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”
Throughout the month of March, nerdcore MCs Mega Ran (Raheem Jarbo) and Sammus (Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo) will be embarking on the “Rappers with Arm Cannons” Tour. Both artists independently based their monikers on two of the most notable video game characters to possess arm cannons, (Mega Man and Samus respectively), but they have since collaborated on several songs and a SoundScan charting Castlevania project, as well as sharing the stage at numerous concert venues and conventions, and releasing individual albums and videos that have received international attention and critical acclaim. Now three years later the two teachers-turned-rappers have decided to take their show on the road alongside rapper and sound engineer Storyville (Matthew Weisse), who has recently joined forces with Mega Ran to release their February 2015 album “Soul Veggies.”
While at first glance the name of the tour appears a bit tongue-in-cheek, it calls necessary attention to the growing presence of Black nerdcore artists like Mega Ran and Sammus who cast their experiences as people of color against the backdrop of nerd and geek culture. In Mega Ran’s case, this has meant writing verses about his struggle to make sense of his Black nerd identity while growing up amongst a very rough crowd in Philadelphia. For Sammus, being a rapper with an arm cannon has largely meant reconciling her ideas about the lack of diverse representations of Black women in notable movies, games, and cartoons among other media forms.
Both Mega Ran and Sammus began making beats on the Playstation game MTV Music Generator. Since that time Sammus has brought together the production styles of Kanye West, Daft Punk, Björk and various video game composers to produce beats that are rich with video game synths and uniquely chopped samples. Mega Ran has similarly drawn on his love of hip hop artists, such as Redman, Nas, and Busta Rhymes as well as music from video games such as Mega Man, Final Fantasy VII, and River City Ransom.
On Tuesday, March 10th, the tour stopped at Cornell University’s Just About Music center where SO! Editors J. Stoever And Aaron Trammell sat down with the trio for a very frank and open discussion on how to survive and thrive as independent artists in the new music economy. Here’s a choice sample of that conversation:
The tour began on March 5th in NYC and will continue through March 19th with final stops in Austin, TX at this year’s South-by-South-West (SXSW). For full details on tall of the dates visit http://sammusmusic.com/shows-tour-dates/
Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo is a PhD student in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University. Since completing a senior thesis on digital music software, tacit knowledge, and gender under the guidance of Trevor Pinch, she has become interested in pursuing research in the emergent field of sound studies. She hopes to combine her passion for music with her academic interests in technological systems, bodies, politics and practices that construct and are constructed by sound. More specifically she would like to examine the politics surrounding low-income community studios, as well as the uses of sound in (or as) electronic games. In her free time she produces hip hop beats and raps under the moniker Sammus (based on the video game character, Samus Aran, from the popular Metroid franchise).
Making Music at Studio X: The Identity Politics of Community Studios-Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo
SO! Amplifies: Regina Bradley’s Outkasted Conversations-Regina Bradley
Editor’s Note: Here’s installment #3 of Sounding Out!‘s blog forum on gender and voice! Last week I talked about what it meant to have people call me, a woman of color, “loud.” The week before that we hosted Christine Ehrick‘s selections from her forthcoming book; she introduced us to the idea of the gendered soundscape, which she uses in her analysis on women’s radio speech from the 1930s to the 1950s. In the next few weeks we’ll have A.O. Roberts with synthesized voices and gender, Art Blake with his reflections on how his experience shifting his voice from feminine to masculine as a transgender man intersects with his work on John Cage, and lastly Robin James with an analysis of how ideas of what women should sound like have roots in Greek philosophy.
This week regular writer Regina Bradley puts the soundtrack of Scandal in conversation with the agency of the show’s protagonist, a black woman in manages crises for a living. So, lean in and close your eyes, but keep your ears open for any spies creeping in. –Liana M. Silva, Managing Editor
9:00 pm (Eastern). The quick shutter of an invisible camera calls the attention of the viewers to Scandal. The clicking re-emphasizes the show’s title, bringing to mind paparazzi and their capturing of scandalous behavior. The shuttering also signifies the literal and sonic fast paced timing of Shonda Rhimes’ most popular ABC prime time show: quickened plots, fast talks, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-something-important visual details. Scandal’s central character, Washington D.C. crisis manager Olivia Pope (portrayed by Kerry Washington), is known mostly for her sharp professional outfits and no-nonsense approach to work. In Olivia, Rhimes has created a black female character that is perfectly flawed, a symbol of both the potential power and victimization of black women. Olivia Pope is neither just the savior nor is she solely a victim.
