Open2Study: World Music: Module 1

Right before we spontaneously whisked up to Perth yesterday (to buy Mike a new pair of pants for work, for we are technically middle-aged and definitely particular in these matters), I was reading up on black and white photography techniques, actually preparing a little for yesterday's photo challenge topic ("black and white").

Alas, I didn't actually remember any of the advice once we got to Perth (low ISO, look for shapes and shadows, bright whites and dark darks), but I did take a ton of photos and will look forward to trying to convert one to B/W or find one to fit the topic (perhaps not so literally as actual b/w). 

This is all my way of confessing that a) this post will be photo-free (update: "-ish") and b) I remain something (?) of a cheatyface by retrofitting photos that I just happened to take on the appropriate day in order to fit the challenge. (Hey, I'm taking photos, blogging/sharing, and trying to be introspective - the spirit of the photo challenge code is upheld.)

I recently signed up for a course through Open2Study, which is the free "sampler" program(me) for Australia's cool "Open University." (Or that thing I like to call "How I may or may not finally change careers to become a librarian someday, but probably not because time is marching on, and I don't feel like another degree is the most efficient way to address the bucket list, but as usual that's another post for another day.")

When I signed up for "a course," I mean that I signed up for four courses. Five? I lost track because I also signed up for an art history "degree" at Sayler, but then I dropped that (see bucket list comment), and now I need to re-count. 

I really like signing up for classes. I was always excited by the booklets that came in the mail with all of the community leisure hands-on classes. (And we won't talk about my first few semesters of college where I decided that taking 12-15 credits was for mere mortals.)

When I did those later semesters of college (over a decade later), I kept a blog for each class. The blogs were private, and although some posts were eventually blended into this site, for the most part they exist only as a text backup somewhere on CD. (Because I was on Blogger back then, and when Google bought Blogger, my accounts didn't merge properly, and thus I was locked out, and the blogs were all deleted by Bloogle-Glogger.)

It's important to underscore that those blogs were private because they were terrible for reading - stream-of-consciousness reactions mixed with some actual notes and dosed heavily with grade anxiety. But they did help me focus, relax, and even keep my thoughts chronologically organized.

So apologies in advance for making my class reflections public this time. Why public? Why is anything on this site public? (Let's pretend it's to comfort Mike when I'm gone. No one can be mean if I play that card, right? Respect the future dead!)

Okay! I have my "Study Centre" open in another tab. (Never mind the Commonwealth spelling - Open2Study is available to everyone. You can even log in with Facebook if you're as lazy as I am.) Materials for the first week of most of the chosen classes became available a couple of days ago. (Darn distracting Perth with it's delicious Latin American fusion food that deserves a crack in my Yelp silence.) Which class should we start today?

  • World Music (Horizons shall be broadened!)
  • Astronomy: Discovering the Universe (I debated this one since I've already had a couple of semesters of astronomy-focused physics, with math and everything, but I'm hoping it will refresh my knowledge/confidence and inspire me to do more with the stars)
  • Indigenous Studies: Australia and New Zealand (Because, hey, I'm here now)
  • Chinese Language and Culture (Because I loathe most Chinese food, but this course spends a whole week on it, and I thought if I studied it I might find a way to appreciate it, which would open up our dining options. However, if Jennifer 8. Lee's excellent The Fortune Cookie Chronicles couldn't convince me to make peace with slick noodles, I don't know what can.)
  • The Art of Drawing and Painting (This class will be the first against the wall when I find something better to do. I draw only slightly better than I sing.)

The last two don't start until tomorrow so... let's... hrm... the first one? Shall we go to World Music?

I need to title these blog posts something dry and literal so I'll know where to find them (read: avoid them) later. "MOOC" is too weird a word for me just yet. Eh, I'll come up with something.

(I didn't introduce myself in the welcome thread as the course directed because 834 people are taking this class. That math was never going to work. I did read enough to be impressed with how global and diverse my classmates are, though. And earnest! But I suppose someone who blogs about every class she takes might be classified as "earnest," too.)

Okay! The first topic in this week's unit is What is World Music? I'm meant to watch a five-minute video then take a quiz. Ooo, reminds me of the annual workplace safety videos we had to watch for the school district... if you stretch five minutes into five hours. How many times does one need to be told not to duct tape a student to a chair? (Every year, knowing my old school.)

So, I shall watch the videos, record my thoughts, then take the quizzes.

Topic 1: What is World Music?

