Each March one brave Sounding Out! author takes on the task of wading through the catalog of the annual conference of the Society for Cinema & Media Studies (SCMS), to produce a curated guide for scholars interested in sound and its intersection with media. For several years now, SCMS has been both widening its intellectual scope and becoming one of the primary venues for scholars working in sound, and so making sense of the rich and noisy expansion of the field in this context takes a pretty keen ear.
This year we are extremely happy that that ear belongs to Alyxandra Vesey of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Vesey is not only a leading feminist sound theorist, a radio host, and an editor at our peer website Antenna, but she is also one of the people behind the recent special issue of Velvet Light Trap on Sound, which is sure to become a landmark in the field in years to come.
We asked her to begin with some thoughts on what this year’s offerings at the Montreal conference (held March 25 to 29) tell us about sound scholarship these days. Some food for thought for conference attendees as they contemplate the best place for an oven-warm Montreal bagel on a cold winter morning, or work up the courage to try out some rusty French in la belle province …
– Special Editor Neil Verma
In a recent essay for this site, Robin James situated Dove’s #SpeakBeautiful Twitter campaign within larger histories of patriarchal conventions that moderate “women’s literal and metaphoric voices to control their participation in and affect on society, ensuring that these voices don’t disrupt a so-called harmoniously-ordered society” (2015).
That line came back to me as I began assembling a list of relevant panels, workshops, presentations, and events for sound studies scholars at this year’s SCMS Conference. Of course, the field of film and media studies has been concerned about the voice since the works of Michel Chion, Kaja Silverman, Michele Hilmes and Roland Barthes, many of whose ideas have been revived in recent years, including in a recent issue of Velvet Light Trap, which pursued the voice through a variety of contexts.
Wednesday’s itinerary features “Hearing Voices, Songs, and Speech.” The panel is chaired by Kyle Stevens, who will also present research on the functions of voice-over in representations of suicide and women’s sexuality. Dolores McElroy’s research on Judy Garland, Patrik Sjoberg’s exploration of documentaries’ dubbing and lip sync practices, and Liz Greene’s work on pop music’s signification of middle-aged nostalgia rounds out the proceedings. On Saturday, “The Voice in Transition” includes presentations from chair Jennifer Fleeger, Sarah Wright, Tom Whittaker, and Christine Ehrick on opera in Italian film, silent cinema, dubbing in Spanish film, and Niní Marshall’s film comedies. “Hear and There: The Politics of Sound” include two compelling presentations: Cassie Blake and Tessa Idlewine’s work on female voiceover in theatrical trailers and Allison McCracken’s discussion on auditions and essentialism on NBC’s The Voice.
Heightened interest in podcasting also appears to be symptomatic of interest in the voice. The first day of the conference includes an entire panel on the subject. Chaired by Andrew Bottomley, “Podcasting: A Decade into the Life of a ‘New’ Medium” includes presentations from Brian Fauteux on podcast aesthetics and satellite radio, Andrew Salvati on historiography in Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, and Kelli Marshall on WTF host Marc Maron.
However, scholarly inquiry around podcasts may have as much to do with the interest in radio and the medium’s extensions online. On Thursday, Doron Galili and Gabriel Paletz will chair “A Paragon of Intermedial Adaptation: The War of the Worlds in Radio, Film, and Social Media,” exploring the program’s long afterlife alongside a co-authored paper by Neil Verma and Jennifer Stoever and respondent Timothy Corrigan. This event occurs simultaneously with a workshop on radio production cultures chaired by Bottomley and featuring participants Shawn VanCour, Tom McCourt, and David Uskovich. Friday afternoon winds down with a workshop chaired by Jason Loviglio entitled “The Problem of the Radio Canon” that includes Debra Rae Cohen, Bill Kirkpatrick, Kate Lacey, and Elena Razlogova. And on Saturday Jennifer Wang will chair “Fringe Time: Gender and Crossover Programming in the U.S. Radio-TV Transition” with presentations on soap opera’s transitional moment, ethnicity and diet-oriented programming, and discourses around liveness in wrestling from Elana Levine, Jennifer Lynn Jones, and Kate Newbold.
Saturday’s radio studies panels also touch on three other areas of interest for sound studies scholars: technological affordances, historical interventions, and identity politics. To that first point, Wednesday includes Tim Anderson’s presentation on musicians and the professional economies of social networking and Andrew deWaard’s discussion on big data’s influence over ownership in the recording industries. Saturday evening’s “Stream Engines: Streaming Services and Media Distribution” promises to deliver some compelling original research as well. Jeremy Morris and panel chair Devon Powers will co-present a paper on curation and digital music services. Eric Harvey will explore how streaming services become sites of commerce, an extension of his and Maura Johnston’s “Loose Change” series for Pitchfork.
In terms of historiography, Wednesday’s “Music Screens, Music Stars, Music Scenes” is at the top of my list. Chaired by Charlotte Howell, who will also present original research on Atlanta’s public access program The American Show, the panel includes Kristen Alfaro’s work on the Fales Library’s nightclubbing collection, Matt Stahl’s research on royalty reform for R&B artists in the mid-1980s, and Brad Stiffler’s study on TV Party and cable access in the 1970s.
Saturday afternoon includes “Historicizing Music and Transmedia” with presentations from Kyle Barnett, Kevin John Bozelka, chair Landon Palmer, and myself on Jazz Age-era media convergence, post-war publishing and recording practices, The Beatles’ relationship with United Artists, and playlist production as extensions of feminist activism. During that time, Morgan Sea of Tranzister Radio will also participate in a panel with Alexandra Juhasz on trans women’s AIDS media activism. If I could be at two places at once, I would.
This brings us back to questions of identity and how sound signifies larger representational strategies. On Thursday, Jack Curtis Dubowsky chairs “Sound Tracks,” which features presentations from Monique Bourdage, Carl Laamanen, and Rembert Hueser about gender and taste on Playboy after Dark, Her and acousmêtre, the music of La Chinoise, and queer musical signification. I’m also looking forward to seeing Ryan Powell’s presentation on “Queer Aurality in Seventies Gay Art Porn.” Thursday’s panels conclude with “Screening Instability: Genders, Genres, and Soundscapes of Cinematic Modernization in 1960s Mexico,” which includes Brian L. Price’s work on rock ‘n’ roll films in the country, chair Francisco Flores-Cuante’s analysis of masculinities in Viento Negro, and Carolyn Fornoff’s discussions on musical interludes. And on Friday, I plan to attend “She Bop on Screen: Girls, Popular Music, and Visual Media” with original research from Mary Kearney, Norma Coates, Morgan Blue, and Diane Pecknold on the gendering of post-war teen media, the Disney Channel and pop girlhood, and tween pop in the public sphere.
Finally, there are a number of special events for sound scholars to enjoy. Those interested in sound’s immersive potential should take time out on Friday night to visit the Satosphere Dome, which harnesses the potential of 360-degree screen projections, complex speaker system, and environmental sound to place visitors within a large-scale work of art. The official meeting of the Sound Studies Special Interest group (SSSIG) is Wednesday, 3/25, from 2-3:45pm in Les Voyageurs, Lobby Level. The official meeting of the Radio Studies Scholarly Interest Group (RSSIG) will be Saturday, 3/28, from 9:00-10:45 pm, in Les Voyageurs 2, Lobby Level. In addition to SIG business, the RSSIG will also share an update from the Radio Preservation Task Force and will host award-Winning WireTap producer Mira Burt-Wintonick, who will present ideas on storytelling and sound design in the golden age of podcasting. How do you make your stories stand out in a sea of audio content? What’s different about producing for radio vs. podcasts? How do you create a signature sound? Part listening party, part discussion, this session aims to explore a variety of new sonic trends and possibilities in radio production.
