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Norton, Barley (2000) Music and possession in Vietnam. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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The thesis is a study of musical and ritual practice in Vietnam. At its heart is an investigation into the relations between music and possession during mediumship rituals, len dong. Inquiry into the interaction between music and ritual context is crucial for understanding possession and the music performed at mediumship rituals, châu vân. When possessed by spirits, Vietnamese mediums experience 'aware possession' rather than a form of 'trance'. Châu vân songs invite the spirits to 'descend' to the human world and ensure the maintenance of aware possession. Musicians create song sequences, 'songscapes', for each possession, which musically construct the presence of the spirits. In addition to music's role in ritual, the thesis explores the creative process involved in the realisation of the vocal melodies of châu van songs, and the gradual processes of musical change that have affected the châu vân repertoire and performance practice. The traversing of gender during len dong rituals, by both female and male mediums, has important ramifications for the gender identities of mediums. Ritual practice enables mediums to behave in ways outside prescribed gendered roles and affords them scope for challenging and destabilising established gender categories. Len dong has been a site of contestation during the second half of this century. Despite being prime targets of an anti-superstition campaign, len dong and châu van have undergone a strong revival in the last decade. Concurrent with this revival, folk-culture researchers and ritual participants have attempted to rid len dong of its association with 'superstition' by developing a legitimating discourse which reframes mediumship in nationalist terms. Chiu van has also been implicated in debates concerning the ideological reform of traditional musics and national identity.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 14:59

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