Today the SO! Thursday stream inaugurates a four-part series entitled Hearing the UnHeard, which promises to blow your mind by way of your ears. Our Guest Editor is Seth Horowitz, a neuroscientist at NeuroPop and author of The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind (Bloomsbury, 2012), whose insightful work on brings us directly to the intersection of the sciences and the arts of sound.
That’s where he’ll be taking us in the coming weeks. Check out his general introduction just below, and his own contribution for the first piece in the series. — NV
Welcome to Hearing the UnHeard, a new series of articles on the world of sound beyond human hearing. We are embedded in a world of sound and vibration, but the limits of human hearing only let us hear a small piece of it. The quiet library screams with the ultrasonic pulsations of fluorescent lights and computer monitors. The soothing waves of a Hawaiian beach are drowned out by the thrumming infrasound of underground seismic activity near “dormant” volcanoes. Time, distance, and luck (and occasionally really good vibration isolation) separate us from explosive sounds of world-changing impacts between celestial bodies. And vast amounts of information, ranging from the songs of auroras to the sounds of dying neurons can be made accessible and understandable by translating them into human-perceivable sounds by data sonification.
Four articles will examine how this “unheard world” affects us. My first post below will explore how our environment and evolution have constrained what is audible, and what tools we use to bring the unheard into our perceptual realm. In a few weeks, sound artist China Blue will talk about her experiences recording the Vertical Gun, a NASA asteroid impact simulator which helps scientists understand the way in which big collisions have shaped our planet (and is very hard on audio gear). Next, Milton A. Garcés, founder and director of the Infrasound Laboratory of University of Hawaii at Manoa will talk about volcano infrasound, and how acoustic surveillance is used to warn about hazardous eruptions. And finally, Margaret A. Schedel, composer and Associate Professor of Music at Stonybrook University will help readers explore the world of data sonification, letting us listen in and get greater intellectual and emotional understanding of the world of information by converting it to sound.
– Guest Editor Seth Horowitz
Although light moves much faster than sound, hearing is your fastest sense, operating about 20 times faster than vision. Studies have shown that we think at the same “frame rate” as we see, about 1-4 events per second. But the real world moves much faster than this, and doesn’t always place things important for survival conveniently in front of your field of view. Think about the last time you were driving when suddenly you heard the blast of a horn from the previously unseen truck in your blind spot.
Hearing also occurs prior to thinking, with the ear itself pre-processing sound. Your inner ear responds to changes in pressure that directly move tiny little hair cells, organized by frequency which then send signals about what frequency was detected (and at what amplitude) towards your brainstem, where things like location, amplitude, and even how important it may be to you are processed, long before they reach the cortex where you can think about it. And since hearing sets the tone for all later perceptions, our world is shaped by what we hear (Horowitz, 2012).
But we can’t hear everything. Rather, what we hear is constrained by our biology, our psychology and our position in space and time. Sound is really about how the interaction between energy and matter fill space with vibrations. This makes the size, of the sender, the listener and the environment, one of the primary features that defines your acoustic world.
You’ve heard about how much better your dog’s hearing is than yours. I’m sure you got a slight thrill when you thought you could actually hear the “ultrasonic” dog-training whistles that are supposed to be inaudible to humans (sorry, but every one I’ve tested puts out at least some energy in the upper range of human hearing, even if it does sound pretty thin). But it’s not that dogs hear better. Actually, dogs and humans show about the same sensitivity to sound in terms of sound pressure, with human’s most sensitive region from 1-4 kHz and dogs from about 2-8 kHz. The difference is a question of range and that is tied closely to size.
Most dogs, even big ones, are smaller than most humans and their auditory systems are scaled similarly. A big dog is about 100 pounds, much smaller than most adult humans. And since body parts tend to scale in a coordinated fashion, one of the first places to search for a link between size and frequency is the tympanum or ear drum, the earliest structure that responds to pressure information. An average dog’s eardrum is about 50 mm2, whereas an average human’s is about 60 mm2. In addition while a human’s cochlea is spiral made of 2.5 turns that holds about 3500 inner hair cells, your dog’s has 3.25 turns and about the same number of hair cells. In short: dogs probably have better high frequency hearing because their eardrums are better tuned to shorter wavelength sounds and their sensory hair cells are spread out over a longer distance, giving them a wider range.
Then again, if hearing was just about size of the ear components, then you’d expect that yappy 5 pound Chihuahua to hear much higher frequencies than the lumbering 100 pound St. Bernard. Yet hearing sensitivity from the two ends of the dog spectrum don’t vary by much. This is because there’s a big difference between what the ear can mechanically detect and what the animal actually hears. Chihuahuas and St. Bernards are both breeds derived from a common wolf-like ancestor that probably didn’t have as much variability as we’ve imposed on the domesticated dog, so their brains are still largely tuned to hear what a medium to large pseudo wolf-like animal should hear (Heffner, 1983).
But hearing is more than just detection of sound. It’s also important to figure out where the sound is coming from. A sound’s location is calculated in the superior olive – nuclei in the brainstem that compare the difference in time of arrival of low frequency sounds at your ears and the difference in amplitude between your ears (because your head gets in the way, making a sound “shadow” on the side of your head furthest from the sound) for higher frequency sounds. This means that animals with very large heads, like elephants, will be able to figure out the location of longer wavelength (lower pitched) sounds, but probably will have problems localizing high pitched sounds because the shorter frequencies will not even get to the other side of their heads at a useful level. On the other hand, smaller animals, which often have large external ears, are under greater selective pressure to localize higher pitched sounds, but have heads too small to pick up the very low infrasonic sounds that elephants use.
But you as a human are a fairly big mammal. If you look up “Body Size Species Richness Distribution” which shows the relative size of animals living in a given area, you’ll find that humans are among the largest animals in North America (Brown and Nicoletto, 1991). And your hearing abilities scale well with other terrestrial mammals, so you can stop feeling bad about your dog hearing “better.” But what if, by comic-book science or alternate evolution, you were much bigger or smaller? What would the world sound like? Imagine you were suddenly mouse-sized, scrambling along the floor of an office. While the usual chatter of humans would be almost completely inaudible, the world would be filled with a cacophony of ultrasonics. Fluorescent lights and computer monitors would scream in the 30-50 kHz range. Ultrasonic eddies would hiss loudly from air conditioning vents. Smartphones would not play music, but rather hum and squeal as their displays changed.
And if you were larger? For a human scaled up to elephantine dimensions, the sounds of the world would shift downward. While you could still hear (and possibly understand) human speech and music, the fine nuances from the upper frequency ranges would be lost, voices audible but mumbled and hard to localize. But you would gain the infrasonic world, the low rumbles of traffic noise and thrumming of heavy machinery taking on pitch, color and meaning. The seismic world of earthquakes and volcanoes would become part of your auditory tapestry. And you would hear greater distances as long wavelengths of low frequency sounds wrap around everything but the largest obstructions, letting you hear the foghorns miles distant as if they were bird calls nearby.
But these sounds are still in the realm of biological listeners, and the universe operates on scales far beyond that. The sounds from objects, large and small, have their own acoustic world, many beyond our ability to detect with the equipment evolution has provided. Weather phenomena, from gentle breezes to devastating tornadoes, blast throughout the infrasonic and ultrasonic ranges. Meteorites create infrasonic signatures through the upper atmosphere, trackable using a system devised to detect incoming ICBMs. Geophones, specialized low frequency microphones, pick up the sounds of extremely low frequency signals foretelling of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Beyond the earth, we translate electromagnetic frequencies into the audible range, letting us listen to the whistlers and hoppers that signal the flow of charged particles and lightning in the atmospheres of Earth and Jupiter, microwave signals of the remains of the Big Bang, and send listening devices on our spacecraft to let us hear the winds on Titan.
