With a wide array of departmental affiliations and disciplinary backgrounds represented among its society membership, as well as an active and creative leadership, the annual meeting of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies is an excellent place to get a sense of where sound studies is and might be heading in the academy. To help read those tea leaves at this year’s upcoming conference in Seattle, we are thrilled to welcome one of the key figures working at the intersection of sound and media today, Denison University Communications Professor Bill Kirkpatrick.
Bill is not only a first-rate scholar — he’s at the forefront of emerging work on sound media and disability — but he’s also a producer, one of the people behind Cinema Journal‘s podcast Aca-Media, which is helping to show how sound can be not only a media studies topic, but a way of doing media studies. As one of the co-chairs of the Radio Studies Scholarly Interest Group at SCMS, Bill has also taken a leadership role in promoting the work of many other scholars, and we’re excited to hear from him on the state of the field. Here are his thoughts and a curated guide for how to make the most of the conference in the Emerald City this year.
- SCMS/ASA Editor Neil Verma
The Society for Cinema and Media Studies is clearly in a boom period for sound studies. In interviews for the March episode of Aca-Media, SCMS programmers Angelo Restivo and Bruce Brasell each noted the extraordinary rise in papers on sound as one of the key trends in the field, and the 2014 schedule bears this out with nearly 150 papers related to sound, music, and radio—an average of thirty each day of the conference, which will take place in Seattle from March 19-23.
Last year, in his 2013 SCMS preview for SO!, Neil Verma sounded a little nervous that this rise in sound-related papers was somehow too good to be true: “This year may mark the point at which sound studies became – likely temporarily, and perhaps distressingly – normal.” It might be temporary, but the quantity and variety of papers on sound again this year is definitely not distressing. Even more than last year, this year’s conference goes well beyond radio, music, and soundtracks to offer papers on sound in airplanes, in museums, in video games, and on phones, as well as governmental policies connected to sound and more.
Here are some trends and highlights I noticed while going through the schedule:
- In my first read-through, I was alarmed by what appeared to be a decline in the number of radio-themed papers and panels. We know that SCMS is still establishing itself as a good place for radio studies, which the still-nascent Radio Studies Scholarly Interest Group is beginning to help, but it would have been nice to see a few more panels in this area. After my second reading of the schedule, however, it’s fairer to say that radio is holding steady, especially if we count podcasting. I hope to catch a lot of these papers, and you can’t go wrong with any of the Radio Studies SIG-sponsored panels (marked by * below). In the “something different” category, I’m particularly interested in Matt Sienkiewicz’s paper on “Radio Islam” in Afghanistan and Lana Lin’s “Psychoanalytic Reading of Upton Sinclair’s Mental Radio,” which will look at the intersections between radio and telepathy in the early social imaginary.
- Last year Neil urged sound studies to “keep it weird,” and there are definitely some papers this year that fit that bill. One of my favorites is Stephen Groening’s study of how the airplane environment affects issues of immersion and distraction, which is one of those topics I wish I’d thought of first. I also hope to catch a paper by Dimitrios Pavlounis on how silent films before 1920 used the detective dictograph as a plot device, constructing the idea of sound recording in a silent medium. Sarah Street’s “Synthetic Dreams: Color-Film-Music in the 1920s” will examine some notable sound-image experiments (including Eisenstein’s) during the 1920s. And though I don’t know anything about it but the title, Todd Decker’s presentation on “Helicopter Music” has got to be good, right?
- For a town with as storied a musical history as Seattle, the music offerings this year do little to take advantage of place (something that Neil also noted regarding last year’s conference in the even more storied city of Chicago). Nonetheless there are all kinds of cool papers on music and musicals. Given the Beatles nostalgia this year, William Gombash’s paper on the promotional films for “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” seems apropos; pair it with Jessica Fowler on “The Monkees and the Birth of New Hollywood” and a talk on Elvis Presley’s musicals by Amanda McQueen for a DIY ’60s pop-musical mini-conference. Or you could go the other direction with a panel on Wagner (H13) and several intriguing papers on opera (look for the papers by Sabine Hake, Ling Zhang, and Jennifer Fleeger).
- This is a good year for technologies of sound, from the cinematic apparatus to the architecture of listening spaces. See, for example, Meredith Ward’s paper on “Architecting Listening in the Cinema House” or Rafael Freire on “The Conversion to Sound in Brazil,” to give just two interesting examples.
- The Scholarly Interest Groups for Sound Studies and Radio Studies will each be holding business meetings with special programming. The Sound Studies SIG will meet over lunch on Friday (3/21, 12:15-2:00 in Ballard). The Radio Studies SIG will meet the next morning (3/22, 9:00-10:45 in Ballard) and will feature a talk by folks from Seattle indie rock station KEXP about radio in a streaming age.
To help you navigate these and the other offerings, I’ve provided not one but two conference guides. The first is arranged chronologically for all the sound-related panels. The second is arranged topically in four categories (Sound & Soundtracks, Music & Musicals, Radio and Podcasting, and Other: Museums, Airplanes, Phones, Video Games, and Policy). I’ve also added content notes on just a few papers where I’ve been in contact with the author and learned a bit more about the talk. I apologize in advance for the inevitable errors and omissions! [please report any flubs to SO! ASA/SCMS Special Editor Neil Verma, email@example.com, we'll make corrections as needed]
In closing, what should we look for—or at least hope for—from SCMS in 2015? I’ll list my three biggies:
Music: The quantity of papers this year on opera and classical music in film and media, while still small, suggests that SCMS might finally be emerging as a conference for music scholars beyond pop music, and I hope this trend will continue. I can’t get into the methodological and theoretical rifts within the discipline of musicology here, but for years Norma Coates, Tim Anderson, and many others have been working to make SCMS a viable alternative to the dominant musicology conferences that, in large and small ways, are hostile to (or simply wrong for) critical-cultural music scholars, especially if their topic has a TV/film component. So let the word go out that they are welcome here! As a side note, can someone please take better advantage of the amazing history of music in Montreal next year?
