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Performing identity within a multicultural framework
Michelle Duffy
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The Australian Centre, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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Performing identity within a multicultural framework
Michelle Duffy
The Australian Centre, 137 Barry Street, University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia
The role of music in community festivals is often to assist in constructing a particular
identity of place, and music functions in such instances as a means to provide a sense of
belonging for participants. However, multicultural festivals complicate any simple
relationship between place and identity, because such festivals demonstrate the
heterogeneous state of both identity and place. Anxieties that arise around issues of
cultural authenticity within such festivals point to concerns of hybrid identities that may
challenge and threaten the maintenance of clearly demarcated identities in the face of
transnational relations. Drawing on ethnographic material and theoretical conceptual-
izations of the self, this paper explores the dynamic and fluid constructions of identity at
two Australian community music festivals, and raises questions on the sorts of practices
that seek to regulate the ways in which these identities are constituted and performed.
Key words: music festival, Asia, Australia, multicultural, performativity, identity,
belonging.
Introduction
The neurologist, Oliver Sacks, relates in The
Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat (1985)
the case of a patient with a form of visual
agnosia, in which the recognition of faces,
narrative and drama was impaired, yet the
individual was able to continue with his daily
life through music. As the patient’s wife
explained,
[h]e does everything singing to himself. But if he is
interrupted and loses the thread, he comes to a
complete stop, he doesn’t know his own body. He
sings all the time—eating songs, dressing songs,
bathing songs, everything. He can’t do anything
unless he makes it a song. (1985: 15–16)
This is, of course, an extreme case illustrat-
ing how music may establish order in an
individual’s life. However, the performative
and embodied spatial practices of musical
engagement are significant as they open up
study of non-representational practices that
shape space and influence the ways in which
we inhabit and interact with that space.
Recent studies on the role of music in the
constitution of place and identity tend to fall
into two broad categories of research—studies
that focus on either the diffusion of musical
styles and genres (e.g. Carney 1997; Lomax
1976), or the ways in which musical elements,
such as song lyrics and language, evoke images
of particular places and create a sense of
connection to that place (e.g. Cohen 1993;
Social & Cultural Geography, Vol. 6, No. 5, October 2005
ISSN 1464-9365 print/ISSN 1470-1197 online/05/050677-16 q 2005 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/14649360500258153
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Kong 1996a, 1996b; Weintraub 1998). For
example, a number of studies on the relation-
ships between music and place have demon-
strated how such things as lifestyle and
associated music genres shape understandings
of place and communal identity formation
within that spatial context (Cohen 1993;
Connell and Gibson 2003; DeNora 2000;
Kong 1996a, 1996b; Lipsitz 1997; Valentine
1995). This paper, by exploring constructions
of identity at two music festivals, raises
questions on the dynamic and fluid processes
that occur within and between identity and
place, and the sorts of practices that seek to
regulate these processes.
The significance of music in geographical
inquiry is that it offers a productive means to
interrogate the complexity and heterogeneity
of identity, place and belonging. Yet, most
studies examining music as a social practice
have retained visually and textually based
frameworks and methodologies, but this
disregards the very different nature of the
aural world (Smith 1994). As musicologist
Nicholas Cook argues (Cook and Everist
1999), this emphasis discounts the signifi-
cance of the unfolding of the performance in
creating meaning, and implies that the
performance is (or should strive to be) a
transparent medium, that only projects or
expresses that which is already contained in
the music.
Further to this, this sort of analytical focus
ignores the agency in the production of
meaning inherent in first, the listener, and
second, in the place of the performance
(Small 1998). These assumptions on the
activities of music presuppose that the roles
of performer and listener are discrete and
that musical communication is one-way, with
musical meanings flowing from the composer,
through the transparent medium of the
performer, to the listener. What is lacking is
a focus on music as a dialogic process and
the agency of various subject positions—be
that listener, performer, composer—in con-
stituting meaning and identity as they arise
within the space of the performance. Further
to this, music brings to human geographical
research access to other means of under-
standing the ways in which social relations
act both within and on place. One important
way in which music operates is that it taps
into our emotional and intuitive selves, and
this opens up a means to examine how the
emotions influence social interactions, an
area which has received little study (DeNora
2000; Juslin and Sloboda 2001; Smith 2000).
Music is a resource for constructing individ-
ual and group identities, and the emotions it
elicits creates and maintains various perfor-
mative environments in which people inter-
act. The difficulty in investigating these
musical and emotional experiences is one of
articulation, as such experiences are ephem-
eral and difficult to express in words. The
emotions we experience in and through
music are done so precisely because they
cannot be expressed by any other medium.
This is one of the strengths of music as a
form of communication (Langer 1942).
Therefore, music is significant to the ways
in which individuals experience themselves
and others, and this acoustic experience
structures the social, spatial, cultural, econ-
omic and political relationships of everyday
life (Attali 1992; DeNora 2000). Music
opens up possibilities of understanding the
structuring of everyday life through its
multiple and ambiguous sets of meanings
that are translated into ‘our place’ and ‘our
identity’. However, musical engagement is
not a benign process. It is significant to
reinforcing hegemonic socio-cultural views,
and it has an important role in disrupting as
well as creating forms of social cohesion.
Michelle Duffy 678
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In places in which there is a cultural
plurality, such as contemporary ‘multicultural’
Australia, the relationships between commu-
nal identity and place is complicated by the
various sets of connections people have to
often multiple notions of ‘place’ and ‘home’.