Here is a recording of whistlers recorded by the Van Allen Probes currently orbiting high in the upper atmosphere:
When the computer freezes or the phone battery dies, we complain about how much technology frustrates us and complicates our lives. But our audio technology is also the source of wonder, not only letting us talk to a friend around the world or listen to a podcast from astronauts orbiting the Earth, but letting us listen in on unheard worlds. Ultrasonic microphones let us listen in on bat echolocation and mouse songs, geophones let us wonder at elephants using infrasonic rumbles to communicate long distances and find water. And scientific translation tools let us shift the vibrations of the solar wind and aurora or even the patterns of pure math into human scaled songs of the greater universe. We are no longer constrained (or protected) by the ears that evolution has given us. Our auditory world has expanded into an acoustic ecology that contains the entire universe, and the implications of that remain wonderfully unclear.
Exhibit: Home Office
This is a recording made with standard stereo microphones of my home office. Aside from usual typing, mouse clicking and computer sounds, there are a couple of 3D printers running, some music playing, largely an environment you don’t pay much attention to while you’re working in it, yet acoustically very rich if you pay attention.
This sample was made by pitch shifting the frequencies of sonicoffice.wav down so that the ultrasonic moves into the normal human range and cuts off at about 1-2 kHz as if you were hearing with mouse ears. Sounds normally inaudible, like the squealing of the computer monitor cycling on kick in and the high pitched sound of the stepper motors from the 3D printer suddenly become much louder, while the familiar sounds are mostly gone.
This recording of the office was made with a Clarke Geophone, a seismic microphone used by geologists to pick up underground vibration. It’s primary sensitivity is around 80 Hz, although it’s range is from 0.1 Hz up to about 2 kHz. All you hear in this recording are very low frequency sounds and impacts (footsteps, keyboard strikes, vibration from printers, some fan vibration) that you usually ignore since your ears are not very well tuned to frequencies under 100 Hz.
Finally, this sample was made by pitch shifting the frequencies of infrasonicoffice.wav up as if you had grown to elephantine proportions. Footsteps and computer fan noises (usually almost indetectable at 60 Hz) become loud and tonal, and all the normal pitch of music and computer typing has disappeared aside from the bass. (WARNING: The fan noise is really annoying).
The point is: a space can sound radically different depending on the frequency ranges you hear. Different elements of the acoustic environment pop up depending on the type of recording instrument you use (ultrasonic microphone, regular microphones or geophones) or the size and sensitivity of your ears.–
Featured image by Flickr User Jaime Wong.
Seth S. Horowitz, Ph.D. is a neuroscientist whose work in comparative and human hearing, balance and sleep research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and NASA. He has taught classes in animal behavior, neuroethology, brain development, the biology of hearing, and the musical mind. As chief neuroscientist at NeuroPop, Inc., he applies basic research to real world auditory applications and works extensively on educational outreach with The Engine Institute, a non-profit devoted to exploring the intersection between science and the arts. His book The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind was released by Bloomsbury in September 2012.
REWIND! If you liked this post, check out …
Learning to Listen Beyond Our Ears– Owen Marshall
This is Your Body on the Velvet Underground– Jacob Smith
Happy new year, dear Sounding Out! readers! Early January brings about New Year’s resolutions, specials on bins for holiday ornaments, Three Kings’ Day, and our yearly MLA sound studies panel round-up. This year, MLA 2014 attendees will get another blast of cold temperatures because this year’s convention is in Chicago—not much of a difference weather-wise from Boston but just as exciting! If you’re undecided about what panels to check out or if you’re not sure about where to start with the MLA Program, you’re in the right place: I combed the MLA Program page by page and condensed it just for our sound studies aficionados. If you’re sitting this MLA out or if you’re just curious about what the following panels are all about, it’s easy to follow the conference from home if you have access to Twitter. MLA is one of the most active academic conferences on social media: there’s the lively twitter hashtag #MLA14, the individual hashtags for each session (#s–followed by the session number), and an attentive twitter account (@MLAConvention), so even if you’re not in Chi-town you can still see what’s going on at your favorite panels this week.
Whereas last year some of the sound-oriented panels had a particular digital angle, this year there are several panels look at the intersection of sound and literary studies. The titles may not suggest sound, but the presentations do. For example, panel #s384 Literary Crossroads: African American Literature and Christianity includes presentations on representations of gospel and spirituality in different African American books. Another panel of interest is #s414, Literature and Media in the Nineteenth-Century United States arranged by the Division on Nineteenth-Century American Literature. (This panel resonates nicely with Sounding Out!’s Sound in the Nineteenth Century forum which just ended last Monday.) The focus on literature may come from the fact that the MLA brings many literary scholars together, but it is encouraging that the study of sound is also overlapping with the study of literature.
Despite that the convention brings literature scholars from across the United States together, some of the more intriguing sound-oriented panels are not focused on literature at all. In fact, several panels address sound from the angle of music. Panel #s131, The Musics of Chicago brings together High Fidelity and Lupe Fiasco, and panel #s162 on the HBO series Girls includes Chloe H. Johnson’s paper “Dancing on My Own: Popular Music and Issues of Identity in Girls.“ Although the fields of literary studies and cultural studies are sometimes in tension with each other, some MLA presenters are approaching popular culture particularly from an aural angle.
Music is not the only presence of sound in the MLA Program. Several panels bring up sound in conjunction with pedagogy. Some of our readers may remember the forum Sounding Out! hosted last year on sound and pedagogy—a forum of which I was a part. I’m glad to see other language, composition, and literature teachers are thinking about sound too. Panel #s114, Dialects of English Worldwide: Issues in English Language Studies includes several papers that think about spoken English nowadays. For those who are interested in how the sound of students’ speech are intersected by structural racism and public policy will find lots to think about with this panel. If you’re looking for concrete suggestions on using sound as a pedagogical approach, panel #s213 has some answers. Twenty-First-Century Pedagogies, arranged by the Discussion Group on the Two-Year College includes a presentation on sound essays by Kathryn O’Donoghue from the Graduate Center at City Univ. of New York.
Where will Team SO! be at MLA 2014? Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman can be found at the DH Commons pre-conference workshop on Thursday, January 9, 2014; she will be presenting Friday, January 10 at 8:30 am on her research on Lead belly and Richard Wright as part of panel #s221, Singing Out in the American Literary Experience. Regular writer Regina Bradley will be presenting Friday at 5:15 pm on panel #s403 Words, Works, and New Archives: Studying African American Literature in the Twenty-First Century. Guest blogger Scott Poulson-Bryant will be at panel #s447, The Seventies in Black and White: A Soundtrack on Saturday at 8:30 am. I will be presenting on Friday morning at panel #s218, a roundtable on the graduate seminar paper and will be leading panel #s788, Back Up Your Work: Conceptualizing Writing Support for Graduate Students on Sunday at 1:45 pm. You can catch us on Twitter: @lianamsilvaford and @soundingoutblog where we’ll be live-tweeting panels and keeping followers up to date on convention chatter. Who knows, maybe there’ll be an impromptu SO! tweet-up? Stay tuned to our social media feeds!
Liana Silva-Ford is co-founder and Managing Editor of Sounding Out!.
