- Audible Empire: Music, Global Politics, Critique ed. by Ronald Radano and Tejumola Olaniyan
Ronald Radano and Tejumola Olaniyan's 2016 edited volume, Audible Empire: Music, Global Politics, Critique, offers a complex, far-reaching, and sophisticated set of perspectives for considering various constructions of empire and a wide range of sonic acts that have been and continue to be interconnected. Radano and Olaniyan, scholars of music and literature respectively, have brought together scholars of anthropology, ethnomusicology, comparative literature, history, performance studies, music theory, and media studies. From cigarette ads to novels, from newspaper clippings to artistic manifestos, from hymn voicing to labour statistics, the evidence used and material probed in these essays showcases both the creativity of the individual authors and their conveners, and the necessity of approaching the motivating questions of the volume from multiple simultaneous perspectives. No single scholar can work in all of the diverse ways or with all of the diverse materials represented in this volume, and the dialogue between the authors shows in the final essays which are each substantial individual contributions but combine to make a compelling whole greater than its parts. At the same time, the diversity of disciplinary perspectives, historical and geographic orientations, and evidence marshalled ultimately underscores the shared questions and common concerns at the heart of studies of the audible in the age of empire: that power relations figure in heard and unheard ways and must be attended to in any responsible analysis of sonic phenomena.
This review will dwell primarily on the intellectual contributions of the individual essays, but the volume should also be seen as a pedagogical contribution. As a teaching tool, it is a veritable gift. The mix of essays is an obvious opening to discussions of methodology, and the quality of the individual essays—in reasoning and in writing—makes them easy choices to assign to undergraduates and graduates. My own disciplinary affiliation steered my thinking towards ethno/musicology audiences, but it provides a clear pivot for those studying music outside music departments, just as it invites music students and scholars to leave their comfortable bubbles more often. [End Page 328]
Radano and Olaniyan's introduction offers a pithy and useful assessment of how scholarship on the related topics of sound studies, anthropology of the senses, and studies of the everyday has paved the way for their current project of understanding empire in the sensory realm. What they probe—as well as what they leave out—is highly instructive. For example, their capacious understanding of the audible, including not merely musical 'works' but also genres, discourses, and technologies—allows them to draw connections between otherwise disparate times and places. In this same capacious spirit, the contributors to the volume can make arguments grounded in historical, geographical, and textual specificity that nonetheless advance the aim of the book: 'to inquire into ways in which imperial structures help to modify and produce qualities of hearing and to make a "music" discernible in the first place' (p. 7).
The volume is divided into four sections: Technologies of Circulation, Audible Displacements, Cultural Policies and Politics in the Sound Market, and Anticolonialism. As the authors themselves say, 'there are enriching and mutually illuminating overlaps between and among them' (p. 15). I agree. In that spirit, rather than attempting a detailed summary of each piece, I will highlight a few threads that emerged for me across the sections and provided interesting counterpoint. This is not to suggest an alternative organization but merely to draw out the interconnectedness of the essays, sections, and broad themes, including audience, institutions, time, music, listening, and agents.
The attention to performative utterances (i.e. music) and the multidisciplinary cast of authors in the volume brings to the fore the question of audience. In Marc Perry's ethnographic essay of the Cuban Hip Hop Festival, racial identifications take on new charge among the Cuban audience for New York-based hip hop acts, inviting a tense but productive counterpoint between potentially...