Tag Archive | Henri Lefebvre

Sounding Out! Podcast #41: Sound Art as Public Art

ActsofSonicInterventionThis April forum, Acts of Sonic Intervention, explores what we over here at Sounding Out! are calling “Sound Studies 2.0”–the movement of the field beyond the initial excitement for and indexing of sound toward new applications and challenges to the status quo.

Today Salomé Voegelintreats us to a multimedia re-sonification of the keynote she gave at 2014’s Invisible Places, Sounding Cities conference in Viseu, Portugal, “Sound Art as Public Art,” which revivified the idea of the “civic” as a social responsibility enacted through sound and listening. Available for download here as a podcast is an audio recording of the keynote as well as a transcription of its accompanying score. In this final entry of the series, Vogelin shares her insight about how sound can act as intervention, disruption, and resistance.

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 Sound Art as Public Art 
Performance Score
Salomé Voegelin

Sit down on a chair

Read: Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art, pp126-127, line 5 to line 5

Play: Clare Gasson, Thought and Hand 53”

Get up, walk a square around your location, singing each side of the square at a different pitch – step back into the middle of the space and grunt loudly.

Stand

Read: Sol leWitt The Location of a Circle, 1974

Sit

Read: Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art pp130-131, line 20 to line 3, 3rd word

Stand

Read: endnoted text [see endnotes below], alternating between life and pre-recorded voice.

Sit

Read: Sonic Possible Worlds, Hearing the Continuum of Sound, pp49-50, line 1 to line 12

Read: Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Nature from Course notes from the Collège de France pp68-69, line 32 to line 17, 7th word

Stand

Read: from soundwords.tumblr.com: The waterjet, April 09, 2013, 09:39am

Read: Patrick Farmer Try I Bark from ‘fire turns its back to me…’ to ‘ i have no desire too name’

Sit

Play: The Red Hook High School Cheerleaders by Jeremy Deller, 2 min excerpt

Stand

Read: Sarah Jackson Silent Running from her collection of poems Pelt

Sit

Play: Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Marches 2008, Track 2, 3 min excerpt

Read: Henri Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis, pp19-21, line 8 to line 6 (with a slight edit), and p55, line 17 to line 31

Play: Simon-Steen Anderson Pretty Sound (Up and Down) for priano, from LP Pretty Sound, 3 min excerpt

Read: Listening to the Stars from Noch (What Matters Now? What can’t you hear?)

Read: Sonic Possible Worlds pp157-158, line 1 to line 34

Play: Eisuke Yanagisawa Ultrasonicscapes track 10 streetlight 2, 3 min excerpt.

Read: Sonic Possible Worlds pp165-166, line 29-4 + p166-167, line 40 line 6 word 6 and pp 168-169, line 33 to line 2, and p174, line 18 to line 34

Stand

Read: credits while playing Salomé Voegelin: exactly 3 minutes

Endnotes

Life voice [lv]: This is a performance of my sonic possibilities in a public context.

Recorded voice [rv]: Sounds invisible mobility makes accessible, thinkabe and sensible, different and pluralized notions of publicness.

lv: My public performance invites you to consider your own public performance in this same context.

rv: The sonic public is a participatory possibility, whose actuality is not a matter of truth and untruth, but of sonic fictions: personal narrations that realize the invisible and conjure the inaudible, rather than settle on what appears to be there visibly and audibly.

lv: Together we make a civic performance – creating an ephemeral exchange of invisible things that reframe our visible form, relationship and organization.

rv: Listening challenges the designation of private and public. It overhears their distinction and does not follow the functional architecture of place and civic purpose but proposes formless and invisible alternatives.

lv: I am performing my private sonic life-world that meets yours in passing, at moments of coincidence, to create not one appreciable entirety, one actuality, but fragmented possibilities of what our shared space is, or could be.

rv: Sound is not necessarily harmonious, nor definitively antagonistic, but generates the space of an agonistic play: no ideal objective guides or precedes the action that it is.

lv: I sang a square and talked a circle.

rv: The public is not a visual concept, a permanent institution and infrastructure, but a transitory practice.

Iv: made room in the visible space for my invisible possibilities

rv: Sound makes apparent the frames, edges and boundaries of what is considered the actual place, and implodes the singularity and permanence of that perception through an invisible duration.

lv: I made an artistic space,
I made a social space
I made a political space
They reveal the limits of actuality, produce possibilities, and hint at the possibility of impossibilities.