Multicultural festivals are sites for on-going
dialogues and negotiations within commu-
nities as individuals and groups attempt to
define meaningful concepts of identity and
belonging, as well as notions of exclusion,
which adequately account for complex sets of
belonging to multiple spatial and communal
sites. An analysis of how festival participants
engage with the music performed in these
contexts can help us to understand better the
spatial ordering of communal identity if we
explore more fully how engaging emotionally
with music at an individual level constitutes
our subjectivity.
Drawing on material generated from
qualitative interviews and participant obser-
vation, this paper presents a close reading of
performances that draw on ideas about
‘Asian-ness’ presented in two urban Australia
festivals, the Brunswick Music Festival
(Melbourne) and the Festival of Asian Music
and Dance (Sydney), in order to explore how
a change in focus with regards to examining
musical events—that is, from the visual and
textual to one of emotional responses—
demonstrates how music contributes and
shapes power relations within communities.
Rather than the multicultural festival being a
simple celebration of social cohesion, this
paper will examine music’s potential to
destabilize notions of identity and belonging
as they arise within the festival space. As will
be elaborated, the emotional responses to
these multiply spatialized musical perform-
ances often lead to certain anxieties about
what constitutes ‘the community’ in those
instances where the boundaries between
(a white) self and (non-white) other are
transgressed.
Multicultural Australia
Australia and its Asian neighbours have had a
complex history of relations arising out of
racialized constructs of difference and differ-
ing regional development patterns. Asia has
long figured in white Australian history and
national imaginary, often as a threatening,
alien Other, even as artists and performers
have frequently drawn on the aesthetics and
practices of various Asian cultures as a means
to create a distinctive ‘Australian’ culture and
identity (Broinowski 1992; Carmody et al.
1991; Cumming 1996; Hardjono 1993;
Napier 1996; J. Napier, performer and
President of the Australian Institute of Eastern
Music, personal interview, 24 April 1999).
In contemporary Australia, the response to
the economic pressures of globalization has
led the Australian nation to attempt to re-
position itself as part of the Asian region. Since
the demise of the white Australia immigration
policy in 1972, Australia has received Asian-
born refugees, and actively encouraged Asian
business migration as well as promoted
Australia’s education sector to Asian students.
More recently, the Australian Federal Govern-
ment’s strengthening of economic, trade and
defence ties with the USA, as well as responses
to the possible threat of terrorismarising in the
Asian region, has complicated an already
intricate and problematic series of relation-
ships. These aspects of Australian–Asian
history have, in turn, led to a complicated
and complex series of associations in the
present day (Goldsworthy 2001; Grant 2003;
Hage 1998; Inglis 1992; Shuja 2000). Such
complex relationships can be problematic
when it is perceived by different community
Performing identity 679
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members that the presence of diverse ethnic
and cultural groups may hinder some sense of
belonging at the broader community level.
Festivals are promoted as one means of
shaping identity and cultural difference into
some form of community and so promote
social cohesion and a sense of belonging
(Manning 1998; also Auerbach 1991; Duffy
2001, 2000; Lavenda 1992; Purdue, Durrsch-
midt, Jowers and O’Doherty 1997; St John
1997).
If we focus on the more visual aspects of
such a multicultural festival, the emphasis of
the festival as a site of social cohesion leads to
a relatively straightforward and untroubled
interpretation of communal identity. The
Brunswick Music Festival, held in northern,
inner, suburban Melbourne of Moreland, is an
area characterized by both its Council and
residents as multicultural (demographic data
bears this cultural diversity out) (Duffy 2001;
Moreland City Council 1997 ).
1
The Bruns-
wick Music Festival, which has become the
flagship event for Moreland, is consciously
structured and promoted around the Council’s
notions of multiculturalism. The Brunswick
Music Festival promotes a particular and
bounded community—‘Moreland’—which is
publicized by festival organizers, local council,
participants and the media in terms of the
‘local community’. Even so, the ways in which
the festival is promoted and discussed, this
idea of the ‘local’, one that is situated in a
place, is unsettled by the festival’s other
defining feature, that it is a multicultural
festival, which suggests being ‘not-local’ and
having connections elsewhere to other ‘local’
places. However, these connections to ‘else-
where’ do not challenge the understanding of
Moreland as a cohesive community.
Short Circuit, a group who performed at the
opening event of this festival, a street party
located along the main thoroughfare through
Moreland, illustrates the ways in which
performative strategies are used to create a
sense of identity and belonging that arise from
this paradox of local and not-local. This all-
female group performs Middle Eastern and
West African music and dance, and, although
incorporating ‘Eastern’ performance tra-
ditions, the performers’ identities remain
white. All are Australian-born, most live
within the Moreland area, and they define
themselves as Anglo-Celtic (A. Harkin, per-
sonal interview, 25 June 1998). Anne Harkin,
the group’s founder, describes their perform-
ance as ‘contemporary Australian, in that it
combines different cultures in a new way’
(personal interview, 25 June 1998). The way in
which such a ‘multicultural’ identity is created
and enacted within the festival framework is
suggestive of Goffman’s strategic perform-
ances in everyday life (1959), in which the self
is expressed through a repertoire of perform-
ances appropriate to its social and geographi-
cal setting, in this case notions of
‘multicultural’ Moreland. However, as I will
go on to discuss later, there are certain
contexts in which such performative strategies
may challenge and destabilize accepted ideas
about group identity and belonging, and the
role of performativity as presented by Judith
Butler is a more constructive conceptual tool
for understanding this.
