Musical sounds and native ecologies: musical instruments and cultural sustainability

Musical Sounds and Native Ecologies Image

May 1, 2013-August 15, 2013
Location: Bridge Gallery

The University of Hawai’i at Mānoa Library and the Music Department’s Ethnomusicology Program have collaborated on an exhibit in Hamilton Library’s Bridge Gallery, Musical sounds and native ecologies: musical instruments and cultural sustainability. The exhibit is viewable from May – August 15, 2013, and highlights the valuable instrument collection which is also a teaching resource that is housed in the Ethnomusicology Program.  The Ethnomusicology Instrument Collection is a member of the University Museum Consortium http://www.museum.hawaii.edu/about.html directed by Dr. Karen Kosasa.

Musical instruments not only make music—they are often our oldest objects that document a musical tradition.  As tangible objects they draw upon the physical environment, the land, where a people takes root and a society establishes its identity. Thus instruments are not only part of a society’s expressive culture, they are part of the history of its material culture and its ecology as well. That ecology has both physical and societal aspects, both of which are subject to development and change.

Sustainability of a culture’s music as part of its identity is linked to the sustainability of its natural resources. Resources can change through environmental degradation. Two examples that impact music:  the disappearance of virgin stands of Hawaiian bamboo due to urbanization, and the lowered tensile strength of Japanese silk through air pollution.

Resources also change through innovation and discovery. Metal technology enabled bells to replace sonorous stone and for metal to replace gourd as holder for bamboo pipes. The changes in technology and material resulted in an economy of working time and a greater availability of the instrument.

Further, cross-cultural contact can generate change in resources and materials.  For example, the sardine can and the cardboard box become “fair game” for instrument building in Africa and Polynesia, respectively.

Musical instruments exhibit both a rich diversity of types and a range of variants for each type—they reflect the resources available to a society and inform what happens when conditions of availability change. As a statement of sustainability, musical instruments exemplify an indigenous sense of what is aesthetic, what is creative, and—ultimately—what is embraceable heritage.

The exhibit is guest-curated by Dr. Ricardo D. Trimillos, Professor Emeritus of Ethnomusicology and former Chair of Asian Studies, with Dr. Teri Skillman, curator for the Library.

Back To Top