Tag Archive | Shawn Vancour

On the Lower Frequencies: Norman Corwin, Colorblindness, and the “Golden Age” of U.S. Radio

Editor’s Note: This is Liana, Managing Editor for Sounding Out!, introducing you to this special fall installment of our series “Tune Into the Past,” penned by our very own Editor-in-Chief and Guest Posts Editor, Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman. We at SO! have been waiting for months for Jennifer to share with us a brand-spanking new blog post! She’s back in action this month with a post that asks readers to listen to the cultural landscape that foregrounded Norman Corwin’s success as a radio writer and producer, inspired by her research on her book manuscript on the sonic color-line. In particular, Jennifer addresses the notion of colorblindness and its very real repercussions on radio artists and producers of color in the 1940s. Want to catch up on our series on Norman Corwin? Check out this summer’s posts by radio scholars Neil Verma, Shawn VanCour, and Alex Russo. If you’re all caught up, open your ears and your eyes then (to paraphrase Kurt Cobain). —LMS

Almost every day, I hear someone on the radio hailing America as the home of democracy. Yet almost every network is guilty of discrimination against the Negro performer. There are a few isolated cases of Negroes in broadcasting, but the lily-white policy is seldom violated.—Lena Horne, Chicago Defender 1940

The fine pieces in the “Tune in to the Past” series have thoughtfully considered the audible legacies of Norman Corwin: the “kaleidosonic” aesthetics that Neil Verma called the “Corwinesque,” the virtually seamless melding of artistic and commercial concerns that Shawn VanCour analyzed, and the echoes of Corwin remixed into WNYC’s Radiolab that Alexander Russo amplified.  But the research I performed for my book manuscript, The Sonic Color-line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening, about the fraught relationship between race and 1940s radio, left me pondering the gaps and silences of Corwin’s soundscape.  Radio’s “Golden Age” was also its most racially segregated: was the philosophy of “colorblindness” that Norman Corwin publicly espoused key to keeping it that way?

It’s not my goal to undermine Corwin’s work, but rather to enhance our understanding of it by embedding his broadcasts in the wider political, historical and sonic fields in which he was enmeshed. Just as Corwin’s sounded legacy left long-lasting traces in our media, so too have the silences and omissions fostered by the media executives, casting directors, union bosses, radio critics, and sonic auteurs of the “Golden Age.”  If Corwin’s work is difficult to access save for far-flung archives and spotty collector’s catalogues, the exclusions of African-American producers, performers, and listeners are even harder to hear, in part because of his very insistence that radio’s microphones were colorblind. As the epigraph from Lena Horne testifies, the discourse of democracy is not mutually exclusive with segregation.  In what follows, I discuss the intensely segregated history of the “Golden Age of Radio,” arguing that one of Corwin’s most far-reaching legacies may not have been set in motion by his virtuostic broadcasting, but rather by the World War II-era liberalism that shaped it.

The apex of Corwin’s radio career coincided with a profound shift in America’s dominant racial formation, the beginnings of “colorblindness.” By colorblindness, I mean the belief that if individuals and institutions ignored skin color as a signifier and eliminating race as an official category of identity—particularly within governmental institutions—it would cease to matter in American life and all groups would have equitable access to the privileges, opportunities, and freedoms afforded by citizenship.  The shift toward colorblindness—what Michele Hilmes calls America’s “wartime racial realignment” in Radio Voices—was predicated on creating a sense of unity that would inspire men across the color-line to sign up to fight what was dubbed a war to end racism and fascism, even as it raged on in their segregated hometowns. The Pittsburgh Courier’s Double V Campaign—Victory against fascism abroad and Victory against racism at home—addressed these ironies.  Barbara Dianne Savage’s Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and the Politics of Race details the suppression of many black newspapers on military bases due to the Double V Campaign, as well as the pressure it put on government radio programs to address race.  However, she notes:

if black people had been forced to rely on radio as their primary means of communication about the failings of the federal government, they would have been on an impossible mission, since they were admitted to radio only as entertainers or as briefly invited guests expected to be on their best behavior (94).

Cast Photo of the Jack Benny Program. Eddie Anderson, who played Benny’s valet, was one of only a handful of steadily working black radio actors in the 1940s

Despite high-profile protests in the black press, mainstream broadcasters constructed radio as an unmediated purveyor of equality and truth with increasing frequency during World War II—its “lofty aerials, symbols of freedom” according to New York Times radio critic Orrin Dunlap.  In the case of Norman Corwin, he wrote a symptomatic  (and nervy) editorial  for Negro Digest in 1945 that depicted U.S. radio as a direct material and technological representation of colorblindness itself.

In “A Microphone. . . is. . . Color Blind”–what revealing ellipses!–Corwin assures black readers that “my feeling about Negroes in radio is that they belong as surely as the microphone.”  This strange opening gambit compares black participation in radio to the mute technological presence of the microphone that, while absolutely central to broadcasting, is an object with no inherent agency.  Unlike the proprietary, agenda-setting presence of whites in radio, a microphone amplifies the voices of others, while speaking not a word of its own. From his privileged vantage point, Corwin doesn’t quite realize how colorblindness enables him to use black people as tools.

Norman Corwin’s “A Microphone is Color Blind” from Negro Digest (1945), Image by the author

And, while Corwin’s title insists on the microphone’s colorblindness, his article suggests otherwise.  Much of his description of what America is missing without black people’s radio presence has to do with aural racial difference:  “I have found the same thing that makes Negroes supremely great artists in song makes them great in speech.  The color and warmth conveyed in the performance of a Negro artist is directly communicable by air.  The microphone is a faithful reporter and says exactly what it hears.”  In addition to perpetuating the old stereotype of black people as natural performers, Corwin’s realist depiction of the microphone as a “faithful reporter” that “says exactly what it hears” covers up exactly how much black voices were sculpted for white consumption during this period in radio; as actor Johnny Lee (“Algonquin C. Calhoun” on Amos ‘n’ Andy) told UCLA graduate student researcher  Estelle Edmerson in 1954: “I had to learn how to talk as white people believed Negroes talked.  Most of the directors take it for granted that if you’re a Negro actor, you’ll do the part of a Negro automatically.”

Johnny Lee as “Algonquin C. Calhoun” on Amos ‘n’ Andy

Whereas radio listeners were able to hear a wide range of white voices in a spectrum of roles—major and minor, comedic, dramatic, musical, informational—the sound and the content of black speech was circumscribed by the sonic color-line that marked it as “automatic,” essential, comedic, and potentially dangerous.  Corwin’s use of the word “communicable” rather than “communicated,” for example, is a revealing flourish giving black sound a tinge of contagion and infectiousness.   While ostensibly celebrating black voices, this passage simultaneously assures white listeners that they will still be able to unequivocally identify the race of any speaker over the “colorblind” airwaves and that this experience will be a pleasurable one for them. While the microphone may be color blind, it clearly is not color deaf.

That Corwin assumes a white audience becomes more obvious with his assertion a few lines later that “I have found too few Negroes who have taken an interest in radio.  I suspect it’s because they don’t know about it.” This statement is fairly incredible, considering that the Research Company of America published a study in the radio industry magazine Sponsor that placed African American radio ownership at 87%, just shy of the national figure of 90% (October 1949, 25).  Sponsor dubbed black audiences “The Forgotten 15,000,000.”

Sponsor, October 1949, Image by author

In addition to being inaccurate, Corwin’s suggestion that African Americans had limited knowledge of radio performs one of the signature moves of colorblindness; it makes institutional barriers to access—lack of training, networks, and mentorship, as well as straight up discriminatory hiring practices—invisible by asserting that black people only need to work harder to succeed in the American media industry.   Under colorblindness, the failure to achieve success equitable to white citizens falls squarely on the shoulders of those oppressed.  It also willfully mutes the protest of many black actors—such as Butterfly McQueen—who refused to participate in the segregated industry and the agency of all the black listeners who turned the dial on shows distasteful to them, allowing the fantasy of a unified (white) America to remain a powerful referent.

By and large, Corwin’s article paints colorblindness as already achieved.  In his estimation, it is up to black people themselves to take advantages of the opportunities he suggests already await them via the colorblind microphone:  “My attitude is not unique among radio directors—at least not in the main centers of radio[. . . ],“Corwin insists, “there is less prejudice in this field than in any other. It exists unfortunately, but you can get a hearing.”   For someone whose bread and butter was rhetorical flourish, Corwin’s use of passive sentence construction to discuss racial prejudice is significant—he naturalizes it as something that merely “exists,” tooling along without any specific historical agent performing the discriminatory and oppressive actions.  Such omission lets the white gatekeepers of the 1940s radio industry off the hook for both the institutional and individual forms of discrimination that kept the industry largely, as Lena Horne phrased it, “lily-white.”