In Gender Trouble, Butler argues that ‘there
is no gender identity behind expressions of
gender; that identity is performatively con-
stituted by the very “expressions” that are said
to be its results’ (1990: 25). Identification is an
enacted fantasy in which the subject attempts
to create a coherent, whole self where its
internal core is expressed through the external
body. The assertion of this coherent self is
produced through words, acts and gestures,
so the body does not confer identity on
to the subject, rather identity is attributed to
Michelle Duffy 680
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the subject through signifying practices that
create identity. The body is a ‘variable
boundary, a surface whose permeability is
politically regulated’ (Butler 1990: 139).
Drawing on Butler’s work, we might then
think of the sonic, moving self within the
festival framework as an expression of identity
created out of musical sounds and gestures. In
keeping with Butler, these are not the sounds
of one essential identity, rather it is a response
to other selves. Short Circuit’s cultural appro-
priations are then transformations of tra-
ditional music and dance that, framed by the
multicultural format of the Sydney Road street
party, locate these performances and the group
members in a specific space, that of the
contemporary urban setting of (multicultural)
Moreland. Yet these strategies ultimately
reinforce a particular assumed communal
identity juxtaposed to a normative state of
whiteness.
In the performances of groups such as Short
Circuit which are framed within a notion of
multiculturalism, communal identity arises
out of a constantly changing assemblage of
expressive and musical forms that are none-
theless understood as a coherent whole that
represents that community’s culturally plural
identity. It is the framing of the festival as
‘multicultural’ that enables an unproblematic
representation of communal identity. More-
land’s multicultural communal identity is
understood as a playful hybridity of cultures,
yet this is often the source of criticism of
multicultural policy, that it is simply a
superficial dealing with the complexities of
difference. As anthropologist Ghassan Hage
(1998) argues, multiculturalism and its pro-
motion of tolerance are strategies aimed at
reproducing and disguising relationships of
white power. Multiculturalism actually oper-
ates within a fantasy space in which the ‘White
fantasy of the multicultural collection are
imagined as dead cultures that cannot have a
life of their own except through the “peaceful
coexistence” that regulates the collection’
(Hage 1998: 163). Therefore, the dominant
white identity is less threatened by the
presence of any Other in festivals framed as
‘multicultural’. However, in festivals in which
the overarching framework in which identity
is enacted moves away from these notions of
playfulness, a very different response is made,
particularly with regards to white and non-
white identities. In the following section, the
potential challenges to contained identities are
demonstrated in an examination of the
performance of Asian-Australia within the
context of an ethnographic discourse of
identity, and the emotional responses this
sort of framing elicits.
Performing ‘Asia’ in multicultural
Australia
Musicologist Peter Martin (1995) argues that
meaning in music, as with language, is socially
constructed. What a musical performance
signifies is dependent on the social and cultural
contexts attributed to these sounds. Within the
framework of the festival, music marks the
individual as belonging or not belonging to
categories of spatially defined identities—such
as nation, ethnic group, ‘here’ or ‘there’.
Music is a means for participants—whether
they be audience members, performers or
festival organizers—to engage with ideas
about place and who they are or could be in
that place. Martin also suggests that music has
certain, fluid meanings that operate within its
own originating culture, and outside of this
cultural context musical sounds are ‘senseless’
sounds. Although musical meaning is tied into
particular and cultural systems of knowledge,
as Martin observes, meaning and significance
Performing identity 681
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can be imposed on music, or at least ways of
interpreting such music may be suggested,
outside of this music’s originating culture.
When we attend a music festival, certain ways
of understanding the performances are
suggested through the festival framework
and associated paraphernalia (promotional
posters, programme notes, the avenues
through which the festival is advertised and
so on) and the site or venue of the festival
performances (Connell and Gibson 2003;
Duffy 2000; Smith and Brett 1998; St John
1997). The use (or appropriation) of another’s
culture, although problematic, illustrates the
ways in which these translations and appro-
priations do produce new and other meanings
in a different social and cultural setting. In the
case of the performances of the two festivals
discussed in this paper, music is a series of
performative acts that explore notions of an
Other-mediated Australian identity, but it is
the presence of this Other in Australia,
associated with ‘Asia’, that has historically
caused anxieties. Martin’s conceptualization
of discrete musical cultures hints at the
anxieties around the unruly hybrid that is
music, but does not answer why engagement
with music should produce such anxieties and
even hostility that seem to erupt around
various styles, genres and performances of
music (Attali 1992; Gilbert and Pearson
1999).
As Hage suggests, such festivals may not
appear to be about inclusivity but rather
containment and the subsequent enrichment
of Anglo-Australia through a managed appro-
priation of this diversity. However, the reality
of the music festival and the ways in which
people engage with these cross-cultural per-
formances is more complex than simply one of
containment of the ‘Other’. Music operates as
a sign on multiple levels, and one significant
use of music by performers from Asia and the
Middle East is that of an indicator of the
negotiation of one’s identity within contem-
porary Australia. The Festival of Asian Music
and Dance introduces the messiness of the
hybrid that cannot be fully regulated and the
implications this has for the constitution of
identity. This messiness enters into the festival
space through the ways in which the perform-
ances are presented. In ‘multicultural’ festi-
vals, the challenges posed by the presence of
the Other are minimized. Yet, in those festivals
which present music performance couched in
terms of ethnographic discourse, music
becomes much more problematic.
