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.
such event in Italy. Over many years, scholars, photographers and filmmakers have provided a number of perspectives on the festival. However, in this chapter, which is based on long-term team research led by Scaldaferri since 2002 (Scaldaferri and Feld 2019 ), we argue that the sonic aspect of the festival has often been overlooked – perhaps precisely because of its striking visual characteristics. A sonic ethnography, on the other hand, allows the detection of mechanisms at work during the festival that were previously unnoticed. Importantly, it also highlights
the collaborations reported here is their inter-medialities. For example, there are many scholarly examples of rich sonic ethnography, work that goes considerably deeper than musical ethnography in the classic practice of ethnomusicology. But here we experience something more than just a shift in focus from song repertoires to sonic relations, something more than an inquiry into the ‘power of sound to order and structure space’. Starting anew from both the ordinary and special practices of listening, a sonic ethnography can invite a rethinking of strategies for
, organise action, take control of festivals or reaffirm local identities. Our approach, which we term ‘sonic ethnography’ and describe in chapter 1 , is based on thirty years of fieldwork by a researcher native to the region (Scaldaferri), and on research combined with a work of photographic interpretation which has developed over two decades (by Ferrarini). It reveals how during such sound events tradition is made and disrupted, power struggles take place, and communities are momentarily brought together in shared temporality and space. Our more general objective is
sound is separated from its original source, to ‘focus the listener on some intrinsic feature of the sound’ (Kane 2014 : 29). In this case, the sound itself, now separated from its source and confined to a new magnetic support, becomes more powerful and evocative, with an emotional charge which sometimes can be even stronger than its live performance. Listening to the tapes was the first stage of this research, which became an archival sonic ethnography that revealed the role of the recordings in sustaining a network of relationships. Dealing with these recordings
This chapter introduces the concept of soundmask, that is, the temporary taking up of a sonic identity, a disguise that is perceived aurally, superseding the visual one, with reference to the ritual of the Campanaccio in the village of San Mauro Forte. Here, the participants in this ritual opening of the Carnival period do not wear face masks and do not use the giant animal bells they carry to create sonic chaos, unlike many other Carnival occasions involving bells. The chapter investigates the role of sound in creating a sense of community beyond its symbolic functions, the function of rhythm and bodily involvement in the creation of a group identity, and the relationship between sound and the space of the village. It suggests that soundmasks create a form of group identity that is played out as synchronicity and as sonic duels between teams of bell carriers, in a nocturnal setting in which the acoustic dimension acquires more importance over the visual. Starting from previous studies of the symbolic role of the playing of bells in the same period as the seasonal slaughter of domestic pigs, the chapter suggests that the original function of the ritual was to cleanse the village through acoustic means, washing it in soundwaves. Finally, it analyses the role of the institutionalisation of anthropological interpretations and of the insertion of the festival in a circuit of cultural tourism. The textual component of the chapter is followed by a photographic sequence that dialogues with the related sound recordings.
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.
This chapter reflects on Scaldaferri’s research experience in Basilicata over a period of thirty years, examining in particular the role of his music-making activity as a form research in sound. Scaldaferri’s activity as a zampogna player represented a constant opportunity to interact and dialogue with local musicians and, through them, with local communities. Both within the Arbëresh minority from which the author originates and in the wider context of the region, research took the form of constant participation in religious festivals, pilgrimages and collective rituals. The chapter problematises performance-based research by a native researcher, describing his shifting positionality and interventionist approach to musical traditions often undergoing marked decline. Performed sound has not just been the medium in which the research was carried out, but became a form of representation that went beyond traditional textual formats through collaborations with local performers or international artists and composers. Some of these collaborations, with local institutions, resulted in forms of repatriation of the outcomes of the research, which often were integrated in the local politics of heritage.
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.