Niko Higgins

BA, Wesleyan University. MA, MPhil, PhD, Columbia University. Ethnomusicologist and saxophonist. Interests in South Indian classical music and fusion, jazz, world music, improvisation, globalization, cosmopolitanism, sound studies, and ecomusicology. Author of two articles on South Indian fusion and leader and producer of two recordings. Taught at Columbia University, Montclair State University, and The New School. Fulbright and Fulbright Hays recipient. SLC, 2015–

Undergraduate Courses 2021-2022

Music

Cross-Cultural Listening

Open, Lecture—Fall

This course will explore the relationship of listening, music, and sound across different cultural and historical contexts. Recent scholarship on listening and sound has revealed how listening plays a crucial role in the formulation of theories about music, and we will study how various ideas about listening inform contemporary understandings of music and sound. Drawing from research from the field of sound studies, cultural theory, and ethnographic case studies from ethnomusicology and anthropology, we will understand key concepts of listening with specific musical and sonic examples. Course units may include technologies of listening, listening as an impetus for empathy and to stimulate political action, strategies for listening to cultural and musical difference, and music and sound as tools for torture and healing. Individual class sessions may include sound technologies such as the phonograph and the MP3; soundscapes; music therapy; and the listening contexts of individual genres such as South African pop, Buddhist chant, Arabic maqamat, muzak, and EDM. Participation in the one of the world music ensembles is strongly encouraged.

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Gamelan Angklung Chandra Buana

Component—Fall

A gamelan angklung is a bronze orchestra that includes four-toned metallophones, gongs, drums, and flutes. Rhythmic patterns played upon the instruments interlock and combine to form large structures of great complexity and beauty. The gamelan angklung that we will play was specially handcrafted in Bali for the College and was named Chandra Buana, or “Moon Earth,” at its dedication on April 16, 2000, in Reisinger Concert Hall. Any interested student may join; no previous experience with music is necessary.

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Global Circulations: Art and Pop Music of Asia

Component—Spring

See course description under Lectures and Seminars.

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Global Circulations: Art and Pop Music of Asia

Open, Lecture—Spring

This course examines how music and its global circulation make the relationships between people audible. In the social contexts of listening and musical performance—and in musical sound itself—we will understand how music and its movement across community-based, regional, and national boundaries shape people’s lives. As recordings, musicians, and ideas about music move, we will learn how they sound interpersonal relationships by using selected ethnographic examples of art and popular music from across Asia and the Middle East. Class topics will include South Indian classical music, taiko, Southeast Asian heavy metal, Iranian pop, Japanese hip hop, Bollywood, world jazz, noise, K-pop, world music 2.0, and others. Course themes related to the circulation of music will include the ideology of tradition, cultural imperialism, sound technologies, and the more recent proliferation of cultural nationalisms that seek to impede circulation. By encountering musical diversity through listening and reading materials, students will develop the critical thinking skills to make connections between sonic and textual resources and to better understand the many ways that music and sound are meaningful around the world. Participation in Faso Foli, our African percussion ensemble, is strongly encouraged.

 

Faculty

Sounding Creativity: Musical Improvisation

Open, Seminar—Fall

This seminar will focus on the widely practiced creative process of musical improvisation. Using video footage of live performances, reading and listening assignments, and class discussions, we will learn to hear and understand an array of specific improvisational choices as musicians from different backgrounds progress through their performances. We will question how personal expression and cultural context shape creativity, which will reveal improvisation as an intrinsic form of adaptation that is essential to artistic expression, communication, and survival. Using a cross-cultural perspective, we will examine the similarities and differences of musical improvisation around the world, exploring themes such as freedom, community, free will, determinism, social justice, ethnicity, race, nationalism, class, gender, and sexuality. Using ethnomusicology’s interdisciplinary approach to learning about music and culture, this seminar will draw from anthropology, linguistics, social theory, sociology, psychology, and artists’ personal accounts. Class topics may include music in Turkey, Egypt, West Africa, India, Cantonese Opera, 20th-century experimental art music, improvised singing games in Nepal, free improvisation, international and American jazz, and turn tabling and DJing. This course will be taught in-person or, if necessary, online. Participation in Balinese Gamelan is strongly encouraged.

