In 1991, the alternative rock band Dead Can Dance released an album that caught the attention of music reviewers by constructing an aural allegiance to the Middle Ages. Suitably called A Passage in Time, the album was described as imitating medieval chant, troubadour and trouvère music, Latin hymns, and courtly songs and included Dead Can Dance's hybrid medieval songs as well as performances of actual medieval repertoire.1 Released and widely distributed by Warner, the album was in fact a compilation of material from their earlier The Serpent's Egg (1988) and Aion (1990), both carried by the independent label 4AD.
Both Dead Can Dance's newly composed renditions as well as their performances of medieval music were modeled after historically informed performances and thus drew on the sounds of medieval music as it was constructed in the early music revival of the 1960s and 1970s. In modeling their songs and sounds after historical recordings of medieval music, Dead Can Dance also adopted some of the ideological parameters of these performances and historical reconstructions (Boronow, 1998, http://www.vanderbilt.edu/htdocs/Blair/Courses/MUSL242/f98/types.htm). Examining the output of Dead Can Dance against these performance practices reveals similar preoccupations with the Middle Ages as simultaneously "naive," "pure," and "uncorrupted" by modern conventions (Haines, 2004a), or "distant," "exotic," and strangely unfamiliar or "archaic" (Leech-Wilkinson, 2002).
Dead Can Dance's appropriation of Bulgarian, North African, and Arab musical practices also participates in what Edward Said has called "Orientalism." As Said has argued, the practices of geography, travel writing, literature, political theory, economics, and even anthropology were all constituents of a discourse ultimately responsible for constructing the Orient as the West's Other. For Said, the issue was not simply that Orientalism was not truthful or accurate, but that it became "a western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the 'Orient'" (1978:3). As he and other postcolonial scholars have argued, the appropriation of foreign peoples' cultures or ideas invariably amounts to representations that reinscribe power and racial divisions, and, to follow arguments by Homi Bhabha (1994) and Gayatri Spivak (1988), result in the continuous silencing and colonizing of non-Western cultures.
By juxtaposing Bulgarian, North African, and Arab practices with a Western medieval past, Dead Can Dance can also be seen to reinscribe Western stereotypes that locate the contemporary non-Western Other as frozen in the past. As Johannes Fabian (1983) has argued, such a view is the heritage of a theory of unilinear evolutionary process comprising set stages of progress with the same content for all peoples. In the underlying paradigm of a scientific Time, these stages are ordered chronologically, and a position on the evolutionary line is equal to a position in time; difference is thus affirmed as distance. Through a process of defamiliarization, the mapping of Bulgarian, North African, and Arab practices onto the Middle Ages increases the distance of the Middle Ages from the present. The Middle Ages thus becomes an internal Other, looked at, as Gary Tomlinson notes, from "the superiority of ...