Radio’s profound whiteness was aural as well as visual.  In Corwin’s colorblind America, a radio “hearing” comes at a heavy price for African Americans.  Without commenting on educational segregation, Corwin proclaimed: “Negro schools should have in their curriculum courses in public speaking, radio, theater.  There is no reason why there should not be Negro announcers.  It is important to study diction so that distinction in speech cannot be noted.”  While Corwin begins “A Microphone. . . is. . .Color blind” by arguing that black voices should continue to retain the racial markings that are legible (and pleasurable) to white listeners, he then suggests they must also simultaneously sound enough like the white voices surrounding them in order to be heard and accepted as fellow American citizens. Radio didn’t just passively reflect the sounds of American citizenship during this period–it actively constructed them on a foundation of exclusion and silencing.

There remains, then, a profound disconnect between the full exercise of American citizenship, the idealized discourse of colorblind equality forwarded by government officials, media critics, and prominent broadcasters exemplified here by Corwin, and the actual representation of African Americans as radio producers, performers, and listeners during and after this period.    At the same time as state-sponsored colorblind ideology rose to prominence during the war years, the U.S.’s airwaves became almost exclusively white.  There were no black writers regularly employed by any national radio station during the 1940s and there was not a single black member of the Los Angeles Writer’s Guild. While black authors Langston Hughes and Carlton Moss wrote occasional scripts on one-shot contracts, they were about topics deemed of black interest by the networks.  Black radio critic Joe Bostic—who would later become one of the nation’s first black radio sportscasters—described the limited openings for black radio performers:

publication last week of the most authoritative and comprehensive of the radio polls showed not a single Negro entertainer placing in the first ten of any branch of radio entertainment.  Such a compilation outlines, in bold relief the disturbing fact that the Negro, long a leader in every phase of   entertainment, is being excluded in this newest and most lucrative branch (People’s Voice, 1942).

Regular on-site broadcasts from nightspots that featured black performers all but vanished after 1940, meaning that the vast majority of black musical performances broadcast over the American radio networks were conditioned and mediated by white announcers and sponsors as well as the sounds of white-oriented programming that introduced and followed them.

Lena Horne guesting for NBC’s Blue Network

To be clear, I don’t blame Corwin individually for the ideology of colorblindness and the world it has wrought, but I do think it is important to consider his role as a cultural producer in the “Golden Age” of segregated radio, and as a power broker who helped shape the media landscape with which we now contend. While we commemorate his labors as a sonic artist with high journalistic standards who undoubtedly worked to “glorify the ‘common man,'” we also have to consider the institutionalized privilege that enabled him to claim this role as his own, as well as the many people silenced by him doing so, inadvertently or not.  Tuning in to the past demands a vigilant ear attentive to the profound silences of exclusion: the traces of words muted, mangled, disciplined and unsaid, as well as the subterranean reverberations ghosting the triumphant tones of the “Golden Age,” a shadow broadcast, on the lower frequencies, of all the sounds that might have been.

Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman is co-founder, Editor-in-Chief and Guest Posts Editor for Sounding Out! She is also Assistant Professor of English at Binghamton University and a former Fellow at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University (2011-2012).

The Sound of Radiolab: Exploring the “Corwinesque” in 21st Century Public Radio

Editor’s Note: Today, radio scholar Alex Russo, author of Points on the Dial: Golden Age Radio Beyond the Networks , continues our summer series “Tune In to the Past,” which explores the life and legacy of radio broadcaster Norman Lewis Corwin, the “poet laureate of radio” who died last summer at the age of 101.   Sounding Out!‘s three-part exploration of his legacy by radio scholars Neil Verma (June), Shawn VanCour (July), and Russo (August) not only gives Corwin’s work new life (and critique), but also speaks to the growing vitality of radio studies itself. And now, hey everyone, you are listening to . . .Alex Russo  Alright? Okay? Alright?–JSA  

P.S. Look for a special bonus fall installment of the Corwin series in September!

Voice 1: What if you were the best in the world at something…

Multiple Voices: [background] He is the greatest….most stupendous…. most thrilling…most inventive

Voice 1: and then your entire industry collapsed.

Voice 2: [continuing and fading out] Radio[?] Writer.

Voice 1: But you kept on working?

SFX: Typewriter, continuing until coming to a dead stop when return bell rings and the carriage returns with a clunk on “pass away”

Voice 1: Outliving all your peers, until, 77 years later, you pass away?

Voice 3: Norman Corwin? Never heard of him. He defined a generation’s engagement with sound?

Voice 1: And there is no one left to eulogize you? What is your legacy?

This post is the third in a series that engages with the legacy of Norman Corwin, a – perhaps the – preeminent radio writer and producer of the late 1930s and 1940s. Specifically, it picks up on Neil Verma’s challenge back in June to consider the legacy of the “Corwin-esque.” Verma devotes considerable space to mapping the aesthetic syle of Corwin in his post and his incredibly insightful and astute book, Theater of the Mind.

The analysis that follows leans on Verma’s argument with a caveat. The question of legacy stems in part from Verma’s assertion that Corwin lived for so long, few were left to speak for his legacy. Corwin may not have the name recognition that he should within the broader public, but for radio practitioners, he is regarded with considerable reverence.  In this sense, the Corwinesque style lives on by inspiring contemporary radio producers, especially, I will argue, in the aural style of the syndicated WNYC public radio program Radiolabhosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. Radiolab describes itself as “a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.” While ostensibly a science program, designed to make complicated scientific phenomena comprehensible to a general audience, the show engages in fundamental questions about nature, being, and experience in creative ways.

Certainly, Abumrad and Krulwich regard Corwin as an inspiration, such as when Krulwich responded to a claim by This American Lifes Ira Glass that the turn of the 21st century is the true Golden Age of Radio, by describing Corwin as “Homer in a modern form. . .a lyrical reporter who wrote and spoke like he was wearing a toga and sometimes was so spectacular you’d get dizzy listening and sometimes seems a little too old fashioned and oratorical.”   In his earlier post, Verma defines Corwin’s aesthetic style through a number of formal elements, including what he describes as a kind of “overworked literary calisthenics.”  Putting their own spin on Corwin’s dizzy oratory, Abumrad and Krulwich mark Radiolab with complicated and intentionally convoluted speech patterns. The program features Abumrad and Krulwich in rapid fire banter – far faster than typical public radio fare.  Often, this onslaught of language crowds and overlaps, producing a highly staged simulation of conversational flow. Often, Abumrad is a voice of enthusiastic discovery, while Krulwich plays the role of skeptic, particularly in the early seasons.  Abumrad’s voice is more nasal, higher pitched and, notably, recognizably younger than that of grizzled veteran Krulwich, creating a contrapuntal effect.

Radiolab Producers/Hosts Robert Krulwich (l) and Jad Abumrad (r), Image by Flickr User ThirdCoast Festival

These voices usually interact with a third voice, what typically radio documentary calls the “actuality.” However, instead of than separating “the real” from the narration’s voice of authority, Radiolab juxtaposes sentence fragments from all the voices (analysis, counter-argument, evidence) to create a conversation that proceeds dialectically, on parallel parts that intersect at points to lead to a thematic conclusion.  While Radiolab’s dialogic style has been explored by other radio scholars, like Andrew Bottomley and Eleanor Patterson, its link to Corwin’s model of radio drama deserves more attention. While not exactly the same as Corwin’s signature “choral” vocal style, with voices chiming in from all directions, it performs a similar function, aurally representing a multiplicity of viewpoints.

Furthemore, Abumrad and Krulwich work hard to create a feeling of liveness and connection with Radiolab‘s listeners, much like Corwin did.   Radiolab is certainly not a live program, but we must also remember that much of Corwin’s work was also developed to be recorded and sold–as Shawn VanCour discussed in his offering to this series. Although violating typical news protocols, mangled sentences, mis-matched vocal levels, and cross-talk are not removed during Radiolab‘s editing process; rather they are left in to create the feeling of spontaneity. Krulwich and Abumrad as quite conscious of this effect, with the latter noting in a New York Times profile, “It’s a funny thing, when you find yourselves laboring for weeks to create what you felt at that first moment.”