But considerations for the voice also lead us to listen for silences and absences. In that regard, I’m reminded of Neil Verma’s desire “to see future presenters using sound in innovative ways to think about objects and events well outside the perimeter of sound studies, drawing experimental modes of listening in to the conference experience and challenging how scholarship itself is fashioned and displayed” at the end of his “Sound at SCMS 2013” post. This appeal brings to mind Pauline Oliveros’ concept of deep listening, which describes how the music heard in a live or recorded context cannot be reduced to composition without critical attention toward the intersection of producers, listeners, and their shared environment (Rodgers 2010). Such interests seem to influence certain panels’ and participants’ work, particularly “Historicizing Technical Standards and Practices in Film Sound,” “Sounding the Interactive Documentary: Non-fiction, New Media, and the Problem of Immersion,” and James Deaville’s “Music and Sound in Film Trailers: A Preliminary Ethnographic Study of Producers and Consumers.”
Yet I wonder how we could harness sound as a resource for developing pre-existing scholarly approaches and fields. How might we “use sound” in production and industry studies research not only of radio, but in scholarship around other areas and sectors where the image still has primacy? What can sound teach us about precarity and other bedrock concepts within those discourses?
Furthermore, how can we “use sound” as a political intervention? As a field, we know how to analyze sound for the purposes of academic critique. But sound’s relationship to activism is underrepresented at this conference. I’m heartened by Morgan Sea and Jonathan Sterne’s participation in workshops on trans women’s media activism and disability studies. But I want consideration for how to use sound as resources to challenge institutions and ideologies that advance the violent force of intersectional discrimination, civil rights violations, widening class division, surveillance, eroding labor rights, and geopolitical conflict.
In addition, how can we “use sound” to teach? Wednesday concludes with “Participatory Pedagogy” a workshop and networking event about issues related to teaching gender and media. How can we use sound not only to enter into discussions amongst ourselves, but as a resource in the classroom?
Nick Couldry argues that the role of the voice hinges upon the cultural and political value assigned to it, which “involves particular conditions under which voice as a process is effective, and how broader forms of organization may subtly undermine or devalue voice as a process” (2). A number of presentations, panels, and workshops take up the voice as a resource for inquiry. Others will be raising them to ask questions of sound, music, and aurality’s influence in shaping media technologies, texts, representational strategies, and reception practices. And, as always, there are silences and absences we must recognize and address.
Let’s listen. Let’s raise our voices as well.
Alyxandra Vesey is a feminist media scholar who uses industry and production studies approaches to explore the relationship(s) between gender, labor, and music. Her dissertation analyzes identity and music-based intermediary practices in post-network television. Her work has appeared in Antenna, Flow, In Media Res, The Moving Image, Cinema Journal, Studies in French Cinema, and Saturday Night Live and American TV. She is also an editor for Antenna and The Velvet Light Trap. As an extension of her scholarship, she is also a contributor to Bitch Magazine, a volunteer for Girls Rock Camp Madison, and the host of WSUM 91.7 FM’s “Feminist Music Geek Presents…”
Featured image: “Feux d’artifice au port du vieux Montréal” by Flickr user Emmanuel Huybrechts, CC BY 2.0
WEDNESDAY, March 25
Session A 10 – 11:45 a.m.
A11. Sound and Music
Chair: Michael Baumgartner, CLEVELAND STATE UNIVERSITY
Ian Kennedy, WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY, “Visual Music and the Enactive Theory of Musical Perception”
Mark Durrand, SUNY-UNIVERSITY AT BUFFALO, “On Seeing and Hearing in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1969)”
Summer Kim Lee, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, “‘Too Much Exposure’: The Paranoia of Race in Gothic Orientalism”
Michael Baumgartner, CLEVELAND STATE UNIVERSITY, “Expanding the Horizon on Film Music Studies: Jean-Luc Godard’s Use of Music in His Films as a Counter-model to the Music in the Mainstream Film Tradition”
Session C 2:00 – 3:45 p.m.
C1. The Spoilage of America Garbage, Junk, and Audiovisual Noise in US Film and TV
Chair: Allison Rittmayer, NORTHWESTERN STATE UNIVERSITY OF LOUISIANA
Michael Rowin, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, “Noise and Spectatorship in Lynch’s Films”
Tania Darlington, SANTA FE COLLEGE, “From Hill Street to Farmington: The Station House as Symbol of Urban Neglect in Television Police Procedurals”
Jacob Agner, UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI, “Salvaging The Counselor: Watching Cormac McCarthy’s Really Trashy Movie”
Allison Rittmayer, NORTHWESTERN STATE UNIVERSITY OF LOUISIANA, “‘Deswamped and Denuded, and Derivered’: Some Aspects of the Southern Gothic in Rural Noir Landscapes”
C11. Hearing Voices, Songs, and Speech
Chair: Kyle Stevens, BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY
Dolores McElroy, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-BERKELEY, “In Extremis: An Inspirational Reading of Judy Garland and The Man That Got Away”
Patrik Sjoberg, KARLSTAD UNIVERSITY, “Your Tongue in My Mouth: Lip Synch, Dubbing, Ventriloquism, and the Othering of Voice in Documentary Media”
Liz Greene, DUBLIN CITY UNIVERSITY, “Listening, Singing, and Dancing to Pop Songs in Film: The Sound of Middle-aged Nostalgia”
Kyle Stevens, BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY, “‘I Had No Thoughts at All’: Voice-over, Suicide, and Women’s Sexuality”
Session D 4:00 – 5:45 p.m.
D11. Music Screens, Music Stars, Music Scenes
Chair: Charlotte Howell, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN
Kristen Alfaro, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, “Screens of Punk, Punks of Screen: Video History and the Nightclubbing Collection at the Fales Library, New York University”
Matt Stahl, UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN ONTARIO, “We Have Paid a Price to Sing This Music: Aging R&B Stars’ Struggle for Reparations and Royalty Reform in the US Recording Industry, 1984–2004”
Brad Stiffler, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA, “Anti-antinetwork TV: TV Party and the (Un)popular Avantgarde on 1970s Cable Access”
Charlotte Howell, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN, “Symbolic Capital and Cable Access: Production Discourse of The American Music Show”
Sponsor: Sound Studies Scholarly Interest Group
D18. Podcasting: A Decade into the Life of a “New” Medium
Chair: Andrew Bottomley, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON
Brian Fauteux, WILFRID LAURIER UNIVERSITY, “Blog Radio: Satellite Radio and the Aesthetics of Podcasting”
Andrew Salvati, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY, “Podcasting the Past: Historiography and Interactivity in Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History”
Kelli Marshall, DEPAUL UNIVERSITY, “Transmedia Storytime with Your Host Marc Maron”
Sponsor: Radio Studies Scholarly Interest Group
Session E 6:00 – 7:45 p.m.