Salomé Voegelin is a Swiss artist and writer engaged in listening as a socio-political practice of sound. She is the author of Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art (Continuum, 2010) and Sonic Possible Worlds: Hearing the Continuum of Sound (Bloomsbury, 2014). She maintains the blog SoundWords  and has curated the exhibition clickanywhere, an online exhibition of spoken and written work. Voegelin is a Reader in Sound Arts at London College of Communication, UAL and has a PhD from Goldsmiths College, London University.

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Sounding Boards and Sonic Styles: The Music of the Skatepark

Sound and Sport2Welcome back to our summer series on “Sound and Sport.”  In today’s post, Josh Ottum discusses the sonorous sounds and unique rhythms of the sport of skateboarding. For an instant replay of last month’s post, click Tara Betts‘s “Pretty, Fast, and Loud: The Audible Ali.” For May’s post, click Melissa Helquist‘s “Goalball: Sport, Silence, and Spectatorship.”  Next month’s grand finale will feature a doubleheader on Brasil, with a post by Kariann Goldschmitt on the promotional sounds of FIFA 2014 and a podcast by Andrea Medrado entitled “The Sounds of Rio’s Favelas: Echoes of Social Inequality in an Olympic City.” We’ll close with another take on the Olympics, excerpted from David Hendy‘s recent Noise broadcasts for BBC Radio 4 on the politics of boos at the games. For now, get out your board, strap on your helmet, and prepare to jam. —J. Stoever-Ackerman, Editor-in-Chief

Seven layers of screen-printed, sugar pine maple whack the concrete. Aluminum axles pivot on rubber bushings as they slide across steel coping. Circular, molded polyurethane encases lubricated bearings that spin in midair before slamming onto birch. Vocal cords are strained as exclamations are made in response to a maneuver. These are the unmistakeable sounds of the skatepark. As skaters ride through the park, a unique sonic tapestry emerges revealing a constantly shifting array of timbre, pitch, and rhythm. This sliding aural space is similar to the compositional flow between rehearsed maneuvers and improvisatory actions, connecting skaters in the skatepark to musicians improvising in a jam session.

Just as the results of a musical performance depend on acoustics of the venue and the idiosyncrasies of the instrument, the skater is beholden to a similarly complex signal chain. The aural atmosphere of the skatepark relies on the number of other players, as well as their chosen instruments, and unique approach to playing. While surveying the sonic and social dynamics of four skateparks in Ohio and California for this study, the line between performer and listener was often unclear. Skaters are consistently sliding between roles as passive observers and active participants, watching and being watched, making sound and listening to the sounds of others. And, just as an improvising musician aims to develop her own unique voice, the skater intertwines sonic and visual elements into a unique stylistic signature all her own. In this study I will look at the skatepark as a site for skaters to express themselves much in the same way that a musician plays an instrument at a jam session. I will explore the board and terrain, the importance of style, and the culture of the park itself. To begin, I will contextualize the ways in which the skateboard has been constructed as a sonic instrument.

The Instruments

As a skater lands an ollie in the Vans Skatepark in Orange, California, the sound of hard polyurethane wheels slamming against a hollow birch ramp emanates throughout the warehouse, entangling with distinctive sounds made by other participants. The listener is made acutely aware of each skater’s instrument and stylistic approach to performance. What differentiates the rider on a board in the skatepark from a guitarist playing in a rock club? Just as the materials of the electric guitar and its signal chain inform the sonic nature of the instrument, the skateboard and its engaged terrain sound out unique and identifiable characteristics of each device. I spoke with a skater at Flipside Skateboard Shop in Athens, Ohio about the specifics of wheel construction and his own personal preferences:

2 flipside wheel chart

Abrasion test chart, Flipside Skateboard Shop, Athens, Ohio

Just like the layered wood of an electric guitar body, boards are made through a multistep manufacturing process that involves layering thin plies of wood. Maple is most commonly used with the relative flexibility of the deck determining qualities of audible resonance as a skater ollies or railslides. And trucks, which function as axles, can be heard grinding along a surface such as pool coping, a painted curb, or a handrail.

In order for these materials to make sound they must be controlled by a rider and engage with some kind of terrain. The combination of what materials are chosen and how they are used result in a rider’s unique approach. In the skatepark, skaters swathe themselves in clothing, pads, and helmets while riding devices wrapped in visual signposts of self-expression that sound out the priorities of the particular rider.

