Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

1 - Musical Thing-Power: ‘Unmasking’ Hindustani Instruments in Chinese Reality Shows Today

Saturday, July 7
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Location: Magnolia, Lower Ground Floor

This paper examines the increasing appearance of Hindustani music instruments in popular music reality shows in Mainland China, a curious, recent phenomenon that has received no scholarly attention. By analyzing the musical arrangement, stage setup and audio production details of selected performances, I trace how the visually pronounced and yet sonically marginalized — if not silenced — Indian instruments act to mobilize the nation, on the one hand, and empower the performing musicians, on the other. The notion of “translocalization” is evoked as a guiding principle to reveal the ways in which Hindustani instruments after - being imported into new locations — become constitutive of a new web of meaning construction. More specifically, I argue that the TV programmers’ desire to stage an unfamiliar and often exoticized Indian instrument entails a more nuanced, “sense-oriented” approach to music exoticism. Here, the visually exotic — be it tabla or sitar — is aurally “masked” (as a result of a psychoacoustic phenomenon known as “auditory masking”), yielding a musical product that appears different while maintaining a largely standardized, commercial sound. Via the enactment of actor-network theory (ANT), this paper draws on scholarship that challenges the human-centered notions of “agency” to arrive at a theory of material agency (Bates 2012). In this case, the heterogeneous networks including music instruments, performers, program producers and listeners are explored to uncover the potentiality of Indian classical instruments to impact change on a Chinese stage.

Rujing Huang

Harvard University, United States

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1 - Musical Thing-Power: ‘Unmasking’ Hindustani Instruments in Chinese Reality Shows Today



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