E11. Hear and There: The Politics of Sound
Chair: Allison McCracken, DEPAUL UNIVERSITY
Jim Knippling, UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI, “Vicissitudes of Normativity in Non-diegetic Film Music: 1940–1975”
Tim Bell, INDIANA UNIVERSITY, “White Jazz: Music and Fantasies of English Modernity in The Avengers (1961–69)”
Cassie Blake and Tessa Idlewine, ACADEMY FILM ARCHIVE, “Better Seen than Heard: The Anomaly of Female Voiceover in Theatrical Trailers”
Allison McCracken, DEPAUL UNIVERSITY, “Blind Auditions and Vocal Politics: Enacting and Exposing Vocal Essentialism on NBC’s The Voice”
Sponsor: Sound Studies Scholarly Interest Group
Wednesday Individual Papers of Interest
A5. Asha Tamirisa, BROWN UNIVERSITY, “Aurality, Virtuality, and the Feminization of Technological Space in Her”
A10. Lindsay Affleck, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-LOS ANGELES, “‘100 Dollars a Day Plus Expenses’: Richard Diamond as Radio Shamus and Hollywood Telefilm Production”
A17. Anna Dimitrova, UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH, “Polyphonic Soundscape in the Dardenne Brothers’ Film Lorna’s Silence”
A18. Tim Anderson, OLD DOMINION UNIVERSITY, “Time for Brand Practice: Networking Finances and the ‘Social Musician’”
C6. Kara Fagan, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA, “Dancing on Ice, Falling out of the Gender Script: Sonja Henie’s 20th Century Fox Musicals and the Feminization of Figure Skating”
Spring-Serenity Duvall, SALEM COLLEGE, “When Gen X Icons Grow Up: Celebrity, Aging, and (Trans) national Canadian Identity in the Careers of Alanis Morissette and Sarah McLachlan”
D5. Veronica Fitzpatrick, UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH, “The Also at Work in Every Intended Something: Belief, Belonging, Sound of My Voice, the East”
D12. Joseph Pfender, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, “The Lifespan of Circuits: Cinematic Experimentalism in the Chaotic Music of Louis and Bebe Barron”
D16. Rachel Kahn and Marc Rose, SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM AND UNIVERSITY OF PORTSMOUTH, “Music Video Art House: An Auteurist Study of the Music Video Production Company”
E12. Jing (Jamie) Zhao, CHINESE UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG, “Problematizing a ‘Desirable’ Queer Media Culture: A Study of the Chinese Reality Talent Shows Super Girls, The Voice of China, and Your Face Sounds Familiar”
E20. Andrew deWaard, University of California-Los Angeles: “New Gatekeeper Same as the Old Gatekeeper: Big Data, Big Content, and the Continued Concentration of Ownership in the Music Industry”
THURSDAY, March 26
Session F 9:00 – 10:45 a.m.
F11. Composing Narratives: The Role of Music in Film and Television
Chair: Paula Musegades, BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY
Paula Musegades, BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY, “The Sounds of Shangri-La: Romantic Exoticism in Lost Horizon”
Sheri Chinen Biesen, ROWAN UNIVERSITY, “Blues, Smoke, and Shadows: Jazz in ‘Musical’ Noir Films”
Reba Wissner, MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY, “‘I Am Big—It’s the Pictures that Got Small’: Franz Waxman’s Scores for the Big and Small Screens: Sunset Boulevard (1950) and The Twilight Zone’s ‘The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine’ (1959)”
Georgia Luikens, BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY, “Singing Suburbia, Seeing Suburbia: Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti and the Operatic Teleplay”
Session G 11:00 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.
G7. A Paragon of Intermedial Adaptation: The War of the Worlds in Radio, Film, and Social Media
Chair: Doron Galili, STOCKHOLM UNIVERSITY
Co-Chair: Gabriel Paletz, PRAGUE FILM SCHOOL
Gabriel Paletz, PRAGUE FILM SCHOOL, “Book to Broadcast and across Media: Orson Welles’s Strategies of Adaptation”
Doron Galili, STOCKHOLM UNIVERSITY, “War of the Worlds, Mass Media Panic, and the Coming of Television”
Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman, SUNY-UNIVERSITY AT BINGHAMTON, “Invading Auditory Practice: On the War of the Worlds and #WOTW75”
Respondent: Timothy Corrigan, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA
Sponsor: Radio Studies Scholarly Interest Group
G12. Sound Tracks
Chair: Jack Curtis Dubowsky, ACADEMY OF ART UNIVERSITY
Monique Bourdage, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, “‘You Don’t Appreciate True Musical Genius’: Negotiating Gender and Musical Taste on Playboy after Dark”
Carl Laamanen, OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY, “Her and the Technological Acousmêtre”
Rembert Hueser, GOETHE UNIVERSITY FRANKFURT, “Easy Listening in Godard’s La Chinoise”
Jack Curtis Dubowsky, ACADEMY OF ART UNIVERSITY, “Queer Monster Music”
Sponsor: Sound Studies Scholarly Interest Group
G21. Workshop: Sound Work Radio Production Cultures
Chair: Andrew Bottomley, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON
Shawn VanCour, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY
Tom McCourt, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY
David Uskovich, ST. EDWARD’S UNIVERSITY
Sponsor: Radio Studies Scholarly Interest Group
Session H 1:00 – 2:45 p.m.
H12. Historicizing Cinema’s Sounds and Color
Chair: Andrew Horton, UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA
Benjamin Wright, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, “The House that Zimmer Built: Romantic Minimalism and Group Style in Contemporary Film Music”
Julie Hubbert, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA, “Records, Repertoire, and Rollerball (1975): The Hi-Fi Movement and the New Hollywood Soundtrack”
John Belton, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY, “Man, God, and Kodachrome: The Beginnings of a Color Vernacular”
Session I 3:00 – 4:45 p.m.
I11. Historicizing Technical Standards and Practices in Film Sound
Chair: Katherine Quanz, WILFRID LAURIER UNIVERSITY
Michael Slowik, SAN DIEGO STATE UNIVERSITY, “The Curious Case of Myrna Loy: Voice, Ethnicity, Impersonation, and Early Synchronized Sound Technology”
Eric Dienstfrey, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON, “Prints and the New Power Regulations: New Data on the 1938 Academy Curve”
Katherine Quanz, WILFRID LAURIER UNIVERSITY, “The Aesthetic Impact of the National Film Board’s Sound Technology After 1956”
Kevin Donnelly, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHAMPTON, “Progressive Rock, Technology, and Film in the 1970s”
Sponsor: Sound Studies Scholarly Interest Group
Session J 5:00 – 6:45 p.m.
J11. Screening Instability Genders, Genres, and Soundscapes of Cinematic Modernization in 1960s Mexico
Chair: Francisco Flores-Cuautle, WICHITA STATE UNIVERSITY
Brian L. Price, BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY, “Rock and Roll Films and the Development of Mexican Counterculture”
Francisco Flores-Cuautle, WICHITA STATE UNIVERSITY, “Hyperbolic Masculinity and Effeminacy in Viento Negro (Dark Wind)”
Carolyn Fornoff, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, “Musical Interludes in Mexican Melodrama: Crafting a Sonic Space of Exclusion”
Ignacio Sanchez Prado, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS, “A Hero and the Monsters of Modernity: Wrestler Cinema as Popular Cosmopolitanism”
Respondent: Sergio de la Mora, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-DAVIS
Special Event 7:30 p.m.
Wind from the Middle East: An Evening of Music and Film
Location: La Vitrola, 4602 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
The Middle East Caucus presents an evening of entertainment and discussion, featuring a performance by local Montreal musicians Sam Shalabi (playing oud) and Stefan Christoff (on electric guitar). Following the musical performance, there will be a presentation by Negar Mottahedeh, Associate Professor of Literature at Duke University, and author of Displaced Allegories: Post-Revolutionary Iranian Cinema. Professor Mottahedeh’s talk is titled “Le Vent Nous Portera: of lovers possessed, times entangled, and bodies carried away,” and will be accompanied by a video projection.
Metro: Station Laurier or a short taxi ride from the conference hotel.
