Blog Post

Mapping, Sound and Race

Hello Everyone,

I suppose this can serve as an introduction to the HASTAC world.  If you have not been over to read and participate in the Feel the Noise: Sound, Music & Technology forum on Sound, please check it out!  There are some great questions, discussions and ideas being generated and I'm honored to be one of the hosts.  


I grew up in the Black Pentecostal Christian tradition as a musician (hammond b-3), singer, songwriter and choir director (it was a small church).  I have always been attentive to the ways in which sound moves people within particular social worlds and situations, the Black Pentecostal sect or otherwise.  When I would play "shouting music," (begin around :030) the congregation would respond with tears, hollers, moans, running and dancing in the space.  When i "backed up" a preacher on the organ, their emotional intensity would become the greater, and the congregation would vigorously engage the more.  The switch - in the same song - from the major mode to the minor mode, sometimes called "taking it to church," (listen to the change at 1:50) registers meaning, affect, emotion and intensity for the performer as well as the congregation.    

These "affective intensities" of sound are not universal but take place in place and time, they are temporal.  So I have noticed singing "congregational songs" that are pretty much the same song in places like Brooklyn having different rhythm, enunciation, lyrics, timbre, quality than the same song sung in Charleston.  What I want to do is register difference - what some call "style" - as indexing notions of freedom, escape, migration, flight, politics.


I am writing here to speak about my deep interest in the relations between mapping, sound and race.  My dissertation will be about the movement and sedimentation of sound, song and sentiment in various locations, using the Underground Railroad's relation to sound and song to map (the changes in) affect, emotion, sentiment, politics, theology from place to place.  So, for example, when Harriet Tubman sung in Eastern Shore, MD, the politics of singing songs there meant differently than singing the same song in Canada.  I want to think about how sound and song accrues to location, trying to think about identity and difference by way of sound.  I also am trying to think about sound's connection to subjectivity as a spatially organizing principle; the sound of subjectivity is enacted and informs a topo-geo-logic.

These are just a few initial and scattered thoughts.  I would love feedback, questions, comments...any form and mode of engagement is welcome!




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