Sound: Nothing to complain about here—sound is alive and well. I would like to see a few more papers on television and sound, and one could argue that the aesthetic and economic analyses of sound could be supplemented with more papers on political and social dimensions of sound. But overall sound studies seems to be in excellent shape at SCMS.
Radio: I’m not pessimistic about radio studies at SCMS, but it is also not where I had expected it to be at this point. We need to encourage more international scholars to participate, and we can hope that the Montreal venue will make it easier and more attractive for European radio scholars—of whom there are many—to apply. Thematically, there remains a troubling “donut hole” in radio scholarship that I hope more scholars will address: we have lots of work on early radio (into the 1950s), and lots of work on contemporary radio and podcasting, but that leaves a half-century gap that doesn’t receive nearly enough scholarly attention. In other words, radio studies is far from exhausted, so I hope that radio scholars and the RS SIG can make 2015 a year of growth and diversification for radio at SCMS.
* = Sponsored by the Radio Studies Scholarly Interest Group
** = Sponsored by the Sound Studies Scholarly Interest Group
Featured Image: “KEXP, Seattle” by Flickr user Curtis Cronn, CC BY-ND-ND 2.0
Bill Kirkpatrick is Assistant Professor of Media Studies in the Communication Department at Denison University in Ohio. His research interests include broadcast history, media and disability, and media policy. He is currently working on an anthology on media and disability and a monograph on the intersections of radio and disability in the 1920s and ‘30s. He is also a co-producer of the film and media studies podcast Aca-Media (www.aca-media.org).
I. Chronological Index
Jump to WEDNESDAY, MARCH 19, 2014
Jump to THURSDAY, MARCH 20, 2014
Jump to FRIDAY, MARCH 21, 2014
Jump to SATURDAY, MARCH 22, 2014
Jump to SUNDAY, MARCH 23, 2014
I. CHRONOLOGICAL LIST
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 19
Session A 10:00 – 11:45 a.m.
A4: French Auteurs: Becker, Demy, Bresson, Bunuel
Tracy Cox-Stanton, SAVANNA COLLEGE OF ART AND DESIGN, “Film Sound, Footsteps, and Unvoiced Desire in Bresson’s “Pickpocket” (1959) and Bunuel’s “Belle du Jour” (1967)”
A10: Knowing the Score
Kevin Donnelly, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHAMPTON, “Phantom Power: Electrifying an Old Silent Film”
Ariane Lebot, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, “Composing the Narrative: Bernard Herrmann’s Contribution to De Palma’s ‘Obsession’ (1976)”
Megan Alvarado Saggese, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA BERKELEY, “From Sound to Cinema: Dissonance and Disruption between Adorno’s Theory of Film and Kagel’s “Antithese””
Christine Sprengler, UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN ONTARIO, “‘The Broom That Sweeps the Cobwebs Away': Vertigo’s Soundtrack as Sound Art”
A16: Re-viewing Feminisms
Elizabeth Watkins, UNIVERSITY OF LEEDS, “Gesture and the Female Voice”
Alexander Russo, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA, “Androids as the New ‘Other’: Janelle Monae’s Feminist Afrofuturism in The Metropolis Suite” (focuses on the sonic attributes of race and gender, as well as her engagement with the sounds of masculine black music of the second half of the 20th century)
Session B 12:00 – 1:45 p.m.
B6: Policy: The Law and other Gatekeepers
Birk Weiberg, ZURICH UNIVERSITY OF THE ARTS, “Roy J. Pomeroy, Dunning Process Co., Inc., and Paramount Publix Corporation vs. Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc., Vitaphone Corporation, and Frederick Jackman: How the Movie Industry Learned about Patents.”
B15: Promotional Culture
William Gombash, VALENCIA COLLEGE, “The Evolution of Media Convergence and Popular Music: The Promotional Films for “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”” (will include discussion of how the Beatles recorded the songs and how the evolving nature of the complexities of the production of their music mitigated against live performances)
B19: Avant-garde Aesthetic Strategies
Dustin Zemel, LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY, “Polyphony and Documentary Presentness” (explores the idea of Bakhtinian literary polyphony and it’s relationship/relevance to film, using Jonas Mekas’s The Brig as an example of how overlapping voices in the soundtrack can effectively facilitate the presentation of multiple, autonomous presences.)
Session C 2:00 – 3:45 p.m.
C6: Narrative Forms of/and American Authorship
Paul Cote, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND, “Encountering Sonic Memories: Sound, Childhood, and Escapism in Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.””
C8: The Spaces of Media Production and Consumption
Meredith Ward, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, “Black Boxes and Rich, Repressed Sounds: Architecting Listening in the Cinema House”
C10: Listening to Films: Cinematic Sound and Media Culture in East Asia
Nicole Huang, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, MADISON, “Listening to Films: Radio and Communal Film Culture in 1970s China”
Kerim Yasar, UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME, “Otozukuri: Affect, Ontology, and Techne in Early Japanese Radio Drama and Talkie Sound Effects”
Giorgio Biancorosso, UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG, “Double Agents and The Poor Man’s Orchestra: Music and the Aesthetic of the Self in *Chunking Express* (1994)”
Ling Zhang, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, “The Flowing Ambiguity of Soundscape: Female Voice-over in Spring in a Small Town and Fei Mu’s Chinese Operatic Sound Aesthetic”
Session D 4:00 – 5:45 p.m.
