This chapter centres on the mountain pilgrimage dedicated to the Madonna del Pollino, and on the conflict between clergy and devotees on the proper forms of sonic devotion. This term refers to the production and listening experience of sounds dedicated to a sacred figure, which are most of the time music – playing an instrument, singing – but also, by extension, dancing. The chapter describes these forms in their evolution through the years, tracing the role of an ethnographic documentary from the early 1970s in stigmatising them, and subsequently accounts for the ways in which the clergy exerted control over the pilgrimage through three strategies of control of its soundscape: the use of demarcations of space to identify certain sounds as noise; the encouragement of a passive experience of sound to create ethical listeners; and the use of technologies of amplification to establish an asymmetry in the production of sounds. Each strategy is connected to the thought of key thinkers in the literature on sound and social control, and especially to the work of Michel Foucault, who is better known for his reflections on the application of vision and technologies of making visible to social control. Finally, the chapter traces a different trajectory of these politics of the sonorous in another religious festival, where the clergy successfully manages to keep the diverse aspects of the ritual by using a sound system to allocate sonic space in turn to prayers, walking bands and traditional music.
This chapter is entirely composed of a photo essay, which includes photographs made between 2005 and 2020. It focusses on the revival of wheat rituals, which often involve offerings of ears of wheat dedicated to a saint or the Madonna. The photo essay connects this phenomenon with, on the one hand, processes of touristic promotion and heritagisation, and, on the other, with the shifting meanings acquired by the agricultural past in Basilicata, which give wheat festivals an aura of authenticity and nostalgia. The text and images go behind the scenes of the preparation of these rituals, tracing the way that past ethnographic research can be mobilised in a local context to validate the authenticity of a festival, or showing how people experience the emotional power of their association with the agricultural past through activities, skills and sensations that evoke it directly. This chapter, in addition to underlining the social functions of identity- and community-making that wheat festivals still perform, suggests that their protagonists have taken up a conscious and active role in representing their heritage, often appropriating stereotypes and exoticist depictions.
Notes on developing a photo-ethnographic practice in Basilicata
In this chapter Ferrarini starts from his practice of photography in Basilicata to confront problems of definition in the field, where the adjective ‘anthropological’ has been appropriated for a number of uses, often becoming the signal of an exotic aura to be consumed for the purposes of touristic promotion. The chapter then traces a brief history of documentary photography associated with ethnographic fieldwork in Basilicata, with special attention to discourses of orientalism that, although criticised by anthropologists in the past, have now been recontextualised by local people and administrations, becoming identity markers. In this scenario, what space is there for a photographic practice that wants to claim an anthropological specificity? The author locates his own practice around three main principles: an awareness of ecosystems of circulation of images, the development of dialogic photographic practices, and the exploration of relationships between images, text and other media – which is also an opportunity to provide a rationale for the design of the book, in which a main focus on sound is paired with still images. The chapter makes a twofold contribution: on the one hand, it contextualises the production and circulation of images associated with ethnography in Basilicata, and on the other it helps address the current need for methodological reflections on photo-ethnography.
Sonic ethnography explores the role of sound-making and listening practices in the formation of local identities in the southern Italian region of Basilicata. The book uses a combination of text, photography and sound recording to investigate soundful cultural performances such as tree rituals, carnivals, pilgrimages, events promoting cultural heritage and more informal musical performances. Its approach demonstrates how in the acoustic domain tradition is made and disrupted, power struggles take place and acoustic communities are momentarily brought together in shared temporality and space. This book underlines how an attention to sound-making, recording and listening practices can bring innovative contributions to the ethnography of an area that has been studied by Italian and foreign scholars since the 1950s. The approaches of the classic anthropological scholarship on the region have become one of the forces at play in a complex field where discourses on a traditional past, politics of heritage and transnational diasporic communities interact. The book’s argument is carried forward not just by textual means, but also through the inclusion of six ‘sound-chapters’, that is, compositions of sound recordings themed so as to interact with the topic of the corresponding textual chapter, and through a large number of colour photographs. Two methodological chapters, respectively about doing research in sound and on photo-ethnography, explain the authors’ approach to field research and to the making of the book.
The introduction delineates the main approach of the book to the relationship between sound and local identities, building on classic studies on sound and society and on the latest perspectives on acoustemology, place and relatedness. It starts from Murray Schafer’s approach to soundscapes and Steven Feld’s anthropology of sound to state the fundamental premise that in a soundscape both resonate and are shaped social practices, ideologies and politics. The introduction also provides a basic presentation of Basilicata, its history of social research and the ways this has shaped imaginaries on the region on a national level. Fundamental to the creation of these imaginaries were works in literature, film and photography that often took inspiration from ethnographic research. In particular, a body of anthropological research developed mostly during the 1950s, especially that produced by Ernesto De Martino and his school, today has created a canon and a lexicon that are used commonly in the region’s cultural initiatives, on both an institutional and a local level. Through brief examples the introduction describes how anthropological knowledge has gone through processes of re-signification and is used for promotion of tourism and local identities. Finally, the introduction describes how the book combines text, the images and the sound recordings, and guides the reader in approaching these components.
Towards a sonic ethnography of the Maggio festival in Accettura
Lorenzo Ferrarini and Nicola Scaldaferri
This chapter outlines the concept of sonic ethnography and applies it to the Maggio festival in Accettura, the most impressive tree ritual in Italy. Sonic ethnography puts sound at its centre by taking it seriously and listening critically during fieldwork. It also uses sound as a medium in which to do research, and as a way to represent its outcomes. Our approach revealed how classic analyses of the festival downplayed its acoustic component and the role of musical performances in governing the collective labour necessary for the festival to succeed. Highly complex, entailing multiple manoeuvres taking place simultaneously and often very dangerous, the transport and raising of a massive tree in the main square represents the core of the ritual, and takes place in a sonic stream made of loud wind bands, animal calls and drunken singing. We highlight how governing sound allows a safe and successful festival. The textual component of the chapter is followed by a photographic sequence that dialogues with the related sound recordings.