What is ecomusicology? In a colloquy dedicated to the subject in the Journal of the American Musicological Society, Aaron S. Allen began to answer this question, admitting he was "reluctant to define an emerging subfield as yet lacking in consensus, but we must start somewhere" (Aaron S. Allen, "Ecomusicology: Ecocriticism and Musicology," Journal of the American Musicological Society 64, no. 2 [Summer 2011]: 392). In the years since, scholarly and public interest in intersections between music, place, and the environment has blossomed, with vibrant ecomusicology groups in both the American Musicological Society and the Society for Ethnomusicology and a series of successful interdisciplinary "Ecomusicologies" conferences. From the fruits of these labors, Allen and Kevin Dawe have collected nineteen essays in the volume Current Directions in Ecomusicology, providing a much clearer answer to the question.
In their introductory essay, "Eco musicologies," Allen and Dawe maintain that [End Page 83] "there is no one ecomusicology but many ecomusicologies constituting a dynamic field" (p. 1), and the essays that follow certainly support this assertion. The book is divided into four "directions": ecological, fieldwork, critical, and textual. Allen and Dawe provide an additional introduction to each of these major sections, summarizing but also connecting the essays to each other and to a wider literature. These divisions are relatively arbitrary; all of the essays involve theoretical criticism in some way, and all are concerned with interpreting specific musics or sounds as texts, for example. Yet the four "directions" impose additional framing mechanisms that give the volume cohesion, moving from a focus on ecological sciences, to ethnography, to social theory, and finally to exegesis.
The terms in the book's subtitle—music, culture, and nature—unite all of the chapters, yet they also engage in various degrees with binaries of music/sound, culture/society, and nature/environment. Often, authors advocate a blurring or complete breakdown of these binaries. Jeff Todd Titon, in his chapter "Why Thoreau?," argues for an ecomusicological re-framing of the Walden author in part because of how Thoreau described natural sounds in explicitly musical language. For Thoreau, place is experienced as an embodied encounter with sound. The musicalization of natural sounds is the subject of multiple essays, including but not limited to W. Alice Boyle and Ellen Waterman's "The Ecology of Musical Performance: Towards a Robust Methodology," and Helena Simonett's "Of Human and Non-Human Birds: Indigenous Music Making in Sentient Ecology in Northwestern Mexico."
Simonett's essay also contests the nature/environment binary as she applies the concept of sentient ecology, which "extends the concept of personhood to animals, and ultimately, to all life in an ecosystem" (p. 99), to her analysis of indigenous Yoreme musicians in Mexico. This false binary is explored even further in the essay by Margaret Q. Guyette and Jennifer C. Post, "Ecomusicology, Ethnomusicology, and Soundscape Ecology: Scientific and Musical Responses to Sound Study." Here the authors argue that traditional notions of nature as a space untouched by humanity, and the environment as merely built or constructed, are problematic for anthropocentric scholarship because they limit or blind researchers from seeing how humans and the natural world are inextricable from one another. In studying the acoustic properties of landscape, Guyette and Post encourage ecologists to be aware of human noise as integral, rather than detrimental, to the soundscape, and implore ethnomusicologists to focus on non-human sound as integral to the performance practices of musical cultures. Guyette and Post are an ecologist and ethnomusicologist respectively; their essay (as well as two other coauthored entries in the volume) offers a refreshing model of not only interdisciplinarity but also of truly cross-disciplinary work that combines methodologies and epistemologies from the hard sciences and the humanities to enrich the study of music and the environment.
Indeed, one of the answers to the initial question posed in this review is that there is no single...