The Festival of Asian Music and Dance is a
relatively recent festival and is organized by
the Australian Institute of Eastern Music
(AIEM) based in Sydney. The Festival is one
outcome of AIEM’s objective, ‘to further the
music of Asia in Australia through regular
performances, teaching and social events’
(AIEM website 2000). AIEM proposes that
the festival is a means to expose and promote
Asian musical culture in Australia, and it does
this in three ways. First, the Festival enables
performers from various Asian cultural groups
to perform traditional Asian repertoires. This,
in turn, makes such music known to the wider
Australian community. Finally, the Festival
provides opportunities for collaborative work
between musicians of different ethnic and
cultural groups, and the subsequent develop-
ment of cross-cultural musical works arising
out of such collaboration. The Festival’s aimto
perform a notion of multicultural Australia
paradoxically asserts both authentic musical
practices and a hybridization of ‘east’ and
‘west’ cultures. The ways in which cultural
pluralism is contextualized within this festival
space has the potential to unsettle and
challenge notions of an Australian communal
identity and belonging, and this unsettling
arises out of emotional responses to musical
Michelle Duffy 682
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performance and understandings of what such
performances ‘mean’ or represent.
David Walker, the Festival’s producer in
1999, explained that musicians of Sydney’s
local Asian communities are happy to
perform traditional repertoires for Western
audiences—the ‘authentic’ music of Anglo-
Australian expectations—as their own com-
munities wanted to hear popular Asian music
genres (personal interview, 24 April 1999; also
Y. Takahashi, personal interview, 16 Septem-
ber 1999). His statement implies that these
musicians understand the festival—and this is
borne out in the objectives behind AIEM—to
be intended for an Anglo-Australian audience,
and the educative pitch of the programme
notes confirms this. Performers are able to
continue to practise and perform traditional
music, yet participating in this festival is also a
means to self-consciously explore identity, and
for musicians and performers from Asia, their
Asian-ness within an Australian context.
Susan Xu, who specializes in the traditional
and folk dances of China, explained this
Australian-Asian relationship in this way:
Xu: I just want to introduce something, some
Chinese traditional dance to Australian people or
even to some Asian people born here, dances they
might never see. They might see themon TV but not
live.
Duffy: So what did it mean to perform at the
festival—what does it mean to you to be able to
perform at this Festival of Asian Music and Dance?
Xu: Really we were chosen, we did not choose.
It’s like David
2
—I’m not sure who introduced us to
each other. But we loved to do that. We feel we
found ourselves again. (personal interview, 17
September 1999)
As Xu suggests in her comments, her
performance of traditional Chinese dance in
Australia is a way for her to make this genre
known beyond its more typical audience.
In this way, her performance is framed by a
discourse of authenticity, a particular presen-
tation of Asian-ness. At the same time, there is
a deeper significance in her desire to dance.
Her response to what it meant to be a part of
the festival illustrates how performing this
particular dance repertoire was a means for
her to reclaim and express her sense of identity
within a different ethnic and cultural context.
These performances, then, point to the ways in
which subjectivity and identity are spatializing
processes. The cross-cultural and hybrid forms
created within the festival offer opportunities
for both finding the self (often through
recourse to authentic practices) and remaking
or rearticulating the self in these different
contexts (through hybrid forms of music
practices). This negotiation between self and
place and difference is also illustrated by
another festival performance, that of Satsuki
Odamura (koto player) and Yumi Umiumare
(butoh dancer). Odamura and Umiumare
define their collaboration, and what it tries
to depict, as one that explores the sense of
being between cultures, and they suggest that
the musical performance is a space in which
the dislocation can be productively enacted
(S. Odamura, personal interview, 23 April
1999; Y. Umiumare, personal interview, 23
April 1999). This also suggests that, for those
who engage with such musical performances,
musical practices possess characteristics that
are fundamental to expressing this rupture and
a re-integration.
In order to be able to interrogate music
performance for these expressive knowledges
about the constitution of self and place,
cultural geographer Susan Smith urges a
reconceptualization of music, such that we
can gain some understanding of these other
ways of being in the world ‘by experiencing
music as performance—a performance of
Performing identity 683
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power that is creative; that brings spaces,
peoples, places “into form”’ (Smith 2000: 7).
This bringing of spaces and people ‘into form’
may be achieved through the narrative
possibilities of music. Performances such as
that of Xu, Odamura and Umiumare activate
and set in circulation certain knowledges
around the displaced performing self and its
insertion into a different cultural terrain, that
of contemporary Australia. Furthermore,
these performative quotations are also, to
varying degrees, evocative of the aural images
of difference, of the exotic, specifically the
exotic East. The sonic landscape of this festival
is such that the performers are asked to
become representative of an ethnic/cultural
group even as they enact their difference and
displacement. What is significant is that the
identities of the performers emerge in a cross-
cultural context in which the performers are
constructed as non-white Australian identities,
performing for a white Australian audience.
Music then activates narratographic strat-
egies. As observed in the work of the
performances discussed this far, a sense of
place and a series of musical practices are
drawn on to articulate the relationship to
place/s and identity/ies. Yet, certain hybrid
forms performed within the context of this
festival aroused particular concerns, and in
these responses can be observed underlying
anxieties and concerns around the boundaries
of communal identity. The following develops
the contradictions and complexities of this
transnationally constituted festival and the
identities created within it through an
interrogation of the cross-cultural perform-
ance presented by dancer Kate Holmes,
a contemporary ballet dancer of Anglo-
Australian identity, and singer Sukhbir Singh,
English-born, but who studied music in Delhi
before eventually migrating to Australia.
The responses to this performance point to
deeper anxieties around maintaining clearly
delineated identities protected from the poten-
tial assault of the Other.
