How do the conditions of transnationalism affect a conception of kinship premised upon genealogical and geographic fixity? What does a new model of kinship, one that accounts for mobility, multilocality, and transience in contemporary relationships, look like? Or sound like, rather?
My final project will explore these complementary questions. Through a combination of yangqin, voice, field recording, and live processing, I will develop and perform an "electroacoustic folk" set that reflects on themes of relationality, rootedness, love, and fragmentation as they relate to notions of transnational kinship. I will draw on field recordings and interviews conducted with close friends and family on a trip I am taking from London to my home of San Francisco. There, I will be attending a wedding and a farewell party, among other events that will bring those whom could be considered my "kin." These gatherings will serve as an apt opportunity for sincere discussions around how we relate to one another when we live so far apart.
My research will begin with a deeper investigation into the theoretical underpinnings of traditional conceptions of kinship, which tend to revolve around families who live in a specific locality over a long period of time. I intend to survey sociological, anthropological, and literary work on the topic. I will then conduct a similar investigation into the theories behind transnationalism and its effect on familial and social relationships. I am curious about multiple areas related to this, including: post-structuralist theory, diasporic identity, definitions of community in the Digital Age, and "place" vs. "space."
Today, with 244 million people in the world classified as migrants,* and a media filled with emotionally charged debates surrounding national identity and the impacts of migration, it is becoming increasingly difficult to hold onto traditional ideas of what constitutes kinship, and how it is created and maintained. There is a need for new models of determining how to relate to the important people in our life, and who they are in the first place.
My hypothesis is that for migrants and diasporic communities, a traditional model of kinship that rooted in one locality for several generations is insufficient. We may have grown up in a place different from where our parents grew up; we may have moved across cities or countries in our lifetime; we may regularly commute between different places, and so might our family and friends. Our experiences are more multilocal, and so are our relationships. They are not defined by one fixed place.
Moreover, our opportunities to connect with each other and be present with each other are sparse. We are only able to see each other during brief visits, either when the migrant visits the family or vice versa. For those who are more mobile, we experience various crossings, during important events such as holidays, or on spontaneous occasions. Our relationships are thus do not consist of contiguous periods of time spent together, but rather episodic segments of time surrounding particular experiences.
In addition, when we live far away from our family, in their absence we must find people to stay connected with, to stay socially active and to feel loved. Friendships we develop in our day-to-day lives might take on a new significance, if friends become the closest thing to family we have available. Some of us may identify as having "chosen family."
Within these conditions, our understanding of kinship, of the set of close relationships that are most important to us, becomes less contingent on a fixed location, a biological bloodline, and a contiguous period of time. These factors become fragmented by the forces of globalisation. In this context of fragmentation, what kind of structure holds together our close relationships?
My project will postulate that a transnational model of kinship is more multilocal, episodic, and unpredictable, and bases itself on shared experience more than shared blood. The conditions of transnationalism also reached toward a more pluralistic social infrastructure, which makes ethnicity a less fundamental characteristic of close community.
Within this model of kinship, conversation plays an important role in facilitating and holding together shared experience. Conversation is a unifying, sonic form that makes people feel connected to each other. Conversations can happen in person during those brief visits on special occasions, and they can be continued digitally. Because of the primacy of conversation in this model of kinship, it will be an important component of the sonic landscape of the piece.
My goal with the piece is to use music and sound to represent my own experience of transnational kinship and offer a template for the audience to consider. Much of the piece will be shaped by the conversations I have with my family and close friends. The music will respond to that content as well.
A series of papers I intend to read on this topic comes from the Leeds University research project, Care, Values, and the Future of Welfare. The strand of research is called "Transnational Kinship" and can be found here: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/cava/research/strand3c.htm
*World Migration Report, UN Migration, 2018: https://www.iom.int/wmr/chapter-6
"Practice" is a song that I intend to incorporate into the set. This was a song I wrote recently that was originally just about the difficulty of loving someone. Now, I am reshaping its form to comment on some of the structural aspects of my postulated model of transnational kinship.
