Jim Sykes

Assistant Professor, Music

Ph.D, University of Chicago

Research Fellowship, King's College London

Jim Sykes holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and held a research fellowship at King’s College London before coming to Penn in 2013. To date, his research has explored the vast interrelations between sound, personhood, modernity, aesthetics and the politics of disaster in the Indian Ocean region, with a focus on Sinhala Buddhist and Tamil Hindu ritual musics in post-tsunami and late-war Sri Lanka. He has interests in critical social theory, the philosophy of music, anthropological linguistics, sound studies, artisanship and critical organology, experimental rock music cultures, and ethnographies of touring and musical livelihoods in the digital age. Besides Sri Lanka, he has done fieldwork in India, Singapore and Malaysia, with funding from the Fulbright-Hays DDRA, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Mellon Foundation and the European Research Council.

While at King's, Sykes began a new project on spatializations and erasures of Tamil Hindu music histories in the wake of development processes in Singapore.  The project includes an ethnography of urumi melam (a genre of drumming), as well as an exploration of the circulation of devotional songs around the Bay of Bengal and persisting ideas of a broader 'Malayan Indian' music history in Singapore.  He has articles in progress on:  the history of Indian music in Singapore; the theorization of islands and oceans in ethnomusicology; and a co-written piece (with Katherine Schofield) on musical communities and kingship in precolonial and early colonial Southern Asia.  With Julia Byl, he is editing a volume tentatively called Ethnomusicology and Historical Anthropology.

As a drummer, Sykes has recorded nine officially released albums and toured extensively with some recognized names in Indie rock, for which he has been featured in Spin Magazine, Wired, the Pitchfork website and elsewhere.  His current band Invisible Things (a duo with Mark Shippy of the band U.S. Maple) has a new album out soon recorded with Martin Bisl (producer of Sonic Youth, John Zorn, etc).  Information on their 2012 album can be found here:  http://porterrecords.com/id126.html.

CV (file): 
Selected Publications: 
Forthcoming.  “Beyond the Musicology of Disaster: A Sri Lankan Music History for the Post-War Period.”  In Bravo, Gwyneth, ed., Music of War (Routledge).Forthcoming, 2013.

In Press. “Sound as Promise and Threat: Drumming, Collective Violence and the British Raj in Colonial Ceylon”.  In Biddle, Ian and Kirsten Gibson, eds., Noise, Audition, Aurality: Histories of the Sonic World(s) of Europe, 1500-1945 (Ashgate).

"Culture as Freedom: Musical ‘Liberation’ in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka”.  Ethnomusicology, Vol. 57, No. 3, Fall 2013, pp. 485-517.

Review of Music as History in Tamil Nadu, by T.K. Venkatasubramanian (Primus Books, 2010). Studies in History, Feb. 2012, 28: 137-140.