Brian Robert Fairley
Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationNew York U.
Grant numberGr. 9992
Approve DateAugust 26, 2020
Project TitleFairley, Brian (New York U.) "Dissected Listening: An Ethnographic Media History of Georgian Polyphonic Recording"
Between 1916 and 1966, scholars in Austria-Hungary and the Soviet Union repeatedly experimented with recording technology in order to capture the musical traditions of Georgia, a region of the South Caucasus that regained independence in 1991. Each of these recording projects attempted to isolate the three vocal parts of Georgian polyphony through a variety of means, including wax cylinders, discs, and magnetic tape. Anticipating and paralleling the development of multitrack recording techniques in Western Europe and North America, the history of these experiments raises several questions: Why did the experience of hearing Georgian music demand such a media-technological response? How did polyphony—an elusive category even in musicology—come to define Georgian music? And what does it mean to listen polyphonically? In my dissertation project, I attend to the archive of these media experiments, bringing them into conversation with histories of European music theory and with the work of recording engineers in Georgia today, whose studio practices seem to promote the combination of voices rather than their separation. Blending historiography and ethnography, this study argues that scientific and evidence-based regimes of listening have set the terms by which the music of an entire nation continues to be heard.