Jim Sykes

Associate Professor of Music
Graduate Chair in Music
Room 330, Music Building

Jim Sykes (Ph.D., University of Chicago) is Associate Professor of Music and Chair of Graduate Studies. 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, was published in September 2018 by Oxford University Press (due out in paperback in fall 2019). With Gavin Steingo, Sykes is co-editor of Remapping Sound Studies (Duke University Press, 2019). Some topics he has written about include: ethnonationalism, ethnic violence, and civil war; harmonious relations through music across ethnic and religious divides; sound, riots, and urban space; anthropology’s ontological turn and the new materialism in religious studies; Sinhala Buddhist and Tamil Hindu sound worlds; and histories of plantation labor and colonial port cities. Besides Sri Lanka, he has done extensive fieldwork in Singapore and North India.

Sykes’ current book project draws on his experiences as a touring drummer with indie and experimental rock bands as well as his fieldwork with Singapore’s Indian (Tamil) minority to consider a global history of relations between musicianhood, enchantment, employment, development/gentrification, and displacement in neoliberal capitalism. With Julia Byl, he is editing Sounding the Indian Ocean: Musical Circulations in the Afro-Asiatic Seascape.

Selected Publications: https://upenn.academia.edu/JimSykes

As a drummer, Sykes has released albums and toured heavily, with features on Pitchfork, Tiny Mix Tapes, WiredNPR, Spin, and elsewhere. He was the first drummer of 2000s-era Brooklyn noise rock band Parts & Labor, a member of Grooms (part of the Death by Audio collective), and more recently Invisible Things (with U.S. Maple’s Mark Shippy). In 2017, he released an album with Shippy featuring Mike Watt (Minuetmen, Stooges), Norman Westberg (Swans), and Matt Wascovich (Scarcity of Tanks). He previously toured with Marnie Stern (Kill Rock Stars), White Magic (Drag City), and Martin Bisi (producer of Sonic Youth, John Zorn), among others. He was part of the Boredoms’ 77 Boadrum project. 




www.npr.org/event/music/411252998/invisible-things-f (a never-ending drum fill starts around 4:35)






Publications and Recordings