Sponsored By: Middle East Caucus and supported by SCMS
Thursday Individual Papers of Interest
F6. Zachary Campbell, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, “The Audiovisual Otherwise: Valences of Media as Political Figurations”
F7. Denise Mok, UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA, “Transnational Agencies and Auras: Performance and Star Power in Transatlantic Film Performances in Early Sound Cinema”
F8. Theo Stojanov, CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY, “Manufactured Soundscapes: Recycled Media, Sound Archives, Materiality”
G10. Anupama Kapse, QUEENS COLLEGE-CUNY, “Autobiographies of Dissent: Memories of Screen Acting in the Early Sound Film”
G11. Colin Burnett, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS, “The Vernacular of Rhythm: How the Language of Postwar Film Culture Elaborated on a Musical Analogy”
H8. Jane Stadler, UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND, “Sonic Disturbance: Film, Phenomenology, and the Threshold of Acoustic Experience”
H11. Anne Jerslev, UNIVERSITY OF COPENHAGEN, “David Lynch and Haptic Audio-Visuality in Crazy Clown Time”
H18. Ryan Powell, INDIANA UNIVERSITY, “Queer Aurality in Seventies Gay Art Porn”
I4. James Deaville, CARLETON UNIVERSITY, “Music and Sound in Film Trailers: A Preliminary Ethnographic Study of Producers and Consumers”
J7. Katherine Spring, WILFRID LAURIER UNIVERSITY, “Film Music and Moral Rights in Hollywood’s Early Sound Era”
FRIDAY, March 27
Session K 9:00 – 10:45 a.m.
K22. Dis-locating Sound
Chair: Lutz Koepnick, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY
Co-Chair: Nora M. Alter, TEMPLE UNIVERSITY
Nora M. Alter, TEMPLE UNIVERSITY, “Shocking Sounds: Surrealism, Songs, and the Essay Film”
Jennie Hirsh, MARYLAND INSTITUTE COLLEGE OF ART, “Transmissions of Fascism: Advertising Architecture through the Ente Radio Rurale Poster Campaign”
Kenneth White, STANFORD UNIVERSITY, “Reason and Passion: Joyce Wieland, Pierre Vallières, and Cold War North American Avant-garde Cinema”
Lutz Koepnick, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY, “Sounds without Frontiers, Cinemas without Screens”
Sponsor: Sound Studies Scholarly Interest Group
Session M 2:15 – 4:00 p.m.
M2. She Bop on Screen Girls, Popular Music, and Visual Media
Chair: Diane Pecknold, UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE
Mary Kearney, UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME, “Getting Girls to Rock: Gendering Rock ‘n’ Roll in US Teen Media, 1956–1966”
Norma Coates, UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN ONTARIO, “Dangerous Representations: Empowered Teen Girls, the Monkees, and ‘The’ Monkees”
Morgan Blue, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN, “Disney Channel’s Pop Girlhood”
Diane Pecknold, UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE, “Spectral Cityscapes and the Tween Pop Public Sphere”
Sponsor: Sound Studies Scholarly Interest Group
M8. Workshop: The Problem of the Radio Canon
Chair: Jason Loviglio, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND
Debra Rae Cohen, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Bill Kirkpatrick, DENISON UNIVERSITY
Kate Lacey, UNIVERSITY OF SUSSEX
Jason Loviglio, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND
Elena Razlogova, CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY
Sponsor: Radio Studies Scholarly Interest Group
Special Event 9:00 – 9:30 p.m.
Satosphere: 360-Degree Spherical Screen with 157 Speakers
Location: Société des Arts et Technologies, 1201 Boulevard Saint Laurent, 3rd Floor
Channeling the techno-utopianism of Expo 67, the Satosphere Dome is a state-sponsored, permanent environment dedicated to large-scale moving image and sound experimentation. With a screen that is eighteen meters in diameter (that’s 60 feet!), you can sit back—or literally lie down—on the couches and ponder a distinct mode of spectatorship, immersion, and art. An experience of audio-visual envelopment not to be missed!
Metro: St Laurent
Directions: From conference hotel—a 15 minute walk from the hotel. Walk east on René-Lévesque and turn left (north) onto Boulevard Saint Laurent.
Sponsor: Concordia University
Friday Individual Papers of Interest
K13. Alan Pike, EMORY UNIVERSITY, “The Genrefication of Prison Films in the Early Sound Era”
K14. Thomas Dorey, YORK UNIVERSITY, “Pop-up Paratext: Film Directors, Music Videos, and Paramediality”
L9. Eileen Rositzka, UNIVERSITY OF ST. ANDREWS, “Corpographic Coordinates: Zero Dark Thirty, United 93, and the Sound of Vision”
L12. Lilya Kaganovsky, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN, “Socialist Realist Sound”
M6. Vanessa Chang, STANFORD UNIVERSITY, “From Playback to Play: Gestural Invention and Digital Music”
M7. Michael B. Gillespie, OHIO UNIVERSITY, “‘Ne me quitte pas’: 9/11, Civic Pop, and Sonic Historiography”
SATURDAY, March 28
Session N 9:00 – 10:45 a.m.
Radio Studies Scholarly Interest Group
Room: Les Voyageurs 2, Lobby Level
N8. The Voice in Translation
Chair: Jennifer Fleeger, URSINUS COLLEGE
Sarah Wright, ROYAL HOLLOWAY-UNIVERSITY OF LONDON, “Locating the Voice in Silent Cinema: Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves”
Jennifer Fleeger, URSINUS COLLEGE, “Tito Schipa, Italian Film Sound, and Opera’s Legacy on Screen”
Tom Whittaker, UNIVERSITY OF LIVERPOOL, “‘Being’ Woody Allen: Dubbing, Vocal Performance, and Stardom in Spanish Film”
Christine Ehrick, UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE, “Voice, Gender, and the Soundscapes of Buenos Aires in the Comedy of Niní Marshall, 1937–1947”
Session O 11:00 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.
O6. The Public Good Goes to Market: North American Public Service Media and the Marketplace in the Digital Convergence Era
Chair: Christopher Cwynar, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON
Jason Loviglio, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND, “NPR Listens: Psychographics, Audience Measurement, and the Privatization of Public Service Radio”
Kyle Conway, UNIVERSITY OF OTTAWA, “Policy beyond the Nation-State; or, Why the French Didn’t Watch Canada’s Little Mosque on the Prairie”
Christopher Cwynar, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON, “Social Service Media?: Assessing the CBC and NPR’s Engagement with Social Media Platforms”
Respondent: Laurie Ouellette, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA
Sponsor: Radio Studies Scholarly Interest Group
O11. The Sonic Impact of Scale Local and National Radio in “the 1960s”
Chair: Darrell Newton, SALISBURY UNIVERSITY
Josh Glick, YALE UNIVERSITY, “Soundscapes of South Los Angeles: Radio and the Voices of Resistance”
Darrell Newton, SALISBURY UNIVERSITY, “Being of Color in Britain: Identity, 1960s Radio, and West Indian Immigration”
Eleanor Patterson, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON, “We Are Not Reviving a Ghost: Reconfiguring Radio Drama in Post-network Era United States”
Alexander Russo, THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA, “Musical Storytelling to a Fragmented Nation: American Top 40 and Cultural Conflict”
Sponsor: Radio Studies Scholarly Interest Group
Session P 1:00 – 2:45 p.m.