Featured image: “Mississippi North” by Flickr user John W. Iwanski, CC-BY-NC-2.0
THURSDAY, JANUARY 9, 2014
8:30 am-11:30 am
3. Get Started in the Digital Humanities with Help from DHCommons
Chicago A–B, Chicago Marriott
PRESIDING: Ryan Cordell, Northeastern Univ.; Josh Honn, Northwestern Univ.; Katherine A. Rowe, Bryn Mawr Coll.
The workshop welcomes language and literature scholars who wish to learn about, pursue, or join digital humanities (DH) projects but do not have the institutional infrastructure to support them. Representatives of DH projects and initiatives will share their expertise on project design, outline available resources and opportunities, and lead small-group training sessions on DH technologies and skills. Preregistration required.
12:00 pm-1:15 pm
31. Radical Curators, Vulnerable Genres: Lost Histories of Collecting, Editing, Bibliography
Michigan–Michigan State, Chicago Marriott
PRESIDING: Meredith L. McGill, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick
Jessica J. Beard, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz;
Alex Black, Cornell Univ.;
Jane Greenway Carr, New York Univ.;
Ellen Gruber Garvey, New Jersey City Univ.
Laura Helton, Univ. of Virginia
Courtney Thorsson, Univ. of Oregon
33. Sir Walter Scott and Music
Sheffield, Chicago Marriott
Program arranged by the Lyrica Society for Word-Music Relations
PRESIDING: Jeff Dailey, Five Towns Coll.
1. “Cutting Out the Castle Quicksand: Scott’s Bride, Donizetti’s Lucia, and the ‘Personally Furious’ Ayn Rand,” Shoshana Milgram Knapp, Virginia Polytechnic Inst. and State Univ.
2. “‘Drifting through the Intellectual Atmosphere’ from Scott’s Old Morality to Liszt’s Hexameron,” Catherine Ludlow, Western Illinois Univ.
3. “Walter Scott, British Identity, and International Grand Opera: Isidore de Lara’s Amy Robsart(1893),” Tommaso Sabbatini, Univ. of Chicago
For abstracts, visit lyricasociety.org.
75. Voice and Silence
Mississippi, Sheraton Chicago
Program arranged by the Division on French Medieval Language and Literature
PRESIDING: Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner, Boston Coll.
1. “Gut Feelings,” Jason D. Jacobs, Roger Williams Univ.
2. “Tomboy Silence,” Wan-Chuan Kao, Washington and Lee Univ.
3. “Giving Voice to the Word of God; or, Bernard of Clairvaux Sings the Song of Songs,” Kris Trujillo, Univ. of California, Berkeley
114. Dialects of English Worldwide: Issues in English Language Studies
Illinois, Chicago Marriott
Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Present-Day English Language
PRESIDING: Elizabeth Bell Canon, Emory Univ.
1. “‘Speak the Language of Your Flag': American Policy Responses to Nonanglophone Immigrants,” Dennis E. Baron, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana
2. “The Sounds of Silence: Standard and Nonstandard Englishes in Contemporary Ethnic American Writing,” Melissa Dennihy, Queensborough Community Coll., City Univ. of New York
3. “Star Spanglish Banter: Harnessing Students’ Linguistic Expertise,” Jill Hallett, Northeastern Illinois Univ.
4. “Emerging Attitudes toward New Media within the Discourses of Poetics and Literature,” April Pierce, Univ. of Oxford
131. The Musics of Chicago
Chicago H, Chicago Marriott
PRESIDING: Shawn Higgins, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs
1. “Sweet Home Chicago? (Dis)Locating the American ‘Race Record’ in High Fidelity,” Jürgen E. Grandt, Univ. of North Georgia
2. “Experiment and Exodus in the Music of Chicago,” Toshiyuki Ohwada, Keio Univ.
3. “Fly Girls or Blackface? The Racial and Gender Politics of Lupe Fiasco,” Jorge Santos, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs
141. Enduring Noise: Sound and Sexual Difference
Illinois, Chicago Marriott
PRESIDING: Rizvana Bradley, Emory Univ.
1. “Listening to Gertrude Stein’s Repeating: Sonorous Temporality in The Making of Americans,” Erin McNellis, Univ. of California, Irvine
2. “Queer Extensities: Pauline Oliveros and Disco,” Amalle Dublon, Duke Univ.
3. “Metal, Reproduction, and the Politics of Doom,” Aliza Shvarts, New York Univ.
RESPONDING: Rizvana Bradley
162. Girls and the F Word: Twenty-First-Century Representations of Women’s Lives
Los Angeles–Miami, Chicago Marriott
PRESIDING : Tahneer Oksman, Marymount Manhattan Coll.
1. “‘My Shoes Match My Dress . . . Kind Of!': The Politics of Dressing and Nakedness in Girls,” Laura Scroggs, Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities
2. “She’s Just Not That into You: Girls, Dating, and Damage,” Jennifer Mitchell, Weber State Univ.
3. “Dancing on My Own: Popular Music and Issues of Identity in Girls,” Chloe H. Johnson, York Univ., Keele
RESPONDING: Nancy K. Miller, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York
FRIDAY, JANUARY 10, 2014
8:30 am-9:45 am
207. Diversifying the Victorian Verse Archives
Chicago A–B, Chicago Marriott
PRESIDING : Meredith Martin, Princeton Univ.
1. “Recovering Tennyson’s ‘Melody in Poetry': Salon Recitations and Musical Settings,” Phyllis Weliver, Saint Louis Univ.
2. “Morris Metrics: The Work of Meter in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Yopie Prins, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor
3. “Digital Archives and the Music of Victorian Poetry,” Joanna Swafford, Univ. of Virginia
For abstracts, visit https://sites.google.com/a/slu.edu/diversifying-the-victorian-verse-archives/
213. Twenty-First-Century Pedagogies
Michigan–Michigan State, Chicago Marriott
Program arranged by the Discussion Group on the Two-Year College
PRESIDING: Stacey Lee Donohue, Central Oregon Community Coll.
1. “Not on Wikipedia: Making the Local Visible,” Laurel Harris, Queensborough Community Coll., City Univ. of New York
2. “Survival Spanish Online: Designing a Community College Course That Bridges Culture and Authentic Connections,” Cecilia McGinniss Kennedy, Clark State Community Coll., OH
3. “Sound Essays: A Cure for the Common Core,” Kathryn O’Donoghue, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York
4. “Leveling Up! Gamifying the Literature Classroom,” Jessica Lewis-Turner, Temple Univ., Philadelphia
For abstracts, visit commons.mla.org/groups/the-two-year-college/announcements/ after 15 Dec.
217. Cuba on Stage
Arkansas, Sheraton Chicago
Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Cuban and Cuban Diaspora Cultural Production
PRESIDING: Vicky Unruh, Univ. of Kansas
1. “José Triana, Virgilio Piñera, and the Racial Erotics of Cuban Tragedy,” Armando Garcia, Univ. of Pittsburgh
2. “Estorino’s Gray Ghosts,” David Lisenby, Univ. at Albany, State Univ. of New York
3. “Musical Trangressions on the Cuban Stage: Rap, Rock, and Reggaeton,” Elena Valdez, Swarthmore Coll.
4. “Locating the Malecón,” Bretton White, Colby Coll.
221. Singing Out in the American Literary Experience
Old Town, Chicago Marriott
Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Folklore and Literature
PRESIDING: Mark Allan Jackson, Middle Tennessee State Univ.
