Federico Spinetti

Session 6, Saturday 14th, 10:50-12:20 pm
Session 8, Saturday 14th, 3:20-4:50 pm
Location: University of Alberta, Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, Room 1-140

A place for space in Ethnomusicology: Exploring auditory culture and the built environment in Iranian traditional Gymnasia (And Elsewhere)



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This paper draws on ethnographic research focusing on spatial-auditory phenomena in the Iranian traditional gymnasia known as zurkhâneh, and in the overall cityscape of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. I examine and compare these two locales in order to probe the role of space, particularly that of built environments, in ethnomusicological understandings of auditory experiences. Drawing from phenomenological and symbolic-interactionist perspectives, I construe both architecture and auditory events as frames for socio-communicative and performative interaction, and develop two complementary lines of argument: 1) I illustrate the spatial articulation of sound, contending that architectural frames and the disposition of both objects and social actors within them are essential to the unfolding and interpretation of sound production and perception; 2) conversely, I explore the sonic articulation of space, arguing that sonic events are crucial to the ways in which social actors interact with, move within and assign meaning to the built environment.
In Iranian zurkhânehs, where an indigenous form of martial art known as Sport of the Ancients (varzesh-e bâstâni) is practiced in conjunction with drumming, sung poetry and forms of Shia worship, I explore the dynamics of ownership of and access to specific spatial locations in the zurkhâneh built environment as being central to the performative articulation and cultural meaningfulness of musico-atheltic practice. In the city of Mostar, which continues to this day to be fraught by political and territorial divides between the two main factions of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, namely Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks, I interpret Catholic and Muslim religious monumental architectures as well as sonic utterances as interrelated communicative acts, yielding totalizing territorial and auditory claims over the cityscape. Here, the politics of architectural and auditory configurations is paramount.
From these ethnographic examples, aural experiences emerge as central to an understanding of built environments as lived phenomena – rather than static objects – which are constantly acted upon, reconfigured and reinterpreted. Further, I point out some possible implications of a multisensory understanding of architecture and built environments for ethnomusicological theory and practice, and suggest ways in which a phenomenological and interactionist approach to auditory-spatial relationships may contribute to further our understanding of music/sound performance as a socio-sensory experience.



Federico Spinetti is an ethnomusicologist and Associate Professor of Music at the University of Alberta, Canada. He is a graduate of the University of Bologna, Italy (BA Oriental History) and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (MMus, PhD Ethnomusicology). Dr. Spinetti’s main research and theoretical interests include the politics and political economy of music, the intersections of traditional and popular music, music and architecture, auditory culture, and ethnographic filmmaking. His research since 2002 has primarily focused on the musical cultures of Persian-speaking countries. He has conducted extensive fieldwork in Tajikistan and Iran. Spinetti’s publications have mainly addressed the politics and political economy of post-Soviet popular and traditional music in Central Asia, as well as musical and historical relations across the Mediterranean Sea (most notably in his edited volume Giuseppe Donizetti Pasha: Musical and Historical Relations between Italy and Turkey, 2010). Spinetti’s research outputs have also been oriented towards audiovisual production, resulting in multimedia exhibitions, field and studio recordings, and documentary films. Since 2008 he has been researching the music-architecture nexus in the context of Iranian traditional martial arts gymnasia, with the publication of a documentary feature film (Zurkhaneh – The House of Strength. Music and Martial Arts of Iran, 2010). Among his current research endeavors are a collaborative SSHRC-funded project on music, sound, and architecture in Islam (with Dr. Michael Frishkopf and Dr. Irene Markoff), and a large-scale archive and oral history project on music in Soviet Central Asia. In Italy, he is currently studying the memorialization of the WWII Italian anti-fascist guerrilla (Resistenza) in contemporary Italian underground, alternative and militant music.

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