Beyond Exoticism: Western Music and the World

Beyond Exoticism: Western Music and the World

by Timothy D. Taylor

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In Beyond Exoticism, Timothy D. Taylor considers how western cultures’ understandings of racial, ethnic, and cultural differences have been incorporated into music from early operas to contemporary television advertisements, arguing that the commonly used term “exoticism” glosses over such differences in many studies of western music.


In Beyond Exoticism, Timothy D. Taylor considers how western cultures’ understandings of racial, ethnic, and cultural differences have been incorporated into music from early operas to contemporary television advertisements, arguing that the commonly used term “exoticism” glosses over such differences in many studies of western music. Beyond Exoticism encompasses a range of musical genres and musicians, including Mozart, Beethoven, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Maurice Ravel, Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, Bally Sagoo, and Bill Laswell as well as opera, symphony, country music, and “world music.” Yet, more than anything else, it is an argument for expanding the purview of musicology to take into account not only composers’ lives and the formal properties of the music they produce but also the larger historical and cultural forces shaping both music and our understanding of it.

Beginning with a focus on musical manifestations of colonialism and imperialism, Taylor discusses how the “discovery” of the New World and the development of an understanding of self as distinct from the other, of “here” as different from “there,” was implicated in the development of tonality, a musical system which effectively creates centers and margins. He describes how musical practices signifying nonwestern peoples entered the western European musical vocabulary and how Darwinian thought shaped the cultural conditions of early-twentieth-century music. In the era of globalization, new communication technologies and the explosion of marketing and consumption have accelerated the production and circulation of tropes of otherness. Considering western music produced under rubrics including multiculturalism, collaboration, hybridity, and world music, Taylor scrutinizes contemporary representations of difference. He argues that musical interpretations of the nonwestern other developed hundreds of years ago have not necessarily been discarded; rather they have been recycled and retooled.

Editorial Reviews

Nabeel Zuberi
“Taylor deftly combines lucidity and nuance in a work of such breadth. Beyond Exoticism is crisply written, mercifully free of jargon, and addresses important concepts and issues in a vocabulary that graduates, undergraduates, and non-academic readers should be able to understand and apply in their own encounters with music of many kinds. The book’s emphasis on a multitude of musical discourses from scores to Internet chat makes it easily translatable across disciplines.”
From the Publisher
“A bold and wide-ranging study, from a musical angle, of ‘the West and the rest.’ Timothy D. Taylor mingles insights from musicology, cultural and social history, and cultural theory to demonstrate the changing ways in which various streams of musical life, in Europe and America, have responded to the wider world. Rameau, Mozart, Ives, and Ravel here stand cheek by jowl with Bill Laswell, bhangra, Hawaiian cowboy music, and TV ads, challenging—and reinvigorating—such easy labels as ‘exotic’ and ‘multicultural.’”—Ralph P. Locke, Professor of Musicology, Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester

“In Beyond Exoticism, Timothy D. Taylor provides an articulate primer on so-named world music. In clear, jargon-free, and lively prose, he explains the impact of corporate capital organized through intricate global networks of production, dissemination, and consumption. His goal is to historicize musical otherness across a broad swath of time and place, beginning with European orientalist operas in the eighteenth century and ending with the fake exoticism of recent television adverts. Taylor relates a story of difference governed, above all, by varying and persistent efforts to render fungible the musics of the nonwhite world: He describes in detail the marketing of musical difference and the homogenization of sonoric otherness that commonly results. In brief, this is a story with serious stakes.”—Richard Leppert, author of The Sight of Sound: Music, Representation, and the History of the Body

“Ranging deftly from global pop to global musicology, Timothy D. Taylor launches a global challenge against the division of the world between the producers and consumers of the exotic, between self and other. In the course of carefully focused case studies formed along the borders of colonial and imperial encounter, history emerges with new narratives of difference, insistently including the disjuncture and dissonance unleashed when western music enters into aesthetic and political counterpoint with the world. Beyond Exoticism is a disquieting book that nonetheless serves as a call for renewed engagement with musics familiar and unfamiliar.”—Philip V. Bohlman, University of Chicago

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Duke University Press
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Refiguring American Music
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By Timothy D. Taylor


