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Elizabeth Kinder
Photo: Sophie Ziegler

The Elusive Ethnomusicologist

Elizabeth Kinder’s monthly column

Recently it seems I’m ambushed daily by death or disaster of some sort. Mostly they take the form of the resident A&R guru detailing the dying throes of the music industry, in all its horror: the bloody battles where monolithic global music corporations slaughter the independent labels and streaming sticks the knife in. It’s David and Goliath or Mad Max, both with the wrong ending.

Yet in the devastation of this post-apocalyptic terrain, life asserts itself. Music blossoms like weeds or flowers, shoots of green as human beings make music because they have to whether or not they (or anyone else) can make a living from it; whether it’s deemed to be any good or not, whether it’s ‘liked’ or ‘hated’. It’s a means for some of finding meaning in life and expressing it, of making concrete their existence. It’s their sail set to the wind – and sometimes it just might be our life raft.

And of course there’s life and death in music itself, progressions, motifs and cadences that spring to life, swell, bloom and die in perpetual cycles. All deaths we live with comfortably, as the last haunting strains of the orchestra fade away. We seek them out, to be surrounded, engaged, stimulated or soothed: our anchors at sea.

Then suddenly there’s death that’s shocking, inconsolable, unreasonable and wrong. It’s not just strolling along hand-in-hand with existence, a shadow underpinning life’s sunny affirmation. It’s stepped out of line, manifested solid and dreadful in your face. My friend’s son died this week. Abruptly. Unexpectedly. He was 33, a gentle, thoughtful, creative man in his prime. He looked after his health both mentally and physically and was not at a wild party or in a car accident, but died whilst working at his desk: news carried to his mum by two policemen arriving at the door as she prepared dinner.

In the awful roaring face of such immense death we are rudderless in endless ocean. And if we manage to crawl onto land we find the scenery has changed, it looks familiar but is forever different. I thought the activities of the ‘majors’ comfy in their front row seats on the Death Star would lose their sting in this new place, where our daily strivings seem meaningless, our cares and woes empty and pathetic and life itself ultimately pointless.

But it’s not true. I’m grateful for the sparks of life that are made eternal through creativity: for all the things that are testimony to the fact that we have lived and we have strived to express ourselves. And I find I’m particularly grateful for music that wouldn’t exist if its creators hadn’t been nurtured and supported by people who are passionate about their work and life itself: people who are in it for the long haul however ‘long’ that turns out to be, who fight against the crass and short-term: for the independents and individuals who go out every day to bat on an un-level playing field and provide hope for something fine and unique that will deeply enhance our experience of being human: for the sparks of life they make immortal that shed light on the value of that experience even in our darkest moments. Our ports in the storm.

Elizabeth Kinder


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