Happy happy #Blog-O-Versary 3.0 to our readers, writers, retweeters, and supporters of all kinds!! This year proves that, to quote De La Soul quoting Schoolhouse Rock, “three is the magic number.” Of course a mic check also has to go out to another important trio, SO!‘s editorial crüe: Plug One: yours truly JSA, Editor in Chief and Guest Posts Editor, Plug Two: Liana Silva, Managing Editor, and Plug Three: Aaron Trammell, Multimedia Editor.
Here’s just a sample of the goodness that SO! has brought to y’all this past year, with some hints of how we “can’t stop won’t stop (the awesomeness)” on into year four!
- #itoughttobeillegaltolookthisgood: After copious troubleshooting meetings and readers’ polls–thanks for the great feedback, btw–we changed to our new layout on January 1st, 2012, an effort spearheaded by Managing Editor Liana Silva. #lovingit #ohsoreadable
- #ontheregular: SO! welcomed two new regular writers to our roster this year, multimedia artist Maile Colbert, who works out of Binaural Nodar in Lisbon, Portugal. and African American Studies scholar Regina Bradley, coming to you out of Florida State University. Look for their posts on full regular rotation in 2013.
- #puttingourbizinthestreets: The word is out! This year Sounding Out! has been all over the Internet and even the print-o-sphere–with citations (American Quarterly), links (The European Sound Studies Association), features (IASPM-US), re-posts (Cultural Weekly), allusions (Wi: A Journal of Mobile Media), recommendations (The Chronicle of Higher Ed‘s Prof Hacker), responses (SheSeesRed) , and even an analysis of our #Occupy coverage (The Incredible Kaleidophone). For the full listing of all the folks we’ve caught talking about Sounding Out! since Blog-o-Versary 2.0, see our brand spanking new media page. And, if you have taught an SO! post in your class, cited one in an article, discussed SO! in a blog, or even had a really good dream about SO!, drop me an email and tell me about it: firstname.lastname@example.org
- #hotoffthepresses: Sounding Out! worked overtime this year to be responsive to the sonic edge of major events–#Occupy, the murder of Trayvon Martin, the #casseroles protests, the Helen Vendler/Rita Dove American poetry anthology debates, the sudden international popularity of The Artist –showing the relevance of our scholarly work in everyday life and, now more than ever, the importance of the humanities and social sciences in interpreting the world we share.
- #aaaahpushit: Our writers added over 15 new categories at SO! this year alone, based on the exciting new scholarship pushing sound studies into new directions: advertising, animals/animal studies, Carribbean Studies, curation, dance/movement, Deafness, economics, games/gaming, Islam/Muslim identity, Jewishness/Jewish identity, medicine, pedagogy, sound and region, religion and religious studies, time, vision/visuality, and writing. Big ups to Managing Editor Liana Silva for keeping our back catalogue up to date as new categories emerge, ensuring SO! will remain a fully searchable and usable tool for research, teaching, and pleasure reading.
- #seriesandforumsandCFPsohmy!: In addition to plotting our more broad general coverage, I began organizing special “Series” and “Forums” that took more lingering listens to specific issues and particular sites. In February 2012, SO! hosted a month-long forum on Deafness; throughout Spring 2012 we featured a series of dispatches, “Live From the SHC” that shared the new scholarship from the Sound Studies fellows gathered at Cornell’s Society for the Humanities. We just wrapped up a July forum on Listening in observation of World Listening Day and are in the midst of a summer series on radio history, “Tune in to the Past,” that sifts through the legacy of Norman Corwin. Look for a pedagogy forum to ring in the start of the academic school year in August, featuring the winner of our recent Call for Posts, “Sound and Pedagogy: Amplifying the Teachable Moment.” In fact, we received so many great pitches, we will offer a “refresher course” forum in spring 2013!
- #Puttingtheworldinworldlisteningday: U.S.-based sound studies is often critiqued for, well, being too U.S.-based. As a result I have sought out more posts that explore sound in transnational and diasporic contexts–such as “Everyone I listen to Fake Patois,” “Beat-ification: British Muslim Hip Hop and Ethical Listening Practices,” and “Listening to Disaster: Our Relationship to Sound in Danger”–and in sites across the globe: Ireland, Canada, England, and Portugal so far in 2012. Look for research focusing on (and located in) Ghana, Brasil, and Egypt in the months to come.
- #trippingthesoundpodcastic!: Directed by Multimedia Editor Aaron Trammell, SO!’s podcast series expanded this year to include regular quarterly installments, promising you a minimum of four experimental sonic explorations a year, with bonuses along the way. Since last year’s Blog-O-Versary podcast mixtape, we have taken you into the listening practices of sound artists, the roadside prayer containers of pious American truckers, memories of record store shopping, and deeper awareness of the soundscape. Subscribe to us on Itunes so you don’t miss a thing this year!
- #gonnagetourselvesconnected: Sounding Out! has forged relationships with many excellent sound-related organizations: American Studies Association Sound Studies Caucus, the Society for Ethnomusicology Sound Studies Special Interest Group, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Sound Studies Special Interest Group, the Journal of Popular Music Studies, HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory), the Society for the Humanities at Cornell and the World Listening Project. Look out for our upcoming IASPM-US collaboration (on tap for February 2013), which will involve cross-blog programming and conversation about the relationship (and tensions) between pop music studies and sound studies. Not to mention, we’ve hosted 46 guests and counting, representing over 37 unique institutions!
And that’s just a glimpse of how Sounding Out! “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop (the Awesomeness)” on and on until the break of dawn (or at least until 9:00 a.m. every Monday morning). Now go ahead and take a listen with our annual downloadable mixtape–a seriously kick ass 90 minute TDK tape super-megamix that spans six decades and a dizzying array of genres–courtesy of Team SO! You’ve earned it!
–JSA, Editor in Chief
Click here for Sounding Out!‘s Blog-O-Versary 3.0 mix with track listing
Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman is co-founder, Editor-in-Chief and Guest Posts Editor for Sounding Out! She is also Assistant Professor of English at Binghamton University and a 2011-2012 Fellow at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University.
There’s a fable that some beats are so contagious that they can transform crowds. “Black magic,” some whisper. Dance magic. The rumors are true – there are some songs so awesome that they simply can’t be stopped. No! As speakers rumble, bodies shake. This is the music of legends, the kind that evokes moods beyond any single person’s control. For Sounding Out!’s third Blog-O-Versary we present a mix so potent that it won’t be stopped. -AT
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD: Blog-O-Versary Mix 3.0: Can’t Stop Won’t Stop (The Awesomeness)!
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“Fake Patois” – Das Racist (Osvaldo Oyola Ortega)
Last month as my sister and I drove to the store, she started to joke with me. “You’re crazy,” she began, “you’re so high-tech, with your computers, and XBOX. You love music. But, you’ve got a cassette player in your car.” I shot her a look. “So what? I like it.” I said, hoping that she would back off. “So what!” she proclaimed in response, “don’t you want a CD player? Or a jack for your iPod?” I responded, “But how will I play my tapes?” She stared at me. “Who cares? They sound like crud. You’re crazy.”
Here at Sounding Out! we’ve featured a number of articles about analog tape. It persists in popular culture (Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman’s Play it Again (and Again), Sam: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), underground communities (Matt Laferty’s On Hand Made Music), and even our personal histories (Gus Stadler’s Pushing Play). Even though tape is generally understood to be obsolete, niche, and just plain noisy – I will insist that, despite my sister’s concerns, there is something special (even forgotten) about the medium itself. I had tried to articulate this in last year’s article What Mixtapes Can Teach Us About Noise. But, when I re-read it, I can’t help but think that I somehow missed the point. Let me try again with a new question: What is the difference between a mix on cassette tape and an iTunes playlist?
