Sound Off! // Comment Klatsch #4: Sound and The Digital Humanities, or #dhsound
klatsch \KLAHCH\ , noun: A casual gathering of people, esp. for refreshments and informal conversation [German Klatsch, from klatschen, to gossip, make a sharp noise, of imitative origin.] (Dictionary.com)
Dear Readers: Today’s Sound Off!//Comment Klatsch question comes to you from Aaron Trammell, Multimedia Editor, as a lead in to Sounding Out!‘s participation in the Day of Digital Humanities on April 8th.
Hosted this year by Michigan State University’s MATRIX: The Center for the Digital Humanities & Social Sciences, a Day in the Life of the Digital Humanities (Day of DH) is an open community publication project that brings together scholars interested in the digital humanities from around the world to document what they do on one day. This year, Day of DH will take place on April 8th. An initiative of CenterNet, the goal of the project is to create a web site that weaves together a picture of the participant’s activities on the day which answers the question, “Just what do digital humanists really do?”
By the way, there’s still time to sign yourself up for this cool event–peep the call to participate here— and don’t forget to check in with SO! to see how our Day of DH shapes up. — J. Stoever-Ackerman, Editor-in-Chief
P.S. Don’t forget, we are giving away a new Sounding Out! sticker to today’s Klatsch participants. After you’ve commented, simply email your snail mail address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How have the interruptions, blips, glitches, and scratches inscribed within and upon analog and digital media shaped your listening experiences?
Comment Klatsch logo courtesy of The Infatuated on Flickr.
31 responses to “Sound Off! // Comment Klatsch #4: Sound and The Digital Humanities, or #dhsound”
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- July 18, 2016 -
I still hear The Beatles through the scratches on my parents’ records when I was a toddler/youngster. The most deeply inscribed was at the end of the second song on Sgt. Pepper’s: “With a little help from my frie-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-ends . . . eh ends . . . eh ends . . . eh ends . . . eh ends . . ” I’m still surprised when I don’t hear it on my MP3 version.
On Sgt. Peppers anything is possible! It would be in context there, at least.
Perhaps it was intentional by 8 track makers but I still know certain songs with the 8 track break in between. You know how they would break a song in half between the tracks? The one that gets stuck in my head with the break is by Olivia Newton John “If you love me let me know.” It really funky (not funk) with its back up bass singers that sound like a computer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSRj9bF_faA
In true DH fashion, I’m going to toss out something I’ve been thinking of, working through. Aaron’s question makes me think not just of the sonic bloops and scratches that shaped my listening experiences, but also the devices. I’m thinking particularly of an old radio/cassette player I had as a kid and where I made mixtapes from songs on the radio. In my mixtapes, which I still have, by the way, I could hear bits of radio DJs, of commercials, of bump music, that till this day I still remember as part of songs, similar to Frank Ocean’s “channel ORANGE.” That little device shaped not just my listening experience of those songs but my relationship to music and sound.
Now that I have a daughter (who is very iPad-savvy) I wonder what devices and what glitches will form her listening experiences. Moreover, how does gender play into the device of choice?
Scroll to the last few seconds of this Frank Ocean track, “Super Rick Kids” for an example of the weird choppy effect I was talking about above:
Liana, that’s fascinating. I’ve long thought that the phenomenon of the ‘skit’ on hip-hop albums that was ubiquitous throughout the late 90s and early 2000s was a result of MCs and producers re-creating the experience of listening to audio cassettes of songs taped off the radio. like yours, the recordings would capture bits of ads, DJ intros, and other detritus, and rappers like Ghostface would re-create that with their own albums. Listen to an album like Supreme Clientele from 2000, and there many bits of odd matter between the tracks. It might explain why Ghost would follow an incredible track like “Malcolm” with a terrible sketch called “Who would you F$#&?”, which is exactly what it sounds like.
And Frank Ocean is right there, in that mode, i think. he’s savvier than Ghost when it comes to putting an album together, but his motivation is similar.
…also, Liana, i think your question of gender is a very important one. despite many moves and challenges to it, the idea of the “music nerd” the collector and archivist of music remains a gendered male activity. how are iTunes are Amazon encouraging this gendering, with their use of sales and archiving devices?
not necessarily related to your question, but i wonder how the specific types of workflow of music production and distribution is continuing to act as a gatekeeper to regulate the participation of young women? how do technologies act like music employees: when a young teen women walks into a music store and says she wants to play drums, does the skinny, bearded man with the Dream Theater t-shirt imply that drums aren’t for girls? does he scowl and react with disdain? how does this translate into the use of digital music production technologies, like Logic or Garageband?
I wanted to share a link to Damien Keane’s post for SO! last year, “Sounds Difficult: James Joyce and Modernism’s Recorded Legacy,” that takes up some of these issues in regards to records of James Joyce reading his work: https://soundstudiesblog.com/2012/01/30/sounds-difficult-james-joyce-and-modernisms-recorded-legacy/
“It is as though the recording medium actually impedes access to Joyce’s language or somehow imposes itself between the listener and his voice – despite the fact that the medium enables this access in the first place. This is to say, the “low” fidelity of the recording of Joyce’s voice simply cannot reproduce the literary experience of Joyce’s prose, that most elusive, or rarified, object of speculation. (Is it the singularity of literature or is it Memorex?).”
Maybe it’s just my own personal background as a musician, specifically, as an oboeist, but when you talk about glitchy media, I immediately think of reeds. Oboeists have to make their own reeds–you can get mass-produced ones, but whereas even serious single-reed players use factory-made reeds, no serious high school double-reed player uses factory reeds.
So, reeds were not just hand-crafted, idiosyncratic artifacts–they were made of bamboo, which was very sensitive and temperamental. Changes in temperature & humidity (e.g., even from being under increasingly hot stage lights) would affect them, so I’d constantly be fiddling with my reeds, whittling a little away, cutting off the tip, running them under very hot or very cold water…anything to get them to behave.
On the other hand, now the fact that I even work with music and sound is a sort of professional “glitch,” at least in philosophy contexts. Just _trying_ to use sound media in a presentation at a philosophy conference is a huge hullabaloo–it requires special equipment that nobody else needs, and that nobody is used to providing or familiar with operating…
Sorry for straying from the prompt and being a little too metaphorical here in my take on sonic ‘glitches’…
Amazing points here! Do you think there is something about the ubiquity of digital technology which has allowed for these bureaucratic “glitches” to be valorized? Are they, perhaps, exploits of our socio-technical systems? And, why is sound itself the focus?
This thread on glitches makes me think about how glitches are also described as scratches, which makes me think of skin, of the physical. Maybe the appeal of the glitches, bloops, scratches on digital audio is a reminder of the physicality of these sounds…Something I’m still working through.
Robin, I *love* this idea of glitches in other dimensions!
This is an issue that guides a lot of my work, even if I’m not directly writing about music. As a coincidence, today I republished in my [most recent] home site a blog post about DJing, identity and the differences between deejaying with vinyl records and digital media). http://epriego.wordpress.com/2013/04/04/ecoute-algunas-notas-sobre-el-deejaying/
You cannot really appreciate it here in this YouTube clip (which sort of proves the point), but I’d like to see digital media/ DH scholars engaging with art works like this 12″ by Moodymann, “Ol’ Dirty Vinyl”, in which the static/scratch of the vinyl becomes a leading motif in a track made digitally and made available on both vinyl and digital formats. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ry0dHsva4f4
My two cents!
I loved that track, Ernesto! It is especially cool how Moodyman used the sound of the needle dropping and the rotation of the record pushing the dust past the needle not solely for nostalgic purposes–as happens so much in popular music–but as the driving beat of the record. Where that sound once signified the circular spinning of the record–and still sonically, does–it is the forward motion of this song through time. It also calls attention retroactively to how key this sound was to past listenings to vinyl not merely as “noise” or disruption but as a sense of movement.
I love this example, too! What do you think the consequences of remediation are in this example? Why is the needle scratch such an enduring motif?
Back in the day I had many a cassette repaired with scotch tape, leading to very brief drop outs of sound that became as much of the character of a mix-tape as any of the songs. As were garbled portions of songs where once tape had been eaten by hungry machines, but thankfully had not actually snapped.
This isn’t gone in digital either. I have had the same CD copy of Prince’s Sign o’ the Times since the early 90s, and disc 2 has some sort of weird digital blip on some songs, sounds almost like a record scratching in the background. It is rather annoying and I always mean to replace the CD, but I still haven’t. For years I listened to the vinyl instead.
So what does this mean for you? How has the materiality of these mediums shaped your listening experience? What are the emotional, social, legal, and aesthetic consequences of these problems?
There was always somebody in our house who was the designated “tracking” person for the VCR, usually me or my dad. It was a skill to tune the movie just right to eliminate the snow, the odd sounds, and/or the unwanted lines rippling through the movie when things went awry. There are similar problems with digital media–that weird pixellating screen that comes over the film–or with skipping on a DVD, although I feel less able to engage with the media to fix it (well, outside of turning the Roku on and off, or taking out the DVD and cleaning it). There have been times when the skip on a DVD has been so seamless that I didn’t realize something has happened until the movie was over in an hour rather than two. . .and then I had to scroll back through the scene selector to find the missing part of the movie. Glitches bother me less when they are visibly and aurally glitchy—it is the silent seamless wrenching through time that I find frustrating (at least when I discover it).
