I got the new Very Short Introduction to Ethnomusicology by Timothy Rice last month and I have been meaning to do a post about it for a few weeks now. This book is part of the VSI series published by Oxford University Press. I have been collecting this series for a very long time, because I find the small format, the high production values and the artistic covers very attractive. Though having said that, I noticed that on the more recent volumes the binding has changed from a stitched paperback to perfect-bound which does lower the tone a little.
Books in the VSI series tend to be either excellent or rubbish. The constraints of the format – a small 100-ish page paperback that is to summarise an entire field of study or knowledge for the educated general reader, is very hard and it is interesting to see the authors strain to present complex spreads of ideas concisely and clearly.
The Ethnomusicology volume is one of the excellent ones. Partly it retains its focus and clarity by addressing and describing Ethnomusicology as an academic discipline, which gives the book a clear sense of structure and purpose. What do professional ethnomusicologists do, how has the discipline evolved and changed, what are the current political and ideological faultlines in the discipline? This is in great contrast to, for example, the volumes on Folk Music or World Music which struggle from the outset to define their subject area (and which both quickly admit that they don’t have any coherent definition to offer)
For me there were a number of useful insights or viewpoints to explore further. One was the issues of notation, “music as text”. But most interesting thing mentioned in the book, I thought, was the discussion of trance. I have come across ideas of trance in music before, but this book has reminded me that this is something I need to look into further.