Feel the Noise: Sound, Music & Technology
Jonathan Sterne's The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (2003) has helped incite a surge of scholarship on listening, hearing, and sound in the humanities in recent years. The 2009 Thinking Hearing: The Auditory Turn in the Humanities conference held at the University of Texas at Austin demonstrates that a strong interest in sound studies is newly emerging in various disciplines. With this turn toward the study of sound, our conceptions of listening, sound, and auditory processes are undergoing a necessary critical reevaluation. However, despite all of the noise that sound has been generating in the academy, many sound-related discourses are still not in conversation with one another. So, rather than initiating a forum based on analysis and critique, on breaking down the subject, we are interested in amplifying, synthesizing, sampling, and remixing the current discourses on sound. We are listening for something new. We hope that putting these discourses in conversation with one another, tweaking the levels as we go, will help foster a nuanced, multi-layered understanding of the role of sound in the humanities and beyond.
As sound announces itself to different disciplines, it raises a lot of questions. Often technical questions come first:
- What are the techniques, tips, and best practices for listening to, citing, producing, writing with, teaching with, and distributing audio recordings across the academy?
After listening to the technical questions, you put on the flip side and hear all the theoretical questions embedded in the technical questions.
- Who gets to make noise?
- How are bodies moved by sound?
- How do we filter information through our ears?
Technical issues like audio quality and fidelity cannot be separated from more theoretical questions about noise, embodiment, and memory. Production choices and technical decisions--many of which are encoded in geographies and discourse communities--may come together to create a style that carries with it certain cultural values. (For example, because turntables and records were more available than pianos in New York City in the 1980s, they became the instruments of hip hop. In order to use them as instruments, DJs learned to play them, creating techniques like cutting, scratching, and sampling records to which they had no legal rights. Hip Hop aficionados re-distributed music via mixtapes.) Like all composition techniques, acts of audio creation carry with them ideological arguments about authorship and ownership, originality and mimesis.
So, like two sides of the same tape, the technical and the theoretical create an album. Our goal is not to create a techne/episteme binary, but to continue to flip the tape until we hear something new.
Let's start by playing the following tracks:
Side A: Techne
Track 1: Sound Travels
Sound-related words like "voice," "tone," and--more recently--"remixing," have migrated through the permeable disciplinary walls of the university. As sound-related concepts travel through the university, how can we use them to develop new pedagogies, practices, research questions, and methodologies?
Track 2: High Fidelity
The .mp3 is synonymous with the revolution in digital sound. However, it also relies on a lossy compression algorithm that reduces the amount of data in a recording. As we move more and more of our lives online, using various compression techniques for various reasons, we might ask, "What data are we filtering out?" and "How hi-fi do our archives need to be?"
Track 3: Academic Audio
As audio recording reaches its sesquicentennial, it has spread beyond the recording industry, A/V clubs, and schools of communications. In an age when anyone can record anyone, how do we adapt and create audio recording genres that serve the interests of learning? What could/should academic audio sound like? If you use sound in the classroom, (here is one example from Jentery Sayers) what do you do? How do you integrate sound and music into a (humanities) course?
Track 4: Technics
Compared to graphical writing, audio recording is relatively new. Our audile techniques are much less developed than our graphical literacy. How might we develop audile techniques so we can read and write with sound in a way that exceeds language? How does Sound Art figure into this conversation?
Side B: Episteme
Track 1: Bring the noise?
What happens when we start to amplify traditionally quiet spaces in the university? Who decides what is signal and what is noise?
Track 2: Embodiment
We read facing the page. We write papers with our bodies turned toward pages or screens. This arrangement privileges the eyes. What possibilities are opened up when we resist ocularcentrism and learn to read and write with more than just our eyes? What happens when you hear a poem, not just read it? What does it mean to say: You are a chord?
Track 3: Multiculturalism (the remix)
In the academy, we often talk about the cultural trinity of race, class, and gender. How can we use sound to remix multiculturalism? How are our listening practices informed by racialized discourse (and vice versa)? Is sound sexualized? Gendered? Does hi-fidelity mean high class? How can we sound out new ways to approach different cultures?
Track 4: Memories
Technology allows us to capture and record sounds that our auditory system filters out. How does this more complete audio recording complicate memory? How do you preserve sound? What gets included in a national recording preservation project? How are power and memory related in an age of surveillance? What interesting projects have you found that seek to preserve or highlight lost/forgotten sounds?
We hope you dig these tracks and will join our discussion. What are you listening to now? How do you hear the world or your community? What videos, playlists, experiments, art projects, noises, research projects or other concepts about 'sound' 'noise' or 'hearing' get you excited? Make your own mix and share it with us!
Invited Guests: Cheryl Ball, Michael Salvo, John Logie, Tara Rodgers, Jentery Sayers, John Gibson and David Haeselin.