I’ll kick this off!
For me, the durability of the cassette tape is amazingly profound in its own way. Here’s this thing, a cassette, with a plastic shell on the outside, and two spools of magnetic tape on the inside. Although cassettes are often banged around, carelessly left on the backseats of cars, or, now, tucked away in the corners of our basements, they’re really similar to our bodies. A hard, thick, skin protecting the tender innards within. And, as time goes by, those internal organs age, take on lives of their own, fade and reflect the particularity of their own existences. Cassettes, in other words, are mortal.
And so I remember all the times that the hard metallic spools of my tape player had chewed my cassettes, and the communal modes of resuscitation that this sparked. Everyone in the car passing a tape around, worried that if the gnarled and tangled tape, which had suddenly wormed its way out of the safe plastic exterior, was not treated with the utmost care, our beloved soundtrack would, perhaps, cease to be. Micro-surgeries have even been performed with splicing tape, anything to breath life back into an old cassette!
This is exactly the human condition, right? We, with our thick, tough skins, bouncing methodically through the ceaseless machinations of society? Where moments of love, life, loss, hope, and community, spring forth from the wounds which are inscribed both inside and outside of our bodies. What does it mean to repair an MP3, a thing without body, instead only arcane Morse expression? Key moments of ritual and community lost to loss-less technology. It’s back to the clone factory, just key another sequence, command-C, command-V.
Okay, rant over. My two-cents 😉
Even from a young age, the interface between embodied action and sonic representation was made painfully clear to me. The turntable’s unstable responses to local “unruly” bodily movement yielded stern edicts from parents: “No dancing near the turntable!” The fact that the presence of the listener’s body could directly intrude into the performance of the recorded sound has remained an uncanny phenomenon for me. Even though the floors in my home are now slightly more stable, my turntable stylus still picks up local phenomena, such as the garbage truck rumbling past. The audiophiles out there have developed all sorts of devices for decoupling the turntable from its environment, but for me, I just don’t have the time, money or desire to completely efface the turntable’s being in the world, even if such a thing were actually possible.
Right, so there’s a sense of discipline involved with the listening of the turntable, that becomes invisible as technology progresses. What a great point!
So the question remains: do you still dance near the old-school turntable?
This reminds me of going over a bump with my portable CD player–itself working through a dummy tape shoved into the tape deck. If you hit a bump hard enough, there’s be no music for a few blocks!
Yeah, and the frustration of having to listen to that track all over again if your CD skipped hard. But we’ve moved past that right – has listening become too easy? Is this a bad thing?
…there are so many intriguing discussions in this thread, i’m not sure which line to follow. maybe i’ll start here with your question, Aaron, about the ease of listening.
i’m curious if, by your question, you are not positioning ‘listening’ as too closed, too essential of act of the body. glitch and accident and skip and silence only become so in relation to an apparently fixed functioning of the body, the action of listening becomes not a lively relation, but an clear screen through which the sound passes.
Jennifer, you mention tracking on the VCR vs. the DVD skip, and Aaron, you ask the question of “repair” of an mp3. these suggest we are constantly in the act of negotiating with the listening act to a kind of ideal: the VHS should play undisturbed by its own presence, the mp3 should reflect an listening experience exactly as the LP or the CD does.
what if, instead of blanking the effect of the listening experience, we suggest two things:
1. “listening” is not singular, but a multiplicity of experiences? when a CD skips, should we consider that “noise” in a Shannon-Weaver sense? no, i think that suggests that our listening acts are too narrow. and more to the point, what do we gain from the skipping CD? what kind of knowledge is made useful and clear from that?
2. I don’t believe that listening has become too easy, just because we can dance near the iPod. i think that the negotiation has changed sites, from one material position to another. the act of tracking the VCR has moved to a different site when our Roku skips or freezes. we still perform the action of repair towards the apparently stable experience, but its located in a different set of actions.
…this is a little off-the-cuff, so it might not be very articulate. however, i think it is valuable to recognize both how we position the act of listening as an apparently stable experience, and how its absolutely not. How, then, do we understand the highly politicized act that is producing a stable bodily experience, and then erasing the act of production that made it?
