Jim Sykes


Associate Professor of Music


Room 330, LERNER CENTER/6313

Jim Sykes (Ph.D., Chicago) is Associate Professor in the Department of Music. A drummer and anthropologist, he works broadly across music and sound studies, South and Southeast Asian studies, and critical social theory. His first book, The Musical Gift: Sonic Generosity in Post-War Sri Lanka (Oxford, 2018), won the Bruno Nettl Prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology in 2019. With Gavin Steingo, he is co-editor of Remapping Sound Studies,  (Duke, 2019), which imagines the field of sound studies from the global south. He is currently working on a book about Tamil Hindu drumming, dis/enchantment, development, displacement, and capitalism in Singapore. With Julia Byl, he is editing a volume tentatively called Sounding the Indian Ocean: Musical Circulations in the Afro-Asiatic Seascape. He also has longstanding experience traveling and studying music in North India, and as a drummer has recorded and toured with numerous noise, indie, and experimental rock bands, with features on the Pitchfork website, National Public Radio, Spin Magazine, and elsewhere. 

To date, Sykes’ writings have explored music and sound as they interrelate with: ethnonationalism, ethnic violence, and civil war; harmonious relations across ethnic and religious divides; colonial liberalism and governmentality; anthropology’s ontological turn and the new materialism in religious studies; Sinhala Buddhist and Tamil Hindu sound worlds, particularly drumming traditions; and colonial port cities. He is currently working on a historical anthropology of the disintegration of Singapore’s old neighborhoods in light of the island’s ubiquitous development projects, focusing on how development facilitated the eradication, moving, or consolidation of Hindu temples and processions. The project also investigates engagements between Tamil Hindus and Chinese Taoists in ritual contexts; debates about Hindu ritual sounds and penance in a city defined by global capitalism; and circulations of religious media between Singapore and South India, particularly of the Hindu ritual genre urumi melam. 

Drawing on his experiences as an experimental rock drummer, new research interests include musical labor under neoliberal capitalism in North America, including musicians and gentrification (particularly in Brooklyn), algorithms, streaming, touring, and global histories of musical labor and ontologies outside capitalism. 

Sykes was the first drummer of Brooklyn noise rock band Parts & Labor, a member of Grooms (part of the Death by Audio collective), and currently plays in Invisible Things (with U.S. Maple’s Mark Shippy). Some musicians he has toured and/or recorded with include Marnie Stern (Kill Rock Stars), Mike Watt (Minuetmen, Stooges), Norman Westberg (Swans), White Magic (Drag City), and Martin Bisi (producer of Sonic Youth, John Zorn). He was part of the Boredoms’ 77 Boadrum project.

Selected Publications: