Tag Archive | Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo

Sounding Out! Podcast X!: Blog-o-Versary 10.0

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Priests, “Texas Instruments”—THE EDITORIAL COLLECTIVE
Government Cheese, “Fish Stick Day”—Kevin Archer
Princess Nokia, “Brujas”—Reina Prado
Sammus, “Mighty Morphing”—Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo
Lucreccia Quintanilla, “Como Mujer (Ivy Queen+General Feelings+NaRemix)—Lucreccia Quintanilla
LSD, feat. Sia, Diplo, and Labrinth, “Genius”—Kaitlyn Liu
The Beths, “Future Me Hates Me”—James Tlsty
Fever Ray, “To The Moon and Back”—Airek Beauchamp 
Solange, “Binz”—Liana Silva
Ghostface Killah, “9 Milli”—Rob Ryan
Sly & the Family Stone, “Thankful & Thoughtful”—Walter Gershon
Conan Osiris, “Telemoveis”—Carlo Patrão 
Beyoncé, feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Freedom”—Jenna Perez
Lizzo, “Tempo”—Jennifer Lynn Stoever
Brother Ali, “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)”—Phillip Sintiere
Holly Herndon, “Frontier”—John Melillo
X-Ray Spex, “Identity”—Aaron Trammell
Mitski, “Washing Machine Heart”—Kelly Hiser
Meridian, “A Fire in the City”—Julie Beth Napolin
D-Lite, “Groove Is In The Heart”—Eddy Alvarez
Drake, “Started from the Bottom”—Kristin Leigh Moriah

***Click here to read our Blog-o-versary year-in-review by Ed. in Chief JS 

Blog-o-Versary 6.0 : Keep on Pushing (Our 400th Post!!!)

Keep on Pushin5

Click here for Sounding Out!‘s Blog-O-Versary “Keep on Pushing” mix 6.0 with track listing

Happy 6th Blog-o-Versary Team SO!

This year was tough, y’all. We know it. You know it. 2014-2015 was a year of rolling up sleeves, raging against the machine, typing furiously into the night, blocking the trolls, crying tears of frustration and anger, organizing heated meetings, fitting shoulders uncomfortably to various wheels while questioning exactly why and for whom, hugging our folks closer while unfriending Facebook “friends” like mofos, facing the millionth revision—or worse, the next police shooting, and the next and the next.

side eye emojiAll of us have reeled at one time or another at what sometimes seemed like a Niagara Falls of quicksand: mounting challenges, unexpected setbacks, pay and budget cuts (if you had a budget to begin with), hashtag memorials, calculated attacks, haters far more malevolent than your basic Taylor Swift variety, general piling on, restrictive and invasive university policies, less jobs/more adjuncts, and racist, sexist, and classist aggressions, macro, micro and everywhere in between.

But to quote one of my favorite poems from Langston Hughes, especially in these times, we are STILL HERE. And that really is everything. We can move mountains with that. We can. And, to cite the ethos of the Sounding Out! Editorial Collective: We remain committed, undaunted,

AND. clapWE. clapCLAP. clapBACK.clap

Here, for example, is SO! regular writer, Cornell Science and Technology Studies PhD Candidate, and producer Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo performing as her (m)other brain rapper SAMMUS at Ithaca Fest in May 2015, where she debuted her powerful new song protesting state violence against black people, “Three Fifths,” produced by DNilz for the upcoming independent film “Rodney.”

Sammus closed her performance with a stirring sonic memorial to the unarmed black men and women who have been murdered by police in the U.S. over the last 20 years, as well as a call to action for white listeners to acknowledge their complicity in the “law and order” state and the agency they have to end the deadly terror of white supremacist policing.

***

SB

We see you Sandra.  And we’re listening.  Image by J. Stoever, Ithaca, NY, 26 July 2015

***

Sammus’s music and lyrics have long inspired the SO! crew to keep on pushing–you’ll hear another of her songs on our mix–but especially this year.  We talked a lot about how and why SO! continues to matter, specifically how can the collective labor here that seeks to understand sound as a medium of power be useful in struggles to make #blacklivesmatter once and for all, for example, or to end violence against transpeople?  To dismantle debilitating gender stereotypes about women? To stop the marginalization and exploitation of immigrants and undocumented workers in the U.S.?  And how to push the boundaries of US-centric sound work with local and/or comparative research from other countries–and vice versa? This year, we redoubled our collective efforts to produce top notch applied scholarship that intervenes in the challenges of our contemporary moment, not just the field of sound studies.