Abumrad and Krulwich, performing a live version of Radiolab, Image by Flick’r User Jared Kelly

A final connection, Abumrad and Krulwich blend two aural styles, “intimate” and “kaleidosonic,” descriptors Verma coins in Theater of the Mind as the hallmark of Corwin’s formal mastery.  Verma defines broadcast intimacy through radio’s address to the listener as an individual, its placement of a program’s “audioposition” alongside the narrator, as well as its emphasis on place-centered narratives. Kaleidosonic style addresses the listener as a public, uses a multiplicity of auditing positions, and creates a broad model of engagement with narratives centered on events (70). A wonderful representative example of this combination of styles on Radiolab can be heard at several points in season two’s episode, “Detective Stories.”  First, the end of the opening beat features the stylized repetition of a New York Sanitation official describing the Fresh Kills sump as a “time capsule.” As the phrase “time capsule” echoes eight times, Krulwich begins to chant “time capsule” in a lightly mocking and metallic sounding tone. Abumrad tells him, “You can stop that now.”

Later in that episode, a segment entitled “Goat on a Cow,” follows Laura Starcheski across the country as she investigates the twelve-year story behind of a box of old letters found by the side of the road.

This segment takes place at different locations, a hallmark of the intimate style. At the same time, it also uses elements of the kaleidosonic style because the narrative turns on particular events, moments where new evidence is found and new theories of the story of Ella Chase, the letters’ recipient. Throughout this segment Starcheski’s voice fades in and around those of her actualities. When she intervenes to provide context, the other voices are not stopped, they continue, telling their story under hers until at specific moment both voices say an identical phrase. This juxtaposition suggests that the letters hold different meanings for the individuals who come in contact with them: For Starcheski they are a reminder of her childhood desire to invent life stories of strangers; For Erick Gordon, an English teacher who found the letters, they are a great mystery on which he can project his own imagined histories and build a teaching curriculum; Finally, for Robert Chase, they represent a relief that he is no longer the archivist of his grandmother’s life. Like Corwin’s work, “Goat on a Cow” combines intimate and kaleidosonic styles, creating pleasures that are linked not to narrative closure but to the process of sonically representing investigation and theorization.

Letters, by Flickr user aroid

In allowing the pleasures of aural storytelling  to enable the show’s narrative, Radiolab’s Corwin connection expands conceptions of the imagination.   Like Corwin (and radio writers of the network-era), Abumrad sees radio as both an act of “co-authorship” and “co-imagining” between the writer/performer and the listener.  However, he also sees his “job” as “put[ting] certain images and feelings in your head.” This link to discourses of the imagination is clear in the series’ opening episode, “Who Am I?” One segment in this episode, “The Story of Me,” suggests that what defines humanity is “introspective consciousness,” the ability to abstract images or events into a story of self.

Citing neuroscientist Dr. V. S. Ramachandran, Krulwich notes: “Only humans can take images from the real world, pull them into their heads, divide them into parts, and take those parts and turn them into abstractions.” To demonstrate, Krulwich leads Abrumrad through an example where the latter conjures the image purple striped red canary in his head. Ramachandran follows, noting that only humans can rearrange and manipulate “tokens” of “bird,” “striped,” and “red” to “imagine” something that doesn’t exist. The “peculiar human muscle” is that “ability to experience things and abstract them into a story. This definition is telling, while ostensibly it is about human consciousness, I would argue it could just as easily be seen as a description of the job of radio writing, taking recognizable symbolic tokens, manipulating them, and turning them into story. By equating human consciousness with radio, Krulwich and Abumrad exemplify a final theme that Verma attributes to network-era radio drama, its evolution “from being a theater in the mind to being a theater about the mind” (3).

Indeed, the segment of “The Story of Me” finishes by noting that neural actions can only be understood in a group: “Even the thought ‘I am a one’ springs from a hundred million cells connecting through a trillion synapses and that all of this multiple activity paradoxically creates the you of this moment. You are always plural.” I imagine that Corwin, no stranger to celebrations of plurality, would completely agree.

Featured Image by Flickr User Jared Kelly

Alexander Russo is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. He is the author of Points on the Dial: Golden Age Radio Beyond the Networks (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010) as well as assorted articles and book chapters. His research interests include the technology and cultural form of radio and television, the aesthetics of sound, the development of “old” new media, the history of music and society, the relationship between media and space, and the history of popular culture.

Norman Corwin: Radio at the Intersection of Art and Commerce

Editor’s Note: Today, Shawn VanCour continues our summer series “Tune In to the Past,” which explores the life and legacy of radio broadcaster Norman Lewis Corwin, the “poet laureate of radio” who died last summer at the age of 101.   Sounding Out!‘s three-part exploration of his legacy by radio scholars Neil Verma (June), VanCour (July), and Alex Russo (August) not only gives Corwin’s work new life (and critique), but also speaks to the growing vitality of radio studies itself. And now, a word from our sponsor, Shawn VanCour.–JSA

An experiment in radio is something nobody ever tries except strange people with a funny look. Good businessmen know better than to try experiments . . . . on account of you can’t play too safe when it comes to trying out new things.

–Unaired passage from script for “Radio Primer,” Twenty-Six by Corwin, May 4, 1941

The story of Norman Corwin is by now a familiar one: joining such illustrious figures as Irving Reis, William Robson, and Orson Welles, Corwin led a new generation of sound artists in developing pioneering techniques of radio drama that exploited the medium’s potential as a “theater of the mind” and inaugurated the celebrated “Golden Age” of network broadcasting. In death as in life, Corwin has been much praised for these contributions, and for his signature style so eloquently analyzed by Neil Verma in the opening volley of this SO! series.

Advertising dollars spent on network radio programming from 1935-1948, based on data compiled in the 2002 edition of Christopher Sterling and John Kittross’s Stay Tuned: A History of American Broadcasting. Advertiser investment climbed sharply, spurred by a corresponding growth in network affiliates.

However, as Erik Barnouw notes in his preface to LeRoy Bannerman’s biography of this broadcasting legend, Corwin’s story is also bound up with a larger economic history of radio, unfolding during a period of intensified growth in and controversy surrounding commercial broadcasting. From Corwin’s first show for CBS in 1938 to his last network broadcast in 1947, the percentage of affiliated stations in the country grew from 52 to 97, while investment by commercial advertisers more than doubled. To answer critics of commercialism and give its network signs of distinction, CBS dramatically increased its public service commitments (what David Goodman refers to as “radio’s civic ambition”), investing heavily in “sustaining” (unsponsored) shows that gave producers like Corwin room for unprecedented aesthetic experimentation.

This second, institutional dimension of Corwin’s story warrants further consideration. Observing the Marxist adage that history is made by individuals not in conditions of their own making, I propose that assessing Corwin’s legacy for radio and sound studies demands we attend not only to the what of that legacy–the techniques Corwin pioneered and programs he produced–but also to its how and why: the institutional context that spawned and encouraged these aesthetic innovations. How, in other words, did commercial concerns at the structural level shape and enable the rise of the “Corwinesque” as a viable mode of sonic expression? What peculiar set of economic relations undergirded these grand experiments in twentieth century sound art, and what lessons might this period offer for understanding creativity and aesthetic innovation in subsequent eras such as our own?

Sounds of Commerce

Corwin’s 1941 play, “A Soliloquy to Balance the Budget,” opened with the sounds of an adding machine and voice of a “soliloquist” tabulating the cost of each musical note and on-air gag. Such is the secret soundtrack of every broadcast since commercial radio’s inception, as one of the past century’s largest and most successful industries dedicated to the business of packaging and selling sounds for corporate profit.

Excerpt from script for “A Soliloquy to Balance the Budget,” broadcast on CBS’s Twenty-Six by Corwin series, June 15, 1941.

Rather than seeing the flowering of the Corwinesque as a brief but “golden” reprieve from an otherwise dark history of commercial mediocrity, I propose we use the case of Corwin to critically interrogate presumed antipathies between opposing forces of art and commerce in U.S. broadcasting, and seemingly intractable tensions between competing goals of public service and corporate profit. Might we see in Corwin, instead, an instance where concerns with profit margins in fact facilitated aesthetic innovation, and where goals of public service and commercial success entered into strategic (if temporary) alignment?

This perspective is by no means intended as a neoliberal apologia for the commercial system. Yet, at the same time, the modes of aesthetic experimentation in which Corwin engaged were never so antithetical to run-of-the-mill commercial forms as traditional histories have implied. Corwin contributed to both sustaining and commercial programs, and the techniques he developed were eagerly copied by radio ad-writers. Moreover, public service programming for CBS was no mere loss leader, but rather offered opportunities for financial profit both in its own right and as part of a larger system of coordinated transmedia flows. Listening for the sounds of commerce in these programs demands  a more sophisticated grasp of industry economics than the reductive binaries of traditional histories allow, beginning with an interrogation of the Romantic ideology of art on which those binaries rest.

Merita was a longtime sponsor of The Lone Ranger on radio and television beginning in 1938. Image by Flickr user Jeffrey.

De-Romanticizing Radio Art

Unlike other radio greats such as Robson and Welles who worked extensively on commercial series, what distinguishes Corwin in traditional accounts is his alignment with a protected sphere of noncommercial programming. Hired by CBS to work on sustaining series such as the Columbia Workshop, Corwin was celebrated by contemporaries like Richard Goggin as “pleasantly isolated from ‘commercial’ broadcasting,” with its “struggle for sales and maximum audiences” (63-4). His official biographer similarly praised him as an artist who “flourish[ed] in a freedom of ‘sustaining’ programming [that was] the hallmark of the Golden Age” and “refused to forsake this liberty for commercial earnings, although corporations clamored for his talent” (5).

Corwin himself directly contributed to this anti-corporate mythos. In a 1944 book on radio writing, he advised those aspiring to work in radio to “Do the opposite of what a sponsor or an agency executive tells you, if you want to write originally and creatively” (53), while including regular jabs at network and advertising executives in scripts for sustaining shows such as his “Radio Primer” or “Soliloquy to Balance the Budget.”  But by 1947, Bannerman explains, “the contest for higher ratings” had won out, and Corwin exited the network arena for greener pastures and a new job with the United Nations (10). In a 1951 article for The Writer, Corwin now recommended that “the writer who wants to do the best work in his power, in defiance of formula,” simply “forget radio,” and “until such time as [it] returns to a constructive attitude toward public service and the esthetic values in writing, look upon [it] as a trade outlet, not an art” (1, 3).

Opening lines of February 1951 essay by Corwin for The Writer, in which aspiring writers who wish to exercise their creative freedom are advised to “forget radio” and look elsewhere.

Setting aside the dubious merit of a narrative that denies any real aesthetic achievements for the 15 years preceding and 65 years following Corwin’s ten-year run in network radio–the apogee of a tragically brief “Golden Age”–we may recognize the conception of creativity espoused here as a distinctly Romantic one.  Within this view, so-called “true art” flouts the rules and formulas on which commercially driven mass art depends, and is pursued for purposes other than financial gain. This Romantic ideology of art has been repeatedly challenged, from earlier work by M. H. Abrams, to more recent critiques by Noel Carroll and R. Keith Sawyer. My own concern is not with its veracity per se, but rather with the historical exclusions needed to sustain its underlying binaries of art/commerce and public service/commercialism vis-à-vis the work of Norman Corwin. These exclusions (acts of forgetting on which remembrances of Corwin’s legacy are grounded) may be grouped into three basic categories: the selective operations of canon-formation, cross-fertilization of techniques in commercial and sustaining programming, and profitability of public service within the CBS business model.

Canon-Formation

The received view immediately works to remove Corwin from the sphere of commercial programming, marginalizing his contributions to sponsored series such as the Cresta Blanca Carnival—whose ad agency Corwin himself commended for checking the customary “fear of anything suggesting artistic endeavor” (402)—or Dupont’s Cavalcade of America, for which he wrote his “Ann Rutledge” play, better known from its later revival on the Columbia Workshop. So, too, does it single out among his many production credits a comparatively small list of broadcasts for which he wrote his own scripts, while limiting its purview to his radio works at the expense of his contributions to other media. (For a comprehensive list of Corwin’s creative works, including his many commercial film and television productions, see the appendix in this volume.) As with all processes of canon-formation–a crucial component of what Michel Foucault calls the “author-function”–bids for Corwin’s artistry thus entail a series of selective filtering operations. The totality of the individual’s creative labor is negated within a synecdochical logic of “best” works that renders the exceptional as typical and relegates the typical to the realm of historical oblivion. What other “Corwins” might further scrutiny reveal?

Cross-Fertilization

Efforts to preserve the purity of Corwin’s art by maintaining its opposition to and inherent tension with commercial broadcasting also ignore the extent to which the advertising industry itself embraced Corwin’s techniques. In 1942, trade magazine Broadcasting reported with much clamor Corwin’s acceptance of a bronze medal at New York’s Annual Advertising Awards Dinner, given to honor an “individual, who by contemporary service has added to the knowledge or technique of radio advertising” (22). Authors of popular radio writing manuals noted, in particular, the impact of Corwin’s technique of “choral speech,” which Barnouw in his 1945 Radio Drama in Action claimed was “so successful with listeners that . . . producers of dramatized commercials . . . [now] use [it] for spot announcements to sell soap flakes” (204-5).

Example of choral speech from script for episode of Corwin’s 1938-39 Words Without Music, reproduced in Barnouw’s 1939 Handbook of Radio Writing

Choral Speech in ad for Ajax household cleanser, late 1940s

https://soundstudies.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/ajax1.mp3

Omitted from later accounts, such lost tales of cross-fertilization suggest not simply blind spots in the received view, but a fundamental abnegation: the separation of art and commerce as much an achievement of historical memory as historical fact.

Profitability of Public Service

Positioning the art of Corwin in contradistinction to growing tendencies toward commercialism also ignores the tremendous profitability of public service programming within CBS’s business model, both in its own right and as part of a system of carefully coordinated, cross-platform media flows. As Barnouw notes in Vol. 2 his 1968 History of Broadcasting series, CBS ramped up its investment in sustaining programming during the 1930s as part of a race with NBC to attract affiliates and expand its national network. Whereas NBC charged affiliates for sustaining shows to defray production costs, CBS provided stations with sustaining programs at no charge in exchange for guaranteed carriage of its sponsored series. (NBC stations, by contrast, were given right of refusal for any sponsored shows they wished to opt out of.) For CBS, sustaining shows presented not a financial burden but a path to commercial profitability. Attracting stations eager for free “quality” programming, the network drew fresh revenue in membership fees for each new affiliate it added. Eager to capitalize on these expanded economies of scale and willing to pay the corresponding ad rates, sponsors in turn flocked to the network, giving CBS valuable new accounts and further revenue boosts.

Recognizing their economic value, CBS heavily promoted sustaining stars like Corwin as talented auteurs who represented the network at its best, while working to parlay their products across multiple media platforms. In a 1942 Broadcasting ad promoting Corwin’s newly published script collection, Thirteen by Corwin, the network highlighted his artistry while tracing its corporate signature into his own, reminding readers that these plays were “written and produced under the sponsorship of the Columbia Broadcasting System,” as a new “literature of the air . . . . [whose] first editions . . . [are] printed in decibels instead of type” (62-3).

Images of a well-oiled network publicity machine at work. Newspapers such as the New York Times frequently printed network-supplied publicity stills and promotional copy in their radio sections. Here’s a publicity still of Corwin with actor House Jameson preparing for the the “Soliloquy” episode of Twenty-Six by Corwin (6-15-41).

Publicity still of actors rehearsing for an encore presentation of Corwin’s critically acclaimed radio play, “Odyssey of Runyon Jones” (11-26-41).

Corwin’s 1945 VE-Day celebration, “On a Note of Triumph,” was released not only in print, but also on disc by Columbia Records, converting an otherwise ephemeral sustaining feature into a source of direct profit while advancing the larger Columbia brand.

Cover art for 1945 Columbia Records release of Corwin’s “On a Note of Triumph” – leveraging content across media platforms for increased profit potential.

Whether attracting new affiliates and sponsors, or offering opportunities to improve brand recognition and exploit ancillary markets, CBS’s public service programming thus operated not in opposition to commercial forces but rather in the service of the network’s larger bid for economic competitiveness.

Lessons for Radio and Sound Studies

My remarks here are not intended to impugn Corwin’s artistic integrity, nor to imply a lack of commitment to loftier civic goals by CBS executives. The question, again, is a structural one: within what institutional context do the forms of aesthetic expression associated with “the Corwinesque” become possible and desirable? Put simply, how and why, from a structural perspective, do innovations in radio and sound art occur, and what forms can they take under given conditions?

