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Call for EMP POP Correspondents! March 22nd

Panelists at Sounds of the City: The 2012 EMP Pop Conference on stage, Photo courtesy of Michael Weintrob and the EMP

Panelists at Sounds of the City: The 2012 EMP Pop Conference on stage, Photo courtesy of Michael Weintrob and the EMP

This year, Sounding Out! plans to “cover” each of the five regional Experience Music Project conferences for our readership, particularly thinking through an issue we have been discussing in detail lately in our “Sonic Borders” forum with IASPM-US—where exactly is the rub between sound studies and popular music studies?

We are looking for one attendee at each EMP conference:

to attend the respective conference and as many of its attached events as possible and then provide a 500-700 word review of the conference no later than two weeks after the event.  We are especially interested in reviews that consider the following questions:  

  • How has the rise of sound studies challenged, provoked, and factored into popular music study?  
  • Where is the crossover, the overlap—and, inevitably, the divergence?  
  • How does popular music study challenge and provoke sound studies in return?  
  • In what way does the regional nature of the new EMP format issue interesting challenges to both fields?

Our correspondents will be published together on a special “EMP Fandango” blog post that will reach a wide readership. It will also become a permanent part of our archive and a tool for future scholars in both fields.

To apply to be a correspondent for any of the regional conferences, please email Editor in Chief Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman at  jsa@soundingoutblog.com by March 22nd with your CV  (or resume) and a brief cover letter email conveying your interest in thinking through  the “sonic border” between sound studies and popular music studies at EMP this year (250-300 words). Please place the EMP you would like to cover in the subject line of your email.

Sound at EMP Pop Con 2012

As our Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman mentioned in her Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) Conference Round-Up post from this past Monday, this weekend will be action packed for those interested in media studies and popular music studies. This year is the first year the Experience Music Project Museum (EMP) POP Conference will take place on the East Coast—sponsored by New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. In addition, the EMP POP Conference will be jointly held with the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (US) Conference (IASPM-US for short). With that in mind we have brought two conference round-up posts this week. (Speaking of blogging about conferences, don’t miss IASPM’s blog coverage of EMP POP Conference 2012, where they are previewing several papers that will be read at the conference.) Even though our editorial collective is still working on the technology to enable us to be in several places at once so we don’t miss out on these awesome opportunities, I will be Sounding Out’s eyes and ears at EMP POP Conference. I will also attempt to live-tweet the panels I am attending. You can find me at @literarychica, or you can follow the conference tweet stream at #PopCon

The EMP POP Conference has been bringing together academics and non-academics alike, musicians and non-musicians alike, music writers and non-music-writers to discuss the direction of popular culture–especially popular music. The theme of this year’s POP Conference is Sounds of the City, and what better location for these cross-disciplinary conversations than New York City? From the conference website:

Presenters will pay particular attention to what urban environments have meant for race, gender, and sexuality. Jazz, rock, indie, country, metal, electronic dance music, roots, disco, and Broadway music are but some of the sounds that will be the subject of entire panels.

The city becomes the place to explore how sound is constructed but also how the city helps construct sound—and its counterpart, noise. Detroit, Berlin, and New York City, among others, take certer stage in this year’s program. Many of the panel topics show an interest in thinking about how sound influences our notion of urban space, which brings to my mind the “cities of feeling” that Carlo Rotella talks about in his book October Cities: The Redevelopment of Urban Literature. If, according to Rotella, “literary writers are in the business of imagining cities,” here at the EMP POP Conference there is an impulse to consider how do sound and noise participate in that imagining, and how gender and race play a role (3). The conference offerings illustrate an attempt to think about the sounds of the city in a broader sense, not just limiting it to music. Although the EMP POP Conference stands out for its critical focus on everything related to popular music, this year’s panels are more sound-studies oriented.

Another indication of the sound studies influence at this year’s EMP POP Conference is a focus on listening. There seems to be a an inclination not just to think about the sounds within the city but how we listen to those sounds. Listening is an important factor in how sound is constructed; in other words, an analysis of sound is not limited to the sounds themselves, but how those who listen interpret those sounds, or how listeners themselves are perceived. From the Feminist Working Group‘s Friday panel titled Turn It Up! One: Listening to Difference to Gustavus Stadler’s “Aural Drag: Warhol as Pop Listener” to the Sunday panel Urban Ears, listening is part of the conversation taking place at NYU this weekend about sound and urban space.