Not that we don’t plan to keep on pushing interventions there as well.  Team SO! spent a lot of time earlier this year reflecting, in real time, on our origin story for an article we co-authored for the new Digital Sound Studies anthology edited by the Soundbox Crew (forthcoming on Duke University Press, digital entries already live here).  We were grateful for the opportunity to articulate the politics of our founding and why SO! remains so vitally important to us (and we hope to you).  Here’s an exclusive sneak peek of our upcoming chapter  “The Pleasure (is) Principle: Sounding Out! and the Digitizing of Community”:

When we met in a humid apartment in upstate New York to plot a sound studies blog back in 2009, one of our key goals was to provide indelible visibility to the top-notch contributions we knew were being made to sound studies by scholars of color, graduate students, junior scholars and other groups marginalized in/by academia, so that their role in building this growing field could not be erased, ignored, silenced, hijacked, buried, or claimed by others better positioned by social and institutional privilege and its attendant cultural capital to gain conference spots and find publishers for their work. There is solidarity in the affects produced by giving voice, making visible, and, above all else: listening. Because connections undeniably matter, we decided to build our own, and to do so in a way that celebrated the people and the scholarship perpetually at the fringes of most fields, but especially those involving technology and music.

100Through the experience of collaboratively reviewing our history and together calling a new creation into being once again, we realized—on an entirely new frequency—how Sounding Out! and the community it kindles consistently sustains the three of us through stormy times: personally, professionally, and politically. I am not sure if it clicked in while scowling through the umpteenth revision or LMAO-ing through yet another Hangout, but we all came around to the truth that the right kind of work, performed with your ride-or-die people, can energize rather than enervate, center rather than scatter, and make you want to keep on pushing, especially when being pushed. For us, it never has been just about sound.

fistSo this year, for our 6th Blog-o-Versary, our theme, “Keep on Pushing,” honors the fact that sound can be both a balm and a motivator for years like this one and for times when the news is ENOUGH but we need to keep going. We also want to express our respect and gratitude for all the heavy lifting, daily grinds, and labors of love, pleasure, and sometimes frustration—both Tweeted and unsung—of ourselves and our ever-growing community of readers, writers, Twitter Followers, Facebook friends, Link sharers, survey respondents, sticker distributors, folks who archive us, writers who cite us, teachers who assign us, and peeps who talk us up and give word of mouth. We are all putting in work in a thousand and one ways, big and small, to make this community bigger, badder, and deffer each and every year. And *that’s why we are still here.

Thank you and here’s to lucky number seven in 2016!  

Team SO!

praiseLiana’s back!!: We had a bit of a personnel shuffle last summer, but in the end the stars aligned and we got Liana back. She edited this year’s February forum on gender and voice (which you can check out here) and selected the tracks for this year’s mixtape for the second year in a row. Outside of Sounding Out! she’s been publishing more, getting her break in the Houston Chronicle online column Gray Matters, developing a column for Chronicle Vitae, and working on a book proposal due later this year. You can keep up with her writerly adventures on Twitter: @lianamsilva

checkINDEXING: We told you this year was all about the grind.  We are working hard over here to make SO! more searchable.  With 400 posts and counting over 6 years, we recognize that finding what you need grows more challenging every Monday.  This spring, we debuted an alphabetical index of all of the themed series and forums and soon we will have completed full indexes by author soon and title soon, as well as some themed lists for teaching and general inquiry.

speakerMLA INDEX IS UP AND RUNNING!:  For folks privileged to have access to the Modern Language Association’s digital bibliography—perform a search for Sounding Out! and you will find links to all of our posts categorized as “articles.” The index is also searchable by author.  Now we are officially, as Hammer would say, 2 legit 2 quit.

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WE KEEP ON PUSHING THE ENVELOPE:  Now that sound studies is increasingly becoming canonized and institutionalized, we feel it is increasingly important to continue looking for new avenues of interest and inquiry and to experiment with the form of the blog and podcast.  This year we debuted a series of online sonic installations by artists and thinkers such as Salomé Voegelin (“Sound Art as Public Art”), the Berlin arts collective La Mission who performed a full series of sound and video installations in honor of José Esteban Muñoz for our Round Circle of Resonance series, and sound artists Sonia Li, Mendi + Keith Obadike and Anne Zeitz and David Boureau.  We also began a new running series called “SO! Amplifies,”  which allows us the opportunity to scout out innovative organizations, artists, installations, exhibits, community engagement projects, radio programs, etc. and bring them to your attention.

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THURSDAYS STILL ON POINT! Special Editor Neil Verma has continued to rule the Thursday airwaves with his specially curated series of guest editors emphasizing sound and media.  For a rundown of 2014’s programming see his excellent year in re-hear post from November 2014.  Right now we are in the midst of the “Sonic Shadows” series with more excitement to come!  And of course, Multimedia editor Aaron Trammell continues to curate an exciting and innovative open format podcast series on the last Thursday of every month. This year’s Blog-O-Versary mix is our 45th podcast!

160x160x41-smiling-face-with-sunglasses.png.pagespeed.ic.y2dwulXjw8RELAX! DON’T DO IT!: This year SO! started doing its part to promote healthier work habits by taking a week off here or there.  We hope that, rather than disappointing our avid Monday morning readership, we have encouraged our community to stop and gather strength too (or at least to explore our extensive back catalog. 400 posts!).  SO! is a marathon rather than a sprint and we are just getting started.

SPEAKING OF. . .

Sound and Affect

 WE’RE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR NEW FOLKS FOR TEAM SO!  Don’t forget we have our latest Call For Posts on “Sound and Affect” up and running with a deadline of August 15th.  Please submit a pitch and/or spread the word!!

Highlight Reel:  See what’s new with SO! authors and community members  this year! Congratulations everyone (and don’t forget to keep those cards and letters coming!).

  • Regina Bradley was selected as a 2016 Nasir Jones HipHop Fellow, Harvard University. She is also and incoming Assistant Professor of African American Literature at Armstrong State University in Georgia.
  • Stuart FowkesCities and Memory hit the 700 mark in terms of numbers of sounds, with more than 150 contributors and now over 200,000 listens. They’ve run open call sound project every few months, which have included:  Oblique Strategies: more than 50 artists reimagining field recordings using Eno and Schmidt’s oblique strategy cards for inspiration; Quiet Street: a sound map of the city of Bath that was installed as part of the Fringe Arts Bath festival; Sound Waves: for World Listening Day 2015, a sound map and edited piece looking at the role water plays in our lives; and Dreamland: a commission by the Dreamland amusement park in Margate, UK, to reimagine the sounds of a theme park.
  • Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo passed her Ph.D qualifying exams and has just returned from a research trip to Congo. She also has recently had the opportunity to put together some music and a sound installation for a stage play that will premiere at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston Salem in early August 2015.  The organizers have put together a fundraising campaign via Indie Gogo; they’re trying to raise $15,000, right now they’re just shy of $10,000–please join SO! in supporting her work here.  As Sammus, she went on her first tour with rapper Mega Ran which included a performance at the SXSW festival in Austin, TX.  You can follow her on Twitter (@sammusmusic) or listen to her music, including her latest releases at http://sammusmusic.bandcamp.com/.
  • Kristin Moriah’s article on Uncle Tom’s Cabin/Onkel Tom’s Hütte was recently published in Lateral, the Cultural Studies Association’s online journal.  She will be presenting a paper entitled “Singing Books: The Curation of Sound in Sissieretta Jones’s Scrapbook” at the 2015 American Studies Association convention in Toronto.
  • Visual Editor Will Stabile is still out there every day, making it happen. He asked that we not worry about him. We still check in on him regularly though.
  • Justyna Stasiowska put together for the international conference “Post-technological experience. Art-Science-Culture” (Poznań 23-27 October 2014) the presentation “Soft machine – somaintrument,” on modes of programming perception in Maryanne Amacher’s instalations.  She also presented “Ephemeral performance or how does sound smell,” focused on programing a synaesthetic expierience in Ephemera and creating a new academic format  during “Fluid Sounds” (lectures, perfomances, performances and audio papers in Amager 18-21 June 2015). Lastly, she created a sound mix for a drag queen-inspired performance called Valentine Tanz, which focused on being a performance artist. The episode (the project is a series of performances), that she worked on juxtaposed the ballroom queer scene aesthetic with Marina Abramovic’s work on trying to deconstruct persona of a performer.
  • Kyle D. Stedman is co-editing a digital collection on sound and writing pedagogy. If you’re interested on submitting an idea for how you use sound in the classroom, read the CFP or listen to the audio version at the Soundwriting Pedagogies project page. He also podcasts every month or so at Plugs, Play, Pedagogy, a show about teaching writing and rhetoric in the 21st century, which led to a workshop and presentation on academic podcasting at the 2015 Computers and Writing conference.
  • Jennifer Stoever published three articles this year, “Fine-tuning the Sonic Color-line: Radio and the Acousmatic Du Bois” in  Modernist Cultures, “‘Just Be Quiet Pu-leeze’: New York’s Black Press Fights the Postwar ‘Campaign Against Noise,’” in Radical History Review, and  “Toward a Civically Engaged Sound Studies, or (Re) Sounding Binghamton,” in the Proceedings of Invisible Places / Sounding Cities. Sound Urbanism and Sense of Place (you can download the full volume here).  She was also named an Engaged Teaching Fellow by the Binghamton Center for Civic Engagement and enjoyed the hell out of herself co-teaching a radio arts course with filmmaker and Sound Artist Monteith McCollum.  They produced an accompanying live radio show (listen here!).
  • Aaron Trammell will defend his dissertation in September 2015 and will begin a two year postdoctoral fellowship at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California.
  • Alyxandra Vesey published three articles: “Mixing in Feminism.” Popular Music and Society (39) 4: 1-20; “Putting Her on the Shelf: Pop Star Fragrances and Post-feminist Entrepreneurialism.” Feminist Media Studies 15 (6): 1-17; and “Working for @LateNightJimmy.” Spectator: Performing Labor in the Media Industries 35 (2): 47-56.  Also, as the graduate representative for the Women’s Caucus, she helped put on SCMS’s “Participatory Pedagogy” networking event and workshop at last spring’s conference in Montreal.

