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Durham University


Music, Media and Technologies

Tat Amaro (Durham University) – Shaping the past, surviving the future: computer karaoke in contemporary piphat music-making in Phayao province, northern Thailand

11:00-13:00 - Session II: Media and transnational flows

The proliferation of new technology has accelerated the dynamics of musical change in many contexts, particularly through the uptake of Western musical instruments and advanced tools in musical cultures that did not have them previously. The contemporary piphat ensemble in Phayao province, Northern Thailand has shifted greatly in response to modern preferences since the introduction of computer karaoke to the genre in 2001. Zhou (2007: 65) notes that “(k)araoke is now such an integral part of everyday life for people in Thailand…” and I argue that computer karaoke and modern pop repertories have become the very foundations for creativity in live music-making in Phayao. I will explore how the computer shapes a range of musical features in contemporary piphat, and how traditional and selected Western musical instruments act as a surrogate for the voice. The silencing of the vocal part has various impacts upon the nature of the music-making now found in this context. Furthermore, in this cultural setting, traditional and Western instruments have combined with the new technology to revitalise a nearly-abandoned musical practice, perpetuating it into the new era to come. Specifically, their presence minimises the predicaments often faced by band owners of finding a shortage of musicians willing to play. My work aims to show how computer karaoke was introduced to Phayao’s piphat community and to examine its dominant role in shaping contemporary music-making, focusing also on details of the processes by which traditional and modern elements combine in performance.