Adam Kielman’s Fieldwork in Guangzhou

Read about Adam Kielman’s preliminary dissertation fieldwork on independent music in Guangzhou…

By: Adam Kielman, PhD Student Ethnomusicology, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

With the help of the Weatherhead East Asian Insititute PhD Training Grant, I completed a month of preliminary dissertation fieldwork in southern China in June and July 2013. My dissertation project is an ethnography of independent music in Guangzhou, and looks to the developing independent music scene there as a site for understanding the intertwined roles of the local, the national, and the global in contemporary China. New modes of musical expression and the accretional layering of old and new material infrastructures of sonic circulation lie at the center of a tripartite reconfiguration of subjectivities, places, and objects. My dissertation explores music and sound—mass-mediated and in live performance—as lenses on three intertwined shifts in postsocialist China that may be traced back to economic reforms beginning in the 1980s, and that continue to evolve in the present.

The first of these is China’s particular form of neoliberal governmentality, and the new subjectivities it has engendered, as well as new ways in which human difference (ethnic, linguistic, and regional) is configured and performed. The second is transformations in the ways space and place are socially and politically constructed and structured, and the geographical scale-jumping that reconfigures relationships of spatial imaginaries from local to global. The third is China’s new consumer culture, its relationship to global capitalism, and the innovative ways that music is commodified and circulated as material object. On this trip, I spent most of my time with two bands that I have worked closely with over the past several years. The first band performs a self-described “island mix” of poppy, Latin-infused music sung in the Min subdialect spoken on Nan’ao Island, while the second blends folk-rock with caidiao opera from Guangxi province. I toured with these bands throughout Guangdong and Fujian provinces, and accompanied them on activities sponsored and documented by major Guangzhou media outlets. This preliminary fieldwork, enabled by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, lays a strong foundation for the dissertation fieldwork I will begin in January 2014.


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