SCRAWLED IN WAX, ALL COKE STUDIO, ALL THE TIME!
Ahem. So, the “Chakwal Group” (as they’ve been dubbed) have another song up on Season 5 of Coke Studio Pakistan. I loved it immediately; it seemed both sad and celebratory at the same time. Surprisingly, the lyrics seem to bear up to my initial ‘aural impressions’.
But watching the behind the scenes video for the song**, two things stuck out. First, producer Rohail Hyatt tells the house band in a mix of English and Urdu “this isn’t a downtrack track, so you guys will have to play with them, catch them.” That in and of itself seemed interesting just for the use of the term downtown (which downtown? why is folk music not downtown? etc.) Secondly, only after watching the Chakwal Group rehearse–and then comparing that to the finished performance–did I realize their voices had been autotuned to hell.
I… felt betrayed somehow. Even though I constantly try and resist purism in all its forms, I felt like I’d had an emotional connection with something that “wasn’t true”. For someone who’s all about the weird multiple self online, that’s a pretty weird reaction. Since when did I care about that awful idea ‘authenticity’?
But that’s my own shit, I guess. Yet the raw practice singing sounds out of tune to me. And it’s worth pointing out that “out of tune” isn’t quite as universal an idea as it seems. A lot of South Asian folk music can sound “out of tune” to the untrained ear because of the way it deliberately moves on and off key. It’s what I’ve always thought of as ‘tension and release’: you invoke a specific key with a background drone instrument, and then veer off it–the tension–and then come back to it for the emotional release. Then again, some of it just out of tune because the singers rarely get access to playback. Some of them just suck. So who knows?
At the end of the day, though, given my druthers I’d rather hear the finished track. It fits with both what I know and the frame of evaluating aesthetics that I adhere to. But does it “dilute the purity of the music” to do this? Moreover, would one ask such questions if the music in question weren’t “traditional”?
And more generally, the point seems to be that fusion music and fusion aesthetics are so difficult and complicated because it seems almost impossible to fuse hermeneutic frames-i.e. the interpretive systems rooted in culture and ideology by which we judge–in the same way that notes, stories etc. can also be fused.
In my last post, I argued that fusion produces a space of identification for ‘a subjectivity that cannot be’. Now, I’m wondering if fusion is always sublation – if the meeting of cultures is never an act of mutuality, but a subsumption of one into the frame of another.
**The behind the scene videos of Coke Studio Pakistan are about the most perfect subject matter for thinking through fusion aesthetics.