SUZE BIENAIMEE: Meet Mark Howell, musician and music archaeologist. He started as an international musician including working in the cutting-edge “Downtown Music Scene” of New York City as leader and sideman in various bands, improviser, composer of rock, jazz, avant grade, experimental, so-called “serious music” pieces (string quartets, piano solos, etc.) and then on to an academic life with a Ph.D. in music working as an educator, museum director, curator and music archaeologist. Music archaeology is part of the archaeology of the senses — moving beyond the visual — recapturing the smells, the feel, and in Mark’s case, sounds of the past.
I’ve put Mark’s detailed bio below as well as his contact information.
Dr. Mark Howell, welcome to StudioSeeds. What inspires you?
MARK HOWELL: PLACES have always inspired me — the geography of expectations fixed in physical places. On my roof as a boy thinking of a myriad of places like the Congo River, the Silk Road, San Francisco and what they conjured up.
It was this projection of expectation that led me to New York City, but it was the reality of the City that inspired me to become a musician. Where I was from, the rural south, had/has a specific color to it, a light, a temperature, a landscape, a sound, a speed — all of which resonate(d) with my body (I guess ingrained since birth), it vibrate(d) my existence, and I feel like it’s the same with others from the south. This non-emotive feeling — to call it that — is a mooring that becomes familiar and assert(ed) itself as the norm for me.
The feeling is one reason people from the south are reluctant to leave. One has to pry him or herself away from the metaphysics of the place and the mindset of the people who have succumbed to its spell. Despite its visible charms it is conservative Calvinist and practical minded…meaning that the south of place, maybe as much as its people, informed me that art was frivolous and impossible to construct a career from. It was only after physically experiencing New York City that the parochial non-truth of that belief was unmasked.
In New York I saw, felt, and knew that here existed a place that not only encouraged art but demanded it. Art is one of the fuels that powers the City.
Place, whether in the contemporary world — like the modulations of breath in the Place de la Concorde in Paris, an imagined locale of the past — like the pre-Columbian Native American world of the Lower Mississippi River Valley, or in a specific faraway landscape — like Jupiter’s Europa is something my mind and body churn up, reliably providing a launching pad for inspiration.
I often find myself playing a paraphrased version of Yeats…give me a day in 15th century Tenochtitlan…to smell the mountain herbs and view the psychoactive plants in their plaza stalls on market day…the smells and textures moving to the sounds of the slit-drums and ceramic flutes…the flash of colors off the buildings reflecting those of the clothes of the people there from all over Mexico. Even imagined, it is an experience that can alter one forever.
I am also inspired by dedicated people. People devoted to a purpose in life, and who stick with that purpose no matter what. A prime example would be my parents. They risked their reputations, jobs, friends, even their lives to stand up to the white supremacy racism of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) and the Citizen’s Council during the 1960s.
My mom and dad attended KKK rallies and argued their points. They challenged the status quo and paid a price, including the loss of my father’s construction company. Because of them I saw and participated in social activism at an early age. One of those rewards being witness to a speech by Martin Luther King in the town square, a place he later said frightened him more than any other.
My wife, Stephanie, is also an inspiration because of her dedication to dancing. She’s got amazing inner resolve that drew me to her. The way she picks herself up after being rejected at an audition and then goes to another audition the next day — that’s guts and inspiration. She fills me with pride. More guts? She’s also, canoed down the Mississippi River with the Quawpaw Canoe company from St. Louis to Baton Rouge.
While I didn’t know him, Miles Davis was my musical inspiration. He once told Sarah Vaughan everything he’d done in music (by that time including his electronic experiments) was done to recapture one Billy Eckstine concert in St. Louis where as a high schooler he filled in on trumpet.
I’d like to think we all try to get back to a single magical moment, even as we do it in different modes, and even if we’ve more often forgotten what that magical moment was.
SUZE BIENAIMEE: Mark, thank you — place, dedicated people and moments (real, imagined and seemingly magical) inspire you! I know the readers of StudioSeeds will be fascinated.
Please connect with Mark Howell in the COMMENTS section for this post.
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FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT DR. MARK HOWELL
Mark Howell is the co-editor of the music archaeology book series “Flower World: Music Archaeology of the Americas” at Ekho-Verlag.com — excerpts of publications.
FrogPeak.org is a composers’ collective with Mark Howell’s music scores.
Dr. Howell is the Director of the Winterville Mounds (2006-present) in the Mississippi Delta near Greenville, Mississippi. It is a 12-mound Mississippian pre-Columbian Native American city of the Lower Mississippi River Valley. Mississippians developed some of the most complex societies that ever existed in North America (1000-1600 AD). The Winterville Mounds is a state site, part of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. It was declared a National Landmark in 1996.
Dr. Howell recently secured funding from the State of Mississippi for the restoration and maintenance of the Winterville Mounds to replicate the city’s 13th century appearance, its heyday of human occupation.
Frei University and Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany
Dr. Howell is currently working with Graeme Lawson and Ricardo Eichmann developing a master’s level degree program in music archaeology for the Berliner Antiker Kolleg.
SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW
With TOPOI in Berlin (2009-2012)
Organized “Sound, Political Space, and Political Condition: Exploring Soundscapes of Societies Under Change” (2011) with Graeme Lawson and Ricardo Eichmann.
Dr. Mark Howell: TOPOI is surprisingly, not an acronym, but the Greek word for “space”. TOPOI 1 was a 5-year project devoted to the holistic study of space. I was part of a group of international scholars working on sound in space.
Organized “Klangraumes” for an exhibition at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin, Germany (2012) for TOPOI.
Music History at Fordham University (1999-2006), New York City
Hunter College (1999-2004), New York City
“Origin and Meaning of the Hopewell Panpipe,” in Flowerworld: Music Archaeology of the Americas Vol. 2 (2014)
“Music Evidence of Spanish, French, and English Encounters with Native Americans: The Similarities, Differences, and Consequences,” (proceedings from the TOPOI workshop . Served as co-editor for this volume)
“An Organology of the Americas as Painted by John White and Other Artists,” in Flowerworld: Music Archaeology of the Americas Vol. 1 (2012)
“Tzunam Bailes and the Role of Music Instruments in Pre-Columbian Highland Guatemala,” in Studien zum Musikarchäologie VII (2012)
“Music Syncretism in the Postclassic K’iche’ Warrior Dance and the Colonial Period Baile de los Moros y Cristianos,” in Maya Worldviews at Conquest, University Press of Colorado (2009)
“Some Enigmatic Native American Artifacts. Audio Devices?” In Orient Archäologie Band 34 Studien zum Musikarchäologie X. Eds., Ricardo Eichmann, Fang Jianjun, and Lars-Christian Koch. Berlin (2016)
Dr. Howell’s interests include music survivals and transitional music of the New World with a specialization on those north of Mexico.
Dr. Howell was a working musician-composer based in New York City from 1982-2006 and was an active participant in the ‘Downtown Music Scene”. During that time he played guitar and/or trumpet with John Zorn, Don Cherry, Elliot Sharp, Yo Lo Tengo, The Fred Frith Guitar Quartet, and others, and composed for traditional and untraditional ensembles. His work is featured on over 50 LPs and/or CDs. He toured extensively throughout Europe and North America.
Mark Howell, Ph.D.
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