Scandal evokes intense debate about race and power because of its visual politics, but rarely is Scandal’s scoring prominent in those discussions. The soundtrack acts as an indicator of contemporary black women’s agency in popular culture. As both Rhimes and Scandal music director Alexandra Patsavas reveal, Scandal’s ‘vintage’ soundtrack is an opportunity to buoy the plot and add a unique alternative perspective to the action taking place on the show. The soundtrack’s nods to yesteryear artists – including Stevie Wonder, The Ohio Players, The O’Jays, Sam Cooke, Earth, Wind, and Fire, and Nina Simone sonically narrate additional layers of agency and identity on the show. Are these tracks giving Olivia a voice? What does Scandal’s scoring suggest about race, place, and power scripts for black women in contemporary popular culture?
Scandal takes place in Washington D.C., a location full of physical and sonic significance in national lore and the black popular imagination. In a national narrative D.C. is the epicenter of political agency, power, and the visibility of whiteness as a form of power. It is America’s city. Yet D.C. in the black imagination is the Chocolate City, a space that serves as a living archive of black folks’ attempts to intervene into a national narrative that would rather overlook the contributions of black bodies and culture. Washington, D.C. is the home of the Moorland-Springarn Research Center and multiple black cultural archives, Howard University and its place as the black mecca of Black Greek Letter Organizations, GoGo Music, and (embattled) social-political policies and endeavors for black people. It is a site of black identity that goes much farther than the place where everyone saw how a certain somebody had an American Dream. On the other hand, the increasing gentrification of the city raises questions of whether or not the nickname “Chocolate City” is applicable.Thus, Washington, D.C. exists at the crux of the romanticization of Americanness as a form of worldly power and the reality that (white) Americanness does not include all Americans.
Yet Washington D.C. as a site of complex and rich black experiences does not alone buoy Scandal’s use of Washington, D.C. as a site where a black woman “handles” the hustle and bustle of American power and its upheaval. This type of work takes place in the scoring, particularly because the show is not culturally recognizable as a “black show.” Its inherent blackness is sonic, using black music to revisit tropes of power and racial politics.
One possible and albeit slightly heavy handed approach for thinking through Scandal’s leaning on funk and soul music is to point out how the show uses black cultural forms to invoke power. For example, soul songs like Otis Redding’s “Mr. Pitiful,” Edwin Starr’s “War,” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” are not only used to accentuate the action in a scene but the possibility of Olivia as a power figure. The use of black men’s voices as they yell, scream, and moan sonically allude to power as a masculine concept. Yet Olivia’s connection to these songs signifies her potential to wield power in unorthodox ways not associated with black women. For example, the crescendo of music before Olivia delivers a demand to her team sets up her agency as a political figure. Her blackness is amplified and earmarked by the music. This pairing amplifies the question of race and power in a useful way. The dominantly black musical script offers the critique and engagement with Olivia Pope’s blackness that many viewers and critics complain are lacking. (See the brilliant synopsis presented by Dr. Jessica Marie Johnson about Shonda Rhimes’ portrayal of black women and popular culture that took place at Duke University last month.)
Scandal serves vintage musical scoring as a double entendre: the sound of black music from previous eras evokes ‘vintage’ scripts of race, gender, and power from that era that seep into this present moment. Scandal’s use of soul, funk, and disco sonically allude to larger questions lingering from the Civil Rights Movement: integration as an equalizer of power and privilege, the hypermasculinity of the Civil Rights Era, its cultural producers, and the immediate aftermath of these scripts on (black) American society in the late 1960s and 1970s. We frequently annotate black agency through the men creating (singing?) the music. This is equally true for the black cultural productions of the era, as they aesthetically supplemented the understanding that black folks mattering connected to the uplift and healthy presence of black men. Even with soul and funk music, which stand as antithetical responses to the problematic expectations of classist respectability politics, black women’s agency was associated with the sexual, emotional, or physical agency of black men.