D4: The Globalization of Post-Millenial Persian Media
Matt Sienkiewicz, BOSTON COLLEGE, “Uncle Sam’s Koran: American Broadcasting, Koranic Values and Hybrid “Radio Islam” in Afghanistan”
D6: Objects: The Medium Is the Material
Paul Jasen, CARLETON UNIVERSITY, “Infrasound: Spectres of the Manmade Unknown”
D10: Physician, Heal Thy Selfie
Stephanie Brown, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, URBANA-CHAMPAIGN, “‘A Waiting Room That Doesn’t Suck’: Negotiations of Agency, Authenticity, and Community in the “Mental Illness Happy Hour Podcast””
D13: New Histories of Animation
Lora Mjolsness, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, IRVINE, “Sound, Synchronization, and Subversion: The Early Animation of the Brumberg Sisters”
D15: Distribution in the Digital Age
Tim Anderson, OLD DOMINION UNIVERSITY, “Why Don’t We Give it Away?: Value and “Free” for an Emerging Music Industry”
Jeremy Morris, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, MADISON, “‘App’etite for Digitization: App-based Albums and the Virtual Commodification of Music”
THURSDAY, MARCH 20
Session E 9:00 – 10:45 a.m.
E1: Gender and Contemporary Technologies
Jacqueline Vickery, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS, “Mobile Phones, a Girl’s Best Friend?: How the Mobile Phone Industry Legitimizes Surveillance, Commodifies Talk, and Genders Technology”
*E10: Sound: Aesthetics and Ideology
Justin Morris, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, “Radio Ranch: Emergent Seriality in 1930s Film and Radio”
Paula Musegades, BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY, “Silence is Golden: Aaron Copland’s Film Score for “The Heiress””
Yuki Takinami, UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO, “The Issue of Sound-Cinema Aesthetics in Early-1930s Japan: Theory and Practice”
Alejandra Bronfman, UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA, “Screeches, Static, and Silence: The Fragmented Terrain of Caribbean Radio”
E13: Deleuzian Aesthetics
Justin Horton, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY, “Vibration, Resonance, Deformation: Deleuze’s Soundful Aesthetics”
Alison Wielgus, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA, “Watch Out! The World’s Behind You: Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable and the Promises of Expanded Cinema” (discusses the influence of La Monte Young and drone music on the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, and how the live performance of such music creates a new context for interpreting the Warhol films screened during the events; unfortunately Alison will not be able to attend the conference, but you can contact her for more information)
Session F 11:00 – 12:45 p.m.
F1: Reconsidering Psychoanalysis and Media Studies: Towards a Productive Intersection
Lana Lin, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, “Are These Thoughts My Own?: A Psychoanalytic Reading of Upton Sinclair’s “Mental Radio””
F5: Margins of the New Wave: Japanese Cinemas of the 1960s
Michael Raine, UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN ONTARIO, “Music, Musicals, and the Margins of the Japanese New Wave”
F16: Feminist Approaches to War Media
Debra White-Stanley, KEENE STATE COLLEGE, “Combat Medicine, Gendered Trauma, and Audio-Vision” (an interdisciplinary integration of sound studies with the idea of “women at war”)
F17: Negotiating Race in Digital Spaces
Sarah Florini, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, MADISON, “Networked Enclaves: Black Podcasters’ Responses to the George Zimmerman Verdict”
**F18: Documentary Sound and the Global City
Rita Safariants, VASSAR COLLEGE, “The Gig is in the Boiler Room: Filming Leningrad’s Rock-n-Roll Counterculture”
Josh Glick, YALE UNIVERSITY, “The Renegade in the Network: Joe Saltzman, CBS, and Soundtrack Innovations”
Ashish Chadha, UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND, “Sound in the City: Experimental Documentaries of Films Division in India”
Noelle Griffis, INDIANA UNIVERSITY, “Telling it Like it Is: The Camera as Voice in AFI Supported Minority Youth Films of the 1960s”
Session G 1:00 – 2:45 p.m.
**G18: Between Speech, Music, and Noise: The Voice in Recent Film and Television
John Richardson, UNIVERSITY OF TURKU, “Between Dialogue and Sound: The Voice, Audiovisual Flow, and the Aestheticizing Impulse”
Robynn Stilwell, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY, “Walking and Talking and Singing and Dancing: Axes and Boundaries in the Television Soundscape”
Claudia Gorbman, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON, TACOMA, “The Master’s Voice”
Mitchell Morris, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES, “Fictions of the Facture: Vocal Realities in “Velvet Goldmine”
Session H 3:00 – 4:45 p.m.