  • The professor says we'll look at Africa for percussion, India for melody, Latin America for harmony, and Indonesia for texture. Is it me or is the word "texture" particularly hot right now? Food, design, and apparently music.
  • We're now at the 2:10 mark. I think I will make some tea with my SUPER-BRILLIANT new tea pot. I want to talk about it and the SUPER-BRILLIANT-AMAZEBALLS shop where I bought it in Perth's CBD yesterday), but, you know, class.
  • Yes, I do wonder sometimes if I have ADD, but I'm pretty sure I'm just self-indulgent when given the opportunity.
  • The kettle is nearly ready. I just wandered out to the balcony and noticed a new "leaf" on the Egerton Blue Lavender. But it wasn't a leaf, it was a Rock Lobster!
  • I mean a mushroom. It was a mushroom. A mushroom! I took photos. Maybe later I will share, but there's the kettle.
  • Perhaps I'll wait to hit "publish" until I can include photos of the fairy mushroom and my now-steeping creamy chocolate thai.

Mushroom Beside Egerton Blue Lavender

Mushroom Beside Egerton Blue Lavender

Mushroom Beside Egerton Blue Lavender

  • I feel so cultured, here with my non-cursed pot of tea (a Richard Cory reference is never amiss) and learning about World Music.
  • (And so I resume the video.)
  • World Music is "everything that doesn't fit comfortably into a top-40 pop chart" and must have "ethnic or foreign elements." I assume this definition will be further refined.
  • I just realized that the professor is American, despite the course coming a university in Queensland. Maybe that is why he said "ethnic." Mike thinks the word "ethnic" is out of vogue in Australia.
  • I'm so terrible/typical to feel a little bit disappointed that the prof is American. I've already done American! There were no Americans at Hogwarts! He seems nice, though.
  • Pause to mop all the tea off the dining table. Why am I so bad at pouring liquids? All of the house plants practically need a Gallagher-tarp.
  • Okay, I love that the pot has a built-in infuser because for some reason I never liked tea balls. But the 3-6 minutes of steeping is over and I've not even started drinking my first cup. I guess I could just lift out the entire infuser. Seems messy. You know what, I don't think we can go wrong with extra-strong tea when the tea has chocolate in it.
  • Instructor is showing us a sitar and some congos. (Traditional instruments being part of the definition of World Music.)
  • He's encouraging us to introduce ourselves. Eh.

And that's it. And my tea's still too hot to drink. Smells great, though.

I don't feel terribly confident in taking the quiz. I swear I was paying attention... to the important stuff.

Let's look at the forum question first:

"When should music and politics intersect? Do you think Paul Simon had a responsibility, with Graceland, to consider apartheit (sic) before recording in South Africa?"

I'm not sure if this question is meant to be answered now or at the end of the module, but what the hell.

At the risk of sounding like a Sophie Kinsella, here's what I think:

  • Graceland was massively overplayed after it came out, and I remain too traumatized to discuss it. Especially the video. Over and over.
  • I once went into agony on a cruise ship's men-vs-women trivia contest because the ladies decided to go with "Bridge Over Troubled Water" as the name of the album with Paul Simon's single "You Can Call Me Al" on it. Mike had to watch helplessly from the other side of the segregation line as I died.
  • Anyone who has lived through Bono's evolution from "passionate guy who sang Sunday Bloody Sunday" to "guy who appears to take himself incredibly, incredibly seriously to the point where his depiction on South Park seems to be spot-on" will have problems considering music and politics. Bono is probably a wonderful man. He indisputably works hard to make the world a better place. I feel bad about recoiling at the sight of him.
  • I don't like the word "should" in the first sentence. Just because the intersection happens and that catalytic things come of it doesn't mean that I feel justified in prescribing such an intersection. It should intersect when musicians or listeners crave such a thing. Oh god, I remember why I don't want to get another degree.
  • Isn't it spelled "apartheid"? I just spent way too long looking for an alternate spelling because "apartheit" has a Germanic feel to it. South Africa, Afrikaans... it seemed possible. I'm not being a jerk about spelling; I was only curious.
  • Yes, of course I think Paul Simon should have considered apartheid before recording in South Africa, but what do we mean by "consider"? Consider it as a travel advisory? Consider weighing the benefits of exposing this music versus bringing income to those who perpetuated apartheid (as a by-product of bringing income to those adversely affected by it)? Consider whether his songs should address apartheid-related issues? 
  • I'm resistant to topics involving politics. See again the bucket list comment above.
  • This tea needs sugar. Also, cocoa powder. I am weak.

