Unhaunting: Music & Memory in Contemporary Cambodia

David Gunn

Founding Director of Incidental

Drawing directly upon the author’s own experiences of running a range of sound 
projects in Cambodia, this paper focuses upon the role of music artefacts, processes 
and archives as transitional objects (Winnicott, 1953) that enable individuals and
 groups to negotiate cultural memory and to frame experiences of inter-cultural
 contact.To begin, the paper will briefly outline the historical conditions in Cambodia, which
 provide an almost unique context to analyse the relationship of cultural tradition to
 archival processes – with an estimated 90% of all artists and musicians killed and the
 nation’s musical heritage and archive almost entirely destroyed during four years of 
Khmer Rouge rule. In subsequent decades the recovery, conservation and archiving 
of cultural traditions became a key priority. However, as key cultural actors recognize 
that this phase of activity is now drawing to completion, cultural conditions within
 Cambodia are entering a period of complex transition. Drawing examples from
 the author’s own practice and key actors within Cambodia, the paper argues that 
this period should be understood quite explicitly as a tense renegotiation with the 
recently restored cultural archive, where processes of re-use and recontextualisation 
are fraught with emotion and danger. Where the discipline of archival curation and custodianship may traditionally place
 emphasis upon notions of clear transmissability of data, this paper will explore what 
happens to forms of sound and music when archival order or integrity collapses or 
simply is not present. In such circumstances, it will be argued that paradoxically it is 
precisely through staging its own collapse and obsolescence that the archive performs 
its most vital function.



9:30 (PRM Lecture Theatre) Saturday, November 24
Session 1: Active Cultures of Recording


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