The blackness and “maleness” of the funk and soul used in Scandal’s score subverts the power that Olivia Pope exerts in her dealings with her clients, her lovers, and team. For example, in season two Olivia and President Fitz’s sex tape is threatened to be leaked to the public. It is important to note that the tape is an audio tape, suggestively alluding the absence of physical and visual rhetoric to address the interracial relationship. As Olivia gives the word to leak the sex tape, The Ohio Players’ track “Love Rollercoaster” begins to play. It sonically stabilizes Olivia’s decision to “leak” her sexuality as a power move while also leaving room to question the deeper implications of how the viewer navigates her blackness and womanhood using physical, aural, and cultural markers of sexuality. Using male funk and soul artists allows Pope to ‘codeswitch’ between cultural scripts of power as masculine and womanhood as opposite power. It amplifies her authority and agency while signifying that her physical appearance and voice may not have the ability to confer her worth to the audience.
This tug-and-pull of power and agency is most amplified in Olivia Pope’s dealings with her father Rowan Pope, played by Joe Morton (who plays the HELL out of this role, by the way). Rowan Pope is a literal and figurative double agent: He is Elijah Pope, a curator of antiquities at the Smithsonian, and Rowan Pope, head of the top secret and lethal U.S. organization called B613. His fragmented life speaks to the constant negotiation of “safe” black masculinity. He also embodies the anxieties about black men as violent and bloodthirsty. Rowan/Elijah encapsulates all of the swagger and vitriol associated with conceptualizations of black power and black men from the Black Liberation Era. He is cold and calculating, and he complicates the rhetoric of racial uplift and expected from the Civil Rights/Black Power movements. He speaks in hardened, hushed tones with conviction, while snarling his words with spite for white authority. Not to mention, his is the character that brings up race overtly in the show.
This balance between hushed tones and snarled words comes through in Rowan’s early interaction with Olivia during Scandal’s season three premiere. Olivia, on the run because her name is leaked as the President’s mistress, is recovered by her father and told to flee the country. Rowan is not a doting and concerned father in this scene. Rather, he is disappointed by her lack of prowess and failure to aspire to higher forms of power and authority than “first lady.” Rowan recognizes there is no power in being the wife of the President, especially as a black woman, and he criticizes her for not following the first rule of black folks’ survival: “You need to be twice as good to get half of what they have.” “They” is a collective noun for white folks, often spoken behind closed doors as a means to inspire young black folks to do better. Rowan demands she state out loud what they need to be twice of. Olivia’s voice cracks and is breathless as she whispers “twice as good to get half of what they have.” Rowan exaggerates a “yes” and dismisses Olivia as “mediocre.” It is a painful and powerful scene where multiple dichotomies take place: a father scolding his daughter, a black man undermining black women’s agency, and the fear/anxiety about black women’s sexuality as a sign of weakness and lacking privilege. The wavering volume of Olivia’s voice signifies her quickly plummeting ability to voice her power. Olivia’s loss of words amplifies Rowans’ own authority, embodied in his voice when he adamantly declares “I am the hell and the high water!” No soundtrack can save her here.
However, Rowan does have human moments, reaching out to his estranged daughter Olivia with wine and music, specifically Stevie Wonder. Her record collection is filled with Stevie Wonder. It is important that she has a record collection instead of a collection of CDs or playlist. Not only does this detail speak to the trope of “vintage” that runs through the show but also gives credence to how Olivia establishes her power. Her major moments are annotated by Stevie Wonder: when her name is leaked “Higher Ground” plays in the background. When she is kidnapped at the end of the episode for past December’s Winter finale “Don’t You Worry Bout a Thing” takes center stage. Again, the sounds of a man, her father in this instance, are the soundtrack to her work. The choice of music subverts the gender balance of power. Through male artists, the show gives Olivia her authority.