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Sounding Creativity: Musical Improvisation

Component—Fall

See course description under Lectures and Seminars.

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West African Percussion Ensemble Faso Foli

Component—Spring

Faso Foli is the name of our West African performance ensemble. Faso foli is a Malinke phrase that translates loosely as “playing to my father’s home.” In this class, we will develop the ability to play expressive melodies and intricate polyrhythms in a group context, as we recreate the celebrated musical legacy of the West African Mande Empire. These traditions have been kept alive and vital through creative interpretation and innovation in Africa, the United States, and other parts of the world. Correspondingly, our repertoire will reflect a wide range of expressive practices, both ancient in origin and dynamic in contemporary performance. The instruments we play—balafons, dun dun drums, and djembe hand drums—were constructed for the College in 2006, handcrafted by master builders in Guinea. Relevant instrumental techniques will be taught in the class, and no previous experience with African musical practice is assumed. Any interested student may join.

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Previous Courses

Music

Cross-Cultural Listening

Component—Fall

See full course description under Lecture and Seminars.

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Ecomusicology: Music, Activism and Climate Change

Component—Spring

See full course description under Lecture and Seminars.

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Ecomusicology: Music, Activism and Climate Change

Component—Spring

See full course description under Lecture and Seminars.

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Ecomusicology: Music, Activism, and Climate Change

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course looks at the intersections of music, culture, and nature. We will explore music in nature, music about nature, and the nature of music in the human experience. We will study how artists and musicians are using music and sound to address climate change by surveying important trends in the young field of ecomusicology, such as soundscape studies, environmental musical criticism, acoustic ecology, and animal musicalities. Themes will range from music vs. sound and the cultural construction of nature to aurality and the efficacy of sonic activism. Class sessions may include Appalachian coal mining songs, indigenous music from the Arctic, art music composition, soundscapes, field recordings, birdsong, soundwalks, and musical responses to environmental crises such as Hurricane Katrina and the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan. Participation in the Faso Foli (West African percussion) ensemble is strongly encouraged.

Faculty

Gamelan Ensemble

Component—Fall

A gamelan angklung is a bronze orchestra that includes four-toned metallophones, gongs, drums, and flutes. Rhythmic patterns played upon the instruments interlock and combine to form large structures of great complexity and beauty. The gamelan angklung that we will play was specially handcrafted in Bali for the College and was named Chandra Buana, or “Moon Earth,” at its dedication on April 16, 2000, in Reisinger Concert Hall.

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Global Circulations: Art and Pop Music of Asia

Component—Fall

See full course description under Lecture and Seminars.

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Music, Structure, and Power: Theories of Musical Meaning

Component—Spring

See course description under Lecture and Seminars.

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Solkattu Ensemble

Component—Fall

Solkattu is the practice of spoken rhythmic syllables that constitute the rhythmic basis of many forms of Indian music. Indian percussionists, vocalists, melodic instrumentalists, and dancers use solkattu to communicate with each other in order to understand the rhythmic logic of Indian music. In this ensemble, students will develop individualized rhythmic precision and physical confidence, as well as group solidarity, through the practiced coordination of reciting patterns of syllables while clapping an independent rhythmic cycle. Using the voice and hands, students will internalize rhythmic relationships through physical embodiment by moving to progressively more complex rhythmic patterns and rhythmic cycles. Students with no musical background and musicians specializing in any instrument will benefit from the ensemble—all are welcome.

