When Digital is Physical and Ethnomusicologists are File Sharers


  • Denis Crowdy Macquarie University




ethnomusicology, internet, mobile technology, Papua New Guinea, recording


This article explores a scenario where digital tools of music production, distribution and consumption are prominent, but the role of the Internet has been less significant. This tends to reveal the importance of the physical aspects of digital technologies, an area that has to date been under-explored. Based on work centred on the creation and distribution of recorded popular music in the Central Province of Papua New Guinea, small home-based recording studios and mobile phones are discussed as pivotal technologies. In just a few years, the chain of production, distribution and consumption of popular music in Papua New Guinea has moved from studios, cassettes and cassette players to laptops, SD cards and phones. Production has moved from centralised and professional to more widespread and amateur. Sharing takes place through the exchange of digital music files (usually in the mp3 format) via Bluetooth networking, and the exchange of portable digital media such as Secure Digital (SD) cards. This raises concerns about the ethics of file sharing as part of ethnomusicological research practice. It is also suggested that, due to the increasingly non-commercial nature of this scene, a movement away from the language of industry is timely. Consequently, production, distribution and consumption are more appropriately referred to as creation, sharing and listening/using. Two main conclusions are explored. Firstly, it is argued that the value of local knowledge is intensified under conditions of increasingly distributed, amateur production, and that this activity reinforces the importance of ethnomusicological research approaches that have traditionally been focused more on performance. The second concerns the extent and nature of the commodification of music in Papua New Guinea, and how this raises issues of economic justice for local producers.

Author Biography

  • Denis Crowdy, Macquarie University

    Denis Crowdy is a Senior Lecturer in Music at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Before that he taught music at the University of Papua New Guinea for nine years. His research has explored Melanesian stringband, popular music and the nature of the music industry in the region. He is currently completing a book exploring the music of Papua New Guinean band Sanguma and the post-colonial politics of identity through music.


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Technology and Ownership

How to Cite

Crowdy, D. (2015). When Digital is Physical and Ethnomusicologists are File Sharers. Journal of World Popular Music, 2(1), 61-77. https://doi.org/10.1558/jwpm.v2i1.27171