Copyright © 2007 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3957-1

Chapter One


Hide your wives and daughters, hide the groceries too The great nations of Europe comin' through. -Randy Newman, "The Great Nations of Europe"

The emergence in the 1980s of scholarship on colonialism and postcolonialism has energized the study of history, allowing scholars to understand the extent to which some of the great metanarratives of modernity were caught up in Europe's colonial projects, so much so that earlier considerations of modernity have come to seem to be incomplete. Scholars from historically marginalized groups have sought to dislodge the stories that western culture has told about itself, and histories and methods developed by students of western European colonial projects have destabilized western representations of its own history. "Modernity appears when Europe affirms itself as the 'center' of a World History that it inaugurates; the 'periphery' that surrounds this center is consequently part of its self-definition," writes Enrique Dussel.

Music was not left unaffected by Europe's colonial endeavors and the course of modernity. This chapter will outline the impact of the "discovery" of the New World on European thought and culture, and how this discovery-and colonialism more generally-shaped western European musical practices. I will argue that colonialism's well-known effect of solidifying European conceptions of selfhood against nonwestern Others is registered in the establishment of tonality (the system of functional harmony that was dominant in art music in the west from around 1600 to 1900 and remains dominant in most western musics); and the rise of opera as a coherent genre. This is a big project for a single chapter, but I hope that it can play a role in stimulating more cultural and historical approaches to the study of musical systems and genres, adding to important work begun by Susan McClary and John Shepherd and others on tonality.

Incorporating the histories of various western European colonial projects into our conceptions of European modernity allows-even forces-profound changes in our understanding of important events in early modern western European music history. The main axis along which European modernity was affected by its colonial projects was the conceptions of selfhood, which were caught up in a complex relationship to the Others at home and abroad.

Before embarking on the substance of this chapter I must make clear that the rise of tonality and the rise of opera were both multi-sited and messy; there is no singular narrative of origins that can adequately capture either. Yet it is nonetheless clear that both tonality as a musical system and opera as a genre coalesced into reasonably coherent and identifiable phenomena, though with local variations, especially with respect to opera. While the more localized stories of the rise of tonality and opera are extremely interesting and have been well documented by musicologists, my interest here is a broader set of issues: why local practices all over Europe eventually gave us tonality and opera as we have come to know them. In telling this story, some specifics will have to be omitted to keep in focus the larger question of the historical and cultural forces shaping the rise of tonality and opera.


The central argument of this chapter is simple: that tonality and opera gained a foothold, and then dominance, in western European culture when they did because of European conceptions of selfhood and otherness, particularly after the rise of European colonialism. And so it is important here to outline the rise of European colonialism and the changes in ideology and culture that it wrought in western Europe, changes that were grappled with musically as in other arenas of the production of cultural forms. Much of this territory has been covered before, but it is necessary to rehearse it here to provide a context for the consideration of music to come. The main thrust of the following history concerns new conceptions of self and Other, conceptions reconfigured in large part because of European colonial projects.

It is important to emphasize that while the New World was significant in European imaginations, Europe had long known of the existence of, and had traded on, both the Asian and African continents. Robert Brenner has written of the economic importance to England of both Asia and Africa, whereas America was not economically significant until well into the seventeenth century.

Yet the discourses surrounding the discovery of the New World provide a number of writings that are very revealing of ideologies of self and Other. Some of the earliest European Renaissance humanist responses to the discovery of the New World reflected a belief that the indigenous Americans were living pure, free, ideal, even utopian lives, a well-known theme in this period. Much of the New World and its inhabitants were greeted with a complex theory of wonder that has been widely written about. I will not go over that material here, though I will treat the concept as an early modern phenomenon near the end of this chapter.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries most Europeans believed all people to be God's children; conceptions of race as we would recognize them today didn't come into being until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The problem for intellectuals in the sixteenth century was not one of "race" or "ethnicity" as we now think of them, but of what was called variety. If everyone was a child of God, how could there be variety, what we would now call cultural diversity? "How comes it to pass," wrote Robert Burton in The Anatomy of Melancholy in 1621, "that people separated only by a river or a mountain are dissimilar?" Many an early modern scholar found himself advocating a position that would be called cultural relativism today.