P7. Fringe Time: Gender and Crossover Programming in the US Radio-TV Transition
Chair: Jennifer Wang, INDEPENDENT SCHOLAR
Elana Levine, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MILWAUKEE, “Picturing Soap Opera: Daytime Serials and the Transition from Radio to Television”
Jennifer Wang, INDEPENDENT SCHOLAR, “Resuscitating the Wife Saver: Gender, Genre, and Commercialism in Postwar Broadcasting”
Jennifer Lynn Jones, INDIANA UNIVERSITY, “Signal Size: Gender, Ethnicity, and Diet Episodes in the Radio-TV Transition”
Kate Newbold, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, “‘Now the Booing Is Done in Soprano’: Wrestling, Female Audiences, and Discourses of Liveness in the Radio-to-TV Transition in America, 1940–1953”
Sponsor: Radio Studies Scholarly Interest Group
P10. Historicizing Music and Transmedia
Chair: Landon Palmer, INDIANA UNIVERSITY
Kyle Barnett, BELLARMINE UNIVERSITY, “Popular Music Celebrity, Jazz-age Media Convergence, and Depression-era Transmedia”
Kevin John Bozelka, AUSTIN COLLEGE, “Everything on the Pig but the Squeal: Artist/ Publishers and Recordings in the Post-WWII American Entertainment Industry”
Landon Palmer, INDIANA UNIVERSITY, “All Together Now: The Beatles, United Artists, and Transmedia Conglomeration”
Alyxandra Vesey, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON, “Mixing in Feminism: Playlists, Networks, and Counterpublics”
Sponsors: Radio Studies and Sound Studies Scholarly Interest Groups
P12. Workshop: Trans Women’s Media Activism Digital Interventions and HIV/AIDS
Chair: Marty Fink, GEORGIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
Morgan Page, MCGILL UNIVERSITY
Morgan Sea, TRANZISTER RADIO
Bryn Kelly, INDEPENDENT SCHOLAR
Alexandra Juhasz, PITZER COLLEGE
Sponsor: Media Literacy & Pedagogical Outreach Scholarly Interest Group
Session Q 3:00 – 4:45 p.m.
Q18. Workshop: Something Good? The Sound of Music at Fifty
Chair: Desirée Garcia, Arizona State University
Steven Cohan, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY
Caryl Flinn, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
Sean Griffin, SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY
Adrienne L. McLean, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT DALLAS
Desirée Garcia, ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY
Q22. New Approaches to Music and Film Theory and History
Chair: Lea Jacobs, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON
James Buhler, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN, “Toward a Theory of the Part-talkie”
Lea Jacobs, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON, “Rethinking the Sync: Adorno, Eisler, and Eisenstein”
Jeff Smith, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON, “Paying the Piper at Paramount: Budgets, Shooting Schedules, and the Score for Midnight (1939)”
Andrew Johnston, NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY, “Chromatic Rhythms and Display Memories”
Q23. Stream Engines: Streaming Services and Media Distribution
Chair: Devon Powers, DREXEL UNIVERSITY
Jeremy Morris and Devon Powers, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON AND DREXEL UNIVERSITY, “Now Streaming: Control, Content, and Curation in Digital Music Services”
Blake Hallinan, INDIANA UNIVERSITY, “‘My Context Is My Query’: Algorithmic Flow as Emergent Entertainment Paradigm”
Eric Harvey, WEBER STATE UNIVERSITY, “Listening Like a Platform: The Reorganization and Intensification of Streaming Music Commerce”
Chris Baumann, STOCKHOLM UNIVERSITY, “It’s Not TV, It’s Netflix: On Streaming Netflix, Technological Obsolescence, and the Cultural Status of a Medium”
Session R 5:00 – 6:45 p.m.
R11. The Acoustic 1930s: Global Film Sound Technique and Aesthetic from Silent to Sound
Chair: Ling Zhang, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
Kathryn Kalinak, RHODE ISLAND COLLEGE, “New Means of Enormous Power: Soviet Film Music in the 1930s”
Charles O’Brien, CARLETON UNIVERSITY, “Film Sound and Dubbing Technique”
Jeremy Barham, UNIVERSITY OF SURREY, “When Is a Musical Film Not a Film Musical?: Diegetic and Generic Complexity in Germany’s First Sound Films”
Ling Zhang, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, “The Comic Soundscape and Audiovisual Heterogeneity: Yuan Muzhi’s Scenes of City Life (1935) and Street Angel (1937)”
Respondent: James Lastra, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
R12. Sounding the Interactive Documentary: Non-fiction, New Media, and the Problem of Immersion
Chair: Michael Baker, SHERIDAN COLLEGE
Co-Chair: Randolph Jordan, SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY
Michael Baker, SHERIDAN COLLEGE, “Bear 71, Popular Music, and the Problem of Immersion”
Randolph Jordan, SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY, “The Soundscapes of Mobile Periodization in Stan Douglas’s iOS app, Circa 1948”
Milena Droumeva, SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY, “Curating Everyday Life: Smartphones and Interactive Documentary as Daily Practice”
Respondent: Andrew Utterson, ITHACA COLLEGE
Sponsor: Documentary Studies Scholarly Interest Group
Special Event 8:00 – 9:30 p.m.
Experiments in 3D: Norman McLaren
Location: Henry F. Hall Building, Concordia University, 1455 boulevard de Maisonneuve Ouest, Room H-110
Please refer to Montreal vicinity map on page 32 for location. Join us for a screening of four recently restored stereoscopic and stereophonic shorts by renowned Scottish-Canadian animator and experimental filmmaker Norman McLaren. The evening will also feature a new documentary about McLaren’s musical compositions entitled Norman McLaren: Animated Musician, with its director Donald McWilliams in attendance. A brief question period will follow the screening with the National Film Board filmmakers, researchers, and McLaren collaborators who formed the restoration team.
Films to be screened in 3D:
Around Is Around, directed by Norman McLaren, 1951 (3D animation)
Now Is the Time, directed by Norman McLaren, 1951 (3D animation)
O Canada, directed by Evelyn Lambart, 1952 (3D animation)
Twirligig, directed by Gretta Ekman, 1952 (3D animation)
Norman McLaren: Animated Musician, directed by Donald McWilliams, 2014 (documentary live action)
Directions: From the conference hotel—15 minute walk from the hotel. Walk west on René-Lévesque and then turn right on MacKay St. until you come to boulevard de Maisonneuve. The Hall Building will be on the north and west side of de Maisonneuve and MacKay.
Sponsors: Concordia University, McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, and the National Film Board
Saturday Individual Papers of Interest
N7. Yeidy Rivero, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, “The Original Miami Sound Machine: The Emergence of Miami as a Production Center for the US and Latin America”
Christopher Westgate, JOHNSON & WALES UNIVERSITY, “Passion Points for Latin@ Pop Music: Heat, Hits, and the Emotion of Economics”
P17. Ioana Uricaru, MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE, “No Melo—Music and Minimalism in Recent Romanian Cinema”
Q4. Andrew Ritchey, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA, “Trompe l’oreille: Dislocations of Sound and Sense in a Partly Québécoise Family of Recorded Sound Works by Michael Snow”
R7. Kathy Fuller-Seeley, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN, “Becoming Benny: Jack Benny’s Production of a Radio Comedy Persona, 1932–1936”
Lauren Sklaroff, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA, “The Hilarious Sophie Tucker: Humor, Womanhood, and the Dynamics of Delivery”
R20. Victoria Simon, MCGILL UNIVERSITY, “Anybody Can Be a Musician: Transparency and the Discursive Construction of Touch in Interfaces for Music Composition”
SUNDAY, March 29
Session S 9:00 – 10:45 a.m.
S16. Speaking of Sound: Historical Studies in Sound Practices and Technologies
Chair: Matthew Perkins, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-LOS ANGELES
Meredith Ward, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, “The Sound Industry Lays the Golden Egg: Noise, Electroacoustical Research, and the Adjustment to Film Sound”
Casey Long, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON, “First Thing I Learned . . . Is When to Say Ain’t: Dialect in 1930s Hollywood”
Jennifer Psujek, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS, “‘Free to Do Anything’: Fight Club (1999), Indiewood, and the Composite Score at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century”
Matthew Perkins, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-LOS ANGELES, “Sound Work: The Acquisition of Sound Labor and Division Thereof at Vitaphone and Warner Bros., 1925–1931”
Sponsor: Sound Studies Scholarly Interest Group
Session T 11:00 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.
