- Ecomusicology: Rock, Folk, and the Environment by Mark Pedelty
Mark Pedelty’s Ecomusicology: Rock, Folk, and the Environment is a project of personal passion, and this passion is evident on every single page. Pedelty’s scope is not limited to a single case study, approach, or even discipline. Rather, the book is a winding, at times eclectic, journey for [End Page 107] both author and reader that tackles Pedelty’s diverse experiences in and at the intersections of musicology and environment, musicianship and ecological practice. Pedelty takes his readers from massive concerts at Washington’s Gorge Amphitheatre to intimate open mic performances at a San Juan Islands café. He shows us Pete Seeger on the Hudson River and University of Minnesota students strumming guitars along the Mississippi. The book winds from folk to rock to classical to hip-hop, crossing the country in a manner reminiscent of the opening verses of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”—a central text examined at length in the book’s second chapter.
Yet even as Pedelty shifts between mass market musicians like U2, Jack Johnson, and Soundgarden and his own experiences as a fledgling local musician, Ecomusicology never loses sight of its central goal: to trace, through observation and participation, music’s impact on cultural ecologies and material ecosystems.
Only a handful of self-described “ecomusicologists” are beginning to look comprehensively at these issues, and Pedelty’s work marks an important contemporary turn in folkloristic research. Ecomusicology brings ethnography and humanities into direct dialogue with politics, sciences, and the material world. Pedelty demonstrates how ethnomusicology can draw from and speak to spatial theory and environmental science. His work combines field study with rhetoric and economics, tackling folk, popular, and official culture side-by-side. Troubled by the question of how our artistic expression and material consumption of music impact the biophysical environment, Pedelty recognizes that the world we live in and the songs we share are ultimately interconnected. His work is a powerful argument for the necessity of interdisciplinary research.
He writes that the book is about “the conundrum of making music sustainably” (p. 5) at any scale. As both a committed ecologist and music enthusiast, he realizes that the wood harvested to craft a guitar, the electricity expended to amplify a concert, the sense of place experienced in a venue, and the image of a river or forest evoked by lyrics all affect the biophysical world and subsequent actions taken toward it.
With this scope in mind, Ecomusicology launches into a series of varied chapters, working its way toward the local and ending in an extended first-person case study of Pedelty’s own experiences writing, singing, and playing in and around Minnesota. The book’s introduction uses U2’s 2009–2011 tour to demonstrate music’s environmental impact before posing questions about music’s ability to guide and even encourage ecological action. Chapter 1 examines these questions at the global scale, tracing the history of rock’s fund-raising mega-events like Live Aid and Live Earth, while challenging both rockers and rock audiences for being “stupid and contagious” in their greenwashing and waste. Chapter 2 turns toward the national scale, beginning with a case study of American place-building through adaptations of “America the Beautiful,” “God Bless America,” and “This Land Is Your Land” and culminating in the argument that genre influences the message-making potential of song. Chapter 3 features an extended study of Woody Guthrie with additional attention to folk revival heroes like Joe Hill, Pete Seeger, and Bob Dylan. Pedelty seeks to reveal Guthrie as a professional musician who embraced a politically crafted persona. This chapter moves the focus to a regional level, with specific attention to Guthrie’s Columbia River Valley, before moving to other brief case studies of Seeger on the Hudson and Minnesota’s ecologically informed “post-rock” project, Cloud Cult.
Folklorists will generally be most interested in chapter 4, which is in many ways the heart of the book. Here, Pedelty presents his ethnographic...