Ô Canada! La Première Partie

Ta da!  See, I DID manage to get around to writing at least about SOMETHING from Canada!  And I’ve optimistically labelled it the first part.  The second, though, might be well after my thesis submission date in September.  But this, at least, should at least make people think this blog is actually being used 😀

So, this first part?  The most important, to be honest, as without this bit, I never would have gone (although I expect I would have gone sooner or later; I mean, I already want to return!).  This part is my brief conference report.  I had to write it as part of my conditions of funding from BASEES so I thought I may as well replicate it here, with some additions.

Boundaries and Ties: the Place of Metal Music in Communities’, Victoria, BC, Canada, 9th-11th July 2017.

I was awarded a BASEES Postgraduate Research Grant, the Graduate School Travel Prize from the University of Nottingham and funding from the Partridge Bequest held by Russian and Slavonic Studies, University of Nottingham to attend and present my research at the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS) biennial conference, held this time in Canada.  Having never presented my research outside of my own University, nor having been outside Europe in my life, it was an exciting experience!  The two-and-a-half day conference was supported by keynotes from Keith Kahn-Harris, one of the founding members of ISMMS and Brittney Slayes, lead singer of Victoria-born power metal band Unleash the Archers.  Panels were parallel to give more time and breadth to the programme and included categories such as local & global metal communities, performance, resistance, scene construction and ethics.  Presenters were from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds, including cultural studies, musicology, anthropology, religious studies and history, as well as independent scholars and industry professionals.

My research concerns the first album of Russia’s leading heavy metal group, Aria, and I presented a basic overview of late Soviet cultural history as well as insights into my research on themes and influences in the album.  I was the only person presenting on Russia but other researchers presented on cultures as disparate as Japan, Madagascar, Austria, and Indonesia, proving that metal music and culture is a global phenomenon.  I connected with researchers in Birmingham who hope to extend their ‘Home of Metal’ study out from there to other ‘homes’ of metal across the world.

In the evening of the first day there was an opportunity to go to Unleash the Archer’s album release gig in Downtown Victoria, and on the final day there was a special screening of the documentary film ‘Blekkmetal’ about the origins of Norway’s black metal scene, set against the backdrop of the 2015 festival of the same name.  This was followed by a Q&A session with two of the producers.  In the evening there was an opportunity to experience more of the local metal scene in an ‘all-ages’ gig at a local community centre.  The ISMMS AGM was also held during the conference and I participated in this as an ordinary member. There were also plenty of opportunities for networking and sightseeing: on one occasion I happened upon one of the locals down at the beach:

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North American River Otter

I was heartened by the interest in my research, and I was able to reconnect with friends I first met in Hull in March 2016.  I was impressed by the range of different approaches and projects metal scholars are undertaking and managed to speak with most people about their research.  I was also in charge of live Tweeting the conference using ISMMS’ official Twitter profile (@ISMMSOfficial), which was challenging but very useful for making me think differently about the papers being given.

Overall, I think the conference was a very valuable experience: not only was it an excellent opportunity to present my research to the ‘metal’ side of my field, but it was also an exceptional chance to travel well outside of my comfort zone!  I did, in fact, experience ‘culture shock’: because Victoria is an English-speaking part of Canada, the difference in culture was, in a way, surprising, as everywhere else I have been are predominantly foreign-language based foreign cultures!

I made many new academic friends at the conference, people who are researching new and exciting things and people who are very interested in my research.  I have opened up some opportunities for myself in future research as well as in the opportunity to become more involved with the administration and promotion of ISMMS, once my MA is finished.  I also pushed my boundaries by experiencing music I don’t generally associate with (extreme metal) and research that is unusual and innovative, pushing the boundaries of academic thought (especially Gemma Antonelli’s paper on self-mutilation in performance).

Thankyou very much to BASEES, the University of Nottingham Graduate School and my Russian and Slavonic Studies ‘family’ for granting me the financial opportunity to undertake this groundbreaking trip!  It was beyond worth it!

Don’t hold your breath for the next instalment: my list of ‘urgent things to do once my thesis is handed in’ might already need to be split into ‘super urgent’ and ‘can wait until after Christmas 2017’…!

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My First Research Trip

Tomorrow I go to Moscow on a research trip.  It will probably be the only research trip of my Masters, but should be a great start to my research career in travelling!

