Tuesday, November 17, 2009


So my trip to Tobago was kind of a bust, research-wise. One of the people I wanted to meet was actually in Trinidad over the weekend - I think we passed each other while I was on my way back to Trinidad and she was on her way back to Tobago. And the concert I've been so excited about? It got canceled. The organizer and one of the performers got up and talked and tried to explain, but really offered no great explanation for why it was canceled (and for why they didn't tell anyone until we were actually AT the venue).

Luckily, we can get our money back for the tickets.

On the other hand, I had a great time going to two of Tobago's beautiful beaches, Store Bay and Pigeon Point, both in the Crown Point area. I'll be tan for Christmas!

I also met a wonderful woman named Michelle Timothy who volunteers for Tobago Oasis, a support group for HIV-positive persons in Tobago. We had a great hour-long conversation which I hated to see end so soon. I feel sure our paths will cross again, and I am most definitely looking forward to it. Michelle also put me back in touch with some contacts I had made here when I visited in 2007, for which I am incredibly grateful. So the next week will (hopefully) be full of interviews and music!

Finally, I also just got word that my award (and the awards of all the other fabulous IU students that won Fulbrights) was mentioned on the IU faculty and staff news webpage! Lots of neat projects going on at IU...

And now for a few pictures of the beaches at Tobago. Anyone want to come visit?

Store Bay Beach, Tobago

The road to Pigeon Point Beach, Tobago

The iconic picture of the beach at Pigeon Point

Another view of Pigeon Point

Monday, November 9, 2009

Coming soon!!

So, I'm making a short post here about exciting things that are going to be happening soon. Not so much for anyone else to read, but so I'll feel responsible to be a Good Fieldworker, take notes, etc. and then post about the goings-on once I'm done.

Tuesday: Open Mic in San Fernando (in the southern part of Trinidad).

This weekend: Huge calypso concert in Tobago (Trindad's sister island), and possibly meeting some of the folks in charge of AIDS programmes in Tobago.

Next week: Another open mic-type thing at the University of the West Indies, meant to be organized as a response to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

End of the month: Parang (Spanish string-band Christmas music) fundraiser in San Fernando for South AIDS Support.

See you guys on the other end!!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Phantom fundamentals: What is the sound of one dissertation topic clapping?

“The echo of the completely empty valley bears tidings heard from the soundless sound” – Yamaba

I’ve been thinking for the past few days about an acoustical-cognitive phenomenon called the phantom fundamental. Basically, there is a mathematical relationship between the pitch we hear (the fundamental) and the higher overtone frequencies that are “packaged” with that pitch to give it a distinct tone color. Overtones are the reasons that a trumpet sounds like a trumpet and a fake trumpet sounds like a fake trumpet. They’re also probably responsible for making the heavily auto-tuned actors on Glee sounds like radioactive aardvarks.

Our brain expects that if the overtones are arranged in a certain way, that the fundamental pitch will fall in line. Our brain expects it so much that it will fill in the fundamental pitch if it is missing. So we, theoretically, could hear a tuba playing a low C even if the recording had been digitally altered so that the lowest pitch actually present acoustically was an octave above the note that we perceive.

So why am I thinking about this tonight? Partly because I count audiophile Nina Fales as a friend and colleague. And partly because my fieldwork project has become like a missing fundamental. There seems to be a dearth of music about HIV/AIDS at the moment, but it’s still hanging around the edges of everyone’s brains.

I’ve only been at this two and a half weeks and I’ve already heard from a number of people that “there were a few songs like that some years ago” and “there were some commercials, but no one is recording songs like that anymore.” Selwyn Lewis of The Barcam, a community organization originally based in Point Fortin, insinuated that HIV/AIDS funding was at a high point when I visited Trinidad and Tobago to plan my project in 2007, but is now drying up.

There are, of course, still organizations like The Barcam and Arts-in-Action, based at the University of the West Indies, which continue to use music in HIV/AIDS prevention. But the popular music world seems much quieter than it was just two years ago.

So does my project become more archaeological from here? Is it about re-thinking earlier times when AIDS and music came together, like calypsonian Merchant’s illness and death, Peter Minshall’s 2006 mas band, Godfrey Sealy’s musical, and the songs penned by Shadow, Ras Shorty, and Sparrow? Can I re-think those things from the time-space of the contemporary TT music scene(s)?

I still think there’s a dissertation here…I just need to figure out where it is.

And for those of you who like pictures, here's a picture to prove it really is rainy season here in Trinidad.