Let's take the quiz.

(P.S. It's not a "pop" quiz if it just sits right there, all obvious, patient to wait until the student is ready. "Pop" does not equal "short." For pity's sake, won't someone pay me to notice these things? I could be useful and contained!)

The quiz was one question. I got it right. Yay! (Smacking self across the face for relief/ego surge when getting an A on something, however spoonfed.)

Topic 2 of 10: The Impact of Western Culture on World Music 

  • PBS' production values have raised my expectations. As has Steve Martin. Thus, suffering.
  • The instructor is talking about a track, but he's not playing it. Maybe I will drop this class. Surely there has to be something royalty-free out there he could use.
  • The sugar has made the tea very nice, but it just tastes like tea. Smells like happiness, tastes like a dangling Lipton bag. Tea is all a lie, isn't it? Like wine.
  • (That was hyperbole.)
  • I think I need to write a whole post about my relationship to tea. I wonder if my back is well enough to dig up my tea-themed Woot t-shirt. (Tea-shirt!)
  • Oh, he's talking about Graceland now.
  • Oh, we're supposed to answer the question now, while thinking about music borrowed from other sources. The MOOC format isn't delivering the content just-so.
  • Okay, I've thought about "music borrowed from other sources." I've even kept the Paul Simon focus. El Condor Pasa is a beautiful rendition by Simon and Garfunkel of a traditional(ish) folk song. (My brain needs to shut up about "condor pasta.") It certainly raised my awareness of Peruvian music. (By one song, not including late-night infomercials for Zamfir.) But, hasn't Paul Simon been criticized for taking other people's arrangements of traditional music (say, Scarborough Faire) and not giving credit or enough credit? (And when will he give us his thoughts on Jackson C. Frank?) Should Paul be held up as a golden child for what he did for the Graceland artists without discussing how he was perhaps not always so vigilant about acknowledging the roots of his work?
  • (I'm not dissing Paul. Do people still say "dissing"? Can I call him "Paul"? S&G may be in my Top 10 Artists. Definitely Top 20. I'm just pondering here.)

I feel a less confident about this next quiz. Music break? (Are we going to hear any actual music in this class?)

I like how when you get to the quiz, there is an option to skip it. But I will be brave.

What is the impact of Western Culture on World Music?

  • "As long as you pay the musicians triple union scale it is fine to use their music." Obviously not right.
  • "Sometimes there is a negative impact due to commercial interests winning over ethical choices." This is true of every industry, n'est-ce pas?
  • "It is fine to use music without permission if it comes from a traditional culture and no one 'owns' it." It's probably bad that I might technically agree with this. Do I need permission to record Willie o Winsbury? Maybe the problem here is with the word "fine." I don't personally think it's "fine" to not mention the provenance of a song, when known, in the sense that it's just bad manners. But legally "fine"? Yes, I think it's legally fine, and while not an example of being ethical, I'm not sure it's inethical, either. Many musicians just put "(Trad.)" after a song - is that enough? This option isn't even talking about whether or not credit is given but rather whether permission is received. Who am I supposed to get permission from to use Willie o Winsbury? Mike has a Scottish cousin, can I ask her?
  • "All cultures benefit from the impact of Western Culture on World Music." Another duh-no blanket statement. 

I feel like the third option is what I'm supposed to choose, but the second option seems the least ambiguously true. And the third option doesn't really describe a specific impact, just an idea associated with the topic of Western Culture and World Music. I choose door number 2.

'Twas correct! Boy, I see why they advise 2-4 hours per module. Ahem.

Topic 3: Basic Fieldwork Concepts

  • Oh boy! Fieldwork! I miss my tea.
  • "The interviewing or observation of people to learn their languages, their folklore, and their social structures constitutes field work."
  • I am betting one gold coin that the above shows up on the quiz.
  • Plus a twenty-cent piece that it's not re-worded.
  • I do miss Vegas sometimes, I do.
  • You know which class I really didn't care for in college? Cultural Anthropology. I don't know if it was the subject or just the drawn-out codeifying of subject matter that seemed like common sense. It really dashed my archaeology fantasies. One thing I did like learning about was how people in other cultures refer to their family relationships in more precise ways than we do. I.e., a woman who marries your brother doesn't fall under the same blanket "sister-in-law" term as the sister of your husband or the wife of your husband's brother.

Mike is up. He accidentally broke the mushroom. Then he pointed out what looks like a whole colony of tubes coming up in the Hidcote Lavender pot. 