1. “Re-sounding Folk Voice, Remaking the Ballad: Alan Lomax, Margaret Walker, and the New Criticism,” Derek Furr, Bard Coll.
2. “‘A Voice to Match All That': Lead Belly, Richard Wright, and Lynching’s Sound Track,” Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman, Binghamton Univ., State Univ. of New York
3. “Stunting Gualinto: The Limits of Corrido Heroism in Americo Paredes’s George Washington Gomez,” Melanie Hernandez, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
For abstracts, write to email@example.com.
261. Applying Linguistics to the Learning of Middle Eastern Languages
Huron, Sheraton Chicago
Program arranged by the Discussion Group on General Linguistics
PRESIDING: Terrence Potter, Georgetown Univ.
1. “How Strategic Can They Be? Differences between Student and Instructor Attitudes toward Language Learning Strategies,” Gregory Ebner, United States Military Acad.
2. “Needs-Analysis Informed Task Design in Arabic Foreign Language Programs in the United States: Insights from Learner Perceptions and Production,” Maimoonah Al Khalil, King Saud Univ., Riyadh
3. “Linguistic Advantages and Constraints in the Classroom: Judeo-Spanish as an L2,” Bryan Kirschen, Univ. of California, Los Angeles
For abstracts, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
263. John Clare: The Voices of Nature
Chicago C, Chicago Marriott
Program arranged by the John Clare Society of North America
PRESIDING: Rochelle Johnson, Coll. of Idaho
1. “Speaking for the Trees: Margaret Cavendish, John Clare, and Voicing Nature,” Bridget Mary Keegan, Creighton Univ.
2. “Clare’s Air: Sound in Motion,” Paul Chirico, Univ. of Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Coll.
3. “John Clare: The Unusual and Challenging Natural Historian,” Eric H. Robinson, Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston
12:00 pm-1:15 pm
269A. Chicago Latina/o Writing: A Creative Conversation
Sheraton I, Sheraton Chicago
Program arranged by the Office of the Executive Director
PRESIDING: Ariana Ruiz, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana
SPEAKERS: Rey Andújar, Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe
Brenda Cárdenas, Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Paul Martínez Pompa, Triton Coll.
Achy Obejas, Chicago, IL
270. Women’s Education in Third World Countries
Parlor G, Sheraton Chicago
Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Interdisciplinary Approaches to Culture and Society
PRESIDING : Shirin E. Edwin, Sam Houston State Univ.
1. “Narrative Approaches to Transmitting Regional Oral and Instrumental Literary Traditions in the Works of Aminata Sow Fall,” Julie Ann Huntington, Marymount Manhattan Coll.
2. “Gender, Class, and Education: Intersections in South Asian Literature,” Maryse Jayasuriya, Univ. of Texas, El Paso
3. “Women’s Schooling in Clarice Lispector’s Narrative: A Brazilian Education,” Alejandro E. Latinez, Sam Houston State Univ.
279. Dadaphone: Indeterminacy in Words and Music
Huron, Chicago Marriott
Program arranged by the Lyrica Society for Word-Music Relations and the Association for the Study of Dada and Surrealism
PRESIDING : Jeff Dailey, Five Towns Coll.
1. “Black Dada,” Kathy Lou Schultz, Univ. of Memphis
2. “Aleatory Adaptation and Indeterminate Interpretation: Radiohead’s In Rainbows as Faustian Rock Opera,” Meg Tarquinio Roche, Northeastern Univ.
3. “Game Changer: Cage’s Word-Music Combination in ‘Renunion’ and ‘Solo 23,'” Sydney Boyd, Rice Univ.
4. “Graphic Notation in Contemporary Music and Its Debt to Dada,” Laura Prichard, Univ. of Massachusetts, Lowell
For abstracts, visit lyricasociety.org.
5:15 pm-6:30 pm
384. Literary Crossroads: African American Literature and Christianity
Addison, Chicago Marriott
Program arranged by the Conference on Christianity and Literature and the Division on Literature and Religion
PRESIDING: Katherine Clay Bassard, Virginia Commonwealth Univ.
1. “God’s Trombones, the Social Gospel, and the Harlem Renaissance,” Jonathan Fedors, Univ. of Pennsylvania
2. “When the Gospel Sings the Blues in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man,” Claudia Rosemary May, Univ. of California, Berkeley
3. “Faith Moves: Belief and the Body in Bill T. Jones’s Chapel/Chapter and Toni Morrison’sParadise,” Leslie Elizabeth Wingard, Coll. of Wooster
For abstracts, write to email@example.com.
403. Words, Works, and New Archives: Studying African American Literature in the Twenty-First Century
Michigan–Michigan State, Chicago Marriott
Program arranged by the College Language Association
PRESIDING : Warren Carson, Univ. of South Carolina, Spartanburg
1. “The Field and Function of African American Literary Scholarship: A Memorial and a Challenge,” Dana A. Williams, Howard Univ.
2. “The Black Book: Creating an Interactive Research Environment,” Kenton Rambsy, Univ. of Kansas
3. “Keepin’ It Interactive: Hip-Hop in the Age of Digital Reproduction,” Regina Bradley, Kennesaw State Univ.; Jeremy Dean, Rap Genius, Inc.
414. Literature and Media in the Nineteenth-Century United States
Chicago A–B, Chicago Marriott
Program arranged by the Division on Nineteenth-Century American Literature
PRESIDING : Meredith L. McGill, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick
SPEAKERS: Jonathan Elmer, Indiana Univ., Bloomington
Teresa Alice Goddu, Vanderbilt Univ.
Naomi Greyser, Univ. of Iowa
Brian Hochman, Georgetown Univ.
Christopher J. Lukasik, Purdue Univ., West Lafayette
Lauren A. Neefe, Stony Brook Univ., State Univ. of New York
For project statements, panelist biographies, and description of roundtable format, visit19thcamlitdiv.wordpress.com after 1 Dec.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 11, 2014
8:30 am-9:45 am
441. Socialist Senses
Ohio, Sheraton Chicago
Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Slavic Literatures and Cultures
PRESIDING : Nancy Condee, Univ. of Pittsburgh
1. “The Materiality of Sound: Esfir Shub’s Haptic Cinema,” Lilya Kaganovsky, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana
2. “From the Cinema of Attractions to the Cinema of Affect in Early Socialist Realism,” R. J. D. Bird, Univ. of Chicago
3. “Ineluctable Modality of the Visible: Gorky’s Return and the Onset of Clarity,” Petre M. Petrov, Princeton Univ.
For abstracts, visit mlaslavic.blogspot.com/ after 30 Dec.
447. The Seventies in Black and White: A Soundtrack
Purdue-Wisconsin, Chicago Marriott
PRESIDING : Jack Hamilton, Harvard Univ.
1. “Mutts of the Planet: Joni Mitchell Channels Charles Mingus,” David Yaffe, Syracuse Univ.
2. “Righteous Minstrels: Race, Writing, and the Clash,” Jack Hamilton
3. “Broken Masculinities: Black Sound, White Men, and New York City,” Scott Poulson-Bryant, Harvard Univ.
10:15 am-11:30 am
474. African American Voices from the Civil War
Michigan–Michigan State, Chicago Marriott
PRESIDING : Timothy Sweet, West Virginia Univ., Morgantown
1. “The Color of Quaintness: Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Black Song, and American Union,”Jeremy Wells, Indiana Univ. Southeast
2. “‘If We Ever Expect to Be a Pepple': The Literary Culture of African American Soldiers,” Christopher A. Hager, Trinity Coll., CT
3. “‘And Terrors Broke from Hill to Hill': The Civil War Poems of George Moses Horton,” Faith Barrett, Duquesne Univ.