The most prominent sonic signifier is the instrumental accompaniment from the artist The Album Leaf titled “The Light.” Also known as Olivia and President Fitz’s “song,” the track plays each time the two characters interact and share intimacy (physical and otherwise).
Notes from what sounds like an electric piano playing a scale are short and sweet to the ear. The track lends its innocence and vulnerability to Olivia and Fitz’s affair and offers a possibility that their love for each other can be read as star-crossed instead of in bad taste.
Scott Poulson-Bryant offered an intriguing read on his Facebook page on “The Light” as an allusion to the Civil Rights’ theme song “We Shall Overcome.” This reading of “The Light” as the context to Olivia and Fitz’s relationship makes room to complicate how Olivia’s agency as a black woman is historically and politically bound to women before–she alludes to her similarity to Sally Hemmings in one episode. Olivia’s Sally Hemmings reference uses Hemmings as the genesis point for understanding the complexity of Olivia’s sexual encounters as well as how to navigate black women’s sexual agency – and pleasure – in popular spaces. Sally Hemmings’ relationship to President Thomas Jefferson lends historical credence to Olivia and Fitz’s Scandal but also signifies the gray area of historical memory, cultural expectations, and consent as a form of power for African American women. “The Light” instrumental is not only a sonic accompaniment of Olivia as she relates to Fitz but her own struggles to recognize and balance her public and personal agency.
The soundtrack of Scandal gives a voice to not just Olivia’s authority in a place where race and power are intertwined but also a voice on national television to how whiteness and political power operate. Scandal’s controversial protagonist/anti-hero Olivia Pope is often central to recent discussions of race, gender, and popular culture. But the soundtrack to the show asks viewers to not just watch closely but also listen closely. Tune out and you might miss something.
Regina Bradley recently completed her PhD at Florida State University in African American Literature. Her dissertation is titled “Race to Post: White Hegemonic Capitalism and Black Empowerment in 21st Century Black Popular Culture and Literature.” She is a regular writer for Sounding Out!
REWIND!…If you liked this post, you may also dig:
This Month will feature a two-part post by SO! regular writer Maile Colbert. Look for Part Two on Monday, January 19th.
I was a child obsessed with time travel. Beyond favorites such as A Wrinkle in Time and Time Bandits, I perpetually daydreamed of the ability to pause, reverse, and fast-forward my life. I had a book on the “olden days” and it amazed me that my great-grandparents, whom I had the fortune to know, had lived them. I wanted to fast forward and see myself their current age, telling stories to the next generations of a good life lived. I used to entertain the thought that if I let my breath go and let myself sink to the bottom of a body of water, I could pause time, or at least slow it down, as the sound of the fluid world around me seemed to suggest. Whenever my family moved, I made a time capsule, and I always scanned the ocean for long lost bottled messages. These were the beginnings of my future in time-based media–both image and sound–my love for found footage, and my recent research and writing on sound back in time.
Now as a new mother, I am beginning to think about the future in a way I hadn’t before. I see my mother in my daughter, and I see her mother, and my partner’s mother. I recognize my grandfather’s eyebrow when furrowed, and her grandfather’s nose. My mouth when smiling, my partner’s mouth when in concentration.
And our ears. . .our very sensitive hearing, almost like a punch line. Our daughter is truly the daughter of sound artists. In this first post of a two part series on humans’ earliest interactions with sound, I document our work sounding and listening together, which began in a future-oriented past I am still learning about.
There was a study in which doctors gave babies only a day old pacifiers connected to tape recorders. Depending on the pattern of the new babies suck, the tape recorder would either switch on the sound of the mother’s voice, or a stranger’s.
“Within 10 to 20 minutes, the babies learned to adjust their sucking rate on the pacifier to turn on their own mother’s voice,” says the study’s coauthor William Fifer, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. “This not only points out a newborn’s innate love for his mother’s voice but also a baby’s unique ability to learn quickly.”