Our regular readers will see several familiar names in the program. Gayle Wald is presenting on the Marvelettes Friday morning on the Afro Imaginaries panel. Gustavus Stadler is moderating the Lonely Subcultures panel on Friday and presenting on Andy Warhol in his paper “Aural Drag: Warhol as Pop Listener.” (Insider tip: keep an ear out for Eric Lott, who will be presenting on the same panel as Stadler; you can expect a blog post from Lott in the upcoming months.) Karen Tongson, who blogged for us on The Voice, will be presenting a paper titledDrive and Sounds of the ‘80s Metropolis.” Scott Poulson-Bryant will be participating in the Saturday afternoon roundtable on Whitney Houston titled “Newark’s Finest: Reflections on Whitney Houston.” Last but not least, Regina Bradley, one of our regular writers, and myself will be presenting together on a roundtable on Sunday titled “I Pledge Allegiance to the Block: Cityscapes, Hegemonic Sound, and Blackness.”

The conference will take place at New York University’s Kimmel Center, and is free of charge. To find out more about the presenters or to read about all the other outstanding panels at the conference, please visit the conference website. So if you’re in the New York City area Thursday through Sunday (or if you’re considering hopping on a train from Boston to check out some panels–wink wink), the conference will be well worth your while!

Please comment to let SO! know what you think–both before and after EMP PopCon 2012. If I missed your panel in my round up, please drop me a line: lms@soundingoutblog.com

Liana M. Silva is co-founder and Managing Editor of Sounding Out! She is also a PhD candidate at Binghamton University.

Jump to THURSDAY, March 22
Jump to FRIDAY, March 23
Jump to SATURDAY, March 24
Jump to SUNDAY, March 25

"Music in Central Park, New York City" by Flickr user Creative (Elias) 809 under Creative Commons License

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THURSDAY, March 22

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012 7:00pm-8:30pm

Conference Opening Keynote: The Artist in the City: with Angélique Kidjo, Esperanza Spalding, Santigold, and Himanshu Suri (aka Heems)

Room: Eisner & Lubin Auditorium KC 401

Writing about how jazz in the mid-20th century reflected lived experience in New York city’s tenements, the scholar Shane Vogel quoted Duke Ellington’s description of his swing symphony, “Harlem Air Shaft”: “So much goes on in a Harlem air shaft…You hear fights, you smell dinner, you hear people maing love. You hear intimate gossip floating down. You hear the radio. An air shaft is one great big loudspeaker.” In the crowded city, the musician-composer becomes a living receiver, distilling a static field of sounds and sensations into an evocative whole.

This keynote event gathers together four prominent artists whose work reflects a cosmopolitan worldview, with each artist rooted in his or her particular urban home. Grammy winning Beninoise singer-songwriter Angélique Kidjo has truly had a global career, having recorded albums in a staggering array of languages, styles, genres and cities; her recently-released live album Spirit Rising is a career retrospective featuring diverse guests like Ezra Koenig, Josh Groban and the Kuumba Singers. Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding is about to release her third album, Radio Music Society, a border-crossing blend of jazz, soul, funk and pop that reflects the cities she loves: New York, Barcelona, and her birthplace of Portland, Oregon. Philadelphia-bred, Brooklyn-based Santigold (Santi White) is one of the brightest lights of the East Coast bohemian underground; her upcoming second album, Master of My Make Believe, takes her incendiary blend of hip hop, indie rock and dance music to a new level. On his recent mixtape Nehru Jackets, Himanshu Suri (Heems) of the Queens-identified hip hop group Das Racist drops wit and wisdom about the ups and downs of life in Gotham’s five boroughs. Discussing their new work and how they’ve formed their own sound and vision in relationship to the urban spaces where they thrive, these artists consider what’s changed and what remains consistent in the half-century plus since the Duke found heaven in the clanging multiplicity of the air shaft.

Moderator: Ann Powers

Featuring:

Angélique Kidjo

Esperanza Spalding

Santigold

Himanshu Suri

"Sound The Trumpet" by Flickr user Blacren under Creative Commons License

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FRIDAY, March 23

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday, March 23, 2012 9:00 am-11:00 am

Afro-Imaginaries

Room: KC 804/5

Moderator:  Banning Eyre

Featuring:

Gayle Wald, “‘Deliver De Letter': ‘Please Mr. Postman,’ the Marvelettes, and the Afro-Caribbean Imaginary”

Emily J. Lordi, “Moving Out: White Flight and Sly and the Family Stone’s ‘Stand!'”