Quiz question passed. I hope Topic 4 involves listening to some music. This is unreasonable, I know, since only 15 minutes of lecture have actually transpired, but c'mon. Sample class needs samples.

(My new pot of tea that's steeping features three teaspoons of creamy choc chai because I have a theory that the tea company is underspecifying the amount so that you only blame yourself when you add extra then run out of tea sooner. My cup has sugar and milk waiting at the bottom.)

New Teapot, Brewing Creamy Chocolate Chai

(Fun fact: the board game behind the tea pot is an excellent two-player called "Morels." Its theme is gathering mushrooms.)

Topic 4: Gathering and Analysing a Performance

  • I've decided that I will be a more diligent and eventually better writer if I drink more tea. It will keep me glued to the chair. I mean, despite all evidence to the contrary on all counts at the moment.
  • The great thing about this cup - which came in a set of four from Station Casinos, and we ended up with many sets of four - is that it has matching ceramic spoons that slide into the cup handle. I'll post a photo if I ever write about this tea. Officially write. Maybe.
  • I wonder what today's photo challenge is. I wonder if I'll even bother processing and posting yesterday's. I already did it in my heart. Seems adequate.
  • This topic would be a great deal more useful if we were going to be writing essays about music performances. Although this is sound information, I'm debating whether it should be included in a four-module sample class on World Music. I can't decide. I think I expected each module to be actively tied to each of the four regions, not basics like "you can write about the age of the performers when describing a performance." I'd rather hear about the significance of age when it comes to traditional music in those regions. That makes sense, right?
  • The professor is asking us to think about a performance we've attended and what we recall of the place, the music, and the performers/show. I can do that easily - who else remembers when Stevie Nicks fell off the stage in Houston in '86? - but for once digression has no appeal. (And in this short of a class, anything not very directly linked to world music feels like digression.)
  • This tea is definitely more interesting with milk.

Topic 5: Basic Concepts of Rhythm

  • Surely we'll hear some music now! I know I'm too impatient. I let it stand all above as a confession, not as evidence to be flung in my face in the Court of Comments. I know.
  • Summary of video introduction: the music of a culture may reflect how that culture deals with nature. (Does the culture dominate nature? Is the music therefore more controlled?) But I think what's being seen is a desire for control speading into multiple areas, and not so much two outcomes of that desire reflecting each other. Eh.
  • A video clip is coming! A drumming group in West Sumatra!
  • I think the class I actually want is called "Music Appreciation." Not sure if there is any hope for me in any class when it comes to drumming circles, though. I've known too many naked hippies.
  • Discussion topic: When you listen to music, does it feel like you want to move? My answer: Sometimes.
  • (And thar be the danger of posing yes/no questions to an increasingly disinterested audience.)
  • (The disinterest is my fault. The pedagogy is theirs.)
  • I like how he suggests making a Spotify list and sharing it with classmates.
  • I added hot chocolate powder to this tea to boost the flavour, but it's just part of a packet of Coles-brand powder that is only still in the pantry because it tastes like wet brown air. So, I can't really judge whether I'm on my way to replicating the blended chocolate chai from the local cafe or veering into wrongness.

Should I keep going with this class? It seems bad form to react extensively to something that's (oh no, here it comes) not my cup of tea (sorry, sorry).

Topic 6: Advanced Concepts of Rhythm

  • As I play this topic's video, Mike is at the other side of the room, doing his email and web traps. Is he impressed with my pursuit of cultural enrichment? I will wait to ask. Let his admiration build.
  • "Agogic accent" - I have learned a new phrase and look forward to misusing it to apply to non-music things. 
  • Nice reference to "All Along The Watchtower." Familiar ground.
  • Syncopation. I don't think I've been using the word properly before now.
  • Discussion topic: Talk about what types of music we know are more associated with on-the-beat rhythms and which are more associated with syncopation. Ummm... I think I'd have to hear something in particular to notice. Or hear more examples. Oh dear. Looks like I'm in the "yes, yes, I understand, wait, you want me to talk about it, uhhhh.... well.... nevermind" zone of learning.