T11. Sound, Technology, and Auditory Knowledge
Chair: Alejandra Bronfman, UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
Axel Volmar, MCGILL UNIVERSITY
Carolyn Birdsall, UNIVERSITY OF AMSTERDAM
Anthony Enns, DALHOUSIE UNIVERSITY
Alejandra Bronfman, UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
Session U 1:00 – 2:45 p.m.
U3. Workshop: What Can Disability Studies Do for Media Studies?
Chair: Bill Kirkpatrick, DENISON UNIVERSITY
Elizabeth Ellcessor, INDIANA UNIVERSITY
Mara Mills, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY
Tasha Oren, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MILWAUKEE
Jonathan Sterne, MCGILL UNIVERSITY
U12. Music Structures and Affect
Chair: Britta Hanson, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Katherine Reed, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, “Between Grace and Nature: The Tree of Life’s Musical Dialogic Process and Formal Structure”
Phoebe Macrossan, UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES, “Constructing Glee’s Sung-through Musical Narrative through Spontaneity and Verisimilitude”
Christopher Culp, SUNY-UNIVERSITY AT BUFFALO, “‘This Isn’t Real, but I Just Wanna Feel’: Musicals, Television, and the Queer Ineffable Passage of Time”
Britta Hanson, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, “Music as Rhetoric in Contemporary Documentaries”
U18. Discontinuous Colonial Modernities of Media Film and Radio in British Malaya and Portuguese Southern Africa
Chair: Peter Bloom, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-SANTA BARBARA
Co-Chair: Nadine Chan, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Ines Cordeiro Dias, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-LOS ANGELES, “Discourses of Urban Modernity in Portuguese Colonial Cinema”
Nadine Chan, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, “Cinematic Afterlives: Films of the Malayan Emergency at the Transition from Empire to Independence”
Peter Bloom, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-SANTA BARBARA, “Learning the Speech of Counterinsurgency as National Allegory: BBC Radio and Instructional Propaganda Film during the Malayan Emergency”
Respondent: Peter Limbrick, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-SANTA CRUZ
Sponsor: Middle East Caucus and Radio Studies Scholarly Interest Group
Sunday Individual Papers of Interest
T7. Keir Keightley, UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN ONTARIO, “Tin Pan Alley Goes Silent: Two Films about the Music Industry in 1919”
T13. Roger Almendarez, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, “Radio Arte—The Formation of a Mediated, Local Latina/o Identity in Chicago’s Pilsen Neighborhood”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This post, a personal essay concerning an endangered archive of radio recordings in Detroit by University of Michigan Professor Derek Vaillant, has been temporarily embargoed due to a security concern regarding a specific location discussed in the post. It will be restored as soon as possible, with additional details from the author. — Special Editor Neil Verma
Tuning Into the “Happy Am I” Preacher: Researching the Radio Career of Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux
Welcome to the second installment of our Thursday series spotlighting endangered radio archives across the United States, promoting the work of the Radio Preservation Task Force (RPTF), which is part of the National Recording Reservation Plan of the Library of Congress. Our series kicked off two weeks ago with this post by Josh Garrett-Davis exploring both the history of Native American radio and new ways of thinking about it, and the series will conclude with a piece next week by the University of Michigan’s Derek Vaillant about radio recordings in immediate need of preservation in Detroit.
Between possible archives and endangered ones, we have an article about an archive that has begun to speak after long years of silence. Below, Professor Suzanne Smith of George Mason University gives us a preview of her research into a radio evangelist who was among the most prominent African Americans of his day, yet has been largely forgotten. Smith’s fascinating work not only revisits Elder Michaux as a historical figure, but also gives us a clear sense of how a project in radio reservation relies not only on institutional resources, but also on personal outreach. As many of us who are part of the preservation project are learning, media history lives on in storage units, basements and lockers, preserved by collectors, churches and communities that only individual connections can truly reach.
– Special Editor Neil Verma
In October 1934, the Washington Post published a feature about Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux in which it boldly declared that the “radio evangelist extraordinary, is the best known colored man in the United States today.” At the time, Elder Michaux, known as the “Happy Am I” Preacher, had a national radio show on the CBS network that broadcast his ministry of happiness and holiness to over twenty-five million listeners each week.
Like many popular evangelists of his era, Elder Michaux promoted his image as one of God’s prophets, presciently envisioning that radio could revolutionize the purview of modern evangelicalism. Michaux first used portable radio equipment to broadcast his holiness revivals in the mid to late 1920s in his hometown of Newport News and these religious programs were among the first of their kind in the United States. By 1929, Michaux moved to Washington, D.C. in the hopes of expanding his mission.
As an African American, Michaux initially had difficulty convincing local D.C. radio outlets to put him on the air. Eventually, he persuaded James S. Vance, local owner of WJSV, to broadcast his weekly revivals. When the CBS network bought WJSV in 1932, the budding evangelist achieved a national audience in the millions.
The key to Michaux’s success was his ability to combine his preaching with snappy, upbeat gospel songs that reminded listeners that a holy life leads to a happy life, a message that resonated with Americans navigating the economic trials of the Great Depression. By the late 1930s, the BBC invited Michaux to broadcast his program on its network and listeners around the globe soon began to tune into his WJSV broadcasts in via shortwave hookup. These opportunities allowed the charismatic preacher to reach a vast international radio audience that extended from Europe to Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. That Michaux’s broadcasts, like his story, have disappeared from radio history has impoverished our sense of the role of race in the soundscape of the era.
My current book project examines Michaux’s extraordinary life and career as a radio evangelist. For this post, I want to explain both Michaux’s significance to the history of religious radio as well as African American history; and how my research has led me to join the Radio Preservation Task Force in an effort to preserve the surviving recordings this important figure, but understudied, figure.
In spite of his many accomplishments, Elder Michaux has been largely overlooked in the histories of religious radio and African American religion. Scholarship on religious radio from the 1920s and 1930s tends to focus on figures such as Father Charles Coughlin and Aimee Semple McPherson with only passing mention of African American preachers such as Michaux. In the history of African American religion in the 1930s, Michaux tends to be overshadowed by scholarship on other major figures such as Father Divine and his Peace Mission Movement and Sweet Daddy Grace and his United House of Prayer. Although Michaux’s ministry was often categorized as a religious cult in the popular press of the time, his Gospel Spreading Radio Church of God was firmly a part of the black Holiness movement and continues to have ten active congregations today.
Throughout his career, which began in the late 1920s and extended until his death in 1968, Elder Michaux defied the odds and challenged boundaries of race, theology and politics to become one of the most successful religious leaders and media celebrities of his time. As early as 1926, Michaux, whose Holiness ministry openly welcomed all races, was arrested for baptizing whites and blacks together. Once established in Washington, D.C., Michaux led annual mass baptisms in the Potomac River and later at Griffith Stadium that drew tens of thousands of followers. At the height of his fame, from the 1930s through the 1950s, Michaux was regularly invited to the White House to consult with Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower about the racial issues of the day. By the early 1960s, Michaux engaged in public debates with both Martin Luther King Jr. and Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, about the direction of the civil rights struggle.
My book argues that Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux is critical to our understanding of how religious leaders used the mass medium of radio to literally “sell” evangelical faith movements in modern America. Elder Michaux was the first to fully develop the concept of a “Radio Church,” which offered official membership to followers and created one of the first, if not the first, virtual religious communities in modern America. A true evangelist, Michaux sought to reach believers and potential converts wherever they were and knew that the radio could facilitate his mission in revolutionary ways. In an interview in 1938, Michaux explained, “I wanted to give people religion over the air so they might have it at home. Then they couldn’t have an excuse for not going to church. They couldn’t say that they were tired or didn’t have the right clothes. They could get God and his teachings right in their own parlor.” Most significantly, Michaux’s entrepreneurial skill at marketing his Gospel Spreading Church of God through the radio was simultaneously in service to his race and racially transgressive in ways that complicate our understanding of how modern religious movements navigated Jim Crow segregation.