The theme for this year’s Blog-o-Versary post and mix was of course inspired by Curtis Mayfield and his early group The Impressions. Thank you for this sonic uplift!

Jennifer Stoever is co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sounding Out! She is also Associate Professor of English at Binghamton University.

Click here for Sounding Out!‘s Blog-O-Versary “Keep on Pushing” mix 6.0 with track listing


REWIND!
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SO! Reads: Susan Schmidt Horning’s Chasing Sound: Technology, Culture and the Art of Studio Recording from Edison to the LP

SO! Reads3The recently published Chasing Sound: Technology, Culture & the Art of Studio Recording from Edison to the LP (Johns Hopkins Press, 2013) is historian Susan Schmidt Horning’s first book. Veering away from the usual sound recording suspects (like the phonograph), Chasing Sound shows the studio and the audio engineer as central to the cultural and technological changes associated with the production and reproduction of sound.

According to Schmidt Horning, such changes were reflected in the shifting ideal of recorded music as a representation of live performance to the ideal of recorded music as a studio-engineered creation. Using the accounts of those responsible for recording sound, Schmidt Horning constructs a rich narrative that manages to be accessible while still focused on the highly technical work required of studio workers. That said, by focusing so heavily on user practices and anecdotes she misses an opportunity to engage with the theoretical implications of the ways audio engineers imagine and describe the actual space in which they work. Still, I contend that Chasing Sound represents an indispensable and critical approach for historians of sound, one that is unafraid of reconfiguring the central players in a narrative as big as the history of recorded music.

As a contribution to sound studies, Chasing Sound follows in the footsteps of Trevor Pinch’s Analog Days, the first work to explicitly apply Science and Technology Studies (STS) approaches to the history of a musical instrument. For Pinch, a critical understanding of sound requires examining the ways in which society and technology produce historical sites of change and stabilization. This approach focuses on understanding the ways people engage with technologies of sound, in order to interrogate their cultural and historical meanings. A historian of science and technology by training, Schmidt Horning has thus devoted much of her academic career to writing about the production and reproduction of sound through the practices and tacit knowledge of engineers, producers, musicians and technicians at music studios. By following the breadcrumbs dropped by these actors, Chasing Sound reveals the rich history of commercial studios and the cultural ideals cultivated therein.

Chasing SoundMethodologically, the author draws on a mixed bag of sources, which include oral histories from early recordists, interviews with more contemporary audio engineers, her own ethnomethodogical studio research, trade literature, and archival documents from big studios like EMI. The book proceeds in chronological order, with each chapter laying out changes in the physical and acoustic qualities of commercial studios as they shifted from bare-walled rooms with “the recording horn jutting through a wall at the far end of the room” (9) to multi-track studios complete with “Mission furniture, [and] hand-laid distressed wood floors.” (209) The author plots these changes alongside improvements in the science of acoustics, the importation of techniques and tools from the more well developed medium of radio broadcasting, the consolidation and growth of the recording industry, the rise of independent labels, the emergence of new attitudes and musical tastes, and the professionalization of audio engineering.

