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Making traditions, practising folk: contemporary folk performance in the Northwest of England: a practice-led enquiry.

Wright, Lucy (2014) Making traditions, practising folk: contemporary folk performance in the Northwest of England: a practice-led enquiry. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This practice-led research is about contemporary folk performance in the Northwest of England. It draws on my academic background in ethnomusicology and personal practices as a folk performer and maker, expanded and developed in and through this project. In addition to this written thesis, it contains a body of artsbased outcomes including; garments and apparel, collaborative performances, photography that documents folk as a practice of making (Appendix 2, and interspersed throughout the text) and a DVD showcasing highlights of my final exhibition at the People’s History Museum in Manchester, in April 2014 (Appendix 3). My pluralistic approach aims towards complementarity, no single outcome taking precedence within the research, but rather emphasising or improving the qualities of the others. The research takes as its starting point Dave Harker’s call for a new way to handle folk materials (Harker, 1985) and the notion of an artistic turn for ethnomusicology research (Coessens, Crispin and Douglas, 2009). Cognisant that the parallel and historically symbiotic relationship between folk performance and ethnomusicology has led some scholars, such as Philip Bohlman, to suggest that the latter actually resists newness (Bohlman 2008), I draw on theories of cultural improvisation by Elizabeth Hallam and Tim Ingold (2007) to consider ways in which folk performance might be reoriented forwards - instead of backwards - as something generative and not simply repetitive. My key questions concern the intersection of folk performance, material practice and place-making, and the most apposite ways of exploring them as a researcher and maker. This has developed my practice from “thinking-through-making,” to making together, and aims towards a way of working that “does not turn away” from research participants during or after the fieldwork phase (Ingold, 2007: 28). Viewing performance as a site in between two main streams of practice-led scholarship, artistic research and arts-based enquiry, my approach builds on the extant practice-led elements of music research (e.g. Small’s “musicking”: 1998 and Baily’s “performance-as-a-research-technique”: 2001) to explore what ethnomusicology, distinct within the social sciences, might have to offer to debates around art as knowledge. The broadest goal of my project is to demonstrate the potential of artistic research as a rigorous, generative model for augmenting ethnomusicology and not merely a convenient means to illustrate theory. While I began this work with a practice as a folk performer, my project brings out for me the artistic practice inherent in folk via making, simultaneously revealing gaps in current approaches and suggesting one possible way in which to proceed. The main contributions to knowledge are my use of an artistic research approach in an ethnomusicological study, and resulting materials towards original ethnographies of selected folk performances, including girls’ carnival morris dancing (Appendix 1). The inclusion of carnival performance into the canon of British folk scholarship is potentially transformational, making an overdue case that current approaches to the identification of tradition are more strongly aesthetically led – influenced by how a performance looks – than has previously been acknowledged.

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