Transgressions
The performance by Holmes and Singh was a
component of the opening concert, Sun and
Moon, of the 1999 Festival of Asian Music
and Dance. Within this performance, a series
of relationships is played out. There is the
obvious overlapping of various traditions as
embodied in the two performers—one male,
vocalist, of Indian ethnicity and performing in
the Punjabi
3
tradition, the other female,
dancer of Anglo-Australian identity and
performing in the North Indian classical
style—and their contextualization within the
framework of this festival. Holmes and Singh
had been very carefully promoted, both in the
programme notes and in the introduction
given on the evening, as presenting a
performance that has elements of the kathak
tradition, rather than as an exhibition of such
a traditional practice. The festival format
nonetheless meant that all performers were
presented within an ethnographic discourse,
one which very carefully frames and con-
textualizes the performance programme
prepared by Holmes and Singh.
Audience members were led into an under-
standing of this particular performance
through the information presented at the
event. For example, we were informed that
the kathak tradition has throughout its history
been open to other cultural influences, main-
taining a flexibility so that the fundamental
structures of the dance form are not lost or
diffused. The programme notes also explain
that this north Indian dance was itself ‘the
fusion of indigenous Indian music, Persian and
Central Asian influences’
4
and the performance
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that evening was to take ‘this fusion one step
further with contemporary [western] dance
drawing on the kathak form with Indian vocal
for inspiration’.
5
Informing the concert audi-
ence of this tradition in the programme notes
serves to place this performance, one that
might otherwise be misunderstood as some-
what un-kathak-like, within kathak’s lineage
of tradition. Thus, this performance is
presented as complying with an authentic
practice. Yet the audience seemed reluctant to
accept this presentation, as they had at
previous performances of these two perfor-
mers, and in particular performances pre-
sented by Holmes (D. Walker, personal
interview, 24 April 1999).
A review of the performance by the Sydney
Morning Herald’s dance critic, Jill Sykes,
illustrates this point. Sykes wrote:
Two cultural crossovers
6
illustrated the difficulties
of such ventures. Kate Holmes has taken on India’s
kathak dance with technically accomplished
enthusiasm, but its robust earthiness is lost to the
buoyant ballet skills in which she was originally
trained, making the attempted fusion look fussy and
leaching the vigour of both styles—despite her
precision and commitment. (1999: 11)
Sykes’ criticism was that the dance’s power
and passion, be that Indian or western, had
been diminished. In her view, this attempt to
combine elements of two different cultural
traditions had not been successful. What is
striking is that Sukhbir Singh was rendered
silent in Sykes review. He performed a song
with lyrics written by his father, that he then
set to music. The song, like the dance by
Holmes, was in a particular Indian tradition,
but this was not questioned let alone acknow-
ledged. Nor was his rendering of a jazz song in
English. In fact in this review, Singh is not even
mentioned as being present. Sykes may not be
expected to talk about Singh’s music as she is
primarily a dance critic but this did not
prevent her from commenting in this same
review on other musicians performing at the
festival. It is as if Singh’s bodily authenticity—
he is Indian—confers an untroubled and
unquestioned cultural authenticity upon his
musical performances. Even though he per-
forms a song fromthe jazz repertoire, this does
not unsettle the Asian-ness of the festival
because his identity is understood as essen-
tially Asian. His performance suggests a
channelling of some ‘pure’ cultural and/or
ethnic set of traits, and so he becomes the
Indian background to which the dance is
performed. Singh becomes invisible/silent
because he is ‘India’.
Perhaps in an aesthetic formalistic sense,
Holmes and Singh did not live up to
expectations. Perhaps the performance was
not as polished as it might have been, lacking
the feeling that, in performing the music and
dance, the performers transcend who they are
and ‘become’ the performance. However, it is
in the uneven-ness and roughness of the
performance that underlying tensions and
expressive performative narratives may be
discerned.
Listening to discussions between audience
members, reading reviews of the performance,
as well as talking to the festival’s producer, the
hesitancy surrounding the performance of
Holmes and Singh appears to be focused
around issues of authenticity, and more
specifically around the body of Kate Holmes.
The example of Holmes and Singh and the
censures that operate, in this case at least,
centre around the constitution of the perform-
ing body as a site for conferring an authentic
identity.
Walker noted that both Indian and western
audiences had criticized Holmes’s dance
performances in past festivals because they
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were not seen as authentic. Holmes was seen
as primarily a western dancer who had learnt
kathak (personal interview, 24 April 1999).
Poor acceptance of non-Indian performers
who work within Indian traditions is not
isolated to the reception of Holmes’ perform-
ance at this festival. Leela Venkataraman, a
freelance journalist and dance critic based in
India, states that for many Indians ‘the
synthesised identity of dance comprising
philosophy, music, literature, sculpture and
mythology was considered too culture-specific
to be fully absorbed by any but those born and
reared in [India’s] exclusive soil’ (1994: 82).
In the context of the Festival of Asian Music
and Dance, the expectations of the audience—
expectations that are encouraged by the
festival organizers through the provision of
detailed, ethnographic programme notes—are
that what is performed will adhere to an
‘authentic’ musical and cultural practice. The
measure of this authenticity focuses on the
ethnically identified body, as the body and its
movements to music become signifiers of such
an ethnic identity. Holmes is a white dancer
and her ‘inauthenticity’ in relation to expec-
tations of the correct body to perform kathak
dance becomes a signifier of a wider cultural
inauthenticity. Her bodily relationship to the
kathak tradition irretrievably disturbs the
ways in which her performance is received.
Moreover, it is precisely the white body that
disturbs ideas of authenticity and identity,
rather than the non-white body. Other
performers had also crossed ethnic or cultural
boundaries in their performances, such as Yuri
Takahashi, a Japanese national, who per-
formed a repertoire of Burmese song and
dance, yet this crossing of essentialized
nationally defined musical borders did not
receive the criticism that the performances
presented by Singh and particularly Holmes
received.