Such inquiries are ill-served by presuming ipso facto oppositions between art and commerce or public service and commercial profit. Indeed, while often resting uneasily together, in the American system they have been bedfellows from the very beginning. To presume, moreover, that aesthetic innovation demands a protected space of noncommercial programming, or that such a space inherently fosters meaningful alternatives to commercial fare, would be a mistake. Within the received view, the legacy of Norman Corwin can be read only as a tale of lament: the death of public service and triumph of commercialism over art. Instead, I suggest we critically interrogate both present and past alike: the “Golden Age” is gone and likely never was, while closer scrutiny of earlier or subsequent eras may reveal aesthetic and institutional complexities hitherto unsuspected.

In a historical moment characterized by an unprecedented proliferation of new media outlets and alternative distribution platforms, but also an extreme concentration of media ownership, can we chart a critical trajectory that avoids both the Scylla of knee-jerk anti-capitalism and Charybdis of hyberbolic neoliberal and techno-utopian praise?

Conflicting attitudes toward contemporary sound industries. User-generated images responding to the SodaHead.com post, “Is Hannah Montana a Tool of the Devil?”, offer excoriating views on the cultural effects of commercialization and conglomeration.

Meanwhile, popular books such as Start and Run Your Own Record Label celebrate opportunities for creative autonomy and aesthetic innovation afforded by niche marketing and digital distribution technologies.

The proper course, whether studying conditions and possibilities for sound art in Corwin’s era or our own, lies somewhere in between.

Featured Image Credit: Julia Eckel, Radio Broadcast, 1934, Courtesy of the American Art Museum. An idealized representation, it contains no scripts in hand, no call numbers on the microphone and, importantly, no sponsors’ symbols on the wall.

Shawn VanCour is a media historian and lecturer in Film and Media Studies at the University of South Carolina. He has published articles on radio music and sound style in early television, as well as essays on Rudolf Arnheim’s radio theory and the origins of American broadcasting archives. He is currently completing a book on production practices and aesthetic norms for early radio programming and pursuing work for a second project on the radio-television transition of the 1940s-1950s.

Sound at SCMS 2012

I cannot tell you how utterly bummed I am that the Experience Music Project/IASPM joint POP conference falls on exactly the same weekend as the 2012 Society for Cinema and Media Studies meeting in Boston. A lot of scholars, the editorial board of Sounding Out! included, have been forced to make the excruciating choice between them, or—as, the newly nomadic EMP POP will be hosted in New York City this year—to crisscross the Eastern seaboard with heroic train, bus, and car jaunts in an attempt to make both meetings at once.  The good folks here at SO! will be doing our utmost to make the best out of a bad situation; in addition to my SCMS offering, look for Liana Silva’s bonus EMP conference preview round-up post this Wednesday and our dueling live tweets from both joints (a little love for those unable or unwilling to go on tour). Our Twitter handle is @soundingoutblog

Given the huge crossover audience between the EMP/IASMP and the SCMS, I do think this planning snafu brings unfortunate consequences for both meetings, most noticeably a large dip in sound work at this year’s SCMS, including the massive downturn of scholarship on popular music.  The dearth is a real disappointment considering how hard-fought its place has historically been in the organization (see Norma Coates’ 2008 Cinema Journal piece, “Sound Studies: Missing the (Popular) Music for the Screens?” for a compelling story of the institutional turf wars between sound studies, media studies, and popular music study writ large) as well as the fact that 2011’s SCMS New Orleans meeting positively brimmed with music and sound.  Not to mention that this year’s Sound Studies Special Interest Group Meeting, helmed by Co-Chairs Norma Coates and Tim Anderson on Wednesday March 21 from 2:00-3:45, is more music-oriented than it has been in the past, featuring guest speaker Charles McEnerney, who has been the Host + Producer of Well-Rounded Radio, a music interview audio podcast series (more details below). I am excited that the SSSIG is working to bridge popular music study with an exploration of “new media sound” and its possibilities, and not solely because Sounding Out! hosts a podcast series of its own.   Unfortunately, one of the few music panels at SCMS is scheduled at the same time as the Sound Studies Special Interest Group Meeting—and it is the panel of co-chair Anderson!!—another scheduling bummer.

Something Old, Something New, Radios by Flickr User woutervddn

Rather than dwelling on bad news, however, I want to amplify some of the unanticipated positive effects of the confluence of conferences this weekend, especially the dramatic upswing in research on radio and video game studies this year.  There are seven free-standing radio panels at SCMS 2012 (!!!), featuring an excellent blend of radio’s top scholars and brightest emerging voices that dial in some strikingly fresh conversation about contemporary radio technology and programming (E10: Thursday, March 22, 2012 09:00AM-10:45AM), the study of aesthetics in historical radio (D8: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 04:00PM-05:45PM), and transnational sonic exchange, both past and present (L21: Friday, March 23, 2012 02:15PM-04:00PM). We are especially excited to hear the new scholarship from Neil Verma, Shawn VanCour, and Alex Russo, the three radio scholars who Sounding Out! will feature this summer in our upcoming series on the life and legacy of radio innovator Norman Corwin—look for one post each month in June, July, and August 2012.

It is also wonderful for questions regarding sound and video game studies to emerge more prominently at SCMS, especially given their contemporary global cultural influence and the vibrancy of their sound design community, especially in the Twitterverse and via blogs like GameSound.  We are especially excited that Aubrey Anable’s panel on Thursday, March 22, 2012(3:00-4:45) offers us the chance to listen at the intersection of sound studies with the growing scholarship on affect and play, something dear to hearts and minds over here at SO! (see Aaron Trammell’s recent “Orality and Cybernetics in Battleship”).  Especially impressive is how the interventions of videogame scholarship are so fundamentally audio-visual, an articulation that took film studies many years—and even now still seems somewhat reluctant and tenuous. For a list of all video-game panels at SCMS, check theMarch 18th post from Mark Sample’s  Sample Reality.

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The rise of different types of old and new sound media at this year’s SCMS, along with the retrospective roundtable on the pathbreaking scholarship of film sound scholar Rick Altman—featuring fellow heavy hitters Jay Beck, Norma Coates, John Belton, Donald Crafton, Michele Hilmes, Amy Lawrence, and Jonathan Sterne—has made me once again ponder the state of sound studies in film, one of the earliest fields to make the most recent “sonic turn” in scholarship. While certainly there are some innovative, boundary-crossing gems regarding sound and film at SCMS 2012—such as Friday’s “Sonic Approaches to Genre” (12:15-2:00) and Sunday’s “Interwar Sounds” (11:00-12:45), by and large, cinema studies remains overwhelmingly visually oriented as represented at this year’s meeting. Very few panels engage with sound as a primary modality and there are far less individual papers threading sound into panel discussions not explicitly about sound.  We need more of both kinds of scholarly engagement, and perhaps the sudden resurgence of interest around silent film with the Oscar runs of Martin Scorcese’s Hugo and Michel Hazanavicius’s black-and-white silent film The Artist, which won Best Picture, will once again de-naturalize the relationship between film sound and image.  Or, as Altman told us in the introduction to Sound Theory, Sound Practice (1992): “In a world where sound is commonly taken as an unproblematic extension of the image, within a comfortably unified text, the concept of multi-discursivity is bound to enfranchise sound, concentrating attention on its ability to carry its own independent discourses” (10).  [By the way, guest writer April Miller, film and cultural studies scholar at the University of Northern Colorado, will be helping us think through the resurgence of silent film next month here at Sounding Out!].

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Speaking of trying to find sound where there doesn’t appear to be any, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my own roundtable on archival dilemmas, “You Are Who, Exactly?”: A Workshop on Working with Non-traditional Scholars,” moved from Wednesday to Saturday afternoon because of scheduling conflict (11:00-12:45, Room TBA in the hard copy SCMS program). A highly interdisciplinary and intermedia panel chaired by Visual Studies scholar Joan Saab, I will be chatting with sound scholar (and CB researcher) Art Blake, cinema scholar Philip Leers, and Media and Animation scholar Nicolas Sammond about the challenges (and breakthroughs) that arise for cultural studies scholars working in areas where, to quote our abstract, “there is no fixed archive nor even a reliable set of sources for our work.”  Some questions we plan to collectively think through include: “Is there an ethics of interpretation that differs from those we use in the [traditional] archive? For those of us working in more ephemeral media (e.g. sound, graffiti, cartoons, everyday life), how do we begin to locate or name our archives, and subsequently how do we acknowledge and catalogue these collections? Where does collaboration begin and end, and where might exploitation and appropriation take over?”  My introductory remarks, Listening from the Margins: The Problem of Historical Sound” will focus on the challenges I face hunting for sound in visually-oriented archives—a methodology of marginalia, afterthoughts, and seemingly offhand remarks—as well as the difficulties of archival research when sound media matters.  What happens when you are studying the editorial practice of a sound montage artist like Tony Schwartz, for example, as I was for “Splicing the Sonic Color-line: Tony Schwartz Remixes Postwar Nueva York(Social Text 102, Spring 2010) but the Library of Congress will only provide access to seamlessly streaming digital reproductions of his work, rather than the painstakingly—and clearly—edited magnetic tape?   While I definitely do not have all the answers, I hope you will join me and my stellar fellow panelists in in discussing solutions to such vexing dilemmas.