H3: Negotiating Identity, Belonging, and Citizenship in Transnational Latino Communities in the US
Veronica Zavala, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA, “Alivianadas: Spanish-Language Radio Incentives”
H4: French Film Archives: New Findings, New Forms
Charlie Michael, EMORY UNIVERSITY, “The Lescure Report and the Future of French Audiovisual Policy” (an analysis of the participatory blog that the French Ministry of Culture launched to have a public discussion about audiovisual reform)
*H9: Regionalism, Accent, and Dialect at the BBC, 1930-1955
Debra Rae Cohen, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA, ““There’s No Such Thing as Reet”: Reclaiming Region in Burbleton””
Ian Whittington, UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI, “Regional Voice, National Crisis: J.B. Priestley as Second World War Radio Celebrity”
Emily Bloom, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY, “Speaking Oirish: The BBC Third Programme and Irish Drama”
Damien Keane, UNIVERSITY AT BUFFALO, “A Back-Window on Belfast: W.R. Rodgers’ The Return Room”
H13: Cinema & Wagner
Amy Stebbins, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, “Being Richard: History, Myth, and the Biopic”
Rebekah Rutkoff, CUNY, “Towards a Complete Order: Markopoulos and Wagner”
Ken Eisenstein, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO / BUCKNELL UNIVERSITY, “‘All Things Pass Into the Night’: Music, Montage, and Wagner in Billy Wilder’s “Love in the Afternoon” (1957)”
*H15: Branded Entertainment of the Past
Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY, ““The Dean of Radio Salesmen” vs. “The Huckster”: Jack Benny’s Struggle with Sponsor Lucky Strike, 1944-1948″
Cynthia Meyers, COLLEGE OF MOUNT SAINT VINCENT, “The Problems of Branded Entertainment: BBDO, Sponsors, and Blacklists on Radio and Early Television”
Lauren Bratslavsky, UNIVERSITY OF OREGON, “Soft Hands and Soft Westerns: The True Stories of Death Valley Days, 1930-72″
Andrew deWaard, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES, “Marty Weiser, Exploitation Agent: Product Placement, Publicity, and the Tie-Up Business in Hollywood, 1940-1980″
H19: Intermedial Modernisms: Cinema’s Expanded Horizons in the 1920s
Sarah Street, UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL, “Synthetic Dreams: Color-Film-Music in the 1920s”
H25: Once More with Feeling: Audiences, Origins, and Affect in the Hollywood Musical
Desiree Garcia, ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY, “Life Upon the Wicked Stage: The Origins of the Hollywood Show Musical”
Sean Griffin, SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY, “Don’t Fence Me In: B Studio Musicals’ Appeal to Marginalized Audiences”
Caryl Flinn, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, “The Kitschy Feelings of Kitschy Musicals”
Kelly Kessler, DEPAUL UNIVERSITY, “I Dreamed a Dream of Close-Ups Gone By: “Les Misérables” and the Visual Excess of Stage-to-Screen Transfers in the FX Era”
Session I 5:00 – 6:45 p.m.
I4: Museum as Medium: Technology, Spectatorship, Space
Karine Bouchard, UNIVERSITY DE MONTREAL, “(Im)mobilized Sound: Towards Listening Experiences in the Museum Exhibition.”
**I10: Sounds of Labor: Musicians’ Employment in Hollywood’s Transition to Sound
Jennifer Fleeger, URSINUS COLLEGE, “Putting Opera to Work: Song, Stardom, and Labor in the Vitaphone Opera Shorts”
Rob King, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, ““I Want Music Everywhere”: Underscoring in the Hal Roach Studios’ Early Sound Films”
Daniel Goldmark, CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY, “The Musical Roots of “The Jazz Singer””
I11: Rethinking Wong Kar-wei: New Approaches to an Established International Auteur
Angelo Restivo, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY, “Wong Kar-wai: Sound + Image”
I19: Makes Me Feel Some Kinda Way: Television and Black Women’s Affect
Racquel Gates, COLLEGE OF STATEN ISLAND, CUNY, “The Ratchet Public Sphere: Love and Hip Hop Atlanta and Black Women’s Culture”
FRIDAY, MARCH 21
Session J 9:00 -10:45 a.m.
J1: What Is “The Symbolist Temptation?” The Aesthetics of Symbolism in Transnational Cinema
Tami Williams, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MILWAUKEE, “A Music of Silence: Abstraction and Sensation in Belle Époque Symbolist Theater and 1920s French Art Cinema”
J3: Brazilian Cinema Revisited: Technologies, Exhibition, Reception
Rafael Freire, UNIVERSIDADE FEDERAL FLUMINENSE, “The Conversion to Sound in Brazil”
*J10: Radio and Other Sounds
Hannah Spaulding, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, “Eavesdropping as Entertainment: The Enormous Radio and Shut Up Little Man!”
Jack Curtis Dubowsky, ACADEMY OF ART UNIVERSITY, “The Music of Brokeback Mountain”
Ming-Yuen Ma, PITZER COLLEGE, “Noises of Protest: Sound, Race, and Violence in Christian Marclay’s Guitar Drag and Paul D. Miller’s Rebirth of a Nation”
J19: Race, Gender, and the Body in Found Footage Film
Jaimie Baron, UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA, “Unintentional Singers and Racial Ventriloquism in Contemporary Found Footage Videos” (Explores how found footage (remix) videomakers are literally making their (speaking) subjects sing and how this constitutes a form of ventriloquism)
Session K 12:15-2:00 p.m.
*Meeting of the Sound Studies Scholarly Interest Group
K9: Medium and Method in “Early Television” History
Kate Newbold, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, “Television Ontology and Media Methodology: Exploring Televisual Fragmentation in Phonograph, Broadcast, and Print Industries, 1926-1940″
Luke Stadel, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, “Radio/Television/Sound, 1922-1941″
K18: Revisiting Kurosawa
Michael Bourdaghs, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, “Hearing the Cold War: Kurosawa Akira’s Soundtracks and Soviet Film Theory”
Session L 2:15-4:00 p.m.
**L10: Sound Waves: Technology and Practice in Film Sound
Charles O’Brien, CARLETON UNIVERSITY, “Multi-Track Sound and the Battle of Paris: American and German Films for French Distribution”
Eric Dienstfrey, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, MADISON, “Splits, Quad, and the Psychedelic: Dolby’s Rear Channels Examined”
Katherine Quanz, WILFRID LAURIER UNIVERSITY, “The Industrial Impact of Toronto’s Transition to Digidesign Technology in the Mid-2000s”
Benjamin Wright, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, “Atmos Now: How Dolby is Transforming the Art and Craft of Sound Mixing”
SATURDAY, MARCH 22
Session M 9:00-10:45 a.m.
*Meeting of the Radio Studies Scholarly Interest Group (featuring guests from KEXP to talk about radio in a streaming age)
M4: What is Socialist Realism? Reexamining Soviet Post-montage Cinema
Vincent Bohlinger, RHODE ISLAND COLLEGE, “Soundtrack Design in Soviet Early Sound Film”
M7: Playing with Avatars
Lyn Goeringer, OBERLIN CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC, “No Avatar Required: Audio-reactive Games and Physical Connectivity”
**M10: Global Approaches to Film Sound
Pavitra Sundar, KETTERING UNIVERSITY, “Thinking Sound, Rethinking History in Hindi Cinema”
James Lastra, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, “From Mickey Mouse to Peter Kubelka”
Esra-Gokce Sahin, HARVARD UNIVERSITY, “Soundscape and Humor in Acharaka Comedy in Prewar Japan”
M16: Hispanic Musicals: Nationalisms and Transnational Stars
Valeria Camporesi, AUTONOMOUS UNIVERSITY OF MADRID,, “Latin Stars, Spanish Women: Lola Flores in the 1950s”
Ana Lopez, TULANE UNIVERSITY, “La Vecindad: A Musical Space for the Mexican Cinema”
Dolores Tierney, SUSSEX UNIVERSITY, and Sergio de la Mora, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, DAVIS, “Re-mapping Mexican Cinema of the 1970s: Music and Female Sexuality in Zona Roja”
Enrique Garcia, MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE, “From Brechtian to Hollywood Approach: The Hispanic Community and Salsa Music in the Documentary Our Latin Thing (Nuestra Cosa) and the Biopic/Musical El Cantante”
M17: Forms of Non-Fiction: Voices, Realisms, Disciplines, Shadows
James V. Catano, LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY, “Voiceover and the Essay Film”
Session N 11:00-12:45 p.m.
N2: The Precarious Aesthetic in Contemporary Moving Images
Arild Fetveit, UNIVERSITY OF COPENHAGEN, “Death, Love, and Cinematic Nostalgia: The Precarious Aesthetic of Lana Del Ray” (linking the aesthetics of her videos to her music, in particular to the ways in which she uses her voice)
*N6: Locating Radio: The Symbolic, Cultural, and Political Dimensions of ‘Place’ in North American Radio Broadcasting
Brian Fauteux, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, MADISON, “Localities and Independent Music in Satellite Radio Programming”
Catherine Martin, BOSTON UNIVERSITY, “‘I’ve Got My Eyes Open and I Can’t be Crooked': Female Virtue and National Identity in “Terry and the Pirates””
Eleanor Patterson, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, MADISON, “This American Franchise: Negotiating the Production of Local Public Radio for a Global Audience”
Jennifer Wang, INDEPENDENT SCHOLAR, “Some ‘Homemakers’ are More Than Housekeepers: Negotiating Modern Living, Gendered Spheres, and the Rural Lifestyle in Wisconsin Radio”
N11: The Little Flashlight of the Usher: Objects in Exhibition Between Spectator and Screen
Stephen Groening, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY, “‘If You Don’t Want to Look at It, No One Can Force You’: Spectatorship, Agency, and Headphones”
**N16: Teaching Post-Production Sound From a Sound Studies Perspective
Mark Berger, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY
Jay Beck, CARLETON COLLEGE
George Larkin, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY
Session O 1:00-2:45 p.m.
O4: Expanding the Meanings of Film: Cinema and the Nation in East Germany
Sabine Hake, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS, AUSTIN, “The Popularity of High Culture: On the DEFA Opera Film”
O8: Sinophone Cinemas
Alison Groppe, UNIVERSITY OF OREGON, “Multilingualism in Singaporean Film Dialogue: Authenticity or Argument?”
O14: Breath and the Body of the Voice in Cinema
Ian Garwood, UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW, “Lost in Non-Translation: Analysing Film Voices from a Position of Linguistic Incompetence”
Liz Greene, QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY BELFAST, “The Gasping Breath: Controlling the Female Voice in Hollywood Cinema”
Nessa Johnston, GLASGOW SCHOOL OF ART, “The Embodied Aural Encounters of Drama-Documentary”
Philippa Lovatt, UNIVERSITY OF STIRLING, “Breathing Bodies: Sound and Subjectivity in the War Film”
Session P 3:00-4:45 p.m.
P7: “Women Contained”: Figuring Feminism in the Films of Todd Haynes
Respondent: Maria San Filippo, INDIANA UNIVERSITY, BLOOMINGTON
Matthew Von Vogt, INDIANA UNIVERSITY, BLOOMINGTON, “Structural Anorexia in “Superstar””
Jess Issacharoff, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA, ““Poison’s” Oath in Another Language: Todd Haynes’ Feminist Promise”
Michael Hetra, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA, “Music and the Vicissitudes of Desire in Todd Haynes’s “Mildred Pierce””
P18: Beyond Bond: Alternative Perspectives on the James Bond Franchise
Meenasarani Murugan, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, “‘Unlike Men, the Diamonds Linger’: Bassey and Bond beyond the Theme Song”
*P22: Musics and Medias
Shawn VanCour, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, “In Search of Spectacular Sound: Aesthetic Innovation in Classical Music Programming on Early U.S. Television”
Lindsay Affleck, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES, “The Young Man with a Horn: Harry James and the Intersection of the Big Band Era and Classical Hollywood”
Christopher Cwynar, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, MADISON, “Unbuttoning National Public Radio: Assessing the Place of Popular Music in NPR’s Current Affairs Programming”
Norma Coates, UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN ONTARIO, “5% of It is Good:” Leonard Bernstein, CBS Reports, and the Cultural Accreditation of Rock Music”
Session Q 5:00-6:45 p.m.
Q4: Staging Spain: Performance and Acting in Spanish Cinema
Tom Whittaker, UNIVERSITY OF LIVERPOOL, ““Sounding Authentic: Direct Sound and Spanish Vocal Performance in the 1970s””
Q5: Indian Cinema in the 1930s: Scripts, Parsi Theater, and Melodrama in the Early Sound Film
Anupama Kapse, CUNY, QUEENS COLLEGE, “At Home in One’s Voice: Melodrama and Aural Performance in the Early Sound Film”
Q8: New Media History
Andrew Bottomley, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, MADISON, “What is Internet Radio? A Historical Genealogy of the Discourses of Radio in the Digital Era”
Q15: Roadshows to Revisionism: Mapping Shifts in Distribution and Exhibition from the 1950s to the Present
Dennis Bingham, INDIANA UNIVERSITY – PURDUE UNIVERSITY INDIANAPOLIS, “‘Hey, Big Spender’: How Bob Fosse Ran Afoul of Roadshows and Discovered the Revisionist Musical”
Q18: Sound, Vision, and Experience in Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s “Leviathan (2012)”
Respondent: Catherine Russell, CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY
Christopher Pavsek, SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY, “Where’s the Sense in Sensory Ethnography?”
Ohad Landesman, TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY, “Faraway, So Close: “Leviathan” and the Digital Future of Observational Ethnography”
Eirik Frisvold Hanssen, NORWEGIAN UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY, “‘His Eyes Are Like the Rays of Dawn': Color Vision and Embodiment in “Leviathan””
Q22: Cinematic Spaces in the Urban Global South
Paulina Suarez-Hesketh, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, “Dancing Pictures, Mobile Publics (Mexico City, 1930s -1950s)”
SUNDAY, MARCH 23
Session R 9:00-10:45 a.m.
Todd Decker, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY ST. LOUIS, “Helicopter Music”
R7: Labor Practice and Labors Lost
Josh Heuman, TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY, “All of This Sometimes Tends to Look Like a Closed-Shop Operation: Organizing and Professionalizing Labor Markets and Relations in Early Broadcast Writing”
Michael Slowik, SAN DIEGO STATE UNIVERSITY, “Losing the Human Element: The Shift from Live to Recorded Music in Hollywood’s Early Sound Era”
**R10: Sound Effects and Sound Affects
Karly-Lynne Scott, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, “‘The Voice of Shouts and Moans': Haptic Aurality, Resonance, and Affect in Pornography”
Ian Kennedy, WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY, “Damion Romero’s I Know! I Know! and the Sonic Translation of Nonhuman Affect”
Dong Liang, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, “Is There a Sound Effect in this Score?: SFX in Transition”
Kelly Kirshtner, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, MILWAUKEE, “Bodies of Proof: Sound and the Aesthetics of Discovery in Televisual Space”
R20: Beyond Sight and Sound: Film and the Multisensory Experience
Respondent: Carl Plantinga, CALVIN COLLEGE
Joseph Kickasola, BAYLOR UNIVERSITY, “The Senses Know: Wong Kar‐Wai’s Multisensory Aesthetic”
William Brown, ROEHAMPTON UNIVERSITY, “A Touch of Nostalgia, or Time and Cinematic Synaesthesia”
Luis Antunes, UNIVERSITY OF KENT & NORWEGIAN UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY, “Multimodal Segmentation in Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line”: Insight into the Time Window of Multisensory Integration”
R24: About Time
Jeff Heinzl, UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH, “MTV Meets Slow Cinema: Feedback Loops and the Long Take in G.O.O.D. Music’s Mercy (2012)”
Session S 11:00-12:45 p.m.
S3: Nontheatrical Film Communities
Pamela Krayenbuhl, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, “Raising the Barre in Screendance Scholarship: An Archival Analysis of the Dance Company Film”
S8: New Hollywood and the Archive
Jessica Fowler, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES, “We’re the Young Generation and We’ve Got Something to Say: The Monkees and the Birth of New Hollywood”
S9: A Global Pre-History of Reality TV
Aniko Imre, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, “Socialist Idols: Reality Music Competition Programs in the Soviet Bloc”
**S10: Audible Cinema: Explorations in Sound
Kartik Nair, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, “‘The Body in the Voice': Labor, Sound, and the Cinematic Scream”
Chunfeng Lin, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, URBANA-CHAMPAGNE, “The Sound Identity of the Early Chinese Sound Films: Symbolism as Skin, Realism as Body, and Politics as Soul”
James Osborne, UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA, “Weaving a Sonic Dream: Voice, Sound, Music, and Meaning in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia””
Neil Lerner, DAVIDSON COLLEGE, “Investigating the Origins of Video Game Music Style, 1977-1983: The Early Cinema Hypothesis”
S11: Historicising Stars
Kyle Barnett, BELLARMINE UNIVERSITY, “Stars on the Stereo: Variations on Phonographic Celebrity”
Amanda McQueen, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, MADISON, “”All They’re Good for Is to Make Money”: The Industrial Significance of Elvis Presley Musicals in 1960s Hollywood”
S14: Agency in Media Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Empowerment
This is a workshop in which Elisabeth Soep of Youth Radio will be participating
S15: Playing with the Interface
Lauren Cramer, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY, “Race at the Interface: Rendering Blackness on WorldStarHipHop.com”
Kiri Miller, BROWN UNIVERSITY, “Gaming Gender in “Dance Central””
S16: Questions of Realism
Antonio Iannotta, UNIVERSITY OF SALERNO, “A Sound Laboratory for the Modern: Sound in Italian Cinema from Neorealism to the 60s”
Session T 1:00-2:45 p.m.
Gerald Sim, FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY, “Cacophonies of Affection: Postcolonial Soundscapes”
T7: Histories of Technologies
Dimitrios Pavlounis, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, “Audio Surveillance Goes to the Movies : William J. Burns, the Detective Dictograph, and the Idea of Sound Recording, 1910-1920″
T17: Revisoning Black Time and Space through the Afrofuturist Moving Image
Kevin Ball, WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY, “The Incendiary Intergalactic: Sun Ra in Space Is the Place”
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD: Remixing War of the Worlds
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If you missed our #WOTW75 event, we will be re-broadcasting many of the key segments in the coming week. So, for a special Halloween treat, tune in to Sounding Out!‘s custom remix of Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds. Here, Binghamton University professor, Monteith McCollum dazzles with a podcast that updates the original into an eerie piece of sound art. Join Monteith as he and his Performative Processes class explore techniques of audio production nicked from the era of live radio theater. These analog techniques have been weaved into a remix of War of the Worlds guaranteed to send chills up your spine. So set the lights low, lock your door, and prepare for a podcast you won’t soon forget.
