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Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Music, Dance and Identity: Empowerment vs Exploitation

In allowing ourselves to be drawn away from active participation music and dance, two of the most profound and time-proven sources of human wellbeing are being annihilated.

In parallel to this dieback (but largely due to urban sprawl in the wake of individual motorized transport), we are witness to an epidemic of loneliness and isolation, something almost inconceivable less than a century ago. People may have been materially poorer, but were closer together, the sense of community strong.

Big, brave, open-source, non-profit, community-provisioned, cross-cultural and fruitloop crazy. → Like, share, back-link, pin, tweet and mail. Hashtags? For the crowdfunding: #VisualFutureOfMusic. For the future live platform: #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory. Or just register as a potential crowdfunder..

 Self-Reliance, Spontaneity, Identity

Dance Comes Naturally

A child's alternating skipping step is an early, yet surprisingly complex movement. For many a young adult, however, even this apparently intuitive flow of movement has often already been lost.

Indeed, with simple rhyming and movement games featuring less and less in the playground, skipping is no longer assimilated in the first place. On the surface innocuous, this may signal a profound loss.

 Not so long ago, more or less everyone danced in some form or other. Whether at village dances, market dances, dances to stay fit onboard ship, country dances, barn dances, crossroads dances, ballroom dances, children's dances, house dances, or ritual and other festivities, these were an expression of community, bringing people otherwise wholly preoccupied simply with staying alive together.

Village dances were often multi-generational. Eye-to-eye and hand contact, partner change, an occasionally euphoric tempo, yet underpinned with time to listen, talk, exchange and absorb.

Relations between the sexes were, until recently, widely regulated and largely binary (male:female). Dance provided a seldom bridge of contact between the sexes, or, failing that and on the fringes, the opportunity to drown disappointment.

Serviced by itinerant or sometimes own musicians, many a villager had a dance or song on call -often passed from mother to child- for other's entertainment. Dance and music held communities together through long winter months and punctuated the seasons. They provided an otherwise seldom means of access a future partner. A veritable social glue.

Community dance is still present in some cultures, but on the whole -as with music literacy- is dying out. This is, along with it's simple litmus test, the skipping step, a profound loss.

Music, Dance and Identity

The Scottish Ceilidh (or, in Ireland, Céilí) is at times elegantly synchronised, at times raw and powerful beast. As an occasional dance caller, this is an area very dear to my heart.

Ceilidh strips it's participants of the weaponry of social status, focussing entirely on the 'craic', the atmosphere. It is neither traditional nor mainstream, but rather something comfortable in and with itself.

It also has the trappings of an underground movement. Seldom widely advertised, dance events are notified through the grapevine, are often refreshingly inexpensive and inherently welcoming.

Ceilidh is multi-generational, yet at core exploits natural tensions between the sexes, in the form of a power age bandwidth (roughly 18-35) and good general balance in numbers.

In Scotland, the atmosphere is often pimped or pumped through a combination of rhythmic clapping and shrieking. Chuck in improvisation, collisions and unplanned orbital flights, and bamboozlement, amusement and a great social levelling are programmed.

Intriguingly, such tweaks work for any form community dance, from the simplest of International Dance through to the most complex of compound-time Balkan dance.

Like many surviving forms of traditional dance, Ceilidh or Céilí dance strips away the cosmetic, the superfluous. Ok, maybe not the kilt (a simple dance practicality) but certainly all other costume, ritual, ruleset or custom. What is left is the contact, the social - and a shared vulnerability. You're equally likely to find yourself grinning at the CEO of a multinational firm as the occasional occupant of a local park bench. There for the craic and the contact, nothing more.

The Workshop Festival

Thoughout the 60s and 70s, many hitherto unknown but authentic traditional bands came to prominence: some of astral skill and inspiration, many with roots in family or community music and dance. This in almost every genre, many now all but forgotten.

