Songs and Places: American Roots
General Catalog Course Title:
Special Topics: Word and Image
Terms Offered:
Fall 2015
Fall 2012
Course Thread: 
Visible Language
Dubovsky, Anthony

What are the connections between song and place — visual, musical, and otherwise? How
can we describe these connections — give them form?

Music and place have long been intertwined, and the particulars of place have given rise
to some of our most memorable songs: "On the Banks of the Ohio," "Shenandoah," "Night
Train to Memphis," "Red River Valley," "Sweet Home Chicago." Whether the folk lyrics
from a Russian village on the banks of the Pripyet, or a single line from a shepherd’s flute
in the Carpathian mountains, the songster licks of John Hurt down in Avalon, Mississippi,
or a precisely bent blues note on a red electric guitar from Muddy Waters in Southside
Chicago — the connection is endlessly evocative. However, we live in a world where
traditional places — and the traditional songs that come from them — are rapidly
disappearing, inundated by the juggernaut of an international commercial culture which
supplants (dis-places/re-places) them entirely. The American hamburger franchise on a
street in Venice — or Moscow or Jakarta — is but emblematic, a bit of spindrift on the face
of a wave in which much has already been swept away. And regardless of how one views
this phenomenon, it will no doubt be remembered as a primary characteristic of our times.

In this seminar-with-projects course we will investigate these changes by looking closely
at the original connection between songs and places — and by making images in response.
The medium will be open — drawing, painting, collage, writing, hybrid forms all
acceptable. We’ll begin each week by listening to some songs — and learning to sing them.
Together with a selection of visual images. Studio projects follow, outside of class. We then
reconvene, the following week, to look at and discuss the work. Followed by a new set of
songs. During the fall term the course emphasizes American folk songs.

For more detailed information about classes, please visit the UC Berkeley Online Schedule of Classes.