Alternative music house concert scenes in the US: music, place, space, and community

House concerts are public or semi-public live music events organized in private houses by the people who live in them. Many different types of events fall into this broad category. Some are focused primarily on classical music, others on improvised music or on “folk” and “acoustic” music. My research focuses on house concerts that are organized primarily by young people with interest in multiple genres ranging from singer-songwriter and “folk” musics to various alternative rock and punk genres to more experimental styles. These individuals are interested mainly in building alternative communities and alternative ways of self-action, circumventing traditional, commercial, and institutional channels. They organize house concerts partly out of a necessity, because of a lack of regular venues for alternative music-making, and partly because they enjoy freedom from restrictions encountered at regular concert venues and are proponents of do-it-yourself ethics and aesthetics.

For my research, I will conduct a multi-sited, comparative ethnography of American alternative music house concert scenes with a focus on two distinct local scenes (Davis and Portland), and to a lesser extent on other West Coast scenes, but will comparatively pay attention also to other North American scenes. I will consider many issues that are relevant to the participants of these scenes themselves, among them history and genealogy of the scene and its ideologies, issues related to cultural geography, place, and space, formation and maintenance of communities or scenes, and politics and power relations related to them. My aim is to establish how place and space, and spatial, musical, and other performative practices at alternative house concerts in the US help to shape, maintain, and transform communities and scenes, how they are simultaneously shaped and transformed by them, and finally how they modulate power relationships both within the community and with the larger society.

I am focusing on American alternative music house concert scenes for two reasons: (a) they offer a glimpse into the everyday cultural politics and creative practices of contemporary American youth that can provide a better understanding of contemporary American culture and society in general; and (b) there is a dearth of studies of “home cultures” in ethnomusicology, as well as a scarcity of intensive “ethnographic” approaches in popular music studies. Although there are many studies of rock and popular music, few address contemporary phenomena from the perspective of particular everyday practices, people, and scenes. Moreover, I believe there are certain stylistic characteristics present in the sound and music-making among alternative house concert communities that are related to the surrounding social and cultural context.

Financial support

For my fieldwork research that I am conducting in years 2011 and 2012, I am still searching for foundations or other donors to financially support my work. If you are interested in that, please contact me at my email address: dverbuc (at) ucdavis (dot) edu. Thank you!

About me (editor of the HouseShowsZine and author of the research, David Verbuč):

I am a PhD student in ethnomusicology at UC Davis, California. I received my MA degree in ethnomusicology at UC Davis, and my bachelor degree in music education from the Academy of Music, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia (under a supervision of dr. Svanibor Pettan). I worked, and occasionally still do, as a music journalist for Slovenian papers Muska/Nova Muska (http://novamuska.org/), Mladina (http://www.mladina.si/), Odzven (http://www.sigic.si/odzven/), and as a music journalist, radio DJ and music director at a Slovenian independent and alternative radio station, Radio Študent, Ljubljana (www.radiostudent.si). I wrote over 250 musical transcriptions for several publications of Slovenian folk music and wrote a chapter on Slovenian folk music for a 4th grade elementary school textbook. Between 2000 and 2008, I conducted field work research in Upper Savinja Valley, North Slovenia, where I also recorded over 100 singers and collected around 1300 folk songs. In 2008, I published a selection of 108 songs (and other folklore texts) from my collection on a self-produced double CD Gorših ljudi na svetu ni: terenski posnetki ljudskih pesmi iz Zgornje Savinjske doline / There are No Finer People in the World: Field recordings of folk songs from the Upper Savinja Valley (official site, http://gorsihljudi.blogspot.com/2011/10/introduction-from-liner-notes-in.html).

I presented my research papers at several conferences, and published an article “Contemporary Musical Peasant Traditions in Primož, Slovenia, and the Notion of ‘National Heritage’” in a scholarly publication Voices of the Weak: Music and Minorities (Slovo21 + Faculty of Humanities of Charles University Prague, 2009).

Among other work, I teached accordion in two Slovenian music schools for several years, and was recently a Teaching Assistant at UC Davis (from 2008 until 2011), assisting in teaching various music courses for UC Davis music department.

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