Sonic Style

Following Henri Lefebvre, Iain Borden speaks of the skateboard as a “lived component of the body, its actions and its self-image in relation to the terrain” (28). Similarly, from my time spent at skateparks in Ohio and California, I have noted the malleability of terrain as a domain to express one’s own unique style. Skaters use their devices as instruments, playing the park, repeating phrases, overlapping with sounds emitted from their peers. All the while, advertisements adorn both bodies and instruments and maneuvers mimic the iconic moves of sponsored skaters viewed in magazines. Visiting Focus Boardshop across the street from the Etnies Skatepark in Lake Forest, California reminds the observer that the elusive, focal point of style in the world of skateboarding is not only confined to the visual realm. As reissued decks from Powell Peralta, Slimeball wheels, and multiple videos adorn the walls of the shop, teenage skaters hang out, asking to bend and stand on decks and spin wheels, all the while watching and listening to newly released videos. Just as guitars and synthesizers reflect the users aesthetic outlook, the look and sound of skateboards signal to a skater’s audience (often other skaters in the park) what kind of skater he or she is.

Tara Rodgers’ insightful article on wood paneling on synthesizers for Sounding Out! has its analogue in the spiritual aura of the object in skateboarding. Bound up in this aura are genre-shaping histories that have taken the sport in innumerable directions. Whether it is the catwalk ethos of Vision Street Wear, Danny Way’s connection with Monster and Red Bull energy drinks, or enjoi’s self-referential marketing, the graphics that wrap around skate gear carry with them weighty connections to the sport’s most original moments. These moments are, of course, defined by marketing campaigns, hosted in influential magazines such as Thrasher and Transworld, and the zietgeist of the time. Intertwined with these branded materials is the sonic quality of the instrument. The sound of the instrument itself reflects the particular ethos of the skater who selected it. In the clip below, an employee working at Focus Boardshop in Lake Forest, California talks about the particular way his board’s sound reflects the idiosyncratic nature of its components. Notice how he skater speaks about the sound of his bearings as a direct link to his style, connecting to Borden’s idea of the board as a lived component of the body.

During my visit to the community skatepark in Athens, Ohio I come across two skaters who have returned to the sport after a two-decade break. One skater sports a longboard with 70a wheels so soft you can’t hear him skate through the concrete pool. Immediately after interacting with the longboarder, another skater finishes a session in the pool at the Athens skatepark with a long slide. I ask him about the role of his wheels and what he calls “the best sound in the world”:

Soft Wheels

Hard Wheels

Skaters related the histories of their boards to me with a sense of fond nostalgia. These histories functioned, primarily, as a mode of individuation, through which those observed were seen refining their identities within the community through conversation. As more time is spent at each of the parks, I begin to notice communal flows of conversation between skaters and their engaged terrain as well. Competitive aspects to out-do each other, synchronized maneuvers, and vocal responses are percolate the soundscape. As listeners perform and performers listen, connections with well-formed cultural codes of improvisational music begin to emerge.

Jamming the Skatepark

Improvising musicians often use the context of the jam session as an opportunity work out new ideas and rehearse repertoire. Minton’s Playhouse in New York is one of the original sites for the jazz jam session. Here, “cutting contests” allowed players the opporunity to outplay each other with virtuosic displays of improvisational prowess. Musicians play to hear each other individually and as a unit, often pushing each other to extremes. The sound is composed, listened to, and then reacted to. Skateparks provide a similar atmosphere. A trick (like an ollie) is immersed in the sonic flows of the surrounding skaters. The skatepark is simultaneously encouraging and competitive, forgiving and relentless.

When I visited the Vans Skatepark on National Go Skateboarding Day park employees tempted skaters to display their best moves throughout the park with the promise of free swag. The environment remained friendly and encouraging as skaters rose to the challenge, welcoming the pressure.

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The rituals of the skatepark are varied in their scope. When a skater lands a difficult trick, it is common to hear the tapping of board tails on the ground; applause. Vocal reactions to maneuvers (landed or failed) are also quite common.

What sets the sonic atmosphere of the skatepark apart from the sound of skating outside the park is the palpable lack of intruding sounds from the outside world. As communities continue to accept the skatepark as part of their permanent landscape, the once transgressive sound of the sport takes on a new meaning. The scrapes and slides that once signaled intrusion are now contained in a controlled space. While visiting these jam sessions, it became clear that the sounds of the skatepark remain a mostly male-dominated activity. While the instruments and terrain remain available to the wider public the sound of the skatepark reflects a relatively closed environment often shrouded in platitudes of youth culture. However, once a sense of acceptance and experimentation is cultivated, some other aspects of the skatepark are revealed. The skatepark is a place to play and explore the range of one’s repertoire. It is a place to engage with the limitations of the instrument and one’s own physical faculties. And, it is an environment that encourages friction, noise, and distortion. The skatepark is a communal amplifier, obscuring and reflecting sound as the players immerse themselves in the ultimate sounding board.