- “What Babies Learn in the Womb,” 2014, Lara Flynn Maccarthy, Parenting
My daughter Odette knew my voice the moment she was born. In a strange, bright, cold new world, it seemed one constant she could rely upon. When she was first placed upon my chest, I started to sing to her, and she was calming, staring at me, as much as her newborn eyes would let her, with an expression of surprised recognition, as this familiar voice sang a familiar song, one I sang her often in the womb. One I knew by heart because my mother would sing it to me when I was a child.
Are you going to Scarborough Fair
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to the one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine. . .
The mother’s voice comes to the fetus not solely as ambient sound through the abdomen, as other external sounds and voices would, but also through the vocal cords’ internal vibration. There is a direct connection, a shared space. As early as the seventh month, a fetal heartbeat will slow and calm to the sound of the mother’s voice, and research has shown newborns even prefer a similar version of their mother’s voice to what they heard in the womb, muffled and low. When Odette suffered colic in her early months, one sure way to help comfort her was to sing to her while she was on my chest. Aside from the close contact of skin, the familiar smell, the warmth, it could be that hearing my voice also through the chest mimicked the womb filter.
In the tape recorder study, researchers also noted that newborns would suck more intensely to recordings of people speaking in the language of their mothers, most likely picking up on the melody and rhythm. We are beginning to understand that learning starts in the womb.
Fetal Soap Addiction
Carmen Bank found her 1985 pregnancy rather boring. So, to pass the time, she started doing something she would never have dreamed of: watching a soap opera.
Unexpectedly, she found herself hooked. And so she spent almost every morning in front of her television set, ready for the familiar theme of “Ryan’s Hope.” After Melissa was born that October, Bank bought a videocassette recorder so she could tape the show when she was too busy to watch.
Bank isn’t sure when she discovered the behavior, but, shortly after Melissa was born, Bank realized that the baby seemed to recognize the “Ryan’s Hope” theme and would stop fussing when the program began.
“She’d just sit there and watch the whole introduction and then she would start imitating what they do on the show,” Bank said. “This has been going on forever.”
-The Very Young and Restless, Do Soaps Hook the Unborn? June 28, 1988, Allan Parachini, The New York Times
My third trimester was a rough one. I was a walking swimming pool of about forty pounds of baby and amniotic fluid. My pelvis had gone completely out of line, making even that pregnancy waddle slow and difficult. Needless to say, I was less and less mobile. I was lucky that much of my remaining work was writing and studio based, but often found myself having to take mental breaks as well. My body/mind chemistry was working overtime. Something that happens with pregnancy when preparing mentally for your new, shared life is to think a lot about your own childhood. I was lucky to have a happy one, and so strong nostalgic feelings and memories would come up, particularly around the television show Dr. Who. I used to spend a happy hour with my father once a week watching reruns from the 70’s in the 80’s.
Dr. Who returned to broadcast in the 2000s, in a few new successful regenerations. The new iteration uses a lot of the classic themes, characters, and even remixes and re-masters the the original opening score written by Ron Grainer and realized by the great Delia Derbyshire for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1963; the Dr. Who theme was one of the very first signature electronic music tunes, and performed well before commercial synthesizers were even available. Derbyshire used musique concrete techniques, cutting each note individually on analogue tape, speeding up and slowing down to create the notes from recordings of a single plucked string, white noise, and the simple harmonic waveforms of test-tone oscillators. (Grainer was famous for asking after hearing Derbyshire’s magic, “Did I write that?”. Derbyshire replied “Most of it.” The BBC, who kept members of the Radiophonic Workshop anonymous, prevented Grainer from giving Derbyshire a co-composer credit and a share of the royalties.)
It is a really, really catchy tune:
While Odette was in the womb, I watched all of those decades addictively, one after another. When I came across the soap opera study after she was born, I decided my obsessive Who-watching had set up a perfect laboratory to try it out myself. We started in 1963 and moved through time with the Doctor. Odette looked up in surprise and her brow furrowed in concentration. She looked around slowly at first, then faster and faster. She smiled; she cooed; she laughed. She started to flap her arms.
