The Problem of Ethnocentricity in Music Archaeology

R. Eichmann, E. Hickmann and L.-C. Koch (eds.), Studies in Music Archaeology VII. On Ethnographic Analogy in Music Archaeology. Leidorf, Rahden/Westf.: 103–108 (2010)

‘Music’ is a surprisingly new invention. Most of the languages of the world lack a concept of music, yet in all known cultures people play, sing and dance. Historical musicologists too often employ an ethnocentric understanding of music, arisen from the western art music tradition. Does music archaeology represent an alternative voice that challenges ethnocentric approaches to music? Since the field consists of individual researchers with different interests and views, there is no easy answer to this question. But the fact that music archaeologists use material culture as their primary point of departure means that they arrive at other perspectives and approaches to musical activities than historical musicologists using written sources. Most music archaeologists will probably understand music in the widest sense. On the other hand, does our discipline need ‘music’ at all? Some music archaeologists tend to abandon the concept of music, in favour of ‘intentional sound’ or similar, and some prefer to label their field of study ‘archaeomusicology’ or ‘archaeo-organology’. Such strategies could be seen as a response to an unwanted ethnocentric perspective.