Monteith McCollum is an independent filmmaker, musician and educator who has taught at various schools in Chicago, Illinois and upstate New York such as Columbia College, Broome Community College and Ithaca College. He has been a visiting artist at colleges including Boston Museum School, Art Institute of Chicago and University of Iowa. You can learn more about his work at monteithmcollum.com.
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Sound Bites: Vampire Media in Orson Welle’s Dracula– Debra Rae Cohen
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.”
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“Radio’s ‘Oblong Blur': Notes on the Corwinesque“– Neil Verma
This is the fourth and final post in Sounding Out!’s July forum on listening in observation of World Listening Day on July 18th, 2013. World Listening Day is a time to think about the impacts we have on our auditory environments and, in turn, its affects on us. To read last week’s post by Nicole Furlonge, click here, for Maile Colbert‘s piece click here and for Regina Bradley’s post (and to read more about World Listening Day) click here.
This week we have something a little different in store for our readers. The good folks from Everything Sounds, Craig Shank and George Drake Jr., wrote a post for us on the role of listening in their podcast. However, they approached it as a transcript of their podcast. One of the things we like about Everything Sounds is that their approach to discussing sound is like a conversation, and so listeners feel like they are hanging out with the hosts as they go on sonic adventures. Moreover, they have recorded the post as an Everything Sounds podcast episode, so that you can choose how to experience this blog post: either as a written/visual text, audio text, or read along while you listen. Also, feel free to respond in our comments section to the listening challenge they present at the end of the post. We want to hear your stories about sound too!–Liana Silva-Ford, Managing Editor
Craig Shank (CS): I’m Craig Shank
George Drake Jr. (GDJr): …and I’m George Drake Jr.
CS: This is an Everything Sounds blog post.
GDJr: If you’re not familiar with Everything Sounds, it’s a podcast and public radio show about the ways that sound plays a role in art, science, history, and culture.
GDJr: Don’t forget about the time that we somehow managed to get on the subject of using music to encourage…you know…tortoise-love.
CS: Obviously, radio shows use sound to tell stories. How else would they do it? However, we wanted to tell stories about sound. The best way to reign in our slightly unwieldy premise was by asking questions. How do artists use sounds? What sounds result from the natural world, daily life, and industry? Why is sound important? What can we learn about our own experience through sound?
GDJr: Sound plays an important role in our lives. It makes sense that it would, right? Sound is everywhere. Complete silence is virtually impossible. There’s always something generating a sound somewhere. That’s good news for us since we’ll always have something to talk about on the show.
CS: When Sounding Out! approached us about contributing to the blog for World Listening Day, we were flattered. Then the reality set in. We’re just two guys that make a podcast. It’s unlikely that anyone would consider us experts. Our education involved studying sound and music, but it was mostly in the context of creating radio.
GDJr: We were initially drawn to radio because of music, but over time we began to appreciate how songs, voices, and sounds were used to share information and tell stories. Radio is a medium that spoke to our curiosity about the world as well as the role that sound plays in it. After spending so much time working with and around sound, you can’t help but notice all of the ways it can influence everyday life.
CS: We aren’t scientists, inventors, acousticians, artists, or anything other than radio producers, but Everything Sounds allows us to speak with experts and creative people that can help us learn about the influence that sound has on us.
GDJr: This may be the exact reason why the show resonates with listeners. In many cases, we’re learning something new right along with you. We’re able to ask questions and make sense of new information. After we gather the information we organize everything to make more sense, find supporting information, check the facts, and try to reassemble all of it in a way that is fun and engaging.
CS: The reaction to the show is humbling and beyond our expectations. When we started producing the show we were unaware that it could have a real-world impact. However, we’ve heard from listeners that thank us for opening up their ears and helping them reconsider the role of sound in their daily lives. We’ve been touched by stories from listeners with vision difficulties that tell us how much they appreciate the show and its treatment of sound.
GDJr: One of our listeners commented that their ability to recognize and classify sounds was well-developed as a result of their condition. They said our show made them want to find ways to record some of their experiences with sound and share it with others. We’re always delighted to hear that the show generates any kind of reaction, but it’s especially meaningful when it makes listeners want to create, investigate, or learn after the show ends.
CS: …and inexplicably, some people actually think we’re funny. I’m not even convinced we’re funny.
GDJr: If we are, it’s probably not intentional. Let’s get back to your point. Making a connection helps to spark an interest in learning about and exploring sound. If people think Everything Sounds is funny, informative, entertaining, or “ear-opening,” then we have managed to get people to think about sound and hearing more deeply. Even if it’s only for a few minutes each week, sound becomes the center of attention. If we make the show enjoyable for listeners, then we open doors to topics that they may not have considered in the past.
CS: The wonderful thing about learning is that you don’t have to be an expert to do it. You just have to be curious. Even the experts use their imagination and curiosity to solve problems and explore unanswered questions. Accessibility is extremely important when it comes to creating an intellectual spark that encourages people to stop , think, pick up a book, or search on the internet for more information. Even though we are sharing information that is new to us, we try to make it entertaining and less intimidating.
GDJr: We don’t want to overstate our contributions to listeners’ lives. We’re fully aware that we’re competing for their time and attention. Everything Sounds has probably become background noise for many hours of laundry folding, dinner preparing, or late-night driving. Despite this, we value all listening and levels of engagement.
CS: By listening to podcasts or radio programs the world can come to you through your headphones or speakers. If someone can’t make a trip, then we can provide the material to construct the scene in ears and minds.