Chasing Sound, unlike many other books on the topic, places the studio in relation to a set of changing cultural expectations regarding recorded music. Where recordings were once understood as a reflection of live performance, they later were seen as a signature creation of music studios. Rather than focusing on the phonograph, gramophone, microphone, or magnetic tape, the author argues that the recording studio belongs at the center of recorded music because it was there that the ideal of music as a “technologically mediated art” was first engineered into cultural listening norms. Consequently the audio engineer, or recordist as he (or in rare cases, she) was known prior to the 1930s, must also be understood as central to narratives regarding recorded sound from its inception. In this way, Schmidt Horning aims to recontextualize and centralize the studio and its inhabitants within histories of the production and reproduction of sound.

Because the audio engineer represents an inextricable part of this history, each chapter devotes time to the technologies and practices cultivated by the amateur recordists and trusted professionals responsible for recording sound. Initially such practices formed the basis of their tacit knowledge regarding the proper “staging” of artists in relation to acoustic recording horns among other techniques, but by the 1950s, sound engineers were responsible not just for positioning artists, microphones, and the increasingly important work of “enhancing” recordings during post-production. The book concludes by charting the unfettered rise of independent studios as well as the consequent proliferation of (and backlash to) new sound manipulation technologies in the 1970s.

Throughout the text the author notes the ways in which audio engineers often lamented the increasing technological mediation involved in record production, even as it granted them more creative control and prestige.

vinAd50AudioMafCvrSchmidt Horning’s methodology represents Chasing Sound’s strongest quality. The rich narratives of the audio engineers allow the author to directly connect their technologically and culturally informed ideas about what constitutes good sound to the desires and expectations of listeners. In addition to this work, Schmidt Horning also highlights the ways in which advances in engineering technology did not necessarily overlap neatly with cultural norms. Throughout the text the author notes the ways in which audio engineers often lamented the increasing technological mediation involved in record production, even as it granted them more creative control and prestige. Such examples reveal the tightly knit relationship between ideas of liveness, talent, creativity, and authenticity. Chasing Sound is full of stories that detail the complex material, artistic, and ethical constraints around which recordists and engineers navigated in order to achieve the perfect sound.

The author’s methodological approach certainly helps to structure the narrative, but there are also ways in which it prevents her from digging in to important theoretical discourses regarding the studio. As Eliot Bates notes in his article, “What Studios Do,” the way audio engineers conceive of their workspaces is crucial for making sense of the power relations and social interactions that govern and are governed by studio spaces. Chasing Sound does not pursue these discourses. The author briefly mentions how the metaphor of flight is often used by sound engineers regarding the increasingly complex console controls of the 1950s and 60s but does not provide further elaboration on the implications of such a comparison. Even if the participants in her study did not reflect on their colloquial notes about the studio space, it would have been interesting to see Schmidt Horning consider what these metaphors reveal about the changing roles of the engineer.

These points aside, Chasing Sound is an important read both for those with a general interest in the history of sound production and reproduction as well as those scholars more specifically invested in understanding the role of recorded sound in society. Since I discussed the book’s limitations in “Making Music in Studio X,” Chasing Sound has become a foundational text in much of my research. Specifically, the author’s claim that the studio is (and has been) a critical site for examining broader industrial, technological, and cultural changes resonates deeply with me because it offers a critical methodology for considering issues of identity and power within studio spaces that are often neglected. In this regard, Chasing Sound is important not just for what it discusses, but also for what it does not. Noting the lack of female and black audio engineers discussed throughout the book, the author laments, “For the first century of sound recording, the field of audio engineering and recording studios in particular comprised a profoundly white male-centered culture that reflected corporate culture at large and technical professions in particular.” (9) The absence of these faces serves to remind us that while successfully “chasing sound” certainly relies on the cultivation of craft skill, and tacit knowledge, it also depends heavily on access.