Conceptions of variety produced studies, and much work in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was along the lines of finding correspondences between groups. Scholars were constantly seeking similarities between one group and another and writing about the similarities they thought they found. One result was the rise of an argument about the congruities between modern "savages" and the ancients. This ideological shift happened gradually, proceeding through a number of stages, but eventually it was held that contemporary savages had something in common with ancient savages, including those of European antiquity, and that contemporary savages could reveal something about ancient ones. This conceptualization of the "savage" marks an important step toward distancing the "savage" from the rest of humanity, making it possible to judge him as inferior.


In large part, modern conceptions of self came to rest on binary conceptions of selfhood and otherness. Yet selves and Others can't be made out of thin air, or by just a few, no matter how culturally influential they might be. Cultural shifts require the efficient spread of information. In the case of Columbus and his "discovery," the news traveled fast. Columbus's first letter was printed and published nine times in 1493 and reached twenty editions by 1500; there were fifteen editions of Francanzano Montalboddo's collection of voyages, the Paesi Novamente Retrovati, first published at Venice in 1507, and more.

Writers' comments on the New World have been thoroughly discussed by scholars but are worth reexamining here briefly. Descriptions of the New World and its inhabitants in writing were largely interchangeable; one traveler's reminiscences were replayed in Amerigo Vespucci's Il Mondo Nuovo (1504) and then again in Thomas More's Utopia. This interchangeability was symptomatic of the dominant epistemology of the time, which was based on a system of resemblances, the search for similarities noted above; Michel Foucault writes that "resemblance played a constructive role in the knowledge of Western culture." This changed by the beginning of the seventeenth century, giving way to a new configuration that Foucault calls "rationalism," for him a major epistemological shift.

But one cannot look for similarities or differences without data. To Europeans still in Europe, lack of concrete information was frustrating. Stephen Greenblatt notes that "the whole European project of writing about the New World rests upon the absence of the object-landscape, people, voice, culture-that has fascinated, repelled, or ravished the writer." The lack of information resulted not in Europe's constructing the New World as something, but rather, as anything. Likewise, the inhabitants of the New World weren't conceived as Others, but as Not Selves: all that wasn't the modern northwestern European self, the New World Other could be, and was: wild, cannibalistic, irrational, sexually ravenous, monstrous. Because of the lack of information on the New World, "the early modern discourse of discovery ... is a superbly powerful register of the characteristic claims and limits of European representational practice." Illustrations presented particular problems for Europeans fascinated by the New World. J. H. Elliott writes that "the European reader was hardly in a position to obtain a reliable picture of life among the Tupinambá savages of Brazil when the illustrations in his book included scenes of Turkish life, because the publisher happened to have them in stock."

Musically, Europeans after the discovery of the New World represented these new others the same way as this publisher, whatever material was available for new representational purposes. This wasn't sleight of hand; in early modern epistemology, these Others were interchangeable. And older forms of musical representation would get harnessed for new uses with the onset of colonialism. What may be the first recorded instance of a European treatment of another culture's forms in music dates from the late fourteenth century: "On the twenty-ninth of January, 1393, in Paris, the Duchesse de Berry gave a wedding party. One of the guests was King Charles VI of France, and during the evening he and five of his courtiers, disguised as savages, entertained the company with a 'furious Moresca.' ... The Duc d'Orléans, accidentally or not, set the savages' headdresses afire with a torch and the flames spread, killing several guests and leaving the king (who was then recovering from a mental disturbance) permanently deranged."

A moresca or morisca was a Moor's dance that reached its height of popularity in the fifteenth century. Morescas parodied the music of slaves who were used as domestic servants in both Italy and Germany at this time. The dances usually involved performers putting on blackface, and probably gave rise to the English morris dance (a tradition still observable there, since a revival in the nineteenth century). The moresca may also be related to the Spanish matachín, which goes back as far as the twelfth century in Spain. The conquistadores brought this dance to the New World, where they taught it to the indigenous peoples. This dance can now be found from Bolivia to New Mexico to the Philippines.