So how can we actually give an account of Michaux’s contributions? Researching radio programming from the 1920s and 1930s presents a number of challenges for any historian because recordings of broadcasts from this period are rare. Fortunately, Elder Michaux began his career on WJSV, one of the most powerful stations in Washington in the 1930s (which became WTOP, the most popular local news radio station in Washington, D.C. today). The first director of WJSV under CBS ownership was Harry Butcher, who had the foresight in September 1939 to record an entire day of programming, which is remarkable considering this was accomplished without the use of magnetic recording tape. Although this collection does not include Elder Michaux’s program, it is a valuable audio snapshot of the radio era in which he thrived.
My quest to locate recordings of Elder Michaux’s broadcast has led me to destinations as far away as the BBC archives in London, which houses two recordings of Michaux’s first British broadcasts; and as close as the main branch of the current Gospel Spreading Church of God here in Washington.
In the past two years, I have also developed meaningful relationships with congregants of the church, who have begun to be willing to share their private archive of recordings. During one oral history interview, one church member, who is 92-years old, gave me a reel-to-reel tape from Elder Michaux’s funeral service, which was broadcast in October 1968. Another elder member from Newport News sent me recordings of Michaux preaching at Lorton Prison in Lorton, Virginia in the 1950s. Most significantly, I recently met the current sound engineer at the church, who has been a member since the 1940s and has a large archive of reel-to-reel tapes of Michaux’s radio broadcasts from the 1950s and 1960s. At the height of his fame in the early 1930s, Elder Michaux broadcast his religious services daily and never missed a week of broadcasting until his death in 1968. The church has only kept a fraction of these broadcasts. Nevertheless, a significant number of them exist and are housed in the church’s private storage. I am currently trying to assess the scope of the church’s collection, which has involved reaching out to church members in Philadelphia, New York City, and Newport News, Virginia. I am also trying to investigate grants that might support my efforts to digitize the tapes as soon as possible since they are at risk of deterioration in the church storage facilities.
My research on Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux’s career has convinced me that more work needs to be done to pursue the preservation of African American religious radio broadcasts in general. The work of the Radio Preservation Task Force can support this mission, but it will also involve grassroots outreach to established African American churches. Many of these churches regularly broadcast their services and may have their own private archives of recordings that can offer us an invaluable glimpse at the aural history of African American religious practices in the twentieth century.
Moreover, through my ongoing relationships with the congregants of Elder Michaux’s Gospel Spreading Church of God, I have developed a deeper appreciation for the importance of personal outreach to African American religious communities in the service of preserving the history of religious radio. The efforts of the Radio Preservation Task Force are critically important in terms of identifying existing institutional archives, but only through individual connections with these vital, but often overlooked minority communities, will we be able to discover and preserve these treasures of our radio past.
Suzanne E. Smith is Professor of History in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason University. She is the author of Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit (Harvard University Press, 1999) and To Serve the Living: Funeral Directors and the African American Way of Death (Belknap Press, 2010). She is currently working on her third book, tentatively titled The ‘Happy Am I’ Preacher: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux.
All images courtesy of the author.
REWIND! . . .If you liked this post, you may also dig:
Pentecostal Song, Sound, and Authentic Voices — Ashon Crawley
Sounding Out! Podcast Episode #5: Sound and Spirit on the Highway — David B. Greenberg
Editor’s Note: February may be over, but our forum is still on! Today I bring you installment #5 of Sounding Out!‘s blog forum on gender and voice. Last week Art Blake talked about how his experience shifting his voice from feminine to masculine as a transgender man intersects with his work on John Cage. Before that, Regina Bradley put the soundtrack of Scandal in conversation with race and gender. The week before I talked about what it meant to have people call me, a woman of color, “loud.” That post was preceded by Christine Ehrick‘s selections from her forthcoming book, on the gendered soundscape. We have one more left! Robin James will round out our forum with an analysis of how ideas of what women should sound like have roots in Greek philosophy.
This week Canadian artist and writer AO Roberts takes us into the arena of speech synthesis and makes us wonder about what it means that the voices are so often female. So, lean in, close your eyes, and don’t be afraid of the robots’ voices. –Liana M. Silva, Managing Editor
I used Apple’s SIRI for the first time on an iPhone 4S. After hundreds of miles in a van full of people on a cross-country tour, all of the music had been played and the comedy mp3s entirely depleted. So, like so many first time SIRI users, we killed time by asking questions that went from the obscure to the absurd. Passive, awaiting command, prone to glitches: there was something both comedic and insidious about SIRI as female-gendered program, something that seemed to bind up the technology with stereotypical ideas of femininity.
Speech synthesis is the artificial simulation of the human voice through hardware or software, and SIRI is but one incarnation of the historical chorus of machines speaking what we code to be female. Starting from the early 20th century Voder, to the Cold-War era Silvia and Audrey, up to Amazon’s newly released Echo, researchers have by and large developed these applications as female personae. Each program articulates an individual timbre and character, soothing soft spoken or matter of fact; this is your mother, sister, or lover, here to affirm your interests while reminding you about that missed birthday. She is easy to call up in memory, tones rounded at the edges, like Scarlett Johansson’s smoky conviviality as Samantha in Spike Jonze’s Her, a bodiless purr. Simulated speech articulates a series of assumptions about what neutral articulation is, what a female voice is, and whose voice technology can ventriloquize.
The ways computers hear and speak the human voice are as complex as they are rapidly expanding. But in robotics gender is charted down to actual wavelength, actively policed around 100-150 HZ (male) and 200-250 HZ (female). Now prevalent in entertainment, navigation, law enforcement, surveillance, security, and communications, speech synthesis and recognition hold up an acoustic mirror to the dominant cultures from which they materialize. While they might provide useful tools for everything from time management to self-improvement, they also reinforce cisheteronormative definitions of personhood. Like the binary code that now gives it form, the development of speech recognition separated the entire spectrum of vocal expression into rigid biologically based categories. Ideas of a real voice vs. fake voice, in all their resonances with passing or failing one’s gender performance, have through this process been designed into the technology itself.
A SERIES OF MISERABLE GRUNTS
The first voice to be synthesized was a reed and bellows box invented by Wolfgang Von Kempelen in 1791 and shown off in the courts of the Hapsburg Empire. Von Kempelen had gained renown for his chess-playing Turk, a racist cartoon of an automaton that made waves amongst the nobles until it was revealed that underneath the tabletop was a small man secretly moving the chess player’s limbs. Von Kempelen’s second work, the speaking machine, wowed its audiences thoroughly. The player wheedled and squeezed the contraption, pushing air through its reed larynx to replicate simple words like mama and papa.
Synthesizing the voice has always required some level of making strange, of phonemic abstraction. Bell Laboratories originally developed The Voder, the earliest incarnation of the vocoder, as a cryptographic device for WWII military communications. The machine split the human voice into a spectral representation, fragmenting the source into number of different frequencies that were then recombined into synthetic speech. Noise and unintelligibility shielded the Allies’ phone calls from Nazi interception. The Vocoder’s developer, Ralph Miller, bemoaned the atrocities the machine performed on language, reducing it to a “series of miserable grunts.”
