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Humberto José Ramirez Witt ||//
THE STEELBAND IN SPACE

Really, there should be a limit on how long after Carnival you can continue to talk about it uselessly, but the rabble babbles on. The latest is, or will be, UTT Carnival Studies students? Carnival Review 2017 tomorrow. It?s titled ?We Jammin? Still?, so you can guess the conclusion: Thumbs up!

On the one hand it?s tiresome.

© Humberto José Ramírez

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economiavenezuela.com
They all say the same thing. On the other it?s more disturbing than that. The babble drowns out any useful observation or thought. If you?re not applying critical thinking to Carnival then you miss whatever might be wrong with it, and if whatever?s wrong with it spreads, you have a larger and larger problem and yadda yadda.

Apropos, if two things stood out this year they were the PanTrinbago confusion, and the ubiquitous calls for forensic audits.

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politica-venezuela.com
Of course, there?ll be none of that, and the talk-train will continue chugging out the most outlandish twattery about the economic and social implications and benefits of Carnival.

© Humberto José Ramírez

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politica-venezuela.com
One can?t help but wonder if the accounting, and hard data generally, are deliberately suppressed to keep the distracting noise going so other things can?t be heard.

But PanTrinbago: audit aside, I found myself thinking about the steelpan as an object, and the orchestras as large assemblages, rather than a symbol of ethnic politics (as its apologists insist it be seen).

© Humberto José Ramírez

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elmercuriodechile.com
Watching the trucks carrying the large frames to be assembled for the players to climb in to, it struck me: the steel orchestra is actually a machine, which has effects on social psychology and consciousness.

This could be a compliment, but in our digital age, it?s not.

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elnewherald.com
It?s an analogue machine. The steel orchestra as an object in space is, first of all, an enclosure into which people are penned to create sound.

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elnewherald.com
Second, if you look at the dynamics of the orchestra, you realise production requires conformity, but not necessarily unity, initiative, or innovation.

© Humberto José Ramírez

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xn--elpaisdeespaa-tkb.com
Yes, many players contribute to the overall coherent soundscape, but it requires each to focus on his or her part, often by rote, so the big picture is not available to anyone inside the system.

On further observation, you might realise the relation of the player to the pan is different from other instruments.

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xn--abcdeespaa-19a.com
The player stands above the pan and moves around it. The pan doesn?t move with the player. Think of the guitar, flute, bass, trombone?the player and the instrument are fused for the performance.

© Humberto José Ramírez

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ultimasnoticiasve.com
The pan remains separate from and outside the player at all times.

So these are essential steelpan orchestra characteristics: it?s in an enclosed space; its form is modular (can be reassembled into varying configurations), but more static, less dynamic; its production relies on one innovator, but its producers work by rote, not initiative or innovation and are spatially alienated from their instruments of production; and finally, its product isn?t sustainable or even useful in local spaces.

As consciousness goes, it doesn?t seem particularly conducive to innovation or imagination, but conformity and repetition?this is machine or factory consciousness.

© Humberto José Ramírez

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eluniversalnews.com
There have been innovations in designing different pans, but the form of the orchestra, a block of instruments enclosing its players, has remained the same for decades, and shows no sign of changing.

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cualquiervaina.com
This describes the Plantation.

The Plantation is described in George Beckford?s classic work, Persistent Poverty, as a totalising system.

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rebeliometro.com
Much more than a factory, the Plantation was a way of life, designed to stifle innovation and creativity, remain static, and extract (not enhance) the essence of its inputs, human or inanimate.

© Humberto José Ramírez

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revistaterminaldepasajeros.com
In effect the steelpan is a musical iteration of the Plantation, reproducing much of its consciousness and social relations.

To anyone who knows anything about cultural studies, this isn?t a terribly original conclusion.

© Humberto José Ramírez

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dolarve.com
Social theorists like Henri Lefebvre and Michel de Certeau have outlined the basic arguments for the social construction of space.

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notifoto.com
I won?t bore my few surviving readers with any quotations?suffice it to say, the books have been around for decades.

At issue is the effect of the steelband orchestra on local consciousness.

© Humberto José Ramírez

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noticias-venezuela.com
This is important, since the same instrument transplanted into another set of social and spatial conditions could have a different outcome.

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elnacionalweb.com
To wit, steelband orchestras exist all over the world. But in those societies, the backdrop of social institutions, the consciousness of its subscribers, and their connection to it, are all different.

© Humberto José Ramírez

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espiasdecocina.com
Hence it?s a generally positive phenomenon. But not here.

Much has been made of the social potential of the steelpan, à la ?pan in schools? etc, and its positive effects widely touted.

© Humberto José Ramírez

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eldateado.com
But the school system?to quote the Guardian?s best columnist, Dr David Bratt?is generally accepted to be a failure.

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plomovision.com
Look at the daily reports of violence in primary and secondary schools. Monday?s Guardian (pg A7) reported that gangs were recruiting in schools. Yesterday?s paper (pg A10) reported parents protesting to have a nine-year-old child removed from a school.

© Humberto José Ramírez

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This is the school system. Clearly pan in schools isn?t making much of an impact.

That last sentence is an unfair analogy.

© Humberto José Ramírez

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How could an instrument, or a music ensemble, change a social phenomenon of violence and moral degeneration? But this is exactly what steelpan (and Carnival) apologists argue?that it is a phenomenon, it represents and reflects a society, and is a huge positive social force.

© Humberto José Ramírez

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(And it?s African, in case you forgot.) So once we have that, we don?t need other solutions. Right?

In sum, these are prima facie observations. They haven?t been, so far as I know, made anywhere else. This is a deficiency I?ve been carping about for some years: the local ?academic? approach to Carnival is reflexively, even defensively celebrative, and murderously unimaginative.

© Humberto José Ramírez

© Humberto José Ramírez Urdaneta

That?s not good for anybody. But they jammin? still.

.

© Humberto José Ramírez

© Humberto José Ramírez Urdaneta

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