Ah, dilemmas. One last one.  For all of you Sound Studies heads who aren’t totally exhausted by rushing all over the East Coast for our academic version of  EMP/IASPM/SCMS “March Madness,” I highly recommend Cornell’s Resoundingly Queer conference next weekend—March 30—April 1st—featuring the work of John Waters, Charles Busch, D.R.E.D., Holly Hughes, Terry Galloway, Moe Angelos, David Savran, Jose Munoz, Jill Dolan, Stacy Wolf, Ann Pellegrini, Eng Beng Lim, Amy Villarejo, Nick Salvato, Shane Vogel, and Judith Peraino, among others. This groundbreaking event will “explore the utterances, echoes, moans, and groans that animate contemporary studies of sex, gender, and sexuality,” one of the first major conferences do so in such a deep and sustained way.  I’ll be there, exhausted but enthused, and ready to Tweet for our reader-verse. I’m just thankful such excellence does not fall on this already insane weekend. See you in Boston! And New York City! And Ithaca!

Please comment to let SO! know what you think–both before and after SCMS 2012.  If I somehow missed you or your panel in this round up, please let me know!: jsa@soundingoutblog.com



Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman is co-founder, Editor-in-Chief and Guest Posts Editor for Sounding Out! She is also Assistant Professor of English at Binghamton University and a Fellow at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University.

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Jump to WEDNESDAY, March 21
Jump to THURSDAY, March 22
Jump to FRIDAY, March 23
Jump to SATURDAY, March 24
Jump to SUNDAY, March 25

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WEDNESDAY, March 21

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012, 10:00AM-11:45PM (Session A)

A12: Music and Media Shifts

Room: Gloucester

Chair: Carol Vernallis (Arizona State University)

Kyle Stevens (University of Pittsburgh), “Singing the Pretty: Woman’s Voices and the Classical Hollywood Musical”

Daniel Bishop (Indiana University), “Sounding the Past in Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde”

Andrew Ritchey (University of Iowa), “Moving in Time: Musical Analogy and the Emergence of Avant-Garde Film”

Carol Vernallis (Arizona State University), “What Was, What Is, ‘My MTV’: MTV’s First Broadcast and Music Video Now

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012, 12:00PM-01:45PM (Session B)

B4: 60s Experimental Cinema and Eccentric Embodiment

Room: Board Room

Chair: Juan Suarez (University of Murcia)

Co-Chair: Ara Osterweil (McGill University)

Lucas Hilderbrand (University of California, Irvine), “Sex Out of Sync: Christmas on Earth’s Queer Soundtrack”

Ara Osterweil (McGill University), “Yoko Ono: Philosophy in the Bedroom”

Juan Suarez (University of Murcia), “Film Grain and the Queer Body: Tom Chomont”

Marc Siegel (Goethe University Frankfurt), “The Sound Recordings of Mario Montez

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012 02:00PM-03:45PM (Session C)

***Sound Studies Special Interest Group 2012 Annual Meeting

Room: Stanbro Room on Level 4

Convened by SSSIG Co-Chair Norma Coates (University of Western Ontario), featuring special presentation by Charles McEnerney.

SSSIG Co-Chair Tim Anderson (Old Dominion) is scheduled to present at this time (see session C19 “Rebooting the Music Industry”)

Charles McEnerney

From the SSSIG’s Correspondence: “Charles is a talented marketer and has worked with clients such as HBO and WGBH. However, he has most recently  worked with the Future of Music Coalition, a national education, research and advocacy organization for musicians based out of Washington D.C. to help them better understand how musicians are actually making money in a new music economy.

Since 2002, Charles McEnerney has been the Host + Producer of Well-Rounded Radio, a music interview audio podcast series that has included a wide range of genres and topics. Ranging from discussions of bluegrass, independent rock, folk, rap, new music industry, music festivals, and so on, the podcast has included interviews with musicians such as Dave Allen (Gang of Four/Shriekback), Ken Irwin (founder of Rounder Records), Lawrence Lessig, Erin McKeown, and Amanda Palmer.

McEnerney is also the ‘instigator’ behind the Musicians for Music 2.0 Venture Fund, an idea to create a new kind of funding organization for music discovery for taste makers and technology start-ups. Music 2.0 is dedicated to building ‘a better music ecosystem.'”

To join the SCMS Sound Studies Special Interest Facebook Group click here. To join the group via the SCMS website click here.

C9: The Culture and Practice of the Sound Image in Japan around 1930

Room: Constitution 

Chair: Michael Raine (Independent Scholar)

Respondent: James Lastra (University of Chicago)

Masaki Daibo (Theatre Museum of Waseda University), “Before Reimei: Early Attempts to Produce Talking Japanese Cinema through the Phonograph”

Michael Raine (Independent Scholar), “‘No Interpreter, Full Volume’: The Benshi and the Sound Image in Early 1930s Japan”

Johan Nordstrom (Waseda University), “The Sound Image in Early Japanese Musicals”

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C17: Audiovisual Archives in the Digital Age

Room: Stanhope

Chair: Katherine Groo (University of Aberdeen)

Jasmijn Van Gorp (Utrecht University), “Unavailable Audiovisual Material, No Research? Improving Data Collection in the Audiovisual Archive”

Nanna Verhoeff (Utrecht University), “Visual Archives on the Move: Locative Media for Digital Heritage”

Katherine Groo (University of Aberdeen), “Cut, Paste, Glitch, and Stutter: Remixing Silent Film (History)

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C19: Rebooting the Music Industry

Room: Thoreau

Chair: David Arditi (George Mason University)

Alyxandra Vesey (University of Wisconsin, Madison), “Women’s Work: Gendering the Music Supervisor, Mainstreaming Indie Culture”

Andrew deWaard (University of California, Los Angeles), “The Cultural Capital Project: Radical Monetization of the Music Industry”

Tim Anderson (Old Dominion University), “From Background Music to Above-the-Line: A System Analysis of the Newfound Importance of the Music Supervisor in Film and Television”

David Arditi (George Mason University), “Digitizing Distribution: The MP3’s Impact on the Album”

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012 04:00PM-05:45PM (Session D)

D4: Terrence Malick, Film Form, and Meaning: Exploring the Last Three Films

 Room: Board Room

Chair: Chuck Maland (University of Tennessee)

Respondent: Walter Metz (Southern Illinois University)

Clint Stivers (University of Tennessee Knoxville), “‘What’s Your Name Kid?’: The Enigmatic Voiceover in The Thin Red Line”

Lloyd Michaels (Allegheny College), “Text, Author, Meaning: Reading the ‘Extended Cut’ of The New World

Anders Bergstrom (Wilfrid Laurier University), “Voice-Over, Focalization, and the Cinematic Memory Image in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011)”

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D8: The Aesthetic Turn in Radio Studies

Room: Charles River

Chair: Neil Verma (University of Chicago)

Co-Chair: Shawn VanCour (University of South Carolina)

Allison McCracken (DePaul University), “‘Whispers and Pops’: Microphone Singing and the Invention of the Intimate Aesthetic, 1920s”

Shawn VanCour (University of South Carolina), “Reconstructing Early Radio Genres: The Case of Musical Variety”

Neil Verma (University of Chicago), “Impossible Scenes: The Fall of the City and the Problem of Representation in Radio Drama”

Elena Razlogova (Concordia University), “Radio Noise as Social Perception: From Wireless to Radio”

 

D16: Save to Continue: The State of Video Game Archiving and Preservation

Room: St. James

Chair: Matthew Payne (University of Alabama)

Workshop Participants:

Henry Lowood (Stanford University)

Ken McAllister (University of Arizona)David O’Grady (University of California, Los Angeles)

Judd Ruggill (Arizona State University)

Megan Winget (University of Texas, Austin)


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THURSDAY, March 22

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012 09:00AM-10:45AM (Session E)

 E10: On the (Re)Death of Radio: Continuities and Changes in Radio in the 21st Century Part I : Technologies

 Room: Constitution

Chair: Alexander Russo (Catholic University of America)