Koushik Banerjea, “Cities of the Dead: Soundscaping Race, Memory and Desire in a Forgotten London”

Wills Glasspiegel & Martin Scherzinger, “Beyoncé’s Afro-Future: Power and Play in “Run the World (Girls)””

Repositioning Urban Pop

Room: KC 808

Moderator:  Barbara Browning

Featuring:

Rustem Ertug Altinay, “‘In Konya she would marry a regular dude, but Serife from Konya is now a Lady': Power, Sexuality and Cities in Gungor Bayrak’s Autobiographic Songs”

Erin MacLeod, “‘Layers and layers of not-so-dope synths': Listening to the Music of Addis Ababa”

Mark Lomanno, “Surfaces and (archi)Textures in Canarian Jazz”

Sonic Contestation

Room: KC 406

Moderator:  John Melillo

Featuring:

Patrick Deer, “‘The Cassette Played Poptones': Punk’s Pop Embrace of the City in Ruins”

Jessica Schwartz, “Conform or Die: Composing the City as National Security Threat, 1945-1962″

John Melillo, “Revenant Frequencies: Destructive Sound from “The Waste Land” to NYC Ghosts and Flowers

J. Martin Daughtry, “Evocative Objects and Provocative Actions on the Acoustic Territory of War”

Friday, March 23, 2012 11:15 am-12:45pm

Turn It Up! One: Listening to Difference

Room: KC 808

This panel is sponsored by the Feminist Working Group. Since 2008, we have organized panels, get-togethers and networking opportunities for all feminists who participate in EMP. For more information about our activities, and to get involved, please visit http://feministworkinggroup.blogspot.com

Moderator:  Lucy O’Brien

Featuring:

Summer Kim Lee, “‘Singin’ Up On You': Queer Intimacies of the Sonorous Body In ‘The New Sound Karaoke'”

Daniel Sander, “Girl. Reverb. Notes on Queer Tactics of Sonorous Difference”

Kyessa L. Moore, “(Sub)Spacialized Urban Sound, Expressive Communion and Identificatory Dislocations”

Cairo and Athens Spring Up

Room: KC 405

Moderator:  Katherine Meizel

Featuring:

Banning Eyre, “Cairo Soundscape: Revolution and Cultural Renaissance”

Maysan Haydar, “Wild in the (Arab) Streets: Songs for the Revolutions”

Hypatia Vourloumis, “Bad Athena: Crises, Syntheses and Sounds of a European Other”

Lonely Subcultures

Room: KC 406

Moderator:  Gustavus Stadler

Featuring:

William Hutson, “Abrasive Nostalgia: A Noisescape of Deindustrialization”

Vivian L. Huang, “Not That Innocent: Britney Spears, Laurel Nakadate and Strangers”

Julia DeLeon, “Dance Through the Dark Night: Distance, Dissonance and Queer

Friday, March 23, 2012 2:15pm-3:45pm

Memory, Music, and the Metropolis

Room: KC 804/5

Moderator:  Charles Kronengold

Featuring:

Tracy McMullen, “In the Beginning, You Are There: Cloning Genesis and the Return of the Urbane”

Tavia Nyong’o, “Shame and Scandal and Zombies”

Karen Tongson, “Drive and Sounds of the ’80s Metropolis

Broadway Bound

Room: KC 808

Moderator:  Caroline Polk O’Meara

Featuring:

Raymond Knapp, “The Sound of Broadway’s Mean Streets”

Jacqueline Warwick, “‘Bigger than Big and Smaller than Small': Child Stars, Street Urchins, and Little Orphan Annie”

Elizabeth L. Wollman & Susan Tenneriello, “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark and the Ambivalence of Spectacle

Turn It Up! Two: Making Community

Room: KC 405

Moderator:  Elizabeth Keenan

Featuring:

Rachel Devitt, “I Love a (Pride) Parade: Queer Community-Building, Temporary Spaces and Politicized Kitsch among LGBT Marching Bands”

Evelyn McDonnell, “The Roads to Ruin”

Matthew Carrillo-Vincent, “Ears to the Streets, Peripheral Beats: The New Social Map of Backpack Rap”

Friday, March 23, 2012 4:00pm-6:00 pm

Roundtable: “Do You Want More?” The Time and Space of Alternative Sonic Blackness

Room: GC 95

The migration of sounds and ideas across time and place encourages synthesis; giving rise to avant garde, radical, and futurist voices. What (other) worlds open up and what (outer) spaces are formed? How do regional sites remix global flows? What factors/forces enable or prohibit certain voices from finding an audience in the national, global or cyber scene? How do we reconcile organicism of sound, as musicians produce out of particular worlds, with the reckless and restless ways music circulates?