GDJr: So, what are the scenes that we’ve created? Well, in the very beginning, episode 1 in fact, we talked to a sound artist named Jesse Seay. Craig and I had no idea what the show would sound like, how it would be structured, or if anyone would even care. The only thing we knew is that we wanted to do a feature on her “Mechanical Tide” piece. Sculpture is inherently visual art form that sometimes may be difficult to translate on the radio. So, we were interested to learn more about one of many artists that has found a way to incorporate sound elements into their work. A simple interview with Jesse would have probably given us enough to work with, but to bring some life into the story we decided to see the piece in person with her.
CS: At the University of Chicago we were able to capture Jesse interacting with the piece, talk to students, and run into tour groups that reacted to Mechanical Tide. This episode taught us a valuable lesson. Capturing honest, real, and unscripted moments is essential to telling stories about sound.
GDJr: All of the time and writing in the world couldn’t create moments as memorable as when we simply keep the tape rolling and listen for the surprising sounds of the real world. We need some consistency for the sake of telling coherent stories, but including surprising and unexpected audio adds a great deal to our episodes.
CS: In the first episode of our second season we spoke to Nick Zammuto. He’s a musician that has performed with The Books and more recently Zammuto. Over the years, Nick simply kept the tape rolling whenever he could to capture as much of the world around him as possible. Many of these clips ended up being used in his music.
GDJr: Nick said, “It’s an obvious rule of physics that, you know, the more you record, the more you get.” Listening works the same way. The more time you spend listening to the world, the more you get out of it.
CS: A striking example of this involved a trip to the The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. Nick was recording in front of the jellyfish tank and captured part of an unsettling conversation with a father and daughter. This conversation eventually made its way into a song called “Motherless Bastard” by The Books.
GDJr: Nick has a knack for finding ways to use the sounds of everyday life in his musical pieces. The results are sometimes uncomfortable, humorous, confusing, or odd, but taking sound from its original context allows us to reconsider its place in the real world and in art. Although Nick often has a use for his recordings, listening itself often doesn’t need to have a goal to be beneficial.
CS: Being open to those experiences of everyday life is what makes good listeners. Most of us are born with the ability to hear the world around us. However, it takes patience and practice to develop better listening habits. We can learn about other people, the natural world, our surroundings, and the things we care about by taking a closer listen. Everything Sounds isn’t meant to encourage a blanket approach to listening, but we do think it encourages people to consider the way that they listen to the world and what they are neglecting.
GDJr: When was the last time you put away your phone, turned off the TV or radio, and listened to the sounds in your neighborhood? If you’ve been in nature recently, did you take a moment to close your eyes and listen to the birds while the wind rustled the leaves on the trees? Have you thought about how different all of your friends’ laughs sound?
CS: Listening isn’t just about encountering and acknowledging the cacophony of daily life. Listening is about taking the time to notice the role that many different sounds play in a soundscape. Taking the time to process the sounds around you gives you an increased awareness of the world and your place in it. There is a wealth of information carried in sound waves. Neglecting that information would be like eating a wonderful meal and not allowing any of it to touch your taste buds.
GDJr: Deep listening serves practical purposes. It helps us appreciate our favorite music, enjoy the environment, and understand the people we love. Sounds can bring us joy, alert us to danger, keep us connected, and help us navigate our world. Listening closely allows you to hear the subtle details that many others will overlook or ignore. It helps you to become more mindful, in the moment, and intellectually engaged.
CS: So, take a moment now to listen to the sounds that you may have been blocking out while reading this post. Consider other times in your life where you may not be paying attention to the sounds around you. Make an effort to appreciate all that your ears have to offer.
(6-7 second pause)
GDJr: It’s easy to be distracted by bright colors, motion, and other attention-grabbing visual elements in our culture, but if you make the effort to listen, you’ll be able to hear diverse and nuanced examples of sounds that can create just as much excitement everywhere.
CS: In the introductory episode of the show we talked about the way sounds shaped us and led us to create Everything Sounds. In that episode we stated that the goal of the show is not to just share our own experiences with sound. We want the show to encourage listeners to have their own journeys with sound. With this blog post, even if you never listen to the show, we hope that you will recognize your own listening habits and consider ways that you can have a closer relationship with sound.
GDJr: I think that’s pretty much the whole ball of wax.
CS: Thanks for listening…or reading. Whichever one you’re doing.
GDJR: Or Both!
CS: Thanks to Sounding Out! for giving us this platform to share our enthusiasm for sound.
GDJr: We love meeting other audiophiles and geeking out, so feel free to reach out. We’d love to hear from you.
CS: I’m Craig Shank.
GDJr: And I’m George Drake, Jr. Thanks for reading or listening to this Everything Sounds blog post.
Featured image photo credit: Everything Sounds duo Craig Shank and George Drake, Jr., image courtesy of the authors.
Craig Shank is an Indiana native that developed a passion for music and broadcasting at an early age. While in college, Craig balanced internships, part-time jobs, and volunteer opportunities that allowed him to spend most of his time outside of the classroom in broadcast facilities. His interest in sound and digital media paired with extensive broadcasting experience led Craig to produce Everything Sounds with his longtime friend and collaborator, George Drake Jr. He is fascinated by the cosmos and begrudgingly acknowledges his lactose intolerance.
George Drake Jr. grew up in Chicago, but spent time in Indiana and London before returning to the Windy City. His passion for music and background in theatre as a teenager made George a perfect fit in the world of radio. Following his involvement at WIUX, WXRT, and WTTS George took his dedication to his craft to the next level when he traveled overseas to pursue his Masters in Radio at Goldsmiths College, U. of London. George has consistently allowed his ears and intuition to find and promote sounds that will have an impact. His favorite band is The Books, he enjoys a spicy Bloody Mary, and finds any excuse to wear a tie.
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