Tona Hangen (Worcester State University), “Troubleshooting the Wayback Machine: When Radio Goes Online”

Kathleen Griffin (University of Brighton), “Shifting Sands: The Changing Power Relations Between Listeners and Programme Makers”

Andrew Ó Baoill (Cazenovia College), “Degrees of Freedom: How Community Radio Stations Are Responding to New Distribution Channels”

Christina Dunbar-Hester (Rutgers University), “The Symbolic Value of Technical Practice in 21st-Century Radio Activism”

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E21: Digital Methodologies for Screen Histories: Performing Research in the 21st Century

Room: Whittier

Chair: Paul Moore (Ryerson University)

Workshop Participants:

Richard Abel (University of Michigan)

Janet Bergstrom (University of California, Los Angeles)

Ross Melnick (Oakland University)

Jan Olsson (Stockholm University)

James Steffen (Emory University)

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Thursday, March 22, 2012 11:00AM-12:45PM (Session F)

 F7: Signal Traffic: Researching Media Infrastructures

 Room: Cambridge

Chair: Cristina Venegas (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Lisa Parks (University of California, Santa Barbara), “Beaming the Audiovisual: Toward a Theory of Media Infrastructures”

Jonathan Sterne (McGill University), “Audible Infrastructures and Telephone Effects”

Nicole Starosielski (Miami University Ohio), “Disappearing Infrastructures: Undersea Cables and Narratives of Connection”

Shannon Mattern (The New School), “Deep Time of Media Infrastructure”

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F10: On the (Re)Death of Radio: Continuities and Changes in Radio in the 21st Century, Part II: Programming

Room: Holmes

Chair: Christina Dunbar-Hester (Rutgers University)

Cynthia Conti (New York University), “Localizing Localism: The Complexities of LPFM Broadcasting”

Alexander Russo (Catholic University of America), “‘Beyond’ the Terrestrial?: Distribution, Formats, and the Place of the Local in Satellite Radio”

Christopher Cwynar (University of Wisconsin, Madison), “I Want My NPR.org/Music: ‘Independent’ Popular Music Culture and American Public Broadcasting in the Digital Convergence Era”

Jason Loviglio (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), “NPR’s Useful Crises”

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Thursday, March 22, 2012 01:00PM-02:45PM (Session G)

 G21: Sound Thinking: Rick Altman and Sound Studies

 Room: Whittier

Chair: Jay Beck (Carleton College)

Co-Chair: Norma Coates (University of Western Ontario)

Workshop Participants:

John Belton (Rutgers University)

Donald Crafton (University of Notre Dame)

Michele Hilmes (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

Amy Lawrence (Dartmouth University)

Jonathan Sterne (McGill University)

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Thursday, March 22, 2012 03:00PM-04:45PM (Session H)

 H7: Playing With Feelings 1: Video Games and Affect

 Room: Cambridge

Chair: Aubrey Anable (University of Toronto)

Seth Mulliken (North Carolina State University, Raleigh), “The Order of Hardness: Rhythm-Based Games and Sonic Affect”

Laura Cook Kenna (George Washington University), “Feeling Empathetic? . . . Ironic? . . . Postracial?: Grand Theft Auto’s Offers of Affective Engagement with Ethnic and Racial Difference”

Allyson Shaffer (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities), “Playing Life, Managing Play”

Aubrey Anable (University of Toronto), “Casual Games, Serious Play, and the Affective Economy

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Thursday, March 22, 2012 05:00PM-06:45PM (Session I)

I2: Music on Television

Room: Back Bay

Chair: Matt Delmont (Scripps College)

Mikal Gaines (Emmanuel College), “Undead Carnival: Monsters, Magic, and Black Self-Making in Michael Jackson’s Thriller

Norma Coates (University of Western Ontario), “How Commercial Is Too Commercial? Hootenanny and the Struggle Over Folk Authenticity”

Matt Delmont (Scripps College), “‘They’ll Be Rockin’ on Bandstand, in Philadelphia, PA’: Imagining National Youth Culture on American Bandstand”

 

I8: “Time to Smile”: Conceptualizing the Form and Place of Radio Comedy in the 1930s

 Room: Charles River

Chair: Cynthia Meyers (College of Mount Saint Vincent)

Co-Chair: David Weinstein (National Endowment for the Humanities)

Cynthia Meyers (College of Mount Saint Vincent), “‘Resist the Usual’: Young & Rubicam’s Soft Sell Strategies in Radio Comedy Programming”

David Weinstein (National Endowment for the Humanities), “‘The Apostle of Pep’ Tackles the Airwaves: Eddie Cantor and Broadway Style in 1930s Radio”

Kathryn Fuller-Seeley (Georgia State University), “Reinventing Jack Benny: Developing the Character-Focused ‘Comedy Situation’ for Radio”

Jennifer Wang (Independent Scholar), “Why Women Aren’t Funny?: The Marginalization of Comedy in 1930’s Daytime Radio”

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I25: Video Essays: Film Scholarship’s Emergent Form

Room: Longfellow

Chair: Girish Shambu (Canisius College)

Workshop Participants:

Christian Keathley (Middlebury College)

Catherine Grant (University of Sussex)

Benjamin Sampson (University of California, Los Angeles)

Richard Misek (University of Bristol)

Craig Cieslikowski (University of Florida)

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Thursday Individual Papers of Interest:

Deniz Bayrakdar (Kadir Has University), “Silence of Sound and Image in the New Cinema in Turkey, 11:00AM-12:45PM, Room: Constitution

David Gurney (Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi), “‘Put These in Your Ear-Holes’: The Sonic Assemblages of [adult swim], 03:00PM-04:45PM, Room: Cabot

Krin Gabbard (Stony Brook University), “‘Throw It Away’: Abbey Lincoln in Hollywood,” 03:00PM-04:45PM, Room: St. James

Hannah Frank (University of Chicago), “The Invisible Visible and the Inaudible Audible: Testing the Limits of Vertov’s Kino-Eye,” 05:00PM-06:45PM, Room: Board Room

Events:

The Sound Studies SIG and the Television Studies SIG are co-sponsoring a party at Scholar’s Bistro Boston, 95 School Street, a nice walk through the Public Garden and Boston Common from the conference site.  The festivities start after the Television Studies SIG meeting, which lasts until 8:45, so plan on arriving at Scholars after that.  .

The Boston Typewriter Orchestra

Back to menu

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Friday, March 23

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday, March 23, 2012 09:00AM-10:45AM (Session J)

 J6: The iPad for Cinema and Media Studies: A Hands (and Fingers)-on Workshop

Room: Cabot

Chair: Andrew Miller (Sacred Heart University)

Co-Chair: Judd Ruggill (Arizona State University)

Workshop Participants:

Michael Aronson (University of Oregon)

Elizabeth Ellcessor (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

Phoebe Bronstein (University of Oregon)

Dan Leopard (Saint Mary’s College of California)

Heidi Cooley (University of South Carolina)

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Friday, March 23, 2012 12:15PM-02:00PM (Session K)

 K6: Sonic Approaches to Genre

Room: Cabot

Chair: Mark Kerins (Southern Methodist University)

Co-Chair: William Whittington (University of Southern California)

Benjamin Wright (University of Southern California), “The Sonic Compass: Re-recording Mixing Choices and The Bourne Ultimatum

Vanessa Ament-Gjenvick (Georgia State University), “‘How Would You Like To Work on a Monster Movie?’: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Technological Convergence, and Sound Design Authorship”

Mark Kerins (Southern Methodist University), “Genre Effects on Surround Sound Gaming”

William Whittington (University of Southern California), “The Cinema of Disorientation: A Hearing on Horror


Friday, March 23, 2012 02:15PM-04:00PM (Session L)

L17: Bridging Disciplines in Media and Urban Studies

Room: Stanhope

Chair: Joshua Gleich (University of Texas, Austin)

Workshop Participants:

Mark Shiel (King’s College London)

Joshua Gleich (University of Texas, Austin)Merrill Schleier (University of the Pacific)

Erica Stein (University of Arizona)

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L21: Over the Borderline: Transnational Radio Histories

 Room: Whittier

Chair: Derek Vaillant (University of Michigan)

Derek Vaillant (University of Michigan), “Sounds Too French: The Challenges of US-France Transatlantic Broadcasting, 1920-1939”

Gisela Cramer (University of Colombia-Bogota), “The Shortcomings of Shortwave: US Programming to Latin America during World War II”

Jennifer Spohrer (Bryn Mawr College), “Visions and Realities of International Commercial Broadcasting: Radio Luxembourg in the 1930s”

Michele Hilmes (University of Wisconsin, Madison), “Building Bridges, Crossing Wires: The BBC’s North American Service”

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Friday Individual Papers of Interest:

Juana Suarez (New York University), “Beyond Entertainment: Radio, Comedia Ranchera, and the Political Agenda of Colombian Films from the 1940s,” 12:15PM-02:00PM, RoomConstitution

Julianne Pidduck (University of Montreal), “Thinking the Audiovisual Relation: Su Friedrich’s Experimental Kinship Documents,”  02:15PM-04:00PM, Room: White Hill

Friday Events:

The organizational meeting to establish a Radio Studies SIG is Friday morning, March 23, from 9am – 10:45am in the Stanbro Room Level 4.