4. “The Negro in the American Rebellion: William Wells Brown and the Design of African American History,” John Ernest, Univ. of Delaware, Newark
485. Digital Practice: Social Networks across Borders
Missouri, Sheraton Chicago
Program arranged by the Division on Twentieth-Century German Literature
PRESIDING : Stefanie Harris, Texas A&M Univ., College Station
1. “Kafka and the Kafkaesques: Close Reading Online Fan Fiction,” Bonnie Ruberg, Univ. of California, Berkeley
2. “Network Politics, Wireless Protocols, and Public Space,” Erik Born, Univ. of California, Berkeley
3. “Intersections of Music, Politics, and Digital Media: Bandista,” Ela Gezen, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst
Responding: Yasemin Yildiz, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana
For abstracts, visit german.berkeley.edu/transit.
12:00 pm-1:15 pm
508. Performing Blackness in the Nineteenth Century
Chicago A–B, Chicago Marriott
Program arranged by the Division on Nineteenth-Century American Literature
PRESIDING : Harvey Young, Northwestern Univ.
1. “Being Touched: Sojourner Truth’s ‘Spiritual Theatre’ and the Genealogy of Radical Black Activism,” Jayna Brown, Univ. of California, Riverside
2. “Frederick Douglass and the ‘Claims’ of Democratic Individuality in Antebellum Political Theory,” Douglas Jones, Princeton Univ.
3. “’Dey Make Me Say Dat All De Time: Performance Art, Objecthood, and Joice Heth’s Sonic of Dissent,” Uri McMillan, Univ. of California, Los Angeles
509. Becoming Chroniclers: Latin American Women Writers and the Press, 1920–73
Parlor F, Sheraton Chicago
PRESIDING : Vicky Unruh, Univ. of Kansas
1. “The Opportunities of Technology: Cube Bonifant’s Radiophonic Chronicles in El universal ilustrado,” Viviane A. Mahieux, Univ. of California, Irvine
2. “Key Moments in the Subversion of a Genre: Alfonsina Storni and Clarice Lispector Redefine Womanhood,” Mariela Méndez, Univ. of Richmond
3. “Issues of Gender and Genre: Isabel Allende and Clarice Lispector Writing Chronicles, 1968–73,” Claudia Mariana Darrigrandi, Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez
572. Illness and Disability Memoir as Embodied Knowledge
Los Angeles–Miami, Chicago Marriott
Program arranged by the MLA Committee on Disability Issues in the Profession
PRESIDING : Rachel Adams, Columbia Univ.
1. “Recoding Silence: Teresa de Cartagena, Medieval Sign Lexicons, and Deaf Life Writing,” Jonathan H. Hsy, George Washington Univ.
2. “‘Twisted and Deformed': Virginia Woolf, Alison Bechdel, and Crip-Feminist Autobiography,” Cynthia Barounis, Washington Univ. in St. Louis
3. “‘My Worry Now Accumulates': Sensorial and Emotional Contagion in Autistic Life Writing,” Ralph James Savarese, Grinnell Coll.
For papers or abstracts, write to firstname.lastname@example.org after 1 Jan.
3:30 pm-4:45 pm
586. Early Modern Media Ecologies
Great America, Chicago Marriott
PRESIDING: Jen Boyle, Coastal Carolina Univ.
1. “Needlework Networks: Paper, Prints, and Female Authorship,” Whitney Trettien, Duke Univ.
2. “Sidney Circularities: Music and Script in the Contrafactum Lyric,” Scott A. Trudell, Univ. of Maryland, College Park
3. “Stage, Stall, Street, Sheet: Multimedia Shakespeare,” Adam G. Hooks, Univ. of Iowa
For abstracts, visit www.scotttrudell.com.
591. Multilingualism in Native American and Aboriginal Texts
Kane, Chicago Marriott
Program arranged by the Division on American Indian Literatures
PRESIDING : Beth H. Piatote, Univ. of California, Berkeley
1. “Reading Resistance and Resisting Readings in a Bilingual Text,” Laura J. Beard, Univ. of Alberta
2. “Narrative and Orthography in Cree Oral Histories,” Stephanie J. Fitzgerald, Univ. of Kansas
3. “Ongwe Onwe Languages in the Fourth Epoch of Iroquois History,” Penelope M. Kelsey, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder
4. “Poetics of ka ‘āina and na ‘ōiwi: Language(s) of Land, Earth, and the Hawaiian People in Haunani-Kay Trask’s Night Is a Sharkskin Drum,” Nicole Tabor, Moravian Coll.
5:15 pm-6:30 pm
624. Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy in Medieval and Early Modern England: Form and History
Old Town, Chicago Marriott
PRESIDING : Ian Cornelius, Yale Univ.
1. “Singing and Speaking Boethius in Anglo-Saxon England,” Anne Schindel, Yale Univ.
2. “Sensible Prose and the Sense of Meter: Ethics and the Mixed Form in Boethius and After,” Eleanor Johnson, Columbia Univ.
3. “Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy and an Expansive Theology in the Late Sixteenth Century: Queen Elizabeth’s Translation in Context,” Linda Suzanne Shenk, Iowa State Univ.
For abstracts, write to email@example.com.
625. Verbal and Visual Satire in the Nineteenth Century
Chicago F, Chicago Marriott
PRESIDING : Joseph Litvak, Tufts Univ.
1. “Organizing Anarchy: Class, Intellectual Property, and Graphic Satire,” Jason Kolkey, Loyola Univ., Chicago
2. “The Reemergence of Radical Satire in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Frank A. Palmeri, Univ. of Miami
3. “Turn-of-the-Century Satirical Plots of Fenian and Anarchist Terrorism,” Jennifer Malia, Norfolk State Univ
645. Current Issues in Romance Linguistics
Parlor F, Sheraton Chicago
Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Comparative Romance Linguistics
PRESIDING : Andrea Perez Mukdsi, Univ. at Buffalo, State Univ. of New York
1. “Attribution in Romance: Reconstructing the Oral and Written Tradition,” Martin Hummel, Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz
2. “Pronouns and the Author-Reader Relationship in Academic Portuguese,” Karina Veronica Molsing, Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul; Cristina Perna, Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul
3. “The Semantic Feature [+INFLUENCE] and the Spanish Subjunctive,” M. Emma Ticio Quesada, Syracuse Univ.
4. “Palatalization in Chilean Spanish and Proto-romance,” Carolina Gonzalez, Florida State Univ.
For abstracts, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 12, 2014
12:00 pm-1:15 pm
742. Socialist Culture in the Age of Disco: East European Popular Pleasures
Parlor F, Sheraton Chicago
Program arranged by the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages
PRESIDING: Jessie M. Labov, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
1. “Imperial Disco: Czeslaw Milosz and Science Fiction,” Mikolaj Golubiewski, Free Univ.
2. “The ‘Movement of Writing Workers’ and State Stability in the 1970s German Democratic Republic,” William Waltz, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison
3. “Flaming Socialist Creatures: Hippies as Auteurs in Soviet Latvia,” Mark Svede, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
For abstracts, visit mlaslavic.blogspot.com/.