Behind the critiques and formalist under-
standings of these Asian performances, par-
ticularly that of Holmes and Singh, can be
discerned the particular, managed identities
that are ‘acceptable’ within multicultural
Australia. What these ‘acceptable’ identities
are in such performances may be more clearly
discerned drawing on Kristeva’s concept of the
semiotic. Using this understanding of sub-
jectivity, music performance can be conceptu-
alized as an intertextual device through which
the self can enunciate identity and desire. The
self can inhabit various subject positions, but,
as the criticism of Holmes demonstrates, these
subject positions are carefully regulated.
Kristeva argues that music operates within
the semiotic, which, along with the symbolic,
are part of the self’s signifying processes.
7
The
semiotic, in this framework, is heterogenous,
generates multiple positions, is ambiguous and
open. In Kristeva’s conceptualization of the
self, the power of artistic practice to challenge
accepted expressions of identity and vocalize
other forms lies in what she terms a
‘musicalisation’; music opens up possibilities
because its meaning is multiple and ambig-
uous. We hear these emotional, non-verbal,
presymbolic semiotic states of being when they
are communicated through transgressive art
practices. These utterances, as Kristeva argues,
are ‘polyvalent and multi-determined,
adher[ing] to a logic exceeding that of a
codified discourse and [that] fully comes into
being only in the margins of recognised
culture’ (1981: 65). It is within those spaces
of cultural practice that the unconscious,
libidinal desires may find some expression,
and it is within these spaces in which fluid and
complex meanings are generated.
This psychoanalytic reading of artistic
practice has parallels with Gilles Deleuze and
Fe´lix Guattari’s concept of the refrain, in
which they suggest that rhythm is present
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whenever there is a movement from one
milieu, or codified space, to another. These
transpositions between milieus are expressed
through a rhythmic response, a tying together
of ‘critical moments’ (1987: 313). The move-
ment between milieus is similar to the
relationship between the semiotic and the
symbolic in that both Kristeva’s semiotic and
Deleuze and Guattari’s rhythm correspond to
a vocalization that is not yet symbolic. That is,
these vocalizations are more emotional and
less the result of processes of symbolic
orderings. Kristeva, Deleuze and Guattari
each describe a transposition of a relation-
ship(s) that attempts to break into or trans-
gress codified space in such a way that this
space is reinscribed with utterances outside
that of the symbolic law of that codified space.
For Deleuze and Guattari, this re-marking of
space is a process of territorialization, where
‘territorialisation is an act of rhythm that has
become expressive’ (1987: 315). The expres-
sive qualities of rhythm mark out the subject,
creating spatialized identities for this subject,
‘not in the sense that these qualities belong to a
subject, but in the sense that they delineate a
territory that will belong to the subject that
carries or produces them’ (1987: 316).
Territorialization and subsequent acts of
reterritorialization and deterritorialization
are the struggles between the ‘already-spoken
about’ and the ‘not-yet-spoken-about’, of
Kristeva’s speaking subject.
In the music festival, the performance of and
engagement with music enables participants to
be a part of an active articulation of the self
and its identity, one that expresses the multiple
and overlapping positions of the subject
because of the plurality of meaning that arises
as the performance occurs. The utterances of
self and desire, the ‘not-yet-spoken-about’ of
Kristeva’s semiotic, are given expression
through music performance, as it is within
this performance space that the self can situate
and inhabit various subject positions: the
Japanese national who feels an affinity with
classical Burmese music, the dancer trained in
both western ballet and Indian kathak, the
Indian musician who performs jazz, and in the
duet of Vietnamese and Turkish music. For
many participants this attraction and appro-
priation of sounds gives expression to who
they believe themselves to be. Festival perfor-
mer and Japanese national Yuri Takahashi
explained it this way: ‘when I listen to
Burmese music, I just thought ah! That’s the
sort of style I wanted to listen to and if possible
perform’ (personal interview, 16 September
1999). John Napier, president of the
Australian Institute of Eastern Music and
himself a musician, was more explicit, stating
that he feels that Asian music is a major part of
his core identity. ‘Should I abandon playing
Bach before I give up my efforts to play music
influenced by India? Can we un-hear or ignore
what we have heard? Are we to impose on
ourselves what The´re`se Radic has called a
censorship of the imagination?’ (1996).
Music’s potential to challenge accepted
norms lie precisely in the processes of
subjectivity that arise between the ‘dialogue’
between the semiotic and the symbolic, in the
spaces Kristeva terms the thetic, or ‘realm of
positions’ (1997: 40). Up until the mirror
stage, the self has been immersed within the
maternal world with no recognition of a
separateness between self and other. There is a
continuity of being, and sound maintains that
sense of oneness, as it readily enters the body
through hearing and other physical sensations.
In the development of the individual, the
mirror stage jolts the self into acknowledging
the self as discontinuous, of being separate.
The processes of subjectivity seek to (re)create
the sense of a whole, coherent self and
identity in the face of this dislocation from
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the mother—a paradox in that the semiotic is a
polyvalent mode that is about multiplicity.
Music has the potential to threaten this sense
of a coherent self as it suggests the possibility
of a return to the maternal space where all is
possible, to the heterogenous state of the
semiotic. Engaging with music reminds us of
the possibilities of oneness, of being ‘in the
groove together’ (Keil and Feld 1994: 167) if
even for a limited time. And while engaged in
this musical oneness, there is the very real
possibility of change, of becoming something
else, of becoming ‘other’. It is this danger
posed by the semiotic that threatens commu-
nal identity and social cohesion as these are at
risk of being subverted or ruptured as other
possibilities of being are entertained. This
danger of rupture and dissolution must there-
fore be kept under surveillance. Moreover, this
surveillance of the performance space operates
through the visual mode of desire.
