A while back, internet friend-quaintance Jon Stone told me he’d be co-editing an edition of Harlot digital magazine focused on sonic rhetorics. The issue came out this week and I’m looking forward to reading/listening through all of this beautifully curated and collaborated content with titles like “The Sonic History of Eau Claire,” and “A Sonic Memoir of the 1960s.” But here’s an excerpt from a piece by Dan W. Lawrence, a graduate teaching instructor and PhD candidate at Michigan Technological University, considering folk music in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the use of digital technologies to create communities even when sharing physical spaces is difficult.
Many musicians are turning to the web to escape the traditional and narrow forms of “making a living” in the music business. Downstate Michigander Sufjan Stevens has been an advocate of using BandCamp to sell his work. BandCamp takes an almost insignificant share of the profits for using their digital storefront, which is absolutely liberating when we understand how very little of the profits musicians are given in major record deals.
And for a community of musicians stuck up in a snowy peninsula who have few venues and no presence in physical storefronts, the Internet has promoted an intense resurgence in musical creativity and inspiration and a way to found an identity that isn’t determined by the giants of corporate music.
Perhaps that’s what real folk music does: it doesn’t have to be recorded on reel-to-reel or with your great-grandfather’s banjo to be authentic. These are illusions. It has to come from a people who are fighting to be themselves in opposition to a power that’s trying to take hold of their culture. To make folk, to be folk, is to build a backyard bonfire of cultural autonomy.
That’s who we are as Yoopers: we’re the quiet, reflective winterfolk of the great wooded north. And that’s why we embrace these digital technologies to assist us in the production and sharing of our songs and timbres. But none of us, not a single one of us, must be zealous through overt, unquestioning techno-optimism.
Read the rest of “The Quiet, Wintry North”: Digital Folk of the Upper Peninsula and explore Sonic Rhetorics. It’s not just words! There’s audio and video to sink in to.
— Ian MacKaye