When I finally turned it off, she stopped everything and looked concerned. I turned it on again and we danced together in clear recognition of this already-shared future past sonic moment, one I had with my father and now with her. Now I understood that as I consumed Dr. Who, Odette was not only hearing, she was learning, and beginning the act of listening.
Sounds have a surprising impact upon the fetal heart rate: a five second stimulus can cause changes in heart rate and movement which last up to an hour. Some musical sounds can cause changes in metabolism. “Brahm’s Lullaby,” for example, played six times a day for five minutes in a premature baby nursery produced faster weight gain than voice sounds played on the same schedule (Chapman, 1975)
-The Fetal Sense, A Classical View, David B. Chamberlain, Birth Psychology
Odette’s very first movements, her first “quickening”, was in response to David Bowie’s “Starman”. This was around 16 weeks, often the time for first movements in the fetus, and interestingly also the time when the hearing has developed. The fetus floats in a rich and complex soundscape; it is anything but quiet. The womb filter…amniotic fluid, embryonic membranes, uterus, the maternal abdomen-low frequencies, and blood in veins whooshing, then Mother’s voice and body noises such as hiccups and the gurgles of digestion and of course, the heartbeat. The Mother’s heartbeat can be as loud as a vacuum cleaner and ultra sounds as loud as a subway car arriving in a train station.We can try to mimic the womb-scape, imagining sounds being filtered through the body. We can use a hydrophone–a pressure microphone designed to be sensitive to soundwaves through fluid matter–on the abdomen to get an idea and sample for our womb-scape.
Perhaps it would sound something like this…
…reactive listening begins eight weeks before the ear is structurally complete at about 24 weeks. These findings indicate the complexity of hearing, lending support to the idea that receptive hearing begins with the skin and skeletal framework, skin being a multireceptor organ integrating input from vibrations, thermo receptors, and pain receptors. This primal listening system is then amplified with vestibular and cochlear information as it becomes available. With responsive listening proven at 16 weeks, hearing is clearly a major information channel operating for about 24 weeks before birth.
-The Fetal Sense, A classical view
Sound artist and Acoustic Ecologist Andrea Williams has been recently working on a composition for Bellybuds, for her yet born nephew. Bellybuds are “a specialized speaker system that gently adheres to your belly & safely plays memory-shaping sound directly to the womb.” Much of her work is composed with space in mind, using room sounds in a live performance situation. Williams told me it was interesting thinking about the womb as a new “venue,” with her little developing nephew as her audience. “What is he hearing?” she asked, “will he recognize me right away upon meeting him for the first time if he only hears the sound of my voice through the Bellybuds while he is a fetus?” I love the idea that she could send a “hello” from one place to her nephew in the womb in another.
The more we understand and realize about fetal hearing and processing sound, the more we understand how fetuses can detect subtle changes and process complex information. Memory starts to form around 30 weeks, and it’s possible early sound interventions at this time could help babies with detected abnormal development. Speaking and singing to the unborn fetus, allowing them to experience different soundscapes while still in the womb, helps shape their brains. This is probably why the urge to do so is there.
. . .Odette’s first dance. Odette’s first songs. . . transcending time and space.
dedicated to Odette Helen, and to the family, daughter, and memory of Steven Miller
Featured Image: Odette’s Birth Cry, photo credit Rui Costa
The album Future Memory, for Odette will be released in 2015 through Wild Silence. A dedication album to a newborn daughter…a mix of her parents’ recorded and shared sounds, memories, hopes, and dreams towards a future with her. Sounds of her womb-scape, birth, and first year…music in collaboration with friends and family across oceans and land…an album of lullabies for Odette.
Maile Colbert is a multi-media artist with a concentration on sound and video who relocated from Los Angeles, US to Lisbon, Portugal. She is a regular writer for Sounding Out!
REWIND! . . .If you liked this post, you may also dig:
On Sound and Pleasure: Meditations on the Human Voice– Yvon Bonenfant
This Is Your Body on the Velvet Underground– Jacob Smith