I have a lot to reply to this but dashing off in a sec. I will say I agree with the multiplicity of listening comment wholeheartedly. I will also say that the VCR was such a miraculous–and cumbersome–device that it never really became invisible (at least in our house). In addition to its proud location atop the TV, the VCR’s constant presence was also marked aurally–there was the very loud sonic feedback of the machine’s spools whirring to tell you it was there and moving along at a constant speed, which you were always taking in, consciously or not–listening for a slowdown whine or the garbled harangue of a twisted tape. Rewinding and fastforwarding were also felt out by sound–you got to know the sound of the spools kicking into high gear so you could estimate when and where you should stop (for fast forwards/rewinds past a few minute or so, it took too long to do it visually). For me, because there is no noise on a DVD skip–you get very little information from it. If you are looking down or are watching an especially art-y film with lots of jump cuts–you may not notice that anything has happened at all. ever.
yes, fascinating. i, too, remember the sounds of the VCR. i think that my watching of films like “Blade Runner” and “The Shining” was affected so much by my inability to distinguish the movie’s sound effects from the VCR noises. to this day, whenever i watch Blade Runner, i find myself listening for whirring, clicking noises that were only part of the VCR i watched the film on.
but i wonder if the change from the “noisy” VCR to the “silent” DVD is really much of a change at all? and more to the point, i’m not sure we get very little information. we may get a different type of information: with the DVD, the silence proclaims loudly the about the quality of the technology and its ability to make itself as invisible as possible.
i’ll certainly say that there is a material shift, from the whirring of the VCR to the silence of the DVD, but is this really a reduction in the materiality, such that information is lessened?
Yes!!! I remember when I got my first “shockproof” CD player (a sport discman, I think), and it was *amazing*.
…the other response, specifically to you, Aaron, is that i don’t agree at all that the mp3 is a “thing without a body.” it certainly has a materiality, and has a set of boundaries for its materiality. what more is a body than that? than the political of producing an apparently stable material object, distinct from its surroundings (producing an inside and an outside)?
but we all know that this body is only apparent, only a set of useful discourses, not based in an essential, closed kernel of an object.
i’m sure you know that while the tape case was hard plastic, the tape inside was soft and fragile. after a few plays, the magnetic particles will wear. after many plays, fidelity will be lost.
and i’ve just gotten back into doing tape edits, after many years of doing it. an old 1/8″ audio tape splicer, some splicing tape, and i’m destroying audio tapes just like i did in college. i would never call it a ‘return,’ though. i don’t think such ‘returns’ are possible. doing tapes edits in the sonic landscape of digital music is neither a denial or absolving of the “new” music technologies, nor is it simply “doing” digital with old technologies. rather, both material technologies are shifted.
This is exactly the thing I was hoping to provoke in my rant earlier! Thanks, Seth, for writing such a well articulated and detailed response.
I think the thing for me that lends the cassette to be the focus of my study is that it’s body, unlike the materials and bodies which constitute many other “things,” is surprisingly similar to my own. I don’t feel this likeness with CDs, MP3s, or even records. Nor do I feel it with political bodies, states, or governments. Is this “likeness” important? I’m not sure, but I think I would like to see more technologies with affinities to the materiality of my own being.
Of course, to your other point, magnetic loss and generationality is just the thing. I feel a likeness with that as well.
To your point about a return, to what do you refer when you say these technologies are shifted? Where are they shifting to, or where are they shifting from?
…my first response, Aaron, is to wonder if by considering the cassette tape as similar to your own body you are neglected one of Kittler’s most intriguing points. Kittler says that when photography was introduced, the human memory was likened to it. When cinema was reintroduced, the functioning of memory was likened to that. Now, we tend to say that memory is like a database. Kittler’s point (I think) is that the apparent essential functioning of the body is constantly shifting to match the current functioning of technology.
So, i wonder how and why its useful to you to consider the cassette like your own body? How does it allow you to produce a specific type of body, apparently stable, to form a specific listening experience around? how does the positioning of the cassette suggest how you position the music found within? we can certainly see this with people who idealize the LP as the highest form of all music recording technologies. all technologies after “lose” something, despite changes in music production and recording technologies that make even the mp3 the ideal format for playing the music as its “meant” to be heard.
my point is to wonder at how and why you choose to stabilize your body and the cassette’s body as you do.
Wow man, you’re taking me to a deep place here. Fantastic question.
Hmmmm…I will say, most immediately, that I detest the sort of techno-utopianism associated with the singularity. So maybe this is my way of singling out perhaps the most temporary of all sound mediums. The one which is the most mortal of all, as well as the most adaptable (most others don’t allow for re-recording). In a psychoanalytical sense, I think that is it.
But, I would also point out, in the same sense, that we have the power to choose what technologies we use and develop. And while Kittler often speaks to a zeitgeist, it’s nice to remember that we can actively design and shape the media which we use, perhaps to an end which suits the paradigm of human-ness which we prefer. To this extent, I defer to my original question: what do we lose when thinking through ourselves through loss-less technology.