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Reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution license from Reel2ReelTexas.com

Chasing Sound stands out as the most exhaustive history of audio engineering available. Schmidt Horning’s user-focused narrative successfully ties together changes in studio configurations and audio engineering practices with cultural expectations regarding recorded music. This helps to show how the studio and audio engineer can easily be recognized as central figures in the history of sound reproduction. Chasing Sound’s intervention is necessary as the history of recording is often told through artifacts like the phonograph, microphone, and magnetic tape, not living spaces like the studio and its inhabitants. Schmidt Horning’s dedication to telling these neglected stories is what makes the book come to life. Her research promises to open up new avenues for others interested in these issues. For me, this means pursuing lines of inquiry related to the growing philanthropic interest in the recording studio as a site for engaging and “assisting” low-income communities. In this way Chasing Sound asks us to recognize the recording studio as a critical site for the production and reproduction of our assumptions about what counts as appropriate, good, or real in music and people.

Featured Image: My Recording Studio by Flickr User Fabio Dellutri

Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo is a PhD student in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University. Since completing a senior thesis on digital music software, tacit knowledge, and gender under the guidance of Trevor Pinch, she has become interested in pursuing research in the emergent field of sound studies. She hopes to combine her passion for music with her academic interests in technological systems, bodies, politics and practices that construct and are constructed by sound. More specifically she would like to examine the politics surrounding low-income community studios, as well as the uses of sound in (or as) electronic games. In her free time she produces hip hop beats and raps under the moniker Sammus (based on the video game character, Samus Aran, from the popular Metroid franchise).

tape reelREWIND! . . .If you liked this post, you may also dig:

Making Music at Studio X: The Identity Politics of Community Studios— Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo

SO! Reads: Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation— Seth Mulliken

SO! Reads: Isaac Weiner’s Religion Out Loud: Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism— Jordan Musser

Making Music at Studio X: The Identity Politics of Community Studios

What are the social obligations of what I term “community studios”— spaces that exist to provide “at-risk” youth access to free or low-cost music recording equipment, services, and education? This essay reflects the findings of a four month ethnomethodological project, in which I explored the institutional and social affordances of Studio X, a community studio located in a rural college town in upstate New York. Using information from interviews and several hours of observation in the studio, I argue that community studios are subject to unique institutional pressures that emerge from their framing as both professional studios (private enterprises with no restrictions on creative expression) and community centers (shared spaces, which, in this context, are designed to provide oversight and the proper socialization of youth through rules and activities). While tapping into private and philanthropic revenue streams has resulted in the development of some exceptional studio projects, it has also led to a problematic situation where the studio has trouble establishing an independent identity for itself. This essay hopes to offer a critical perspective and, in doing so, offer some suggestions to help community studios deal with these challenges.

Community studios offer a different studio model than the standard professional or DIY models typically discussed in academic literature. While recent work by Eliot Bates and Susan Schmidt Horning has done an excellent job of framing the sociohistorical contexts of commercial music studios, neither adequately addresses the politics of community studios. These politics, however, cannot be taken for granted as they challenge Bates’ contention that studios “isolate studio workers from the outside world, and the world from studio work, while possessing a visual and audible difference from other work environments.” Contentiously, community studios represent a unique set of stakeholders including parents, donors, youth, and community center administrators, amongst others. The community studio is far from isolated, however, and its identity, therefore, is in constant flux.

Studio X was developed in 2006 with funds from a $65,000 grant from the New York State Music Fund, a board created by the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors to dispense over $35 million in settlement money from music businesses that profited from “payola” practices. It was conceived as a space where predominantly low-income African American youth would have access to professional recording equipment and training. According to the grant proposal, technical expertise was to be supplemented with classes that contextualized the music within “the socio-political, and social justice significance and origins of hip-hop, reggae, and other forms” in addition to making connections with “jazz, African percussion, and contemporary world music.”

A picture of "Andrew Carnagie's philanthropy." Borrowed from Wikimedia Commons.

A picture of Andrew Carnagie’s philanthropy. Borrowed from Wikimedia Commons.

Many of Studio X’s goals had been met. On my first day there, I encountered a local singer who spoke with me for over an hour, praising the studio for giving him the opportunity to use a voice he claims to have wasted in jail. Another respondent explained that the studio helped to shed positive light on an area that is often categorized in negative and judgmental terms. He remarked: “More people should know about [the studio]. Show more appreciation. They should come down and see what we’re about down here. It’s not all negative. Good things happen at [Studio X].”