Two distinct movements could be made out:

  • 'folk revival' amongst many others, Guthrie, Dylan, Pentangle)
  • 'trad revival' (amongst many others, Planxty, Stivell, Inti Illumanti, Muszikás, Ravi Shankar)
Inspired by, and hard on their heels, came the rise of the 'workshop festival' focussed around community dance and music directly in the genre's respective native country. This was perhaps the heyday of the active participation dance and music festival - Ireland's Milton Malbay, France's Saint Chartier. One curious exception. Germany's own folk music having been hijacked by the nazis for propaganda purposes, the vacuum was filled by a strong interest in the music and dance of other cultures. Perhaps of questionable quality, but nevertheless uncommon were a couple of *hundred* musicians playing simultaneously for equally as many dancers. What this did achieve -and with every fibre- was community. This was active participation with entirely borrowed material.

In many respects, though, the participative aspects of the trad revival undermined the musical traditions it derived inspiration from. Slowed to a pace weekend musicians could cope with, the music was at times stripped of it's original vitality, authenticity and characteristic ornamentation: learned from notation rather than aurally, embellished with harmonies foreign to the original, and often subject to subtle rhythmic misinterpretation.

Countering this was a wave of undeniable social value: interacting with others in groups and dances, forming musical alliances, learning and experimenting, and endless application for hand and mind. This was a happy, healthy and contented time.
Commerce being what it is, though, band members submitted increasingly to costume, the music drifted towards the sentimental and cosmetic. Album covers played on nostalgia, the struggle to fend off hunger transformed into rural idyll. Much of this subsequently landed on market-stands: virtuose second-hand vinyl, mass-market kitsch.

Post-revival came the era of the eclectic supergroup, world music's maternity ward. Modern re-interpretations, and the first mixing of instruments and styles from different cultures. Cotton was replaced by polyester, folk by rock, labels by corporations and time for others by mobility and festival capacity.

Mankind entered the era of the headless corporate chicken. Profit over wellbeing, speed over common sense, comfort and convenience over health and vitality, quantity over quality - to the point every area of technology has taken on a life of it's own.

Can we strip away all this accumulated clutter and pick up the reins? We need to think carefully about what, in music and dance, is central to wellbeing.
Today Nowadays, relations (at least among teens and twenties) are more casual and diverse in nature, affections both more easily communicated and more transient, and so partner dance to a certain degree superfluous.

Moreover, in place of the former, purely binary (physical and mental: evolution is complex) sexual identities, there is increasingly widespread acceptance of nature's producing everything in between.

Diversity is accepted, earlier attitudes increasingly viewed as a crude -in many cases brutal- generalisation. Single-sex dancing pairs are an increasingly common sight at what used to be somewhat conservative ceilidh dances.

Accordingly, dance has in itself moved on: dancers now perhaps less concerned with sexual tension, more in touch with and focussed on the music, allowing it to flow through them and find expression in free movement. Rhythm, perhaps, takes more of a back seat to the lyrical and legato.

It is, accordingly, slightly more difficult to motivate younger dancers to ceilidh-style (partner-change) dance. Initial doubts overcome, though, things still barrel along nicely..

The Festival

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Cattle fencing. Mobile tracking. Security. Branded junk food and drink. Gaudy, ubiquitous advertising. Environmental woes. VIP areas at cost. Clogged transport axes. Visual gimmickry. Blues or rock scale monoculture. Mud. Queues. Exhaustion. Puke. Plastic debris. Overflowing toilets.

This is a mobile processing unit, with races, gates, control points, livestock pens, feeding stations, sluices, clinical lighting and lyrical but empty and clichéd messages. Sensory overload, indiscriminate drinking, drugs, casual, opportunistic sex, and the absence of any intimacy.

Yet in parallel, amongst supposedly global villagers we see an epidemic of loneliness - particularly prevalent among those who grew up *with* the internet.
 Gone is the innocence of that early bluegrass dance, but more tragically, we have lost control over the means to our own wellbeing. It has been usurped, monetised, industrialised, trivialised.