The song is about when you find it hard to love someone, and the difficulty is not about "whether" you love them, but about "how" to love them. One feel on a fundamental level that they love another, but so much of the barrier to achieving a lasting connection is the circumstances, the impracticalities, incompatible orientations and situations. The song asks, how does one go about loving when the circumstances, the practicality, the "how to" considerations get in the way?
The song has a very sparse texture, which leaves ample room for field recordings I gather to played in conjunction with the music. The song begins with a simple procession of chords, and the first vocal moment is just the word "sometimes." This word is repeated three times with slight melodic adjustments. In the next cycle of the melody, this word is extended into a full sentence: "Sometimes it's not easy to love." The words are coming together slowly. The next lyric has more words in the same amount of melodic space. This accumulation of words mimics the tentative, uncertain quality of a person gathering their thoughts. As the song continues, the sentences become clearer and more specific. The tempo increases, and (not in this sketch, but in a future iteration) the harmony becomes more dense and the volume increases.
This accumulation of disparate elements aims to create a sense of coalescence, of gradual building, like a crowd gathering together. A quickening occurs, both in terms of the speed and the stimulation of something coming into being.
The climax of the song comes at the most poignant of the lyrics -- "How do put this theory into practice?" -- at the creation of the meaning. This creation of meaning is the culmination of the metaphorical gathering of the musical elements. After this, the elements separate and dissipate again. This coalescence and dispersal, models the fluid way in which communities form, around some central creation of meaning, and then disappear.
The song suggests that love is just a theory, and it can only be realised through concrete decisions and actions. In transnational contexts, loving can be particularly difficult because of the practical considerations. The physical distance, the asynchronicity of time, the difference in cultural environments can create barriers in these relationships.
The "you" that the song refers to is ambiguous, and as such the "love" described in the song could be interpreted as various kinds of love. It could describe romantic love with a long-distance partner, or familial love with a relative, or xenophilic love for a stranger. The simplicity and open-ended nature of the lyrics results in a multivalent meaning, inviting any interpretation from the audience and allowing them to choose whichever resonates most with their experience.
Nevertheless, a risk with this song is that the audience may default to construing it as a love song, with its meaning directed towards a specific kind of person and a specific kind of love. In order to take the song past this surface level meaning, I will use a simple performance element to make clear that the song is not directed at one character in my personal life. When I perform the first stanza, I will look at a different audience member each time I utter a lyric. This will first occur every four bars (or 8 chord repetitions) each time I utter the word "sometimes". As the song, develops, the frequency with which I look at different individuals increases. This will draw a connection between the "individual" and each sung word, to animate the metaphor described above, of the song's elements mirroring a gathering of a crowd. At the culmination of the song, beginning with the lyric "how do we put this theory into practice?", I will scan the audience as a whole, visually gesturing toward the collective as I sing the core question of the song, one that can be interpreted within the framework of pluralist ideology. In other words, asking the audience, the larger human collective, how do we learn to love each other as groups of people? As communities? As nations?
Sometimes, sometimes, sometimes, sometimes,
Sometimes it's not easy to love.
Sometimes it's not easy, not easy, to love, to love you.
It's not a matter of whether or not I love you, now,
It's more a question of howâ¦toâ¦doâ¦thisâ¦
How do we put this theory into practice?
How do we turn this feeling into action?
Shouldn't loving someone be somewhat simpler than this?
Loving someone is easier said than done.
Sometimes it's not, not easy to love, and I don't know why, but
I'll try, if you try, and if I try, will you try?
The song is saying it's hard to love "you," it is hard to love the other, despite espoused ideologies around loving "humanity" or loving people from other cultures, this feeling is not real until its actualised through concrete actions. The song throws into relief the difficulty and the mystery of how that process works, and how that process can only be approached a mutual agreement to "try. "
I previously posted this song in the background of video clips sent to me by my friends (see embedded video below). This may be useful just as an example of how field recordings could sound when incorporated into the song.