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"Some people are understandably wary or resistant to such ideas, concerned that they could lead to a potential erosion of local and national traditions, reawaken colonial exploitation and appropriation, or simply lead to a general cultural homogenisation. These are rational concerns that should not be dismissed, but history equally shows that when cultures come together in respectful collaboration new cultures are born, as demonstrated with musical styles such as tango, flamenco, and jazz, and with cities such as Cordoba, Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans, London, and New York."

I keep thinking about this recently. It's difficult to argue that many of the amazing artforms we have today have come about through the collission of different musical styles that have evolved in different cultures. But is it possible that this is a kind of 'consuming' activity? Many cultures have emerged through long periods of (relative) separation from the rest of the world. The cultural prosperity that can happen when they meet happens once, but both cultures are permanently changed. As globalisation and the internet have accelerated this process, are we just arriving into a singular culture and there will be no more opportunities for this?

Forgive the analogy, but it makes me think of privatisation of state assets. It brings a boost of cash to the government so may seem like good economic policy, but it's ultimately cashing in on the investments of past generations, and it's difficult to go back from.

Right now, the debate on cultural appropriation seems much stronger than it did a few years ago. I imagine many (good and bad) reasons for this, but one of them is perhaps a sense of having mingled all the cultures together to a point where there's less space for new niches to breathe.

By the way, I definitely don't mean this a critique of joining cultures. I think it's an amazing thing to do. I just wonder if at a macro-level it's a one-way process heading towards some kind of asymptote.

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This is a very important point, and well made.

I think there are different ways cultures can interact: some are symbiotic, others exploitative. When interactions are symbiotic I think ideas multiply. An example - which I plan to write about - is the ethnomusicologist Colin MacPhee's work in Bali. Without his work I don't think Steve Reich could have written Music for 18 Musicians, which as a composition strikes me as an expansion and branching out of the western classical tradition, rather than an irrevocable rupture or change. Interestingly, the same research by MacPhee has also been used by musicians in Bali to help preserve their culture, as it provided a helpful snapshot of the music on the island at that point. In this situation the same work helped innovation in one culture, and conservation in another.

Another interesting example of innovation is the absorption of western instruments into Carnatic music by virtuosos musicians (something curiously that has not happened to nearly the same extent in the west). Carnatic musicians have innovated entirely new ways of holding the violin, new techniques for playing, as well as new repertoire. The same is true for South Indian saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath, who created a unique way of playing the sax. With these examples I don't really perceive a mixing as much as a branching out, which could conceivably continue to expand or multiply. A bit like chemistry, by bonding elements you don't just get a bland mix, but can find entirely new chemicals with unique properties. The violin played in a western classical style still exists, but now there is also a new one, and that could possible lead to another.

Where I think homogenisation happens is in corporate, mass culture, with the world using increasingly few platforms e.g., TikTok, Youtube, Spotify etc... With music software that has implicit biases towards certain cultural approaches to music making, and also now with AI opening the door to homogenisation and appropriation, as millions of people use the same programs trained on the same data sets, with just different prompts.

The antidote to this I think is strong local live music scenes, combined with the internationalist approach I have outlined in the article. With ideas, unlike objects, when you share them you don't lose them. That's the multiplying aspect. However, of course this has to happen within healthy, symbiotic relationships, between both nations and individuals. Not easy, but the ISS is a good example of people meeting that challenge.

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