And the dark heart of this monetisation mill? Sexual grooming of each advancing generation of youngsters: predators to the right, victims to the left. Early musical choices mould destinies.

In parallel, social media channels us toward pointless but ruthless competition. Whether extreme individualism or neurotic compliance, we compete to post about being fucked over.

 These are the fever sores of a dysfunctional society.
 We stand in the midst of a mass cultural extinction, grass-roots musical and dance expression crippled, yet for industry a dream come true.

Behind the Scenes

Entertainment industry suits. Speculation. Revenue optimisation. Industrial scale processing. Factory methods. Margins. Percentages.

Fragile egos. Yachts. Private islands. Excess. Toxic lifestyles.


Session Music. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
Session Music
Our very sense of identity is manipulated. Vast sums are poured into cultivating musical tribes. Psychology, once aimed at improving mental health, is reduced to a revenue optimisation tool.

For those resistant, subtle triggers hint at inadequacy, uncoolness, the threat of exclusion.

It is all very well for the few to strive commercialisation of every last aspect of culture, but they don't have to live with the results: marginalisation to commerce, lack of authenticity, manipulation and alienation.

In one sense this can be viewd as a tragedy of the commons, where individuals rationally pursuing their own interests ultimately create a collective disaster. With time, though, it has developed into systematic, predatory and entrenched abuse. It is neither restricted to the music industry, nor it will not go away.

Freedom. From Self.

There is a singular pleasure in certain occupations or pastimes: those that bind our attention so strongly that we lose all awareness of self.

Arts, crafts, long-distance mountain walking, community dance and playing music hijack our senses, leave us focussed, our absorption in the immediate task such that our everyday concerns, fears and doubts fall away.

Here, hints at a central motivation behind this project: regain, at a grass-roots level, some control over culture, heritage, and so wellbeing. But how?

This will certainly involve personal challenges. How do we, for example, throw off slavery to ego? How can mankind come to see itself as a whole? Above all, how do we counter what so characterises the current decade: fear?

Seven billion people cannot hope to compete with each other for the earth's resources. If competition is not the answer, something else is. Every beginning is small.

Visual Triggers

Our visual processing capabilities are quite. simply. phenomenal. Might they provide a key to rediscovery of the intimacy of our own music and dance cultures?

This is the aim of a forthcoming crowdfunding project: combine visual triggers from the realm of community dance and music with powerful, interactive, and (initially) score-driven graphical instrument models and theory tools.

Music and Emotion. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory

My hope is that in supporting mutual enablement and empowerment, the global musical community is reinforced, we free ourselves of entertainment industry grasp, and regain a little of that former sense of community, spontaneity and contentment.

Mutual Empowerment?

So how 'mutual'?

--> Direct, person-to-person teaching and learning, but over the internet, and with a range of powerful supporting tools.

Goal? Grassroots earnings potential, diversity, zero advertising, zero speculation and at lowest possible cost.

Zero advertising because in anything to do with learning you need to be free of distractions, and zero speculation because the inevitable revenue opomisation exercises compromise diversity and depth of content.


If in possession of compelling community dance or musicmaking images and willing to contribute them, please contact me by means of the social media links at the foot of many of this blog's screen content.

On Pinterest, I maintain a group 'DIY community dance and music' pinboard directly related to this project. A related pinboard exists for video. These are worth a visit even if just to be reminded of the joys of community dance and music.


online music learning,
online music lessons
distance music learning,
distance music lessons
remote music lessons,
remote music learning
p2p music lessons,
p2p music learning
music visualisation
music visualization
musical instrument models
interactive music instrument models
music theory tools
musical theory
p2p music interworking
p2p musical interworking
comparative musicology
world music
international music
folk music
traditional music
P2P musical interworking,
Peer-to-peer musical interworking
WebGL, Web3D,
WebVR, WebAR
Virtual Reality,
Augmented or Mixed Reality
Artificial Intelligence,
Machine Learning
Scalar Vector Graphics,
3D Cascading Style Sheets,

Comments, questions and (especially) critique welcome.