Generally, I’m pretty negative about Moscow: I had a terrible experience in 2003 (it was hot, humid and full of people) and I find it just like London, which I lived next to for 18 years.  In 2012 it was better: the city was celebrating 850 years and we went to the Battle of Borodino 200th Anniversary Reenactment (which I gave a presentation on at the Remakes in Russia workshop in 2014: my first exposure to ‘real’ academia, maybe!).  Everyone in the public services was really friendly, which is weird for Russia generally!  It was similar in St. Petersburg last year: everyone was much more like British service people…!

I will be going entirely on my own this time too, like when I went to Germany in 2005: this is new and scary, because Russia is so… different.  Still, it’s only 5 days on my own and it’ll be a nice break.

Oh, and then there’s my research: as well as attending a 7-hour heavy metal concert, I’m arranging some interviews with key people.  Exciting, and also scary!

I am also hoping to get to the massive air museum at Monino as well, and in a follow up to mine and Matt’s London trip, the cosmonaut museum.  We also went to the tourist ‘tat’ market in 2003 so I hope to return (albeit on a weekday so half the stalls will be shut) and apparently there’s an Ekranoplan outside the Navy museum…

That’s, of course, if they let me into the country in the first place…

Realisations: Understanding Research

I had my second supervision today: it was incredibly useful, if somewhat garrulous (I think we’re both guilty of wandering off-topic occasionally!).  Afterwards, I went and had my lunch in the CLAS study area (because there’s a microwave there) and read the article on Sepultura I had found.

It occurred to me, as I paused to squeeze my teabag onto the side of my tin mug, that I never envisioned reading an academic article on Sepultura in any context…

Later I went to the PGR Study Area.  It always feels a bit weird going there, because I don’t very often and to me it’s still the Russian departmental office, back when we had one of those.  Since then, it’s been a number of different areas including a teaching area, but I always remember it as part of the office.  It’s amazing how first impressions linger.

Going back the the supervision, it was not only constructive and thought-provoking, but it also made me realise how much work I have actually done.  Once I got down to work in the Study Area, I logged into Google Drive to pick up my notes on various books that I had semi-dictated to my phone when I was writing my proposal, which was less soul-destroying than I expected as there was much more than I thought (only, not on the books I thought I’d done loads with).

It still doesn’t feel like I’ve done much: between work and compulsory seminars, there’s little time during term-time to do much at all, and the preparation for my research trip in less than two weeks has taken up a fair chunk, and the usual October free-time-drought was well in effect this year.  I was reminded today that the compulsory seminars don’t really count for anything (beyond turning up) but I have felt that those I’ve wanted to get something out of I’ve put the right amount of work into.  I imagine for those I see as less relevant (and I’m pretty good by now at the ‘thinking outside the box’ and finding a way for almost everything to be relevant) will get much less time devoted to them.

I am hoping to be able to compile a workable to-do list soon, as well: I think that’s important for the planning I still haven’t gotten around to…

Philosophy of Language

I am interested in philosophy of language, but I don’t really understand it: I read the suggested reading and understand it as I read, but as soon as I finish, it’s gone from my mind.  To really make sense of it, I have to make notes as I go, which is time-consuming, but is it worth it?

I went to this seminar having read all the recommended reading, understood it and, as just mentioned, entirely forgotten it all (making extensive, time-consuming notes was not worthwhile for this seminar given my other responsibilities).  But I learned some things in the seminar which were useful, and backed up my ideas: that’s crucial, because if my ideas had been wrong I would have been too demoralised to even think about looking at it for my research.

I consider myself a novice in this area: I’ve always had more to do in the linguistics side than the philosophy side.  It also doesn’t help that it’s all generally written in a high register which I now have difficulty understanding, but was probably fine when I was constantly immersed in high-end academic writings (so, 2002-6).  But I think it might be worth looking at.

As I am looking at interpretation of song lyrics, the philosophy becomes important: it is all about relevance, inference, meaning defined and meaning received.  So I will read the book the lecturer kindly lent me and make extensive notes on it, and then I will decide if it’s worth including.  At the very least, it is worth looking at because it is interesting, and at worst I will have more things to think about.