In his history of the The Vocoder, How to Wreck a Nice Beach, Dave Tompkins tells how the apparatus originally took up an entire wall and was played solely by female phone operators, but the pitch of the female voice was said to be too high to be heard by the nascent technology. In fact, when it debuted at the 1939 World’s Fair, only men were chosen to experience the roboticization of their voice. The Voder was, in fact, originally created to only hear pitches in the range of 100-150 HZ, a designed exclusion from the start. So when the Signal Corps of the Army convinced President Eisenhower to call his wife via Voder from North Africa, Miller and the developers panicked for fear she wouldn’t be heard. Entering the Pentagon late at night, Mamie Eisenhower spoke into the telephone and a fragmented version of her words travelled across the Atlantic. Resurfacing in angular vocoded form, her voice urged her husband to come home, and he had no problem hearing her. Instead of giving the developers pause to question their own definitions of gender, this interaction is told as a derisive footnote of in the history of the sound and technology: the punchline being that the first lady’s voice was heard because it was as low as a man’s.
In fall 2014 Amazon launched Echo, their new personal assistant device. Echo is a 12-inch long plain black cone that stands upright on a tabletop, similar in appearance to a telephoto camera lens. Equipped with far field mics, Echo has a female voice, connected to the cloud and always on standby. Users engage Echo with their own chosen ‘wake’ word. The linguistic similarity to a BDSM safe word could have been lost on developers. Although here inverted, the word is used to engage rather than halt action, awakening an instrument that lays dormant awaiting command.
Amazon’s much-parodied promotional video for Echo is narrated by the innocent voice of the youngest daughter in a happy, straight, white, middle-class family. While the son pitches Oedipal jabs at the father for his dubious role as patriarchal translator of technology, each member of the family soon discovers the ways Echo is useful to them. They name it Alexa and move from questions like: “Alexa how many teaspoons in a tablespoon” and “How tall is Mt. Everest?” to commands for dance mixes and cute jokes. Echo enacts a hybrid role as mother, surrogate companion, and nanny of sorts not through any real aspects of labor but through the intangible contribution of information. As a female-voiced oracle in the early pantheon of the Internet of Things, Echo’s use value is squarely placed in the realm of cisheteronormative domestic knowledge production. Gone are the tongue-in-cheek existential questions proffered to SIRI upon its release. The future with Echo is clean, wholesome, and absolutely SFW. But what does it mean for Echo to be accepted into the home, as a female gendered speaking subject?
Concerns over privacy and surveillance quickly followed Echo’s release, alarms mostly sounding over its “always on” function. Amazon banks on the safety and intimacy we culturally associate with the female voice to ease the transition of robots and AI into the home. If the promotional video painted an accurate picture of Echo’s usage, it would appear that Amazon had successfully launched Echo as a bodiless voice over the uncanny valley, the chasm below littered with broken phalanxes of female machines. Masahiro Mori coined the now familiar term uncanny valley in 1970 to describe the dip in empathic response to humanoid robots as they approach realism.
If we listen to the litany of reactions to robot voices through the filters of gender and sexuality it reveals the stark inclines of what we might think of as a queer uncanny valley. Paulina Palmer wrote in The Queer Uncanny about reoccurring tropes in queer film and literature, expanding upon what Freud saw as a prototypical aspect of the uncanny: the doubling and interchanging of the self. In the queer uncanny we see another kind of rift: that between signifier and signified embodied by trans people, the tearing apart of gender from its biological basis. The non-linear algebra of difference posed by queer and trans bodies is akin to the blurring of divisions between human and machine represented by the cyborg. This is the coupling of transphobic and automatonophobic anxieties, defined always in relation to the responses and preoccupations of a white, able bodied, cisgendered male norm. This is the queer uncanny valley. For the synthesized voice to function here, it must ease the chasm, like Echo: sutured by a voice coded as neutral, but premised upon the imagined body of a white, heterosexual, educated middle class woman.
My own voice spans a range that would have dismayed someone like Ralph Miller. I sang tenor in Junior High choir until I was found out for straying, and then warned to stay properly in the realms of alto, but preferably soprano range. Around the same time I saw a late night feature of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, struggling to lose her crass proletariat inflection. So I, a working class gender ambivalent kid, walked around with books on my head muttering The Rain In Spain Falls Mainly on the Plain for weeks after. I’m generally loud, opinionated and people remember me for my laugh. I have sung in doom metal and grindcore punk bands, using both screeching highs and the growling “cookie monster” vocal technique mostly employed by cismales.
Given my own history of toying with and estrangement from what my voice is supposed to sound like, I was interested to try out a new app on the market, the Exceptional Voice App (EVA ), touted as “The World’s First and Only Transgender Voice Training App.” Functioning as a speech recognition program, EVA analyzes the pitch, respiration, and character of your voice with the stated goal of providing training to sound more like one’s authentic self. Behind EVA is Kathe Perez, a speech pathologist and businesswoman, the developer and provider of code to the circuit. And behind the code is the promise of giving proper form to rough sounds, pitch-perfect prosody, safety, acceptance, and wholeness. Informational and training videos are integrated with tonal mimicry for phrases like hee, haa, and ooh. User progress is rated and logged with options to share goals reached on Twitter and Facebook. Customers can buy EVA for Gals or EVA for Guys. I purchased the app online for my iPhone for $5.97.
My initial EVA training scores informed me I was 22% female; a recurring number I receive in interfaces with identity recognition software. Facial recognition programs consistently rate my face at 22% female. If I smile I tend to get a higher female response than my neutral face, coded and read as male. Technology is caught up in these translations of gender: we socialize women to smile more than men, then write code for machines to recognize a woman in a face that smiles.
As for EVA’s usage, it seems to be a helpful pedagogical tool with more people sharing their positive results and reviews on trans forums every day. With violence against trans people persisting—even increasing—at alarming rates, experienced worst by trans women of color, the way one’s voice is heard and perceived is a real issue of safety. Programs like EVA can be employed to increase ease of mobility throughout the world. However, EVA is also out of reach to many, a classed capitalist venture that tautologically defines and creates users with supply. The context for EVA is the systems of legal, medical, and scientific categories inherited from Foucault’s era of discipline; the predetermined hallucination of normal sexuality, the invention of biological criteria to define the sexes and the pathologization of those outside each box, controlled by systems of biopower.
Despite all these tools we’ll never really know how we sound. It is true that the resonant chamber of our own skull provides us with a different acoustic image of our own voice. We hate to hear our voice recorded because suddenly we catch a sonic glimpse of what other people hear: sharper more angular tones, higher pitch, less warmth. Speech recognition and synthesis work upon the same logic, the shifting away from interiority; a just off the mark approximation. So the question remains what would a gender variant voice synthesis and recognition sound like? How much is reliant upon the technology and how much depends upon individual listeners, their culture, and what they project upon the voice? As markets grow, so too have more internationally accented English dialects been added to computer programs with voice synthesis. Thai, Indian, Arabic and Eastern European English were added to Mac OSX Lion in 2011. Can we hope to soon offer our voices to the industry not as a set of data to be mined into caricatures, but as a way to assist in the opening up in gender definitions? We would be better served to resist the urge to chime in and listen to the field in the same way we suddenly hear our recorded voice played back, with a focus on the sour notes of cold translation.
Featured image: “Golden People love Gold Jewelry Robots” by Flickr user epSos.de, CC BY 2.0
AO Roberts is a Canadian intermedia artist and writer based in Oakland whose work explores gender, technology and embodiment through sound, installation and print. A founding member of Winnipeg’s NGTVSPC feminist artist collective, they have shown their work at galleries and festivals internationally. They have also destroyed their vocal chords, played bass and made terrible sounds in a long line of noise projects and grindcore bands, including VOR, Hoover Death, Kursk and Wolbachia. They hold a BFA from the University of Manitoba and a MFA in Sculpture from California College of the Arts.
REWIND!…If you liked this post, you may also dig:
Hearing Queerly: NBC’s “The Voice”—Karen Tongson
On Sound and Pleasure: Meditations on the Human Voice—Yvon Bonefant
I Been On: BaddieBey and Beyoncé’s Sonic Masculinity—Regina Bradley