Eventually, moresche predictably found their way into "higher" musical forms, adapted for broader representational purposes. Before opera, one of the most popular forms of entertainment among the nobility was drama, but plays usually appeared with music in some guise. The moresca was an important ingredient of the early intermedio in early modern Italy, a type of work performed beginning in the late fifteenth century. One author wrote in 1536 that intermedii were inserted between the acts of a play "so that the stage will not remain empty, music and songs, and moresche and buffoons are usually brought in mixed together." In England the morris dance and its variants found their way into the masque, a precursor to opera in England, about which I will have more to say later.


At this point I want to examine the extent to which modern attitudes toward difference are shaped by European colonial experiences, and the ways that existing attitudes of difference inflected the discourse of the discovery of the New World. Davies, Nandy, and Sardar argue that the discovery of the New World resulted in Europe's questioning itself, its identity, and thus forming the modern self: first, because moderns thought that "having" a self was possible at all; and second, that it could be made. The birth of the self could only come with the discovery of the Other.

But who was this Other? Was it indigenous peoples only? I argue that modern, colonial attitudes toward racialized difference were shaped by existing attitudes toward difference; that new, racialized conceptions of difference drew upon older notions of gendered difference, and upon the racialized difference of Others closer to home-Turks, Arabs, Jews, Irish; and that these eventually informed one another.

As has been much discussed, colonized lands were feminized, and some have written of colonialism as a kind of rape. Early modern writings of the discovery put the question of gender on the surface. For example, Peter Martyr writes, "Smooth and pleasing words might be spoken of the sweet odors, and perfumes of these countries, which we purposely omit, because they make rather for the effeminating of men's minds, than for the maintenance of good behavior." Much has been written about the feminization of the New World in particular. As many have noted, Europeans constructed the Americas as feminine, so that colonialism and rape were intertwining discourses, and by the end of the sixteenth century, America could be represented in paintings, engravings, maps, and title pages as a female nude with a feathered headdress. But the feminization of America presented problems for the English, particularly Sir Walter Raleigh, who served a woman monarch (Queen Elizabeth I). Europe's fascination for its newest Other was never stable, oscillating between "fascination and repulsion, likeness and strangeness, desires to destroy and to assimilate the Other; an oscillation between the confirmation and the subversion of familiar values, beliefs, and perceptual norms."

Contemporary English texts amply illustrate this interpretation. Sir Walter Raleigh on the Spanish: "I made [Topiawari, a chieftain] knowe the cause of my comming thither, whose servant I was, and that the Queenes pleasure was, I should undertake the voyage for their defence, and to deliver them from the tyrannie of the Spaniards, dilating at large ... her Majesties greatnesse, her justice, her charitie to all oppressed nations." Queen Elizabeth herself participated in the construction of the New World as feminine: "I ... think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any Prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my Realm, to which rather then any dishonour shall grow by me, I my self will take up arms, I my self will be your General, Judge, and Rewarder of everie one of your virtues in the field."

What all this means is that questions of otherness, difference, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality can't be easily separated, for constructions and representations of difference inform one another, a conclusion that the anthropologist Ann Laura Stoler also makes. Sex in the colonies could be about sexual access and reproduction, social class, race, nationalism, and conceptions of European identity. For Stoler, racism, far from being a monolithic attitude, a byproduct (or product) of the colonial encounter, varies in quality and intensity from time to time and place to place, and generally the passage of time in colonial situations leads to intensified racial discrimination and rigidified boundaries. In this and other writings, however, Stoler seems to want to prioritize gendered otherness over racial otherness: patriarchal ideas were brought to the colonies where they informed racist policies, which in turn were exported back to the metropoles as concepts of gendered and racial otherness. Women are the ur-Other in most cultures, and as such, attitudes toward women pervade all constructions of difference and otherness. That's true enough. Representations of other women as sexually licentious are well known and have been widely discussed. But rather than say that one kind of construction of difference came first-which came first, difference or the Other?-it's more productive to try to explore how these constructions inform each other.


Excerpted from BEYOND EXOTICISM by Timothy D. Taylor Copyright © 2007 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Timothy D. Taylor is Professor of Ethnomusicology and Musicology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of Strange Sounds: Music, Technology, and Culture and Global Pop: World Music, World Markets.

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