Lecture by Matt Sakakeeny "Instruments of Lament: Communicating without Words in the New Orleans Jazz Funeral"

5:30 pm on Tuesday, March 31, 2015
7:00 pm on Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Contact Name:
Marié Abe
In New Orleans, the instruments of the brass band are sound technologies utilized to communicate to a community of listeners. In the local tradition of the jazz funeral, musicians determine the emotional register of the procession: mournful dirges regulate the slow march to the gravesite and upbeat popular songs signal the transition to celebratory dancing after burial. The musicians not only organize the memorial by changing tempo and repertoire, they communicate to the living and the dead through the material sound of their instruments. In my book Roll With It, I described the dirge as “a kind of public prayer through music” but rather than a prayer I now hear the hymn as a weeping lament, because the sound of the horns can be interpreted as an extension of vocal lament traditions found around the world. In the case of the dirge, instrumental sound takes primacy over text and voice, leading me to question the separation between language and nonlanguage, and between subject and object, or, to be more specific, between human voice and musical instrument. In this case study of the brass bands of New Orleans, a holistic approach to sonic materiality integrates the spoken, the sung, and instrumental sound in a densely layered soundscape that creates meaning and value for racialized subjects of power.