Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Rastko Jakovljevic headshotRastko S. Jakovljevic's research primarily focuses on traditional music of the Balkans, anthropology of music, culture studies, critical theory, popular music and applied ethnomusicology. In 2015-2016, he is one of three Harrington Fellows on The University of Texas at Austin campus, one of the university's most prestigious fellowships . He is a visiting scholar in the Butler School's Division of Musicology and Ethnomusicology, from the Institute of Musicology of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Belgrade. Interview by Butler School Publicity Coordinator Claire Spera.

Describe your main areas of inquiry.

While working as research fellow at the Institute of Musicology of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Belgrade, I was focused on investigating folk music of the Balkans, and spaces between tradition and modernity, music identities, and marginality. Aiming to provide a new perspective on musical change, my investigations are multidisciplinary, covering aspects of traditional music of the Balkans, anthropology of music, culture studies, critical theory, popular music and applied ethnomusicology and activism. Therefore, my work is, on the one hand, scholarly oriented, and on the other, directed to applied fields of research, such as working as a primary investigator on projects of digitalization and archiving.

What's your educational background? Who are your main influences?

I started my studies in ethnomusicology at the Faculty of Music in Belgrade, where I completed my master’s degree working with renowned researchers of Balkan music. After this, I had the opportunity to continue my research in England, and received great support for my work there. Initially, I had the great privilege of having the support of HRH Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia, who encouraged my work. I have begun my doctoral studies at University of Durham in the U.K., where I worked at first with Dr. Andy Nercessian and have continued my studies under Professor Max Paddison. Working and living in such an environment has tremendously influenced my research and given me the knowledge to pursue my passions within ethnomusicology.

What drew you to apply for a Harrington Fellowship at UT Austin?

In November 2012 I gave a talk at the Society of Ethnomusicology conference in New Orleans. The panel, “Sounding the Nation: Carving Out Difference in Turkey and Southeastern Europe,” was led by Dr. Sonia Seeman, with the participation of Dr. Songul Karahasanoğlu from Istanbul, Turkey and myself. Three amazingly vibrant energies merged, and we sounded like one, like we known each other for a very long time — even though we hadn’t personally met before. Collaboration and friendship ensued, and Dr. Seeman informed me about Harrington Fellowship for research development at UT Austin, one of the most prestigious awards granted by the university. I was not optimistic that I would be selected to receive the fellowship, since my career had just started; but, I was selected.

How has the Butler School of Music been a good fit for you?

Since my research has always been directed towards understanding the process of musical creation and change, I suppose I focus on individuals who are agents of change. The Butler School of Music is a perfect fit for my research because it’s a challenging, inspirational, open-minded environment with strong individuals! Working with a great organization, such inspirational and well-known scholars -- especially in the Division of Musicology and Ethnomusicology -- and my gifted students has given me a chance to be a piece of the Butler School puzzle.

What drew you to the field of ethnomusicology?

When I was a student, I was interested in many things. However, ethnomusicology was so alluring. The more I read, the more I was convinced that such an area of inquiry could be an ideal playground for me where creativity, music, belief, humankind, technology, nature, culture, logic and difference meet.

What were your main activities during the fall semester in the Butler School?

During the fall 2015 semester I was mainly teaching graduate and undergraduate courses on music of the western Balkans for both Butler School students and non-music majors. The courses began as a general introduction to the area studies, but as we were approaching the end of the semester, my students and I had more tools in our belts to investigate many other aspects of this specific music, including critical theory, aesthetics, culture studies concepts and politics. I learned a lot while preparing for my classes every week, and my students became more informed about this part of Europe, developing very original final papers and, in doing so, enriching my own teaching experience.

What are you looking forward to in the spring semester?

My main aim for the spring 2016 semester is to move forward with the monography I am preparing for publication. Having great working conditions, being in a professional environment and having access to certain facilities will ease this process. I am also excited that I received support to organize a conference on Balkans musical improvisation, which will bring to the fore new perspectives in ethnomusicology and interdisciplinary research. It will be a chance to re-read its culture and music process, and to question paradigms and stereotypes. I will also present some of my research at the International Council for Traditional Music conference in Paris in March, as a joint panelist with my colleagues Dr. Gerda Lechleitner from Vienna and Dr. Pál Ricther from Budapest.   

Anything else?

I wish to express my eternal gratitude to UT Austin for providing me with this opportunity. I’ve had great conversations with the Butler School’s Director Mary Ellen Poole, and Professors Robert Hatten, Veit Erlmann, Stephen Slawek, Michael Tusa, Luisa Nardini, Elliott Antokoletz and, especially, Sonia Seeman. I have also received a lot of help from Butler School staff members Kevin Crook and Antonio Zapata, and a very nice welcome from Mary Neuburger, director of the Center of Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies. Many ideas were born during informal meetings with the Butler School’s Professors Eric Drott, Marianne Wheeldon, Hannah Lewis, Charles Carson and James Buhler. I also owe my gratitude to the people of  “The Tower,” especially: Director of Faculty Affairs Del Watson and Dean Marvin Hackert of the College of Natural Sciences for the monthly Harrington Fellow lunches; Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Janet Dukerich and Administrative Manager for Faculty Affairs Michelle George for amazing UT football game tickets; and, of course, UT Austin President Gregory Fenves, for welcoming me to the Forty Acres. I truly believe that what starts here really can change someone’s world.