Michael Li / Sun Senior Photographer

Piegions Playing Ping Pong at the Haunt on Sept 1, 2018 (Michael Wenye Li / Sun Photography Editor)

October 27, 2019

YANG | There Will Be No Ithaca Music Scene If You Don’t Go to Local Concerts

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Complaints about Cornell’s geographical location never cease. Calling it isolated and far from everything is the most common remark you will hear from students hailing from metropolitan areas. Location fundamentally shapes the identities of both Cornell and Ithaca in a spontaneous and symbiotic way. The school and the city cannot cease to coexist. Yet it is as if Cornellians refuse to come to terms with our very own geographic locus — a sense of cognitive dissonance is prevalent when it comes to mapping ourselves in Ithaca. Cornellians are in Ithaca, but we are barely here. We are on campus, yet we are barely in Ithaca. We look and feel like tourists when we head to the Commons. We come and go throughout the year, and we graduate and move away. Even for the two-thirds of the year when we are actually here, we are preoccupied with things that happened far away and overlook the profusion happening in the vicinity.

People complain about Ithaca’s music scene all the time, whining that their favorite artists never tour in Ithaca or anywhere in upstate New York. We listen to and talk about those artists who are never here, and we complain about their absence. But why does the geography of the music taste here have to be so skewed towards artists that are not even close to Ithaca? Why are we endorsing the monopoly of culture with globalized distribution when technology could be better leveraged to amplify the silenced and marginalized in the digital age?

There is music in Ithaca, and the music scene here is far from dying. Perhaps even the term thriving is a lukewarm remark to describe the proliferation of such community. All of you should check out the local music scene here in Ithaca. There is a vibrant underground music scene that has largely been under the radar for most Cornellians. This is almost preposterous, as Cornell is, in fact, an integral part of the formation of the alternative music scene here in Ithaca. Back in the 1960s, the most influential innovation that defined the sound of modern music was crafted in the hand of then-PhD student Robert Moog ’65 at Cornell. In the outskirts of Ithaca, he started the R. A. Moog Company and invented the Moog synthesizer. This mapped Ithaca as an unrivaled small town with a rich musical history. The legacy of Robert Moog continues to be a salient quality of Ithaca’s music scene. He has had a lasting influence on the electronic, drone, noise and avant-garde music scenes here in Ithaca.

Fast forward to 2019, a DIY music scene is still blooming in Ithaca. For a town with a population of 30,000, the scale and the caliber of Ithaca’s music scene is unparalleled. With a plethora of organizations like Ithaca Underground, Fanclub Collective, The Electrozone and Microtones, and with focal hubs like The Haunt and Angry Mom Records, you will always be able to find music at any time of the week. And the music is not merely good –– Ithaca offers something exceptional that it is nowhere to be found on a bland Spotify playlist. Underground music has long been an inseparable character of Ithaca, and we as university dwellers should not segregate ourselves when we are already paying exorbitant rent to stay in Ithaca.

Please go see the local musicians live. It is absurd to think that Ithaca’s music scene is far from campus, as we are already in Ithaca when we are at Cornell. In fact, a lot of local musicians are Cornellians as well. A better way to phrase it is that a lot of Cornellians are co-shaping the music landscape here in Ithaca. A student who is a musician here is never simply a student musician. A student musician is always a local musician as well. Geographic affiliations are inherent to an artist’s character. It is always the case unless you as an artist refuse to embrace and are in denial of your own locality. Music is especially a geographically-oriented art form; the sensation of live performance is still not replicable in a vicarious sense, at least not yet. These students often bring their artist friends up here to perform on campus, too. Please take advantage of that. A local music scene only exists when people recognize and leverage the geographic proximity to foster a sense of community.

Music does not merely exist on Slope Day, Homecoming or whenever Cornell Concert Commission brings your favorite bands to town. Music exists outside of the world of Spotify, frat parties and Collegetown. In the digital age, we should be more connected, not more homogenized. Within the infrastructure of algorithms, we should amplify the marginalized, and we should start doing so locally. Growing up in a metropolis with a vibrant music scene, I have to admit that I did not expect too much from the Ithaca music scene before I came here. Yet Ithaca has never ceased to amaze ever since. There will be no Ithaca music scene if you don’t try to seek it out and embrace it. And the best way to do so is to go see those artists live.


Stephen Yang is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Rewiring Technoculture runs alternate Mondays this semester.