Tag Archive | Collecting

I Hear You, I See You

(The title of this post comes from an episode from Season Two of NBC’s Parenthood; Zeke, the patriarch, learns in marriage counseling that he must listen to his wife and let her know he is listening.)

I’ve been toying with several ideas for blog posts all this month–and considering that this is my last post for a while, I wanted to go out with a bang. (I’ll still be posting, just not every month, so stay tuned for our regular contributors who will be filling in for me.) In the wake of Mother’s Day, and since this was my first Mother’s Day, I decided to write about something a little more personal: my daughter and sound, and my decision to record her during this first year of life.

Since she was in the womb I’ve recorded Miss E’s sounds. I’ve posted before about my experience listening to her heartbeat at every obstetrician appointment. Late in my pregnancy I managed to record her heartbeat. I still play it and replay it in amazement; those beats were a sign of the life growing inside of me. I felt like I was eavesdropping on her every time we tuned in. It was sonic peeking. After she was born, I wanted to continue recording the sounds she made because I wanted to have recordings as well as pictures for her when she grew up.

For the past eleven months I’ve recorded my daughter’s sounds at different stages with my iPhone (as I’ve mentioned in my latest KC post, my iPhone is my preferred recording device if only because it is always within reach). I record when I remember, or when she adds a new sound to her repertoire. However, I try to record her once a month. The same way that she has gone from not moving at all to crawling all over our apartment, she has gone from not making any sounds to babbling, squeeling, and laughing. The sounds she makes are an indication of development, but they are also a sign of her awareness of the world around her.

As a first-time mom, I expected a lot of things early on. I didn’t understand why she held her fists closed for the first few weeks or why she didn’t follow me around the room. It almost felt like she was ignoring me. The same thing happened with her sounds. The fact that she didn’t respond to my words with sounds worried me. I always wondered if she was sad! And it’s no wonder: all she would do was cry. Of course, I realized soon after that her crying was her only way of communicating with the world. One of my first recordings of Miss E is of her shrill crying, and it still makes my chest tighten up when I hear it.

My second recording is of her at three months. By this point the cries have morphed into more of a grunt. As I typed this post I listened to my recordings, and it’s remarkable how inarticulate she sounds compared to what she sounds like now. But back then, I was excited that she was making more sounds other than crying. Indeed, the fact that she wasn’t always crying was a relief. These new sounds, to me, were her attempt at trying to communicate, or rather discovering ways to communicate. It’s almost as if she had discovered that she had a voice. The silences talked as much as the sounds, for at this stage she spends more time awake (and more time awake without crying).

As Miss E has grown throughout this first year, her sounds have started to vary. Very much like a language, she has different registers, different sounds depending on what she wants to say. Whereas before she would only give me a smile when she woke up, now she provides me with a running commentary on her dreams and her giraffe while I change her diaper. Even her giggles developed different registers. She had different kinds of giggles! Now she makes sounds on her own, not as a response to something I had done but because there is something she wants to respond to. I read in her babbles the beginning of her path to independence. it’s a long way until she moves out of our household, but the fact that she wants to talk to other people or talk about what she wants, and not in response to what I am saying or doing is amazing. It’s also a little sad, for it’s also an indication of her willingness to move on to other things.

We tend to forget that during that first year babies have little interest in interacting with people outside of their nuclear family. They stare at strangers or shy away. But the moment they start talking to themselves or their toys, you are no longer the center of their world. And it’s a bone-chilling thought.

Recording her sounds is important to me just as much as taking pictures. (I don’t take video of her mostly because we didn’t have any way to do that until recently when I updated my phone to an iPhone 4). I wanted her to have visuals as well as audio, and even though video recordings could do just as well, the effect of just listening to sounds and being able to focus on that is an interesting (if jarring) experience. Those sound recordings trigger memories just as vividly as pictures do, or even more so than pictures. I hope to keep these recordings until she is older so that she can see herself as well as hear herself when she was just a little girl. I want to know that “I hear you, I see you,” that hearing is just as relevant as seeing.

Bonus tracks: Here’s Miss E at several stages in the last year.

Miss E at 3 months (trying to get Mommy’s attention)

Miss E at 10 months (banging and making music)

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Gendered Ears

While there is a rich discussion in cultural studies about gendered representation in popular music, there remains very little about gendered listening experiences—or, more accurately—gendered perceptions of other’s listening experiences. Big Ears:  Listening for Gender in Jazz Studies, one of the newest offerings from Duke’s Refiguring American Music series, makes promising headway in this direction, initiating a conversation about the way in which various types of listening practices—that of fans, musicians, and critics—are coded in the largely male dominated world of jazz.  In popular music, however, this conversation has remained more nascent.  As a female practitioner in the field with multiple identities—fan, vinyl collector, academic critic, consumer, blogger—it is uncomfortable how frequently I find people making very circumspect and circumscribed assumptions about the way in which I listen to music.