Gender Theory and its Impact

This week appears to be ‘gender week’.  At University, today’s Research Skills seminar was on feminism and gender studies; tonight’s inaugural Popular Culture lecture is on masculinity (amongst other things) in James Bond.  On the radio on Monday there was a (lighthearted) discussion about male and female brains.  Via Twitter yesterday I read an article about language and gender: interesting moreso because our Research Skills class is for ‘language’ students (well, students in Cultures, Languages and Area Studies, so predominantly language students of some sort).

In exciting news, it does appear there is a ‘term’ or two for who I am, but it’s problematic outside of the academic sphere.  Also problematic was a fellow (non-native English speaker) postgrad’s use of the term ‘deviant’, although that in itself led to an exciting discussion about language use, lack of language capable of describing things and even the use of language to include as a means to degrade.

The first article I read was by Halberstam on female masculinity.  Unsurprisingly, I immediately picked up on the tomboy parts of the article and would now like to refer to myself as a perpetual tomboy (as if perpetual student was not enough): Halberstam talks about tomboyishness as avoiding adultness, specificlally adult feminism.  The fields I operate in (roleplayers, SF addicts etc.) are full of people who don’t want to ‘grow up’ in many varied ways, and it is also a very accepting, diverse field, which I think helps.

So, now you’re prepared as my stereotyped diversity-accepting public, here’s my other identifier: queer.  Not queer in the ‘popular’ sense (non-heterosexual), but queer in the ‘academic’, gender sense.  Nonconformist.  Contrary.  More than ‘a bit’ different.  It’s nice to know someone’s thought of me and I’m not the only one: sometimes it’s nice to have a pigeonhole to go to.  I like the German language explanation (same root) using quer, across, which is pretty accurate: just because I like planes and wargaming, and usually dress in men’s clothes and enjoy power doesn’t mean I’m attracted to women or don’t enjoy looking like a woman sometimes (although, again, that’s a power thing because it shocks).

Halberstam did go on to say (s)he* was not going to investigate heterosexual female masculinity in the article I read as there wasn’t much of it about, so I’m still in the ‘a bit weird’ category for some things!  But at least I don’t have to suffice with describing myself merely as ‘heterosexual female’ anymore, although maybe I will stick with ‘perpetual tomboy’ outside of academia…

So what about gender in my research?  That’s got to be important, right?  Oh yes, and I did come up with lots of interesting stuff while doing the reading for the seminar, not least from Flax.  I am not, however, going to attempt to include much in my research for the following reasons:

  1. It’s only a Masters and I can’t afford to include too much beyond the direct topic: it risks taking over.
  2. I have more personal interest than professional interest so I’ll leave the gender theorising to more qualified people.
  3. It is something I don’t know much about in the Russian context, nor am I sure where I’d even begin to find out.

I’m not going to ignore it: that would be stupid.  But I think it is important to not dwell on it too long as I don’t want to get sidetracked.  It is important, and there are so many aspects to it in Western metal (female participation, female fans, androgyny, homosexual lyrics…), but it’s not something I can afford much time on and I know I would be horribly unfocussed, as I often am when I’m interested in something from a personal level but not really as an academic.

So, now I have reviewed feminism and it’s James Bond reference (GoldenEye), let’s see what Nathan Waddell has to say about Bond and masculinity.

* Halberstam was a woman when the article I read was written, and is now a man.

My First Month (Back)

I have been attending University as a postgraduate researcher for four weeks now, so I feel an update on progress is in order.

Things have not really settled down yet: it was my birthday Monday and prior to that there were many other interruptions to contend with: Vulcan tours, my parents visiting, friends visiting…  On top of only discovering at the last minute there’s a whole raft of seminars and workshops to attend, rather than the half-dozen I’d been led to expect by everyone and everything (not erroneously, either!), things have been rather busy.

It was quite useful, then, to ‘attend’ the second ECR Chat of the academic year on ‘Dealing with Competing Demands’, during which I was notably multitasking on watching Twitter and playing in Matt’s roleplaying game.  This week’s training workshop also touched on multitasking and time-management, two things I have become very proficient in recently: I have created a timetable of my entire life until the start of January!  And only that far because I don’t know yet what’s really happening beyond.

Things will settle better from this weekend onwards: less visitors, less touring, less nights out.  Yes, nights out: RusSoc and RPGSoc have had a few events I’ve attended which have been out in town, with a few more this week.  At least the RusSoc ones involved a considerable amount of Russian practice.