Slavoj Z
ˇ
izˇ ek (1997), in his reading of
popular culture through the psychoanalytic
work of Jacques Lacan, suggests that our
comprehension of reality is filtered through
desire. Z
ˇ
izˇek argues that the object of our
desire is, paradoxically, only clear and
distinctive if we perceive it awry, ‘with an
“interested” view, supported, permeated and
“distorted” by desire’. He continues:
[t]his describes perfectly the objet petit a, the object-
cause of desire: an object that is, in a way, posited by
desire itself . . . the object a is always, by definition,
perceived in a distorted way, because outside this
distortion, ‘in itself’, it does not exist, since it is
nothing but the embodiment, the materialization of
this very distortion, of this surplus of confusion and
perturbation introduced by desire into so-called
‘objective reality’. (1997: 12, italics in original)
Desire distorts our perceptions, even as it
seems to clarify what it is we visualize. But,
rather than following Z
ˇ
izˇek’s suggestion to
look awry at this cross-cultural performance
of Holmes and Singh, which as the responses
to this performance have demonstrated bring
into view the ‘inauthenticity’ of the body
performing, it may be more useful to focus on
‘hearing awry’. By this, I mean listening to the
ways in which spatialized identities are
distorted by desire. The performance of
Holmes and Singh was presented and under-
stood within narratives of authentic musical
practices, both Indian (kathak and the Punjabi
song tradition) and western (ballet and jazz),
and the relationship the performers have to
these traditions. The reviews of these perform-
ances suggest that there is an expectation that
some sort of vigorous new performance style,
resulting from a fusion between these different
cultural practices, will emerge. The perform-
ance is also expected to conform to certain
strictures delineated by the techniques and
styles of dance and music. However, as the
critiques and discussions around this perform-
ance suggest, there are contradictory desires
circulating within the festival about (inter)-
national identity and its (re)articulation of a
national imaginary through cultural practices.
The festival producer proposed to Holmes a
strategy to lessen the criticism directed
towards her, and in his concern for her
apparent disruption of borders, lies the
dilemma of the ‘white’ body in a multicultural
framework. Participants of the Festival of
Asian Music and Dance perceive Holmes’s
dance as disturbing the reiteration of an
authentic ‘other’ identity. This criticism of
her performance points to anxieties around
the national imaginary in the context of a
multicultural nation like Australia. The
danger of the hybrid, and in this example the
hybrid is the performance of Indian dance by
Anglo-Australian Holmes, is the loss of clearly
demarcated identities, that is, the failure of
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an authentic identity (Ahmed 1999). Holmes’s
dance can be understood as a rupturing of the
delineation between an Asian body that
signifies certain contained ethnically defined
identities, accommodated within a framework
of multiculturalism managed by the appar-
ently non-ethnic Anglo-Australian. What the
anxieties around Holmes’s dance points to is
the concern for an Australian national identity
if clear demarcations are not maintained.
Interestingly, the festival producer suggested
that Holmes present herself as a white,
contemporary dancer who incorporates
elements of kathak in her repertoire
(D. Walker, personal interview, 24 April
1999). Within the context of the Festival of
Asian Music and Dance, Holmes appears to be
more accepted when she positions herself, not
as an authentic practitioner of kathak, which
implies an embodiment of a physicality and
spirituality intimately connected to India, but
through her own whiteness. That is, she can
appropriate and create hybrid dance forms but
cannot do the same with her own cultural
identity, strategies successfully used by mem-
bers of Short Circuit, whose performances are
received as unproblematic with respect to
notions of identity.
Conclusion: becoming-expressive
I want to suggest that the music performed
within the music festival corresponds to a
becoming, first in terms of the ‘being and
becoming in the world’ proposed by Susan
Smith (2000) and, second, in the sense of a
becoming-expressive, a concept borrowed
from Deleuze and Guattari. Smith argues
that music is not a packaging and subsequent
expression of identity but is the process
through which identity is constituted. Sound
is significant to understanding the social world
and its relations because, as Smith suggests, it
is in the doing of music that being and
becoming occurs. Further to this, becoming, in
the sense of Deleuze and Guattari, is a
continual state of heterogeneous relations
that deterritorializes space (1987: 238, 291).
The complexities of the negotiations of the
everyday are demonstrated within the per-
formances of these two festivals. The identity-
place-music relationship is a series of ‘here’
and ‘there’ positionings that express the
various Australian stories and social inter-
relations that characterize contemporary
Australia.
In a study on performance, racial difference
and psychoanalysis, Ann Pelligrini positions
the performer as an acoustic mirror, ‘whose
multiple “frame[s] of reference” provoke,
invite, and goad [the] audience to different
ways of hearing, sighting, and citing others’
(1997: 75). The acoustic mirror re-presents the
world, by resituating audience and performer
in relation to what is constituted in the space
of the performance. As an acoustic mirror, the
performances at a festival reverberate with,
and reiterate, the participants’ situatedness; a
situatedness that works through positions of
the self in tropes such as gender, race,
nostalgia, migrancy, in and through a framing
discourse of multiculturalism. For some
performers, the appropriation of the musical
styles and genres of cultures other than one’s
own corresponds to a more nuanced
expression of a spatialized identity. For others,
these utterances remind and connect festival
participants to their ethnic and cultural
origins. Anxieties about authenticity reflect
differing positions in relation to ethnicity and
its cultural performatives. In the context of
festivals that celebrate cultural plurality,
concerns with authenticity correspond to
concerns in maintaining an idea of an essential
identity that is expressed and maintained
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through cultural and ethnic characteristics.
