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Lecture | LIAS Lunch Talk Series

Sounding Out Ecological Precarity and Musical Heritage in Asia: Some Early Ideas

Thursday 26 October 2023

1.04 (Verbarium)


In this talk I will present the driving questions and main aims of my new NWO XS project, which started in August. The project will compare cases of loss and depletion of resources for the preservation and transmission of musical heritage in Asia. The inspiration comes from a fieldwork encounter. While researching Japanese court music (gagaku) in Western Japan, I discovered that the precious and rare material used to produce the reeds of one of the instruments in the music ensemble might quickly disappear, due to the disintegration of a delicate riverine ecosystem. My project maps similar cases across Asia, raising the question of how cultural conceptions of “sound” and “the environment” influence the politics of preservation on a local, national, and transnational scale.

One of the project’s ambitions is to combine critical heritage studies, environmental humanities, and sound studies both theoretically and methodologically. In the talk, I discuss the challenges of such a blended approach and illustrate some of the intended outcomes: a period of fieldwork, a workshop in Leiden, and the production of a documentary podcast. Throughout, I emphasize the importance of doing research not only about, but also in and through sound to understand another facet of our planetary ecological crisis.

A snapshot of Andrea Giolai's fieldwork along the Yodo river in Western Japan in 2013.

About the speaker

Andrea Giolai is an Assistant Professor in ethnography and performing arts of Japan. He has worked on the soundscape of rituals, the embodied transmission of Japanese court music and dance, and the reconstruction of musical instruments and notations. His publications appeared in Asian Anthropology (2019) and the Journal of Religion in Japan (2020) and he is working on his monograph on the cultural history of sonic heritage in Western Japan. His most recent interests include Japanese sound art and the phenomenology of listening and hearing.

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