts, the deadly notes of an enslaved cargo communicating and acting in mass interrupt the deadly marks of the official record. Maritime writing thus records the conditions of the Middle Passage from two perspectives: the calculated master narrative at the surface of the record, and the sounds that erupt from the depths.

6. Little Black Giovanni’s Dream: Black Authorship and the ‘Turks, and Dwarves, the Bad Christians’ of the Medici Court (EMILY WILBOURNE)

This chapter provides a close reading and English translation of the one surviving poem by the enslaved, black, possibly castrated chamber singer, Giovanni Buonaccorsi, who was active at the Medici court from at least 1651 until his death in 1674. I argue that the poem was written by Buonaccorsi, that performances were sung, and that in the text Buonaccorsi makes an important claim to community among the ‘Turks, and Dwarves, the bad Christians’ who lived in the court. Several individuals mocked in the poem are matched up with historical persons who were present at the Medici court in the early 1650s.


7. A Global Phonographic Revolution: Trans-Eurasian Resonances of Writing in Early Modern France and China (ZHUQUING (LESTER) S. HU)

This chapter argues for a simultaneous Phonographic Revolution in both early modern France and early China, understood as a reconceptualization of writing as recordings of the singing-speaking voice. To make this claim, the chapter juxtaposes two mid-eighteenth-century Parisian quarrels—the operatic ‘Querelle des Bouffons’ and the Orientalist debate on ancient Egypt and China—with contemporary Chinese philology, which drew, in turn, on folksong and opera cultures. Parallelisms and connections between the two scholarly cultures show that both moved simultaneously towards a theory that all writing systems are fundamentally phonographic. These concurrent remappings of writing vis-à-vis the voice offer a new heuristic of modernity oblique to the teleology of Western industrial and scientific progress.


8. ‘La stiava dolente in suono di canto’: War, Slavery, and Difference in a Medici Court Entertainment (SUZANNE G. CUSICK)

On 24 February 1607, a central Italian court invited select guests to celebrate the final night of carnival at one of their palaces. Part of the entertainment was a sung and danced spectacle characterized by ‘una musica stupenda’, the success of which launched Francesca Caccini’s theatrical career and her reputation as a pioneer in the history of opera. Like most court entertainments, this one had political overtones. Situating the entertainment in relationship to the court's attitudes toward Muslim power in the eastern Mediterranean, and the court's innovations in the Mediterranean slave trade, this paper explores the ways that the entertainment's sonic design both activated and enabled the disavowal of ethnoreligious biases. The chapter concludes by meditating briefly on implications for the historiographies of aurality, women's musical culture, and opera.

9. ‘Now Despised, a Servant, Abandoned’: Wounded Italy, the Moresca, and the Performance of Alterity (NINA TREADWELL)

During Carnival at the court of Urbino in 1513, two intermedii (interludes) were staged across the course of two unrelated comedies, both highlighting the personification of a ransacked Italy. This chapter explores the presentation of violated Italy in the broader context of the Italian Wars (1494–1559) and specifically in relation to the Urbinate audience, whose own city had been sacked some ten years previously. Drawing on tropes familiar to the audience, including those associated with popular laments, this chapter demonstrates how performances were designed to elicit an intense, bodily identification. Italy’s first performance was wracked by her inability to speak, while her second, envoiced performance engaged with themes of sexual violence and betrayal. The performance concluded with a moresca demonstrating military expertise, seemingly to eviscerate the memory of Italia’s suffering, yet the efficacy of the moresca, as antidote to Italy’s (and the Italian peninsula’s) alterity, was questionable.

10. ‘Non basta il suono, e la voce’: Listening for Tasso’s Clorinda (JANE TYLUS)

This chapter considers the sounds of the stranger in Torquato Tasso’s late Renaissance epic, Gerusalemme liberata, focusing on the figure of Clorinda, who is also central to the musical composition Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, written by Claudio Monteverdi several decades later. Clorinda is a Muslim woman, killed in a duel by a Crusader who loves her. Critics have called attention to Monteverdi’s innovations with respect to Clorinda, since in his rendition she is finally allowed to speak in the moments before her death. This chapter suggests that we need to consider the manner in which Tasso also ‘lets’ her speak, arguing that he was supremely attentive to the importance of what he called ‘parole pellegrine’, or foreign words and sounds. This poetics of alterity is crucial for understanding his achievement, and allows us to understand why Clorinda herself is never fully absorbed into the world of Tasso’s poem.