Bonus Material:

While immersing myself in the sounds of the skatepark for this project, the idea came up to reimagine the sounds of the skatepark as a musical composition. I asked musicians Michael Deakers, Casey Foubert, Junior High, and Ryan Richter to make a piece that used any portion of the recordings of the four skateparks I visited. Their work reflects a deep connection to the rehearsed and improvisational aspects of music-making and skateboarding. The sounds of these pieces emerged from hours of practice and spontaneous decisions allowing for a particularly effervescent creative outcome. To hear these, check out out my Soundcloud here.


Featured Image, “Grinding” courtesy of Luke Hayfield Photography

Josh Ottum holds an MFA in Integrated Composition Improvisation and Technology from UC Irvine and is currently a PhD student at Ohio University in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts. His research interests include sound, energy extraction, Van Dyke Parks, Southern California, library music, and synthesizers. As a singer-songwriter, composer, and producer, Josh has released multiple records on various labels, completed numerous international tours, and composed music that has appeared on MTV, AMC’s Mad Men, and NPR.

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Music Meant to Make You Move: Considering the Aural Kinesthetic

“Dance!” by Flickr user Clearly Ambiguous, under Creative Commons License 2.0

In the two weeks prior to my drafting this piece, the world lost Adam “MCA” Yauch, Robin GibbDonna Summer, and Chuck Brown.  In their wake they leave a profound legacy of music, yes, but of dance music particularly. MCA declared your right to party while demonstrating that white MCs aren’t always gimmicks.  The BeeGees gave you a new strut courtesy of the bounce-funky soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever.  The goddess Donna Summer seduced your ears with her orgasmic whispers, then pumped up the pulsating synthetic beats that brought the discotech from its urban centers directly to you.  And go-go’s blaze, though not as far-reaching as disco’s, grew out of Chuck Brown’s musical sensibility, and burned deep in the hearts of Chocolate City natives.  For all of these artists, moving to the music isn’t merely a possibility or inclination, but a deeply irresistible impulse.  Altogether, these artists brought music that not only called out to people to dance, but if you didn’t dance you missed something essential:  the inextricable ties between music and movement.  One acts as a key that opens up a dimension to understanding the other.

Seeing people dance to a live go-go band taught me how to appreciate their music.  When I finally heard go-go for the first time at a club in 1995, it challenged my musical sensibilities, which were more attuned to smooth R&B and jazzy Hip Hop.  By then, go-go music seemed so fast, and coupled with the multiplicity of drums that I didn’t know how to get inside of the groove.  In the midst of the bubbling fervor I stood noticeably still as the young woman next to me ripped the shirt off her sweaty body and whipped it above her head (like a flag at carnival), never once missing a beat in her frantic jumping and pumping to the live drums while wearing only her bra and a pair of jeans.  The dancing bodies of the whole club fueled my understanding, and by extension appreciation, of what go-go does.  Without them, I would have missed out on something deeper.

I am drawing your attention both to music meant to make you dance and dancing that is necessarily done to music—i.e the arena of social dance.  Julie Malnig, in Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake:  A Social & Popular Dance Reader, defines “social dancing” by “a sense of community often derive[d] less from preexisting groups brought together by shared social and cultural interests than from a community created as a result of the dancing” (4, emphasis in original).  That might include social dances that correspond to particular songs, or called and standardized steps, like the twist or the electric slide.  My focus is more broadly on a visceral, embodied, kinesthetic response to dance music in a particular social space, which is not explicitly directed by the lyrics or a set of moves but by the feel of a song as a whole.  In the Hip Hop social dances I write about, rather than a finite set of moves there are infinite possibilities for improvisational play within a particular style (like b-boying or popping) that the music draws out of the dancer.  As David F. García states in his piece on mambo titled “Embodying Music/Disciplining Dance: The Mambo Body in Havana and New York City,” “the embodied experience of sound and movement [are] merged through the body” (172).