Faculty

Transformation Sounds! Ethnomusicology and Social Change

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course features the interdisciplinary study of music and culture by focusing on the role of music in social change. Why is music so important to social movements? How is music used to both challenge and support certain ideologies and institutions of power? How have governments used music to build national solidarity, and how have activists used it to incite change? How can we relate these phenomena to our own experiences with music in daily life? We will explore answers to these questions through historical and ethnographic literatures and learn about the diverse settings in which music and politics intersect. The course presents some theoretical foundations of music, self, and society and then examines music and politics in specific contexts. Class sessions will explore topics such as American spirituals during slavery and emancipation, Islamic political movements in Iran, and the role of music and sound in the Occupy Wall St. and Black Lives Matter movements. We will learn the many ways in which music becomes a resource for modeling the kind of social and political transformations that people hope to create in their communities or nations. For example, we will observe governments’ and citizens’ musical appropriations and reappropriations, and we will trace the ways groups often claim and adapt a single musical genre to differing ends. Throughout the course, we will listen to and discuss numerous musical examples and gain familiarity with the musical genres that we study. Class sessions will be devoted to discussing readings from a wide range of fields, including ethnomusicology, anthropology, history, and sociology. No prior experience in music is necessary. Participation in the Faso Foli (West African percussion) ensemble is strongly encouraged.

Faculty

Transformation Sounds: Ethnomusicology and Social Change

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course features the interdisciplinary study of music and culture by focusing on the role of music in social change. Why is music so important to social movements? How is music used to both challenge and support certain ideologies and institutions of power? How have governments used music to build national solidarity, and how have activists used it to incite change? How can we relate these phenomena to our own experiences with music in daily life? We will explore answers to these questions through historical and ethnographic literatures and learn about the diverse settings in which music and politics intersect. The course presents some theoretical foundations of music, self, and society and then examines music and politics in specific contexts. Class sessions will explore topics such as American spirituals during slavery and emancipation, Islamic political movements in Iran, and the role of music and sound in the Occupy Wall St. and Black Lives Matter movements. We will learn the many ways in which music becomes a resource for modeling the kind of social and political transformations that people hope to create in their communities or nations. For example, we will observe governments’ and citizens’ musical appropriations and reappropriations and will trace the ways in which groups often claim and adapt a single musical genre to differing ends. In addition, we will analyze musical responses to Covid-19 to better understand the varied experiences of people around the world. Throughout the course, we will listen to and discuss numerous musical examples and gain familiarity with the musical genres that we study. Class sessions will be devoted to discussing readings from a wide range of fields, including ethnomusicology, anthropology, history, and sociology. This course may be modified for an online format, if necessary. No prior experience in music is necessary. Participation in the Solkattu Ensemble (Indian vocal percussion) is strongly encouraged.

Faculty

West African Percussion Ensemble Faso Foli

Component—Spring

Faso Foli is the name of our West African performance ensemble. Faso foli is a Malinke phrase that translates loosely as “playing to my father’s home.” In this class, we will develop the ability to play expressive melodies and intricate polyrhythms in a group context, as we recreate the celebrated musical legacy of the West African Mande Empire. These traditions have been kept alive and vital through creative interpretation and innovation in Africa, the United States, and other parts of the world. Correspondingly, our repertoire will reflect a wide range of expressive practices, both ancient in origin and dynamic in contemporary performance. The instruments we play—balafons, the dun dun drums, and djembe hand drums—were constructed for the College in 2006, handcrafted by master builders in Guinea. Relevant instrumental techniques will be taught in the class, and no previous experience with African musical practice is assumed.

Faculty

West African Percussion Ensemble Faso Foli

Component—Spring

Faso Foli is the name of our West African performance ensemble: It is a Malinke phrase that translates loosely as "playing to my father's home." In this class, we will develop the ability to play expressive melodies and intricate polyrhythms in a group context, as we recreate the celebrated musical legacy of the West African Mande Empire. These traditions have been kept alive and vital through creative interpretation and innovation in Africa, in the United States and in other parts of the world. Correspondingly, our repertoire will reflect a wide range of expressive practices, both ancient in origin and dynamic in contemporary performance. The instruments we play—balafons, dun dun drums, and djembe hand drums—were constructed for the College in 2006, handcrafted by master builders in Guinea. Relevant instrumental techniques will be taught in the class, and no previous experience with African musical practice is assumed. Any interested student may join.

Faculty