Nina Eidsheim (she/her) is the author of Sensing Sound: Singing and Listening as Vibrational Practice and The Race of Sound: Listening, Timbre, and Vocality in African American Music; co-editing Oxford Handbook of Voice Studies; Co-editor of the Refiguring American Music book series for Duke University Press. She received her bachelor of music from the voice program at the Agder Conservatory (Norway); MFA in vocal performance from the California Institute of the Arts; and Ph.D. in Musicology from the University of California, San Diego. Eidsheim is Professor of Musicology, UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and founder and director of the UCLA Practice-based Experimental Epistemology (PEER) Lab, an experimental research Lab dedicated to decolonializing data, methodology, and analysis, in and through multisensory creative practices.
More information on the PEER Lab can be found online:
Keynote address – abstract
Botanical Metaphors in Ethnographies of Native American Song: Stories of How Metaphors Shape the Listening to Voice and Sound
Botanical metaphors play a prominent role in Western musical discourse. Metaphors of fertilization, growth, and cultivation have been used to illustrate formal and thematic processes in European common-practice repertoire (e.g., tracing the “seed” or “germ” of an idea and its “flowering”), to justify compositional processes as “natural” vs “artificial,” and so forth. Their repercussions are already documented (see Solie 1980, Spitzer 2004, Watkins 2018). But what are the ramifications of Western botanical metaphors beyond European contexts,and how have they shaped environmental ethics beyond musical studies?
This paper examines the consequences of American settler composers’, theorists’, and ethnologists’ adjustment of these botanical metaphors in order to apply them to Indigenous song. Focusing on the literature of the era between 1880-1910—when Manifest Destiny sealed the United States’ coast-to-coast expansion and Native American reservations were increasingly partitioned into properties available for sale—we show how, in this context, botanical metaphors were focused instead on thanatological models of plant death (decay and extinction), as well as capitalistic models of plant commodification (extraction/deracination and winnowing). In likening Indigenous song to the seeds from which a national American music might blossom (Dvorak 1885), delicate specimens doomed to be supplanted by hardier species (Baker 1882), desiccated flowers awaiting taxonomification (Gilman 1908), or grains with digestible kernels waiting to be separated from husks (Fillmore 1893), these writers assisted the appropriation of Indigenous songs, voices, and lands as resources for settler development by directing attention to the acoustical features of Indigenous vocal utterances that would facilitate their assimilation into settler culture (i.e., pitch over timbre), and strengthening the settler notion that Indigenous lands were “barren” or “untended.”
By way of conclusion, we connect these findings to our broader projects examining the use of metaphors in musical discourse and the value systems they mask. We show that while some critics have pinpointed the perils of metaphor (Tuck and Wayne 2020), others have reclaimed botanical metaphors in particular in order to subvert settler forms of cognizing and attention (e.g. Robinson 2020), suggesting that metaphor can play an important role in reorienting musical discourse towards decolonization.
Part of this keynote is co-written with Daniel Walden, Durham University.
Tina Tallon (she/her) is Assistant Professor of Artificial Intelligence and the Arts in the University of Florida’s College of the Arts. She is a sound artist and a historian. From 2020-2021, she was a Radcliffe Fellow at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and she is the winner of the 2021-2022 Frederic A. Juilliard/Walter Damrosch Rome Prize in Music Composition. Her work on the history of voice technology (especially in relation to gender) has been featured by the New Yorker, NPR, and Politico.
More information on Tina Tallon and her work can be found on her website: https://tinatallon.com/