This chapter examines the use and usefulness of cross-cultural research and comparative analysis in ethnomusicology. It opens by unpacking the historical roots of the discipline’s skepticism toward comparative approaches before then making a case for their reconsideration. As a conclusion to the book Making It Up Together: The Art of Collective Improvisation in Balinese Music and Beyond, the chapter argues for the potential of comparative approaches to deepen the musical analysis of collectively improvised practices by providing a unified analytical framework: a metalanguage encouraging intertextual reference among researchers of diverse practices. Using the analytical models proposed in Chapters 1 and 4, the chapter presents a comparative analysis of improvisational processes in Shona mbira dzavadzimu music and Balinese kendang arja (arja drumming) to illustrate the potential of a cross-cultural approach. The analysis aims to show that, rather than being reductive, comparisons on the level of process can draw unique aspects of each practice into clearer focus, the premise of commonality elucidating the details of difference. It shows how analytical frameworks with cross-genre applicability help place collectively improvised practices of all stripes on a level playing field for analysis, enabling deeper insight into collectivity and improvisatory processes across cultures.
Keywords: collective improvisation, ethnomusicology, musical analysis, comparative analysis, comparative approaches, cross-cultural research, analytical framework, mbira, mbira dzavadzimu, kendang arja