I have been collecting vinyl since the days when it was just called “buying records.”  My first purchase at age 5, made via my Dad, was The GoGos’ Beauty and the Beat, which I still own, now carefully tucked into a plastic sleeve.  And, thanks to my Dad’s gentle lesson in how to handle vinyl, it isn’t in very bad shape, either.  Record collecting was a thrill my father shared with me, creating a connection between us that sometimes held when other bonds were endangered.  No matter what, I always wanted to call him and tell him when I finally found a mint copy of Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall at a thrift store or Prince’s Purple Rain with the poster still inside.

A number of weeks ago, I was on a routine summer Saturday morning mission: trolling the yard sales in my neighborhood for kid’s stuff, used books, and vinyl.  While I never expect to find the holy grail of record albums at a yard sale, I am always willing to flip through piles of Barbara Streisand, Eddie Rabbit, Billy Joel, and Herb Alpert in the hopes I might uncover it.  Usually, I just end up taking in the ripe dusty smell and silently cursing the sad condition of the vinyl I find there, hating to leave even the most scratched-up Mantovani warping in the full summer sun.  But you never know.

On this particular Saturday, I was vinyl hunting with my infant son strapped to my chest and had my dog, He Who Cannot Be Named, pulling at the leash.  In effect, I had suburban motherhood written all over my body as I strained on my tip-toes to reach records at the back of the pile and whispered to my sleeping son about why I was so excited to find a Les Paul and Mary Ford record.  In the midst of my record reveries, I overheard a man next to me begin telling the proprietor of the yard sale about his record collecting habit.  He went on and on about how long he has been collecting, how many records he has, how he “just got back from buying a thousand records off a guy in Appalachin.”

My hackles were instantly raised by this conversation about record-size. I already felt a bit left out, as this man obviously chose to ignore the woman actually looking at the records in favor of the only other man around.  Vinyl collecting remains an overtly male phenomenon, as Bitch Magazine discussed in their 2003 Obsession issue. Although I am embodied evidence that women do collect vinyl, I am used to being in the complete minority at record shows, music conferences, and dusty basement retail outlets and overhearing countless conversations just like this one.  In spite of myself, I decided to jump in to the conversation. .  I thought I would cast out a lifeline to my fellow vinyl junkie, as the yard sale guy was obviously not interested and just humoring the record geek in front of him in the hopes that he would cart away the entire stack.  Plus, I miss geeking out with someone else who loves records.  After a lifetime in urban California, I now live in a small town in Upstate New York.  While the record bins are not so tapped out here, it is lonely going for a record head.  So I said to him, “I collect records too.  I can’t believe you found so many records in Appalachin.”  My invitation down the path of geekdom, however, was rebuffed.  “Oh,” he said, barely looking up, “yeah. It happens all the time.”  And then back to yard sale guy.

I tried not to take it personally, but it became impossible after this same scene was re-enacted at four or five different houses down the block.  This guy was like a cover version of the Ancient Mariner, compelled to tell man after man all about the size of his enlarging record collection, the beloved albatross around his neck:  “Man, have you ever tried to move a thousand records all at one time?  They are so heavy and they take up so much space!”

And, I was the invisible witness to his tale of obsession, love, and woe, silently flipping through records just a few steps ahead of him.  That is ultimately how I knew he did not see me as an equal rival in the world of vinyl hunting—he let me get ahead and stay ahead in the bins, neither sneaking peeks at what I pulled or, fingers flying, moving faster and faster in the hopes of overtaking me.  He just assumed that I, dog in hand and baby on chest, would pull complete crap.

My listening ears then, bear the weight of my gender and the limited ways in which women are expected to engage with music.  Women remain perpetually pegged as teeny-bopper fan club leaders and screaming Beatle fans, perpetually deafening themselves to the “real music.”  Despite the deft critiques of Norma Coates, Susan Douglas, and Angela McRobbie, in which the early Beatles audience is re-imagined as proto-feminist and teenaged girls’ bedrooms are viewed as sites of cultural competency rather than deaf consumerism, my female ears remain cast as those of a groupie but never an aficionado, as if the two are somehow mutually exclusive.  Imagine the Ancient Mariner’s surprise when this vinyl mama plucked pristine copies of The Cure’s Faith, The Fania All Stars Live at Yankee Stadium, and Aretha Franklin’s Live at the Fillmore West right out from under his own blind ears.


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