Moderator:  Jayna Brown, Daphne Brooks, Tavia Nyong’o

Featuring:

Kyle Dargan

Mendi Obadike

Jace Clayton

The work of Barry Jenkins

 Location Location Location

Room: KC 802

Moderator:  Fabian Holt

Featuring:

Keith Negus, “Making it in the Big City: Small Town Boys, Country Girls and Suburban Dreamers”

Jennifer C. Lena, “The Ground on which the Race was Run: Careers in Pop”

Carl Wilson, “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful: The Death and Life of Great North American Scenius”

Kembrew McLeod & Loren Glass, “Killer Apps Play the Sounds of the Cities”

Detroit: Foundation, Eclecticism, and Memory

Room: KC 808

Moderator:  Marlon Bailey

Featuring:

Rebekah Farrugia & Kellie Hay, “‘The Foundation’ in Detroit: Challenging Conventional Ideologies about Sex and Gender in Hip Hop”

Denise Dalphond, “Eclecticism in Detroit: Diverse Dance Party Scenes in Electronic Music”

Carleton S. Gholz, “Remembering Rita: Sound, Sexuality, and Memory”

"New York City." by Flickr user Kyle McCluer under Creative Commons License

Back to menu SATURDAY, March 24

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday, March 24, 2012 9:00 am to 11:00 am

Metal Studies Rising

Room: KC 808

Moderator:  Jeremy Wallach

Featuring:

Esther Clinton, “The Gothic Menace, Then and Now: Gothic Literature, Heavy Metal Music, and Moral Panics”

Eric Smialek, “How Does Metal Mean? Ways that Musicology Can Contribute to Metal Studies”

Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone, “Hell Bent for Metal: A Study of Queer Fans of Heavy Metal”

Nelson Varas-Diaz & Eliut R. Rivera-Segarra, “Heavy Metal music in the Caribbean Setting: Social Practices and Meanings of Music at the Periphery”

Saturday, March 24, 2012 11:15am-12:45pm

Street Dreams: Blackness on the Move

Room: KC 802

Moderator:  Alexandra T. Vazquez

Featuring:

Adrienne Brown, “Rehearing Hip-Hop Automotivity”

Sonya Posmentier, “City Streets, Country Roads: Zora Neale Hurston’s Moving Sound”

Francisco Robles, “‘This bitter earth may not be so bitter after all': Political Promise and Sonic Geography in Killer of Sheep and We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite”

Sexuality and the City

Room: KC 405

Moderator:  Franklin Bruno

Featuring:

Philip Gentry, “The Erotics of Chance”

Emily Tartanella, “‘A Country Mile Behind the World': A Smithsian Sense of Place “

Elias Krell, “Singing the Contours of the City: Transvocality and Affect in Lucas Silveira’s Toronto”

Preserving Soundscapes

Room: KC 406

Moderator:  Laura Lavernia

Featuring:

Matthew Hayes, “Preserving America’s Endangered Soundscapes: An Emerging Field in Historic Preservation”

Barrett Martin, “Preserving Musical Memory: Physical Space and Socio-Economic-Cultural Identity”

Devon Powers, “Writing Music (Into) History”

Saturday, March 24, 2012 2:15pm-3:45pm

Warhol’s New York

Room: KC 914

Moderator:  Jonathan Flatley

Featuring:

Gustavus Stadler, “Aural Drag: Warhol as Pop Listener”

Eric Lott, “Andy’s Mick: Warhol Builds a Better Jagger”

Bryan Waterman, “‘It’s Too ‘Too Too’ to Put a Finger On': Tom Verlaine’s Lost Lisp and the Secret History of the New York Underground”

 

Losing It in the City

Room: KC 804/5

Moderator:  Ken Wissoker

Featuring:

Carolina González, “DomiNegro turf: Whose Uptown?”

Keith M. Harris, “‘I don’t care anymore': Deep Soul, Doris Duke, and the Allegory of Migration”

Michael B. Gillespie, “We Almost Lost Detroit: Sonic Historiography, 9/11, and Theo Parrish”

Saturday, March 24, 2012 4:00pm-6:00pm

Roundtable: Feminist and Queer Studies of Race in Sound

Room KC 804/5

This roundtable convenes two fields of scholarly inquiry—critical race studies and feminist theory/queer studies—to explore the following interrelated questions: How does sound construct racialized and gendered meaning and/or prompt processes of racial subjection? How might various hermeneutics of sound enrich and/or expand current ethnic and gender studies approaches to the study of racial formation? And how might we collectively forge a feminist, queer analytic for the study of racialized sound and sonic processes of racialization?

Moderator: Kevin Fellezs

Featuring:

Kirstie Dorr

Roshanak Kheshti

Deborah Vargas

Saturday, March 24, 2012 6:15pm-7:30pm
IASPM-US General Membership Meeting

Room: Rosenthal Pavilion, 10th Floor

The general membership meeting of IASPM-US is the organization’s opportunity to gather together and discuss the accomplishments of the past year, any concerns or issues that have arisen, and plans for the coming year. All IASPM members are welcome. We would also like to invite any interested regular EMP participants who might be interested in joining IASPM. Beyond our normal business, the general meeting this year will feature the announcement of the first winner of the Charles Hamm Memorial Award in recognition of lifetime contribution to Popular Music Studies. In addition, the David Sanjek Award for best paper by a graduate student at the meeting will be announced.