Topic 7: African Music Part 1

  • Southern African music is more practical. Eastern Africa has Polynesian influence. Central African music includes Pygmy music. Nothing to say about Western or Northern Africa yet.
  • Northern Africa: "Music that has a reason." (So, like Southern Africa?)
  • I'm looking forward to the Indian music.
  • Up to make Mike an omelette and toast. Here's one I made earlier this week:

Breakfast All This Week

  • My latest cup is just hot choc powder and tea steeped for at least 20 minutes. Not as good. Clouds the tea.
  • I wonder if this tea has caffeine in it.
  • I can now place my knuckles on the floor when I bend to touch my toes. I don't think I could ever do that before. My physio deserves a medal for his bruising massages.
  • Discussion topic: Describe African music we've heard before. Graceland came up again. Mike groaned from the sofa. ("I thought you liked Graceland?" "It's fine. I think that one song is massively overrated.") My omelettes > Graceland

Topic 8: Influences on African Music

  • Tanks are running down Mike in Battlefield 4. This is a strange game where you are either an American or a Russian in some alternative timeline of history, but at any moment the game server may decide to "rebalance" the game and shift you to the other side. Mike will no doubt correct me later for oversimplifying, but B4 seems to be as far away from roleplay as one can get.
  • In Africa, 2100-3000 languages are spoken.
  • I wonder how climate affects music. More thunder = more drums? (Less thunder = more drums because booms are rare and thus significant?)
  • Discussion topic: discuss the types of influences in the music we normally listen to. (Spotify is again suggested.) I have a lovely Kate Bush station on Pandora, but I couldn't guess at Kate's deep roots. Elves, maybe.
  • So.... influences on African music are politics and language and globilization... eh. This is like a survey course of a survey course. (Er, I suppose that's exactly what it is.)

Topic 9: African Music Part 2

  • Ooo, one of those gourd xylophones. When I saw Oingo Boingo at University of Houston, they had one of these. I wish the professor would label the instrument names on the slides instead of just saying them. And thus this remains the gourdophone.
  • Percussive instruments I like: maracas, those "rhythm sticks" we banged together in 4th grade. Also, the sticks with bells. Tambourines with and without scarves, with and without skins, full or crescent. (See Stevie Nicks mention above.) 
  • Lots of technical terms for African instruments being mentioned, but still no words on the slides. What am I looking at? I don't know. Takeaway: "In Africa, many types of drums exist."
  • Discussion topic: Help each other find drum circle classes in our area. What, is it a competition to see who has the best Google-fu?

What types of drums are used in West African music?

  • "Talking drums, baugarabou, djembe and water drums are used in West Africa" I remember that he mentioned talking drums at one point. This answer has two unfamiliar words. It's probably this one.
  • "Trap set, Tabla, Taiko and ngoma drums" This one also has two unfamiliar words, but no talking drums. Runner-up answer.
  • "Bongos and Congas as well as Timbale and Tambourines" I would have remembered the tambourines.
  • "Bass Drum, Timpani, Snare drum and Tom Toms" I have always liked the word "Timpani." I would've remembered hearing it here.

"Correct. Well done!" Sure. Yeah. 

Topic 10 (MY GOD, WE MADE IT): The Classification of Instruments

  • Ah, that thing I've seen all my life and never understood how to play is a "Kalimba."
  • General knowledge regarding classification of instruments: Idiophones (produces sounds by vibrating themselves), Membranophones (vibrating membrane), Chordophones (vibrating strings), Aerophones (vibrating column of air), and Electrophones 
  • In Africa, instruments often are considered to have a spirit in them.
  • Discuss: what is your favourite instument and what category does it fall under? (I should point out that despite some criticism, I respect the course's technique of encouraging students to connect the material to their own lives.) I don't think I have a favourite instrument. I like to play piano (poorly). I like the idea of harps. All wind instruments sound pretty. Erm. Slug-shrug.

No quiz for Topic 10. Instead, there's the end-of-module assessment. Eeek! Erp! In we click...

Ten questions. Confidence: 40%. Actual Score: 90% (with two attempts left). I'll give up the remaining attempts to see what I got wrong. 

The playing of polyrhythms is one of the most universal characteristics of Sub-Sarahan music. What are some of the uniquely designed instruments which have evolved there over time to facilitate the playing of simultaneous contrasting rhythms?

I went for the talking drum answer again. The correct answer mentioned the Kalimba. I have no idea (other than a guess based on word roots) what a polyrhythm even is. I don't think I'm the student for this class because I don't even remember him talking about polyrhythm. I'm filtering out way too much as filler.

But I am curious to see what he has to say about Indian music next week. I suppose that's an endorsement of sorts. And a wonderful excuse for more chai.

(Which does have caffeine.)

(Which is why this post is 4366 words long.)

16 January 2014 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)