744. Mass versus Coterie: The Audiobook
Missouri, Sheraton Chicago
Program arranged by the Division on Prose Fiction
PRESIDING : Rebecca L. Walkowitz, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick
1. “‘Fully Fleshed Out and Filled with Emotion': Accent, Region, and Identification in the Reception of The Help,” Sydney Bufkin, Univ. of Texas, Austin
2. “Joyce, LibriVox, and the Recording Coterie,” Brandon Walsh, Univ. of Virginia
3. “Alien Stereo: China Mieville’s Embassytown,” Christopher Pizzino, Univ. of Georgia
1:45 pm-3:00 pm
788. Back Up Your Work: Conceptualizing Writing Support for Graduate Students
Grace, Chicago Marriott
PRESIDING : Liana Silva-Ford, Houston, TX
Tara Betts, Binghamton Univ., State Univ. of New York;
Lee Ann Glowzenski, Duquesne Univ.;
Annemarie Pérez, Loyola Marymount Univ.
Abigail Scheg, Elizabeth City State Univ.
792. Old Materials, New Materialisms
Missouri, Sheraton Chicago
Program arranged by the Division on Methods of Literary Research
1. “Objects, Authors, and Other Matter(s) in the Gloria Anzaldúa Archive,” Suzanne M. Bost, Loyola Univ., Chicago
2. “Writing Histories of Listening: Acoustemology as Literary Practice,” Ely Rosenblum, Univ. of Cambridge
3. “Even the Stones Cry Out: Archival Research and the Inhuman Turn,” Andrew Ferguson, Univ. of Virginia
4. “A Life of Its Own: A Vital Materialist Look at the Medieval Manuscript as an Agentic Assemblage,” Angela Bennett Segler, New York Univ.
Sound and music play important roles in shaping our experiences of sports. Every sport has its own characteristic sounds and soundscape; some are very silent while others can be dangerously noisy. Barry Truax, in his engagement with R. Murray Schafer’s concept of soundscape in the book Acoustic Communication, states that the listener is always present in a soundscape, not solely as a listener but also as a producer of sound (10). Both Truax and Schafer use the term hi-fi to describe environments where sounds may be heard clearly, while lo-fi, often urban, environments, have more overlapping sounds. When an audio environment is well balanced (hi-fi), there is a high degree of information exchange between sound, listeners and the environment, and the listener is involved in an interactive relationship with the other two components (Truax 57). Truax’s understanding of the concepts of hi-fi and lo-fi enable a better understanding of the power relations between the key sonic elements of sports: players, the audience and the organizer (usually a game DJ), an increasingly prominent role in today’s team sports events due to permeation of recorded music. Using examples from Finnish soccer, pesäpallo (“Finnish baseball”), and ice hockey, I track how a particular game’s sonic balance can be altered to shape the atmosphere of the event and, even influence the game’s outcome.
In Europe, soccer is overwhelmingly associated with crowd chants, as noted by Les Back in his article “Sounds in the Crowd.” Without the sounds from the audience, the soccer soundscape would be more hi-fi, revealing the keynote sounds of the sport clearly: for example, the thuds from kicking the football, individual shouts from both the players and the spectators. The clear hi-fi signal articulation may be desirable at other times, but from a home team perspective, it does not provide a good soccer atmosphere. However, while playing recorded music to engage the crowd preceding free kicks or corner situations is not prohibited, it breaks the unwritten rules of the game. This means that creating a good atmosphere becomes the crowd’s responsibility; thus, the infamous songs and chants.
The culture of avoiding electronically reproduced music reveals the potential vulnerability of soccer’s soundscape to silence as much as chants, if not more so. Silence often becomes a way of effecting change at the level of soundscape. A silent, passive, crowd can mirror, for example, the team’s performance on the field or reflect a general lack of interest. Organized supporter groups can also demonstrate their dissatisfaction with something by refusing to sing.
This sound clip demonstrates how keynote sounds of soccer are exposed while approximately 1200 people in the audience seem to be “just watching” a very important home game at the end of the Veikkausliiga season 2012. In the end of the clip the home team, FF Jaro, equalizes and eventually went on to avoid relegation by just 1 point.
In contradiction to soccer, an important part of the pesäpallo experience (Finnish baseball, the national sport of Finland) is actually listening to the continuous communication of the teams. The key to pesäpallo, and the most important difference between pesäpallo and American baseball, is the vertical pitching. Hitting the ball, as well as controlling the power and direction, is much easier. This gives the offensive game much more variety, speed and tactical dimensions than in baseball. The fielding team is forced to counter the batter’s choices with defensive schemes and the game becomes a mental challenge. The continuous communication by the batting team standing in a half circle around the dueling batter and pitcher influences the pesäpallo soundscape. For a better appreciation of the sport, spectators must carefully tune in to the teams’s communiqués.
The male pesäpallo team Vimpelin Veto from the small village of Vimpeli in rural Finland has a very active crowd, with a high know-how of the sport. The village has only a little over 3200 inhabitants but had an average of 2087 spectators/game during the 2012 season. In a local newspaper article Veto’s player Mikko Rantalahti reveals that when the crowd is making lots of noise the visiting players’ tactical “wrong”-shouts (“väärä” in finnish), like when a pitched ball is too low, can’t be heard by the fielding players of the visiting team. The audiences’ collective shouting makes the soundscape more lo-fi and the visiting team’s communication difficult.
This tradition of strategic noisemaking has, before the use of headsets, also been heard in American football, when crowds make noise to make the vocal communication difficult for the visiting team. According to Matthew Mihalka’s PhD dissertation “From the Hammond Organ to ‘Sweet Caroline': The Historical Evolution of Baseball’s Sonic Environment,” crowd noise in baseball is viewed as less influential since directions are sent via hand signals (44). Even though the pesäpallo manager leads the offensive play with a multicolored fan and other visual signals much of the communication is verbal.
(starting point ~16:30)
In this video clip from the 2011 Superpesis final between Vimpelin Veto and Sotkamon Jymy, the audience tries not only to disturb the focus of the hitter, but also the communication of the visiting team standing in the half circle around the batter. Even the commentators are struck by the crowd noise and note its influence.
At Vetos games, the audience creates the sonic atmosphere just as in soccer. When the home team is batting, the audience engages in rhythmic hand clapping, deliberately uncoordinated with the organizers’ music. In 2012, I interviewed the managing director J-P Kujala, who is responsible for the music at Vetos games, and he stated that the atmosphere at Veto’s home games is so good that “there is no need for musical reinforcements.” He also doubted that the audience would react positively to music played to activate the audience. At the stadium, music is only heard before the game, during warm-up and intermissions. Kujala refrains from playing music when the visiting team is batting since that can be considered as “disturbing. . .we don’t do that here.” From the organizers’ perspective, the teams are sonically treated equally, but if the home audience creates a sound wall that drains out the visiting teams’ tactical shouts—making the soundscape more “lo-fi”—it is considered as home court advantage. In this context, lo-fi is not related to the use of technology and playing music, but instead to the audience’s sounds.
However, in contrast to the Vetos’ home court sound culture, more teams are beginning to play music inside the actual game, not only when the home team is batting (2:19) but also when the visiting team is batting. DJs often use songs to create funny remarks at the visiting team’s expense. Whatever the implied interpretation of the music might be, the strategy of playing music in this core situation also modifies something very authentic about the pesäpallo experience. In this sound clip from Koskenkorvan Urheilijat’s home game one can hear the visiting team Pattijoen Urheilijat communicating underneath the Finnish hit song Älä tyri nyt (“Don’t mess up now”). Notice that the home crowd, unlike at Vetos games, is not actively making noise—hence the use of music.