Care is the difference. The material limitations of the cassette recorder demand that care is taken during the act of inscription. In other words, cassette mixes cannot be automated like an iTunes playlist. The practice of recording a mix on cassette requires, at minimum, that some attention is paid to the moment a song begins (as record is pushed), and the moment a song ends (as stop is pressed). The cassette must be tended, as it were, during the encoding process. It is impossible to program a cassette mix otherwise.
After tracks have been chosen and messages encoded, frequently cassette mixes are shared, or gifted. If the receiver chooses to listen to the cassette, they must locate, first, a cassette player. This was not a problem in 1990 when cassette players were a more or less ubiquitous technology. But, in the present day, they are notably rare. Furthermore, even if some care has been taken to locate a listening platform, the tape is far more treacherous than the CD to navigate. Awkward transitions governed by the fast-forward and rewind buttons, encouraged listeners to listen through all but the most wretched sequences of a cassette mix. And, let us not forget, how leaving a cassette in the wrong player could result in a mangle of 1/8″ tape. Or, how speakers, magnets, and poor weather all eventually erode at the contents of poorly stored tape. Care had to be taken in maintaining and storing a good cassette mix; tapes are a fragile technology and that, for me at least, serves to valorize the labor at stake in their creation.
Am I giving the playlist enough credit? Even though the platform may not limit its listeners, and producers, in the same ways that cassette recorders have, who is to say that any less care is taken when producing a playlist? To this point, I must bring up a question of labor. While, the receiver of a cassette mix knows that at least an hour (as cassettes are generally 60 minutes or more) of work has been put into its construction, the receiver of a mix CD, or playlist, cannot be as certain. iTunes playlists can be constructed in five minutes or less. Implicated within this labor divide is both an emerging and ephemeral culture of listening.
As Sterne (2006) has argued in his paper, The MP3 as Cultural Artifact, our bodies respond to MP3s in a way that is fundamentally different than listening to a tape, or record. “[The MP3] represents a liberation of just-in-time sound production, where systems give listeners less and ask their bodies to do more of the work” (p.838). If the very compression algorithms that constitute MP3s make demands on the brains and bodies of listeners, it is interesting to think of the iTunes playlist in parallel. The iTunes playlist makes comparatively few demands on the body of the producer. This, paradoxically, results in a culture that does not valorize the labor of its constituent producers. Most apparent in the nebulous legal credibility of Mashups, the mix exists predominantly within an economy of care. Unfortunately, the digital turn toward playlisting conspires to render the labor of care, in this context, invisible.
Is there hope for iTunes? Can we trust our playlists to be received with the love that was put into them? Some theorists like Hardt (1999) see an upside to caring labor. As he points out in his essay, Affective Labor, “Caring labor is certainly entirely immersed in the corporeal, the somatic, but the affects it produces are nonetheless immaterial. What affective labor produces are social networks, forms of community, biopower” (p. 96). Sharing is caring, the accessibility and ease of production that playlisting provides, is, at least, a way to foster community. I am not so optimistic. For caring labor is not adequately valued, at least not in the context of building a playlist. Playlists rely on an audience to value them, they provide no guarantees. The labor at stake in their construction may only become visible to those who listen. The cassette mix, on the other hand, has care inscribed into its magnetic tape. The listener knows that some work has been put into making the mix, even before play is pressed.
Although cassette tapes may have all but disappeared as a way to share music, the caring labor involved in their production might be salvaged in other forms. Taking a page from Andreas Duus Pape’s recent, Building Intimate Performance Venue’s on the Internet, podcasts (produced on platforms like Garageband or Audacity), provide a viable alternative. Like cassettes, they subject their listeners to a linear play style. And, there is a certain degree of care taken by the producer when splicing, cross-fading, arranging, and sequencing a set of tracks. It is implicit in the construction of a Podcast that some degree of care was taken during its development. Of course, I will keep the cassette player in my car. I have a special tape adaptor, which lets it play music from my iPod.
Aaron Trammell is co-founder and multimedia editor of Sounding Out! He is also a Media Studies PhD student at Rutgers University.