The performer of Asian music practising in a
cross-cultural setting, as Xu, Odamura and
Umiumare demonstrate, inhabits a complex
space, of neither one culture nor the other but
the space in-between. Such performers are
asked to become representative of an ethnic/-
cultural group even as they enact their
difference and displacement, that is, they
perform their difference to a normative white
Australian identity.
However, hidden in these performance
narratives are the destabilizing effects of
cultural pluralism that can, in a multicultural
context that marginalizes difference even as it
seems to celebrate it, cause unease. In
contrast to the performance of groups
promoted as ‘multicultural’ such as that of
Short Circuit, the example of the dancer Kate
Holmes illustrates how challenges to the
framing devices that contextualize cultural
performatives constitute challenges to the
maintenance and control of national identity
in the face of transnational relations.
Anxieties about authenticity, then, are also
anxieties about the consequences of recon-
stituting some form of communal and even
national selfhood and identity. Music is
significant to the geographic inquiry of
place and identity as it provides a means of
examining the emotions and their role in
understanding why individuals feel they
belong or do not belong to particular
communities and groups, and the significance
of space at various and multiple levels in
these sonic processes.
Acknowledgements
I would like to thank Professor Kate Darian-
Smith, Dr Rob Kitchin, and the anonymous
referees who provided helpful and construc-
tive comments on this paper.
Notes
1 In 2003, 33.5 per cent of Moreland’s residents were
born overseas, while 45 per cent of Moreland’s
residents (aged 5 years or more) spoke a language
other than English at home, compared to 26 per cent
of all Melbourne Statistical Division (MSD) residents
(2001 ABS Census of Population and Housing).
2 Here Xu refers to the producer of the Festival of Asian
Music and Dance, David Walker.
3 The north-west region of India, in an area along the
border with Pakistan.
4 Kathak originated in Hindu temples, where pro-
fessional storytellers recounted and interpreted tales
from Hindu mythology. During the Mughal period
(1526–1857) the kathak practice was introduced into
the Muslim courts. This cultural intermingling
produced a dance technique that required fast
turns, complicated footwork and an intricate rhythmic
language (,www.dancemuse.com/dance.htm.
accessed 10 March 2000).
5 Program notes for Kate Holmes, dancer, and Sukhbir
Singh, singer, Indian and Western music and dance
collaboration, Sun and Moon, Festival of Asian Music
and Dance, Tom Mann Theatre, Surry Hills, Sydney,
22 April 1999.
6 The second performance Sykes reviewed, of Dang Lan
and Sabahattin Akdagcik.
7 The semiotic involves the drives and emotions that
connect and orient the self to the mother, and
significantly, the semiotic houses the drives that are
yet to be articulated within the symbolic realm (that is
through language).
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Abstract translations
Interpre´ ter l’identite´ a` l’inte´ rieur d’un cadre multi-
cultural
Dans le cadre de festivals populaires, une des
fonctions de la musique est de contribuer a` la
construction d’une identite´ distincte du lieu qui a
pour effet de procurer un sentiment d’appartenance
aux participants. Toutefois, les festivals multi-
culturels brouillent toute tentative de de´ finir une
relation simpliste entre le lieu et l’identite´. Ces
festivals illustrent l’he´te´ roge´ ne´ite´ qui caracte´ rise
l’identite´ et le lieu. Les sentiments d’angoisse qui
e´mergent des enjeux a` l’e´ gard de l’authenticite´
culturelle de ces festivals soule`vent des pre´ occupa-
tions sur les identite´s hybrides qui, a` l’instar des
relations transnationales, pourraient e´ branler, voire
menacer, la pe´ rennite´ des identite´ s clairement
de´ finies. S’appuyant sur des objets ethnographiques
et des conceptualisations the´ oriques sur le moi, cet
article explore les constructions dynamiques et
fluides de l’identite´ pendant la tenue de deux
festivals populaires de musique en Australie. Des
questions sont ensuite souleve´es sur l’e´ventail de
pratiques susceptibles d’influer sur la fac¸ on dont ces
identite´s se constituent et sont interpre´ te´es.
Mots-clefs: festival de musique, Asie, Australie,
multiculturel, performativite´ , identite´ , apparte-
nance.
La representacio´ n de identidad desde un marco
multicultural
En los festivales comunitarios la mu´ sica muchas
veces ayuda a construir una identidad particular
para el lugar y, en estas ocasiones, sirve para
crear un sentido de pertenecer a algo para los
participantes. Sin embargo, los festivales multi-
culturales hacen ma´ s complicada una relacio´ n
simple entre lugar e identidad porque estos
festivales demuestran el estado heteroge´ neo
tanto de identidad como de lugar. Las ansiedades
causadas por la cuestio´ n de autenticidad cultural
en este tipo de festival indican preocupaciones
sobre identidades hı´bridas, las cuales pueden
poner en cuestio´ n y amenazar el mantenimiento
de identidades claramente delimitadas, enfrenta-
das a relaciones transnacionales. Haciendo uso de
materiales etnogra´ ficos y conceptualizaciones
teo´ ricos del ‘ser’, este papel explora las con-
strucciones fluidas y dina´ micas de identidad en
dos festivales comunitarios de mu´ sica en Aus-
tralia y plantea cuestiones sobre pra´ cticas que
tratan de regular las maneras en que se
constituyen y representan estas identidades.
Palabras claves: festival musical, Asia, Australia,
multicultural, representacio´ n, identidad, pertenecer.
Michelle Duffy 692
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