As this clip shows, the increasing use of music in pesäpallo calls attention to the need to develop up-to-date rules for the use of recorded music rather than relying on custom or practice.
When discussing the soundscape of ice hockey, the most popular sport in Finland, the question is no longer about whether or not to play music but which music suits certain situations best. As in soccer, the most active fans often get cheaper tickets to fill in their own fan sections and sing from the curve behind the goals. Apart from singing along to iconic goal songs or team anthems, the fans very seldom interact with the other music played by the DJ. Moving toward a more mediated sport experience, the ice hockey soundscape is also becoming more lo-fi and the balance of sound making has shifted towards the organizers, with lots of sound events using recoded sound (music, videos, commercials etc.) to entertain the crowd during breaks of play. This shift from hi-fi to lo-fi can, according to Truax, encourage the feeling of being cut off from the environment and may begin to dramatically shift the audience’s experience of the sport (20).
There is no doubt that supporter groups have an important role as creators of meaningful sounds and good atmosphere in Finnish ice halls. In that sense it is a paradox that much of the music played “from record” overlaps their activity. John Bale has written that “fully modernized sport will alter the nature of the soundscape of stadiums and arenas […] and that electronically amplified sound will also increase and hence reduce the spontaneity of the crowd’s songs and chants” (141). The hockey example above with its planned rituals confirms this statement. Discussing and choosing the right songs for the right moment in an attempt to not only entertain but also coordinate the crowd is of course a way to deal with this schizophonic clash of sounds. A more and more common way to integrate the fans in the formation of the soundscape is the possibility of interacting with the DJ through for example Twitter. This is also a way to recognize the power relations in the soundscape.
The ice hockey team HC TPS, together with a long time sponsor, recently came up with the idea of “buying silence” and donating the spot to fans. The sponsor also provided the organizers and fans with radiotelephones. That way they could, when prompted by a text on the video screens in the hall, communicate when the spot is being played and make the best out of the situation. This innovative action alters the balance of the soundscape allowing other sounds to be produced and heard more clearly. It makes the ice hockey soundscape hi-fi again; the fans’ interaction with the environment improves and showcases how the balance in the soundscape of hockey is now entangled with the use of technology for sound reproduction.
As highlighted by the examples above, sounds play an important role for experiencing sports. For the audience, making sounds is a way to participate and interact with the event. When the use of music, at least in finnish sports, seems to increase there is also a need to identify the underlying necessity to the play music; it becomes a race to not only find suitable sport music but identify why music is played and which effects it might have on the soundscape as a whole. In soundscape research there has been a certain romanticization for hi-fi soundscapes, but in the cases I have studied there are no clear dichotomies where the one stands for something negative (lo-fi) and the other for something to strive for (hi-fi). Both hi-fi and lo-fi environments reveal power relations in how they connect to the audience’s motivation and ability to contribute with sounds, in addition to the use of technology.
Featured image: “Finland vs. Belarus” by Flickr user s. yume, CC-BY-2.0
Kaj Ahlsved is a PhD student in musicology at Åbo Akademi University in Turku, Finland. His research focus is on the ubiquitous music of our everyday life and especially how recorded music is used during sport events. He does ethnographic field work in team sports, mainly focusing on Finnish male teams in ice hockey, soccer, pesäpallo (“finnish baseball”), volleyball, floorball and basket. His research is funded by PhD Program in Popular Culture Studies and he is a member of the Nordic Research Network for Sound Studies (Norsound). He holds a master’s degree in musicology and bachelor’s degree in music pedagogy (classical guitar). Kaj is a Finnish-swede living with his wife and three children in the bilingual town of Jakobstad/Pietarsaari. He is, of course, a proud fan of the local soccer team FF Jaro.
Welcome back to our continuing series on Orson Welles and his career in radio, prompted by the upcoming 75th anniversary of his 1938 Invasion from Mars episode and the Mercury Theater series that produced it. To help us hear Welles’s rich radio plays in new and more complicated ways, our series brings recent sound studies thought to bear on the puzzle of Mercury‘s audiocraft.
From Mercury to Mars is a joint venture with the Antenna media blog at the University of Wisconsin, and will continue into the new year. If you missed them, check out the first installment on SO! (Tom McEnaney on Welles and Latin America) and the second on Antenna (Nora Patterson on “War of the Worlds” as residual radio).
This week, Sounding Out! sinks its teeth into Orson Welles’s “Dracula,” the first in the Mercury series, and perhaps the play that solicits more “close listening” than any other—back in 1938, Variety yawned at Welles’s attempt at “Art with a capital A” and dismissed his “Dracula” as “a confused and confusing jumble of frequently inaudible and unintelligible voices and a welter of sound effects.” Here’s the full play, listen for yourself:
It’s a good thing that our guide is University of South Carolina Associate Professor and SO! newcomer Debra Rae Cohen. Cohen is a former rock critic, an editor of the essential text on radio modernism, and has also recently written a fascinating essay on the BBC publication The Listener, among other distinguished critical works on modernism. Below you’ll find the most detailed close reading of Welles’s “Dracula” (and of Welles as himself a kind of Dracula) ever done.
Didn’t even know Welles ever played Count Dracula? That’s just the first of many surprises you’ll discover thanks to Debra Rae’s keen listening.
So (to borrow a phrase), enter freely and of your own will, dear reader, and leave something of the happiness you bring. – nv
It’s one of the best-known anecdotes of the Mercury Theater: Orson Welles bursts into the apartment where producer John Houseman is holed up cut-and-pasting a script for Treasure Island, the planned debut production, and announces, only a week before airing, that Dracula will take its place. At a time when Lilith’s blood-drenched handmaidens on the current season of True Blood serve as an analogue for our own cultural oversaturation with vampires, it’s worth recalling why, in 1938, this substitution might have been more than merely the indulgence of Welles’s penchant for what Paul Heyer calls “gnomic unpredictability” (The Medium and the Magician, 52).
In fact, 1938 was a good year for vampire ballyhoo; Tod Browning’s 1931 Dracula film had been rereleased only a month before to a new flurry of Bela Lugosi press. Welles’s last-minute switch was a savvy one, allowing him to capitalize on the publicity generated by the continuing popularity of the film (and the popular Hamilton Deane and John Balderston stage adaptation from which it largely drew), while publicly disdaining its vulgarity in favor of what he seemed peculiarly to consider the high-culture status of Stoker’s original novel. Here he is defending the book:
But more importantly, Welles’s production reclaimed and exploited the novel’s own media-consciousness, a feature occluded in the play and film versions, and one to which the adaptation into radio adds, as it were, additional bite. Dracula introduced several of the radio innovations we’ve come to associate with the Mercury Theater (and The War of the Worlds in particular)—first-person retrospective narration, temporal coding, the strategic use of media reflexivity—but Stoker’s novel may have made such innovations both alluring and inevitable.
Stoker’s Dracula is made up of a patchwork of documents—shorthand diaries, transcribed dictation cylinders, newspaper clippings—that do not simply serve as a legitimizing frame, as in Frankenstein. Instead, they are deeply self-referential, obsessively chronicling the very processes of inscription and translation between media by which the novel is built. Confronted with the terrible threat of Dracula free to prey on London’s “teeming millions,” Mina Harker vows thus: “There may be a solemn duty, and if it come we must not shrink from it. …I shall get my typewriter this very hour and begin transcribing.” Processes of ordering information serve, as critics since Friedrich Kittler have noted (see for example here, here, and especially here), as the way to combat the symbolic threat of vampirism that, as Jennifer Wicke argues, stands in for “the uncanny procedures of modern life,” and a threat that may have already colonized intimate spaces of the text itself (“Vampiric Typewriting,” 473).