Not all was well with Studio X, however, as I learned when I encountered an administration struggling to negotiate the studio’s joint identity as both a community center and a professional studio. At the helm was Eric, an audio engineer by training, and the full-time director of Studio X. Since accepting the position in 2012, he had been crafting the space in the likeness of a professional studio. Free music production and engineering classes ceased and he even began offering private sessions with better equipment at the rate of $25 an hour. Eric justified this decision by explaining that the fee helped to ensure that people actually kept their appointments, and the better equipment yielded superior recordings.  He also insisted that a large percentage of the funds these sessions earned ultimately supported the community center and studio.

Community response was mixed. Many respondents noted that they trusted Eric,  with a few even suggesting that he should charge more. One respondent, a local producer, felt Eric’s pay sessions were a reflection of greater economic trends in cloud music sites, like Soundcloud and Reverbnation, that allow artists to tailor their investment through incrementally priced packages.

A number of community members, however, were deeply disturbed by this change. One local rapper claimed that turning Studio X into a “real studio” had never been a part of its original mission. They were fearful that the space’s shift towards a professional studio in structure implied the troubling imposition of capitalist hierarchies. This contention is echoed by scholars like Louis Meintjes and Tricia Rose, who state that studios and other technologies of musical (re)production are always deeply representative and constitutive of the greater institutional structure of the music industry.

The studio also furthered a number of questionable social policies. Upon the studio entrance was a sign that detailed rules for proper conduct.  Not only did the studio maintain a dress code, but it also censored lyrical content. The sign displayed six rules:

This sign was taped to the door at Studio X.

This sign was taped to the door at Studio X.

When I asked Eric about these rules he indicated that he’d written these rules to avoid running into trouble with parents and with the Executive Director: “I just don’t want to be known as the guy who lets 14 and 15 year olds come and say whatever they want…Usually kids that age don’t have language like that although a few times I had to tell them to use different language or I had to tell them to leave.” Thus, according to Eric, Studio X’s success as a community center meant the censoring many of its patrons. But how did Eric’s decision affect the narratives of the studio’s constituents?

This research suggests that the administrative politics of community studios has deep implications for inclusion and identity of community members. Although it’s easy to dismiss Eric’s decisions to charge for studio space and censor language as racist, the reality is that many members of the community respected his leadership and felt he was guiding Studio X towards a positive direction. Eric’s vision, in other words, worked to produce a culture of ideological support within the community itself.

A screenshot of Avid Protools 11 software.

A screenshot of Avid Protools 11 software.

Even though Studio X represents only one community studio, its identity struggles are certainly worth noting as similar institutions crop up around the world. How can community organizers best create a recording space that is safe, professional, and productive for members of low-income populations?

To start, organizers must recognize how the strings attached to philanthropic grants can lead to poor administrative choices.  The institutional design of community studios mirrors the demands of broader grant-funding institutions, from which community studios derive their primary income. In order to provide community members with tools to produce work that is “competitive,” at least from an audio engineering perspective, community studios must invest in expensive equipment or risk coming across to both community members and potential investors as a poor alternative to daycare.

To adequately support these spaces, administrators and other stakeholders must insist on finding new and creative ways to raise clean money. Beat Making Lab, a community studio initiative that has connected educators and artists with community centers and schools across the globe since 2012, allows supporters to directly contribute and sponsor the purchase of specific equipment and development of projects. Still, it relies on its grant partnership with PBS to reach a larger audience. Similarly, Notes-for-Notes, an organization founded in 2006 toward the development of positive spaces for youth to learn about, create, and record music, receives private funding and sponsorship from celebrities and music production companies among others; it is also the recipient of funds from a number of philanthropic grant institutions.The alternative to these innovative funding tactics is to imagine, construct, and present a studio that is primarily concerned with “positively” shaping the character of young men and women in an effort to appease questionably minded philanthropists, even though this maneuver often compromises the culture, community, and content of the community which the studio itself exists to support.

Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo is a PhD student in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University. Since completing a senior thesis on digital music software, tacit knowledge, and gender under the guidance of Trevor Pinch, she has become interested in pursuing research in the emergent field of sound studies. She hopes to combine her passion for music with her academic interests in technological systems, bodies, politics and practices that construct and are constructed by sound. More specifically she would like to examine the politics surrounding low-income community studios, as well as the uses of sound in (or as) electronic games.  In her free time she produces hip hop beats and raps under the moniker Sammus (based on the video game character, Samus Aran, from the popular Metroid franchise).

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