Break Dancing en Costa Rica, 2009 by Flickr User Néstor Baltodano, under Creative Commons License 2.0

I have come to name the frame for analyzing the simultaneity of social dance and music (and sound broadly) as aural-kinesthetics.  While these words capture sound and movement separately, together I am looking to engage more than just the sensory response of moving to what one hears.  The term develops out of works by music scholars like Kyra Gaunt (The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes From Double Dutch to Hip Hop), Kodwo Eshun (More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction), and Kai Fikentscher (“You Better Work!”: Underground Dance Music in New York City), who shift our orientation to music and rhythm by drawing on our kinesthetic responses to it.  Aural kinesthetics recognize that social dance practices are kinesthetic forms within the all-encompassing aurality of an environment.  I use spatial terms to acknowledge sound’s omni-directionalality, coming at you from all sides and helping to actually produce the social dance place.  In other words, the aural kinesthetic is also a kind of spatial practice (along the lines of Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space).  For example, consider how a bomba dancer orchestrates the primary bomba drummer’s rhythms within the rhythmic arena created by the second and tertiary drummers; or how loud music in street dance performances fills the immediate surroundings and bleeds out into other areas, attesting to their capacity to claim public spaces (the volume has volume).  Music in particular plays a fundamental role in establishing the conceptual performance arena that ultimately makes the physical space functional for certain dance practices.

Despite the fact that social dances necessarily have a musical component, dance is typically overdetermined by the visual, which in Western cultures we are better equipped to address.  The sound and feel of dance experiences are often overridden by the spectacle of dancing, which the following clip demonstrates. In this clip showcasing the final battle from the 2007 Freestyle Sessions in Los Angeles, the spectacle of these amazing dancers distracts you from the actual social dynamics of their battle, of which music is central.

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The exchange between dancers is truncated, spliced together for dramatic effect.  You focus on the center of the cypher, lost in the visual thrill of it all.  The song they were actually dancing to is replaced by another that, though danceable, prevents us from appreciating a particular song’s nuances as well as the crowd and emcee’s involvement in the event.  Overdubbing songs that you do not have clearance for is in compliance with copyright laws that force the video’s producers to instead play songs to which they have legal access, in sacrifice of aural-kinesthetic experiences the videos attempt to capture.  Yet even in cases of the below clip where we hear the original song, the recording cannot capture the quality of the force of the music that is loud enough to feel throughout your entire body, thereby promoting a shared sensorial experience in the room.  Whether one is recording with a camera or in writing, capturing the aural-kinesthetic can be tricky.

2009 Dutch B-Boy Championships Semi-Finals between Hustle Kids and Rugged Solutions

For me, the aural-kinesthetic is useful insofar as it opens up creative space for me in writing the simultaneity of sound and movement.  Scholars like Mary Fogarty (Dance to the Drummer’s Beat: Competing Tastes in International B-Boy/B-Girl Culture) have approached the topic by distinguishing between notions of musical taste and musical competency in clarifying the contours of b-boying’s dance-music relationship.  In my own writing, I’ve tended toward storytelling and descriptive analyses.  In contrast, considerations such as those of Roland Barthes’ “The Grain of the Voice” (in Image, Music, Text) propose to expand the language on (vocal) music in general by shifting the object of analysis to create new ways of writing music, which we can extend to writing social dance.

So what is a productive approach for writing the aural-kinesthetic?  I’m not prescribing a method, but I do want to consider the possibilities of shifting the focus of analysis in such a way that it allows for the simultaneity of music and movement.  For example, there may be value in examining a gesture repeatedly made to a particular part of a song to understand what that song is doing; or examining the physical layout of a room and how that space gets used through the song that fills it.  Perhaps coming at social dance indirectly and on multiple fronts makes for a richer depiction.

For now, let’s take advantage of this digital space and collectively consider our options.  Here’s a task I hope you might take up:  post a link to a song or a video clip that makes you move.  Describe some quality of your visceral response to the song and place your thoughts in the comments section below.  Include the multiple fronts that help you to articulate your experience.  While music and dance have the capacity to “speak” in ways that verbal language cannot always reach, my hope is that a range of possibilities might get us there. or at least much closer.

Dr. Imani Kai Johnson is a Ford Dissertation Fellow, who has just completed a three year postdoctoral fellowship at NYU’s Performance Studies Department.  She received her PhD in American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California in 2009, where she wrote a dissertation titled,”Dark Matter in B-Boying Cyphers: Race and Global Connection in Hip Hop,” which considers the cultural and performative dimensions of Hip Hop dance as a global phenomenon through cyphers (dance circles), and the invisible forces of the collaborative ritual.  Dr. Johnson is currently completing a manuscript based on her dissertation.

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