Jim Sykes

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

Jim Sykes (Ph.D., University of Chicago) is a drummer and anthropologist who works broadly across sound and music studies, South and Southeast Asian Studies, and critical social theory. In these domains, some topics he writes about include: ethnonationalism, ethnic violence and civil war; harmonious relations through music across ethnic and religious divides; the effects of capitalism and development on religious practices; 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.

His first book, The Musical Gift: Sonic Generosity in Post-War Sri Lanka, is due out in September 2018 from Oxford University Press. (Besides the hardcover and ebook versions it’s available to read free online via Oxford Scholarship Online—check your library.) With Gavin Steingo, Sykes is co-editor of Remapping Sound Studies (forthcoming, Duke University Press). Two other book projects are in the works, one called Sonic Enchantment and a History of Capital that critiques narratives on the disenchantment of music through a study of labor, liberalism, and Tamil Hindu sounds in public and private spaces in Singapore; the second is an “anarchist” music history of the Bay of Bengal region that critiques ethnonationalist and European-derived philosophies of music. At Penn this March, he’ll be hosting a conference that brings together contributors to a book he’s editing with Julia Byl called Sounding the Indian Ocean: Musical Circulations in the Afro-Asiatic Seascape.

As a drummer, Sykes has released albums and toured heavily, with features on the Pitchfork website, Wired,National Public Radio, Spin Magazine, and elsewhere. He 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). He has recorded and/or toured with Mike Watt (Minuetmen, Stooges), Norman Westberg (Swans), Marnie Stern (Kill Rock Stars), White Magic (Drag City), Martin Bisi (producer of Sonic Youth, John Zorn), and Tyondai Braxton (Battles). 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)


Selected Publications:



Publications and Recordings