"NYU" by Flickr user LEH.nicor under Creative Commons license

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SUNDAY, March 25

SUNDAY, March 25, 2012

Sunday, March 25, 2012 9:00 am to 11:00 am

‘Silver City Bound': Black Women Musicians & the Urban Avant Garde

Room: KC 905/7

Moderator:  Imani Perry

Featuring:

Daphne A. Brooks, “‘One of these mornings, you’re gonna rise up singing': The Secret Black Feminist History of the Gershwins’Porgy and Bess

Farah Jasmine Griffin, “Playing through the Changes: Mary Lou Williams’ Manhattan”

Salamishah Tillet, “Bethlehem, Boardwalks, and the City of Brotherly Love: Nina Simone’s Pre-Civil Rights Aesthetic”

Jayna Brown, “After the End of the World: Afro Diasporan Feminism and Alternative Dimensions of Sound”

Distanced Listening

Room: KC 802

Moderator:  Tom Miller

Featuring:

Jeremy Morris, “Hear, Here: Location-Based Music”

Van Truong, “Distant Sounds”

Mark Katz, “Analog and Digital: A Love Story”

Karl Hagstrom Miller, “I am Sitting in a Room: The Private Pop Experience”

Sunday, March 25, 2012 11:15am-12:45am

Utopian Spaces in an Accelerated Age

Room: KC 802

Moderator:  Eric Lott

Featuring:

Wayne Marshall, “Music as Social Life in an Age of Platform Politricks”

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, “Cunt Music: When Vogue House Dips Meet Dipset”

Max Pearl & Alexis Stephens, “New Jack City: Frenzied Cultures, Transitory Spaces (or, how I learned to stop worrying and embrace the hype cycle)”

 

Sunday, March 25, 2012 2:15pm-3:45pm

Urban Ears

Room: KC 905/7

Moderator:  Greil Marcus

Featuring:

Sonnet Retman, “Muddy the Waters: Other Stories of Love and Theft in the Making of the Delta Blues”

David Suisman, “The Urban Ear of Tony Schwartz”

Franklin Bruno, “Who Put the Arrow in ‘Cupid?': Hugo and Luigi’s Schlock ‘n’ Soul”

 

A Girl’s Guide to the Urban Imaginary

Room: KC 914

Moderated by: Jacqueline Warwick

Featuring:

Elizabeth Keenan, “Out in the Streets: 1960s Girl Groups and the Imagined Urban Space of New York City”

Sarah Dougher, “Making Noise in the Safe Space: How Girls’ Rock Camps Make Place in the City”

Diane Pecknold, “The Spectral Cityscapes of Tween Pop”

“Beat Street”: New York City Hip-Hop

Room: KC 804/5

Moderator:  Oliver Wang

Featuring:

Patrick Rivers, “Rumble in the Concrete Jungle: Beat Battles in NYC and Their Impact on Hip-Hop Production”

Shanté Paradigm Smalls, “‘Voices Carry': Queer Dissonance and the Travel of NYC 1980s Hip-Hop Sound”

Chris Tabron, “‘Boom It in Ya Jeep': Low-end Theories of Black Aurality in 90’s NYC Hip-Hop”

Roundtable – I Pledge Allegiance to the Block: Cityscapes, Hegemonic Sound, and Blackness

Room: KC 808

Whether a homesite for protest and resistance or, as Alain Locke suggests, an escape from the ‘medieval’ south, the city serves as both a muse and haven for black American cultural expression. Although city-scapes are heavily represented in African American music and popular culture, more discussion is needed about how the city is often a hegemonic space of black cultural expression. In other words, how does an urban setting dictate power and blackness in the (African) American community?

Moderator:  Guthrie Ramsey

 Featuring:

Regina Bradley

Fredara Hadley

Matthew D. Morrison

Liana Silva

Sunday, March 25, 2012 4:00pm-6:00pm

Modern English

Room: KC 808

Moderator:  Devin McKinney

Julia Sneeringer, “‘I’d Never Even Been to Manchester': Liverpool Musicians in Hamburg’s Entertainment Economy, 1960-1965″

Leonard Nevarez, “How Joy Division came to sound like Manchester”

Lucy O’Brien, “Can I Have a Taste of Your Ice Cream? (Post punk feminism and the Yorkshire Ripper)”

Gillian Gower, “Riot Culture: Beats, Banksy, and the Bristol Sound”

“Cremation of senses in friendly fire”: on sound and biopolitics (via KMFDM & World War Z)

drum crisper fayltrash

There’s a 20-year gap in chronology between KMFDM’s 1993 song “A Drug Against War” and Marc Forster’s 2013 film World War Z, but sonically and ideologically they’re very, very similar. They contain the same kinds of sounds–machine guns, military orders barked over radios, buzzing crowds–and they use these sounds in the same way: to build sonic intensity past its breaking point (a “sonic bombardment brighter than sunlight,” as the KFMDM lyrics say). Their sonic similarity is evidence of neoliberalism’s intensification in the 20 years between them: what was once avant-garde opposition is later mainstream norm.