Another large chunk of Russian practice came when I had to go to London to have my fingerprints digitally (ha ha!) taken for my Russian visa.  Sitting in the waiting area of the Russian National Tourist Office meant I was exposed to Russian (at a level I could understand), and mine and Matt’s trip to the Cosmonauts exhibition at the Science Museum straight after involved a lot of trying to work out not only what words meant, but also semi-obscured handwriting.  At least it was all post-revolution Cyrillic this time!

With all this gallivanting about, I don’t feel like I’ve really done much.  I have, though: part of my ‘research’ is preparing for this research trip to Russia, so those hours spent writing interview requests and emailing them (or, in some cases, messaging on Facebook) are ‘counted’, as are at least some of those spent going to London, applying for my visa etc.  And I have had time to squeeze in a little bit (maybe a half-hour?) of ‘real’ research preparation.  Which is nothing, but I also know that won’t last: I’m only four weeks in, and week six sees the start of the time I have time.

I think I’ve mostly been semi-demoralised by the lack of progress as compared to other times: even my second undergraduate degree, which was similar to this in that it was part-time and I was working otherwise full-time, but being taught meant I ‘progressed’ much quicker.

Another similarity between my BSc and this MA is the feeling of isolation, which is not entirely anyone’s fault.  I might have kept in contact with the Department since 2006, but things have undeniably changed, not least the format of what I’m doing.  I have tried to make friends, mostly outside of the Department because I think it’s easier to make friends within, but even within the Department and my peer group I find it hard because we’re all working on our own projects, I’m not often in the Department or on the same campus, I don’t want to follow around the people who attend the same seminars etc. as I do like a lost puppy and, crucially, I’m a bit too independent for my own good.  Which is why I think I feel the need to attend departmental stuff as often as I can.  I was going to attend SlavSoc but it’s all drinking and that’s boring, although they do appear to be trying to start something more inclusive.

Well, hopefully some sort of stability for the next two to three weeks will mean I feel much more settled and much less like I’m floundering in a dark sea…

(Postgraduate) Welcome Week: A Re-Starting Student’s Perspective

Last week was Week One at the University of Nottingham, when students arrive or return to study.  I was in the odd situation of returning to start: I graduated in 2006 but came back this year to start my Masters.  So while I am back in familiar territory, many things are new and even Week One itself was rather unusual.

The sports hall at University Park is currently under renovation, which meant Freshers’ Fair was all up the creek as the fields the marquee has been on for the past eight years was full of construction paraphernalia.  Back in 2002, the Fair was held in the (unextended) Portland Building, but there weren’t 271 societies to squeeze in, so space was at a premium this year as we returned: RPGSoc were initially supposed to be outside with standing room and an allocated interaction space for an hour a day in the Hobbies room, but the atrocious weather on Monday was a godsend: we set up the little table in the room and did what we usually do, only with the ‘come and have a go’ space we’d always wanted.  Our allocated outside space didn’t go to waste either: we sent some LARPers out to show off our ‘public’ face too.

Other than standing around catching the eyes of introverted geeks and asking them what sort of roleplaying appealed to them, I actually had things to do.  As a part-time student, everything there was a bit weird too.  I don’t think I was truly required to attend anything, as they expected me to be away working but as I always have Week One off, it seemed daft not to get involved as much as I could.  I attended four Welcomes: two aimed primarily at Research postgrads, one for just the half-dozen new Russianists (although one was continuing from undergrad and I was sort-of a returner) and one for all CLAS (Cultures, Languages and Area Studies) postgrads.  There was also a welcome party thing for all Russian students, where I met lots of new people, hopefully didn’t scare too many and drank rather a lot of wine.

Thursday I had my ‘admin’ day: I attempted to pick up my student card but Student Services was so rammed I didn’t bother; I found out where the SSAGC (Social Sciences and Arts Graduate Centre), had coffee and biscuits with people much older and much younger than me and introduced myself to lots of postgrad History people; I also had a look around and ate my lunch in the CLAS study area at the bottom of Trent where the Language Learning Centre (not the Language Centre) used to be.

All that remains before I really push on is to get together with my fellow Russian postgrads to find out what’s going on and have my first supervision on Friday.  And that is the scariest part for me: real supervisions with people who care about something I actually care about too!  Wish me luck!