That threat, in the novel, sounds oddly like . . . radio. Seeping intangibly through the cracks of door frames, invading domestic spaces, riding through the ether “as elemental dust,” materializing abruptly in intimate settings, communicating across land and sea while rendering his receiver passively malleable, Stoker’s Dracula is terrifying by virtue of his insidious ubiquity, a kind of broadcast technology avant la lettre.
In adapting Dracula for radio, then, Welles could play on the deep division in the novel between the ordered forces of inscription and the Count’s occult, uncanny transmissive force in order to exploit the anxieties connected with the medium itself. Even the double role Welles plays in the production—both Dracula and the doctor Arthur Seward—functions in this regard as more than bravura.
Seward’s primary role in the drama as compère, or advocate, threads together Dracula’s multiple documentary “narration,” through what became the familiar Mercury device of retrospect-turned-enactment. As Seward, Welles performs an argumentative and editorial function that’s nowhere in Stoker’s novel, where the various documents make up a file that is explicitly uncommunicated, because unbelievable, for a case no longer necessary to make. Shuffling the various documents that make up the “case,” Seward stands outside of definite place, but also outside of time, animating “the extraordinary events of the year 1891” by directly addressing an audience of a medium that does not yet exist. Here is part of Seward’s address:
Seward is our first “First Person Singular,” and yet his persona is unsettlingly thin. Though his voice at the outset is strong and urgent, it feels bland compared with the dense goulash of “Transylvanian” effects that competes for our attention through the first ten minutes of the production—hoofbeats, thunder, wolf howls, whinnies, the sound of a coach seemingly about to clatter to bits, the singsong of prayers muttered, perhaps, in some exotic foreign tongue. The “documents” on which Seward’s claim to the trust of the audience rides are overwhelmed by the sound that saturates them. Here is the scene:
It’s not until nearly 20 minutes into the production that Seward reveals his own connection with the story—as the lover of Lucy Westenra—and from this moment forward Welles allows Seward’s authority in the “present” to be eroded by his bland inefficacy in the scenes of the “past.” By Act II, he has ceded authority by telegraph to Dr. Van Helsing (Martin Gabel, in a brilliantly crafted performance):
Without the didactic authority of Van Helsing and with small claim on audience sympathy, Seward becomes, through the second half of the production, a strangely insecure advocate, whose claim on authentic first person experience often disrupts, rather than augments, his role as presenter.
The listener does not consistently “follow” Seward either narratively or sonically—indeed, he is often displaced to the sonic periphery by Dr. Van Helsing. In the final confrontation with Dracula, Seward is explicitly shooed to the outer margins of the soundscape to pray.
Here the technical exigencies of Welles’s double role support a subtext that his unmistakable voice has already suggested: that Seward is here the “other” to Dracula (as, later, his Kurtz would be to his Marlow), waning as he waxes. As Lucy is weakened through Dracula’s occult ministrations, so too is Seward sapped of vitality, his romantic passages voiced as strangely bloodless, while Dracula’s wring from Lucy an orgasmic sonic response. Penetrating the intimate chamber Seward ineffectively desires to protect, Dracula replaces him as the production’s central sonic presence—who even when silent, possesses the sonic space.
Contrast Seward’s feeble voice during his night-time vigil here,
to Dracula’s seductive visit here,
Welles needed to distinguish his Dracula from Lugosi’s, employing, rather than an accent, a kind of sonorous unplaced otherness. But his performance shares the ponderous spacing of syllables that, in Lugosi’s case, derived from phonetic memorization of his English script; in other words, Welles is “recognizable” as Dracula without “playing” him. As an analogue to Lugosi’s glacial movement, Dracula’s voice is here surrounded by depths of silence in an otherwise effect-busy soundscape.
From the beginning, Dracula is also sonically on top of the listener, uncomfortably intimate, as in this scene of a close shave:
And although Dracula’s voice is not heard for a full thirteen minutes after Lucy’s death, it nevertheless seems to inhabit all available silences, until he quietly seeps through the door frame of Mina Harker’s bedroom:
The closely-miked phrase “blood of my blood” is reprised throughout the second half of the production—it is repeated seven times, by both Dracula and Mina (Agnes Moorhead), though it occurs only once in the novel—underscoring the ineffable aurality of Dracula’s “transmission.” The line doesn’t present as meaning, but as a tidal echo, the pulse of a carrier wave. While it signals an action unrepresentable to the ear—Dracula’s literal bite or its resonances of memory and desire—it also functions as a “signal” in the sense that Verma describes, as a repetitive element that compels listenership like an incantation (Theater of the Mind, 106). This is the power against which the “documents” are marshaled, the power of “pure” radio—ironically the very power that allows them to be shared. And the hypnotic thrum of radio rips them to shreds.
Indeed, the closing minutes of the drama present the vampire hunters, the novel’s forces of inscription, as an array of anxious noises marshaled against this lurking silence. The frenzied pacing of the final chase back to Transylvania—an element of Stoker’s novel that both plays and film sacrificed—gathers momentum through ever-shorter “diary entries” delivered, breathlessly, over the sound effects of transport:
Welles exploits the familiarity of his audience with a mechanism that Kathleen Battles calls a “radio dragnet”; the forces of order deploy the ubiquity of radio itself to shore up social cohesion, enlisting the audience within their ranks (Calling all Cars, 149). But here that very process is, simultaneously, unsettled and undermined by the identification of Dracula himself with invisible transmission. As Van Helsing repeatedly hypnotizes Mina to tap in on her communion with Dracula—radio, in a sense, deploying radio—the listener is aware of being both eavesdropper and the sharer of rapport, a position that implicates her in Mina’s enthrallment. Here is part of the sequence:
This identification intensifies in the climactic sequence, completely original to Welles’s adaptation, in which Dracula, at bay before his enemies, weakened by sunlight, calls upon the elements of his undead network:
This tour-de-force moment for Welles is also the point when radio shatters the documentary frame and undermines its logic. Though Mina hears Dracula, the others do not, and as Van Helsing’s “testimony” attests, even she does not remember it. This communication can’t, then, be part of Seward’s “evidence.” Rather, it is the radio listener—Dracula’s real prey—who who has received Dracula’s transmission, who has heard across time and space what no one else present can hear: “You must speak for me, you must speak with my heart.”
Although Mina refuses this rapport by staking Dracula at the last possible second—or does she refuse it? Is this not perhaps the Count’s secret wish?—the effect of the uncanny communion persists beyond Seward’s summation, beyond Van Helsing’s subsequent account of Dracula’s end. It renders almost unnecessary Welles’s famous playful post-credits epilogue, in which he abruptly adopts Dracula’s tones to tell us that, “There are wolves. There are vampires”:
But with the hypnotic reach of radio at your disposal, who needs them?
Debra Rae Cohen is an Associate Professor of English at the University of South Carolina. She spent several years as a rock & roll critic before returning to academe. Her current scholarship, including her co-edited volume Broadcasting Modernism (University Press of Florida, 2009, paperback 2013) focuses on the relations between radio and modernist print cultures; she’s now working on a book entitled “Sonic Citizenship: Intermedial Poetics and the BBC.”
REWIND! . . .If you liked this post, you may also dig:
“Radio’s ‘Oblong Blur': Notes on the Corwinesque“– Neil Verma