The songs’ sonic similarity reveals the central role of sound in contemporary biopolitics. By listening closely to “A Drug Against War” and the soundscape of World War Z—a film in which Brad Pitt saves humanity from a zombie apocalypse by giving all survivors a terminal disease—I show sound as more than a privileged aesthetic domain; sound actually provides the epistemic background and the concrete mechanisms for organizing society. Just as vision and “the gaze” are the ideological and technological foundation of panopticism, sound is the ideological and technological foundation of contemporary biopolitics. Much more is at stake in this post than just a song and a film: it takes on how—and why—society is organized as it is. It’s also about a particular understanding of “the sonic”: sound as dynamic patterning.

Because “A Drug Against War” lays out, in fairly elementary form, this “biopolitical” sonic vocabulary, it makes sense to start there. But before I do that, I will briefly define what I understand as ‘biopolitics.’

Life

Like “neoliberalism,” “biopolitics” is a trendy concept whose precise meaning can get lost in loose usage. By “biopolitics,” I mean both an ideology of health and vitality and a political strategy whose medium is “life.” “Life,” here, isn’t individual health, wellness, or existence; it’s the ongoing vitality of the segment of society that counts as “society” tout court (e.g., in white supremacy, that segment would be whites). Biopolitics manages society like a living thing; for example, we often talk about the “health” of the economy, or use metrics such as obesity rates to compare different countries.

"Overweight or obese population OECD 2010" by ZH8000 - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Overweight or obese population OECD 2010″ by ZH8000 – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

As Foucault explains in Society Must Be Defended, biopolitics’ “basic function is to improve life, to prolong its duration, to improve its chances, to avoid accidents, and to compensate for failings” (254). But to do that, power sometimes has to kill. Pruning my raspberry bush causes more berries to sprout, for example, just as weightlifting tears all my muscle fibers so they’ll rebuild in bigger, stronger shape. Killing off the weak is a positive investment in society’s overall strength. Again, Foucault:

The fact that the other dies does not mean simply that I live in the sense that his death guarantees my safety; the death of the other, the death of the bad race, of the inferior race (or the degen­erate, or the abnormal) is something that will make life in general healthier: healthier and purer. (Society, 255).

Hitler’s “final solution” is an obvious example of this biopolitical approach to killing, but this practice also informs many contemporary US policies and practices. In the US, black people as a population have significantly higher mortality rates than any other race, for example. Following Foucault, we could say it’s in the interest of white supremacist society to maintain a high mortality rate among black populations because this makes white supremacist society “healthier.” The key point here is this: biopolitics promotes and administers life by generalizing and naturalizing what Foucault calls “the relationship of war: ‘In order to live, you must destroy your enemies’” (Society 256). Biopolitical warfare is precisely what is waged in both “A Drug Against War” and World War Z, and sound emerges as a weapon of choice.

“Kill Everything”

DrugagainstwarIn its original context, KMFDM’s “A Drug Against War” used sound to counter US Presidents Reagan and Bush 1’s War on Drugs/”New World Order” thinking. Indeed, in 1993, it was hard not to hear it as a response to 1991’s Operation Desert Storm, the US’s first military action as the ‘winner’ of the Cold War. It performs, in music, the “cremation of senses in friendly fire,” that its lyrics describe. It burns out our hearing, realizing through sound the sort of “creative destruction” or “shock doctrine” that characterizes neoliberalism more generally. In this rather Nietzschean model, the only way to make something “stronger than ever, ever before” is to first kill it. Death is the means to the most vibrant life.

The lyric–“stronger than ever, ever before”–is the first line of the chorus. At the end of every verse, there’s a short drumroll that leads into it. As S. Alexander Reed notes in Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music, “clocking in at “322 bpm, the eighth-note snare fills at the end of the verses fire at about eleven rounds every second–the same rate as an AK-47” (29). This flourish foreshadows the gesture that, in the song’s bridge [after the second chorus, around 2:17 in the video above], musically “cremates” our senses in friendly fire–in this case, in the rapid fire of percussion. This rapid-fire percussion is one of the sonic elements that “Drug” shares with WWZ; in fact, the chorus uses what is likely (according to Reed) a machine gun sample. The machine gun effect mimics blast drumming. As Ronald Bogue explains in Deleuze’s Wake, blast drumming is a “tactic of accelerating meters to the point of collapse,” produced through the “cut-time alteration of downbeat kick drum and offbeat snare, the accent being heard on the offbeat but felt on the downbeat” (99). “A Drug Against War”’s AK-47 rolls actually accelerate to the point of auditory collapse, i.e. to the point at which humans generally can’t distinguish individual sonic events—the aural equivalent of seeing 24 frames per second as one continuous image. The AK-47’s rolls of ‘friendly’ fire cremate our sense of hearing.

