Thomas Burkhalter is an ethno-musicologist, music journalist, audio-visual artist and film director based in Bern. He is the initiator and director of the music platform norient.com. He is also the author of a thesis on underground music in Beirut and co-director of the film “Contradict” about alternative music in Ghana.
Bern, July 2020
“Music and musical reflection are my two great passions. I started doing freelance music journalism in 1997. At the time it was relatively profitable, it allowed me to finance my interviews. It was an incredible period: I went to London, Cairo, Beirut, Belgrade and Johannesburg. Today it would be much more difficult, the remuneration keeps going down. But I think it’s still possible to produce interesting articles and podcasts, to get closer to what’s going on in the world and to report on it. There will always be room for people who are passionate about their subject, who like to play with words. The most important thing is to have a humble approach, not to consider that just because you’ve been to a place twice, you become a specialist in the subject. It is also important to multiply the points of view. We have to be smart and find solutions to keep moving forward. That is really the only advice I can give.
I created the norient.com platform in 2002. This platform is relaunched today thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign. The idea of norient.com is to create a space for journalists, researchers and artists from all over the world, whether they are famous or not; and to tell important stories about our world today with a focus on music, sounds and noises. This is why we chose the name norient sound. It refers to the acoustic phenomenon that becomes seismographic in a short period of time, reflecting everything that is happening in our world today. At norient, we seek to combine authors, points of view, perspectives as well as formats: articles, photos, podcasts, videos and artistic experiments. We want to create relevant content in conjunction with a community of thinkers and artists. We also put forward publications, be it a university thesis or a book on hip hop in Senegal. I really think that research should be public or made public. Quality journalism is crucial too. We need new voices, new perspectives and positions, from Switzerland of course because that’s where we are based, but also and above all from Africa, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere.
The question that springs to mind is the following. These days, music journalism has a bad reputation. It is considered to be superficial and representative of the point of view of European or American white males. And this bad reputation is also reflected in music circles and in the music industry. I have heard that artists or their management often prefer to publish their own promo copy and have complete control over the artist’s image. While I consider good journalistic and reflective content to be of paramount importance to keep things moving forward. I also believe that music journalism needs to reinvent itself. For example, I’m thinking about a series of podcasts at the confluence of interview and composition. In other words, transforming journalism into a musical form. It’s a tricky path, one that raises a lot of questions. But I believe that for content to be heard nowadays, it has to be deep, meaningful, strong and conveyed in an exciting format.”
Still A-live! During this unprecedented period of confinement, the Show-me team has gone to meet musicians and cultural players to question them and take the pulse of what they’re thinking. What is or should be the status of the artist? What are possible remunerations? What evolution is possible after the crisis?
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