The song’s chorus includes many other sonic elements shared by World War Z: doppler effects (such as the sounds of dropping bombs or planes buzzing the ground), rubble being moved around, military orders barked over radio. In the bridge several kinds of crowd noises are introduced: first, guitars buzz like a swarm of insects; then, a call-and-response in which singer Sascha Koneitzko echoes the chorus (which reverses the usual order in which the chorus echoes the individual leader); finally, a chaotic rabble of voices builds in intensity and leads into the sense-cremating climax.

KMFDM, 1 October 2009, Image by Flickr User Axel Taferner

KMFDM, 1 October 2009, Image by Flickr User Axel Taferner

An extended and intensified version of the “friendly fire” at the end of each verse, “A Drug Against War”’s climax builds to a peak by layering two full measures of AK-47-style drumroll on top of sounds of rabble, evoking the image of the military firing on an unruly crowd. This roll barrels towards the point of auditory collapse–if it got much faster, we’d be unable to distinguish individual rhythmic events, and hear a constant buzz (like in the beginning of the bridge), not a series of eighth notes. The roll’s forward momentum intensifies musical energy to an apex, culminating on the downbeat of the next measure in a florid lead guitar solo.

Describing the song as “sonic bombardment brighter than sunlight,” the lyrics confirm the music (and vice versa). The song overdrives sound until it sublimates into something else–if sunlight is more intense radiation than even soundwaves, here soundwaves amplify to a state more powerful than that. Cremating our senses in friendly fire, KMFDM channels soundwaves into a revolutionary drug, a drug against war. The band presents cleansing fire meant to purify us of disease: just as a fever kills pathogens in our bodies, the song burns our senses to kill a pathogenic ideology. Overdriving mainstream musical taste, offering something so brutal, so damaging to one’s ears, that only the avant-garde can survive, KMFDM inoculates the population against its most reactionary, war-mongering elements. “A Drug Against War” uses sound to perform a biopolitical operation, one that emerges as the basis of WWZ’s plot: the only way to save the human race from the zombies is to kill everything.

WWZ

WWZ Stencil Duncan CWorld War Z intensifies the horrors of contemporary biopolitics to the point that the only way to recuperate from them is to intensify them even further: in order for humanity to survive, everyone must be dead on their feet. In the sci-fi universe of World War Z, zombies aren’t eating for their survival, but for the survival of the virus they carry; they only attack and eat prey that are also (and primarily) attractive hosts for the virus. Pitt’s character, protagonist Gerry Lane, discovers that terminally ill humans aren’t legible to the zombies as human—that is, as attractive hosts. They won’t live long enough and/or are too weak to aggressively spread the virus. So, he decides the best way to protect humans from zombies and the virus they carry is to infect the remaining people with a deadly but ultimately curable illness. The World Health Organization develops a vaccine that allows healthy people to ‘pass’ as terminal cases. The only difference remaining in the post apocalyptic world of WWZ is between the quasi-dead and the walking dead. Death is the drug against WWZ.

The film doesn’t represent or express the biopolitical recuperation of death visually, but sonically: to make audiences feel what the narrative depicts, WWZ cremates their sense of hearing–often with more amplified and complex versions of the same sonic elements mobilized in “Drug.” Doppler effects, crowd noises, machine guns, military orders barked over radio bombards the film’s audience as sonic “friendly fire.” Though the film’s soundtrack doesn’t actually blow out its audience’s ears (what lawsuits!), it repeatedly simulates sonic cremation; the tinitus-y buzzing one hears after auditory trauma–what one hears in lieu of hearing—functions as a constant refrain. Narratively climactic moments are composed, cinematically, as sonic overdrive. The massive car crash as everyone tries to evacuate NYC in the beginning of the film, the moment when Pitt’s character thinks he may have been infected atop the NJ apartment building, the plane crash outside the Cardiff WHO office–each of these events culminates in tinitus-y ringing. As physical and psychological trauma overwhelms the characters, the film pretends to inflict overwhelming—cremating—auditory trauma on its audience.

World-War-Z-Review-01

WWZ Screen Capture

In the WWZ universe, sound is destructive; it unleashes the zombie horde. At 49:00, a soldier says: “remember these things are drawn to sound…there’s only one way we’re getting you on that plane, and that’s quiet.” In a scene set in Jerusalem, excessive sound turns something miraculously positive—a Muslim girl and a Jewish girl leading a mixed crowd in song, a mini Arab-Israeli peace accord—Into a massacre. The sound attracts the zombie horde, leading them to swarm and overrun Jerusalem’s walls. Similarly, at the film’s end, Pitt’s character empties a soda machine so the cascade of cans will attract zombies away from the doors he needs to enter. By this point, Pitt’s character has injected himself with a deadly disease, effectively killing himself in order to preserve himself from zombification. The cascade of cans aesthetically represents this narrative point and hearkens back to KMFDM. The cans drop out of the machine at an increasingly rapid rate, mimicking “Drug”’s intensification of percussion events to and/or past the limit of human hearing. Just as Pitt’s character has crashed his body, the cascade of cans crashes our hearing.

The climax presents a narrative and the auditory convergence on the same biopolitical idea: kill everything, because then the best will bounce back, phoenix-like, from that sensory cremation, stronger than ever. Zombies can’t rebound from death, but still-living humans sure can (via immunization). Like a sonic bombardment brighter and more radiant than sunlight, this anti-zombie camouflage tactic phase-shifts death into exceptionally lively life. Just as the muted, tinitus-y moments in the film make the subsequent scenes feel comparatively more sonically rich and dynamic, intentional and carefully managed mass extinction ultimately makes the living more vibrant.

Sound & Biopolitics

Such vibrancy–that is, what Julian Henriques dubs “the dynamics of [the] periodic motion of vibrations” in Sounding BodiesReggae Sound Systems, Performance Techniques, and Ways of Knowing (265)–is what “life” and “sound,” as they are conceived by and function in contemporary biopolitics, have in common. “Sound,” according to Henriques is “a particular kind of periodic motion, variation and change” (247). Sound waves are dynamic patterns of intensities (pressure); they move through matter and respond in turn, both to that movement itself and the secondary sound waves (harmonics) that movement produces. WWZ treats this notion of periodic motion, variation, and change as the conceptual basis for the ideally biopolitical “life.” At around 20:00, when Pitt’s character attempts to convince the Latino family sheltering him to leave their apartment with him, he says “movement is life…Moviemento es vida.” Sedentary fortresses protect no one from zombies–we see this repeatedly in the film. The only way to survive is by rapidly adjusting to new conditions. The dynamism of adaptive flows—the ability to bounce back and recuperate (like an echoing pressure wave), to dynamically recombine (like both harmonizing frequencies and like a virus), to find signal in noise–this dynamism is life. Because it adapts to new challenges, because it moves, varies, and changes, life can bounce back from total annihilation, stronger than ever before. Only life lived like sound can be properly and sufficiently resilient. In WWZ, the zombie virus is a eugenic tool that weeds out insufficiently “sonic” life, life that is too static to respond to capitalist and biopolitical mandates for calculable motion, variation, and change.

WWZ Shooting in Glasgow, Scotland, Image by Flickr User Gerry McKay

WWZ Shooting in Glasgow, Scotland, Image by Flickr User Gerry McKay

When read through “Drug,” WWZ illustrates the epistemic and ontological importance of sound to contemporary biopolitics. We think “life” works like we think sound works. Because “life” is the object and the mechanism of biopolitical government, power works on and through us sonically. If we want to analyze, critique, and fight the institutions, structures, and practices that put power to work for white supremacy, cis/het patriarchy, and all other forms of domination, then we need to start thinking and working sonically, too.

Some theorists, such as Elizabeth Grosz and Adriana Cavarero incorrectly think this move to sound and voice is itself revolutionary and counter-hegemonic. Just as the critique posed in 1993’s “Drug” has been co-opted by 2013’s WWZ, white feminist theory’s sonic counter-modernities are the medium of biopolitical white supremacist patriarchy. When we think and work sonically, we’re working with the master’s tools; to bring down the master’s house, we have to use them critically and strategically.

Featured Image by Flickr User crisper fayltrash

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Robin James is Associate Professor of Philosophy at UNC Charlotte. She is author of two books: Resilience & Melancholy: pop music, feminism, and neoliberalism will be published by Zer0 books this fall, and The Conjectural Body: gender, race and the philosophy of music was published by Lexington Books in 2010. Her work on feminism, race, contemporary continental philosophy, pop music, and sound studies has appeared in The New Inquiry, Hypatia, differences, Contemporary Aesthetics, and the Journal of Popular Music Studies. She is also a digital sound artist and musician. She blogs at its-her-factory.com and is a regular contributor to Cyborgology.

 

Robin James

RJRobin James is Associate Professor of Philosophy at UNC Charlotte. She is author of two books: I will be published by Zer0 books this fall, and I was published by Lexington Books in 2010. Her work on feminism, race, contemporary continental philosophy, pop music, and sound studies has appeared in The New Inquiry, Hypatia, differences, Contemporary Aesthetics, and the Journal of Popular Music Studies. She is also a digital sound artist and musician. She blogs at its-her-factory.com and is a regular contributor to Cyborgology.

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