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Rob Nokes, Sound Effects Field Recordist, for the 2008 miniseries JOHN ADAMS recreating the sounds of Boston Harbor.
Sound were created for the Supervising Sound Editor, Steve Flick, who won an Outstanding Sound Editing Emmy for JOHN ADAM (2008)

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Saturday, March 24
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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday, March 24, 2012 09:00AM-10:45AM (Session M)

M6: Why Apps Can’t Argue . . . Or Can They? The Critical Essay, Screen Cultures, and the Digital Humanities

Room: Cabot

Chair: James Tobias (University of California, Riverside)

 James Tobias (University of California, Riverside), “Histories and Futures of the Critical Audiovisual Essay: Kit Literatures, Audiovisual Composition, and Scholarly Uses of Vernacular Media”

Holly Willis (University of Southern California), “The Letter and the Line: Text in Film and Video”

Steve Anderson (University of Southern California), “Technologies of Critical Writing: On the War between Data and Images”

Ian Ross (University of California, Riverside), “Hardware as Argument: Finding the Essayistic in Hardware Modding Considered as Material Semiotic Practice”

M13: Violent Images

 Room: Holmes

 Chair: Ora Gelley (North Carolina State University)

Asbjorn Gronstad (University of Bergen), “Archives of Violence”

Jacqueline Waeber (Duke University), “Revisiting an Empathetic Music: Visible Violence and the Audible Offscreen”

Julian Hanich (Freie Universtitaet Berlin), “Suggestive Verbalizations: Evoking Cinematic Violence through Words”

Ora Gelley (North Carolina State University), “Narrative Form, Violence, and the Female Body

 

Saturday, March 24, 2012 11:00AM-12:45PM (Session N)

N3: Unforgettable: Popular Music and Memory on Film

 Room: Beacon Hill

Chair: Katherine Spring (Wilfrid Laurier University)

Respondent: Jeff Smith (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

Michael Dwyer (Arcadia University), “Old Time Rock and Roll: Fifties Nostalgia on Hollywood Soundtracks”

Sangeeta Marwah (University of Southern California), “The Hindi Film Song: Narrative, Cultural Memory, and Identity”

Ethan de Seife (Hofstra University), “Old Times Were Good Times: Neil Young Remembers Greendale”

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N15: A Scholarship of Audiovision: Theory/Praxis/Production in the 21st Century

Room: Newbury

Chair: Brigitta Wagner (Indiana University, Bloomington)

Workshop Participants:

Brigitta Wagner (Indiana University, Bloomington)

Charles Musser (Yale University)

Gabriel Paletz (Prague Film School)

Hanna Shell (Harvard University)

Jesse Shapins (Harvard University)

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N23: “You Are Who, Exactly?”: A Workshop on Working with Non-traditional Scholars 
Room: Franklin 
Chair: Joan Saab (University of Rochester)

Workshop Participants:

Art Blake (Ryerson University)

Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman (State University of New York Binghamton)

Philip Leers (University of California Los Angeles)

Nicholas Sammond (University of Toronto)

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Saturday, March 24, 2012 01:00PM-02:45PM (Session O)

O1: Laughter That “Encounters a Void?”: On Humor and Cinema in the Middle East

Room: Alcott

Chair: Hossein Khosrowjah (California College of Arts)

Perin Gurel (Dickinson College), “America, the (Oppressively) Funny: Humor and Anti-Americanisms in Modern Turkish Cinema”

Roberta Di Carmine (Western Illinois University), “Israeli Comedy’s Multiple Voices/Languages in The Band’s Visit”

Elise Burton (Harvard University), “Ethnic Humor, Stereotypes, and Cultural Power in Israeli Cinema”

Iris Fruchter-Ronen (University of Haifa), “Humor and Gender in Nadin Labaki’s Films: Caramel and Where Do We Go Now?”

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O8: Contemporary Latin American Cinema and the New Latin American Cinema: Aesthetic and Ethical Continuities and Discontinuities

Room: Charles River

Chair: Cynthia Tompkins (Arizona State University)

Respondent: Claudia Ferma (University of Richmond)

Ana Forcinito (University of Minnesota), “Almost a Voice Over: Echoes and Distortions in the New Argentina Cinema Directed by Women”

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O9: Sound Across Media and Genre

Room: Emerson

Chair: Todd Decker (Washington University, St. Louis)

Kristen Hatch (University of California, Irvine), “Harlem in Hollywood: The ‘Negro Vogue’ of the Early Sound Era”

Hannah Allen (Michigan State University), “The Obscene Scream: Aurality in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Michelle Puetz (University of Chicago), “Projecting Sound as Image”

Todd Decker (Washington University, St. Louis), “Elegies in Waltz Time: Meter, Memory, and Remembrance in Band of Brothers (2001)

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O13: New Perspectives in Cinema and Multilingualism

Room: Holmes

Chair: Tijana Mamula (John Cabot University)

Co-Chair: Peter Sarram (John Cabot University)

Brian Hochman (Georgetown University), “Plains Indian Sign Language and the Protocinematic Aesthetic”

Charles Linscott (Ohio University), “The Talking Money Order: Mandabi and the Languages of Globalization”

Mara Matta (University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’), “Talking Back: The Issue of Multilingualism in Northeast Indian Cinema”

Jaap Verheul (New York University), “Divided in Unity: European Integration versus Regional Language in Dutch and Flemish Cinema”

Saturday, March 24, 2012 03:00PM-04:45PM (Session P)

P8: DVDs UnpackedTales of Glocal Piracy and Stardom

Chair: Monika Mehta (University of Binghamton, SUNY)

Room: Charles River

Jasmine Trice (National University of Singapore), “Action Stars and Indie Cinema: Global Media Piracy and Local Cultural Production in the Philippines”

Suzanne L. Schulz (University of Texas, Austin), “Law, Order, and the DVD: On the Containment of Discs in India”

Monika Mehta (University of Binghamton, SUNY), “DVD Compilations of Hindi Film Songs: (Re) Shuffling Sound, Stardom, and Cinephilia”

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Saturday, March 24, 2012 05:00PM-06:45PM (Session Q)

 Q2: Sing-a-longs and Dance-a-thons: Re-visioning the Contemporary Musical on Film and Television

 Room: Back Bay

 Chair: Aviva Dove-Viebahn (University of Northern Colorado)

Kenneth Chan (University of Northern Colorado), “Swinging and Swaying the Body Cultural Politics: Musicalizing the Already Musical Hairspray

Jesse Schlotterbeck (University of Iowa), “Notorious and the Apparent Contradictions of the Contemporary Musical Biopic”

Tamar Ditzian (University of Florida), “Transgender’s Transgressions Undone in Hedwig and Rocky Horror: Reviewing Queerness in the Glam Rock Musical”

Kyra Glass von der Osten (University of Wisconsin, Madison), “Musical Marriage: The Mash-Up as Governing Principle in Glee

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Q12: Materialities of Film Sound

Room: Gloucester

Chair: Delia Konzett (University of New Hampshire)

Delia Konzett (University of New Hampshire), “Sound in War/Combat Film”

Walter Metz (Southern Illinois University), “‘Here’s to Ben!’: Visual Sound in the Films of David Lynch”

Michael Wutz (Weber State University), “Notes toward a Media-Historical History of Sound in Film

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Q16: Collective Scholarship in Digital Contexts

Room: St. James

Chair: Kristina Busse (Independent Scholar)

Workshop Participants:

Kathleen Fitzpatrick (Modern Language Association)

Jason Mittell (Middlebury College)

Richard Edwards (Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis)

Louisa Stein (Middlebury College)

Francesca Coppa (Muhlenberg College)

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Saturday Individual Papers of Interest

Karen Backstein (Sterling Publishing), “Documenting Musica Brasileira: Culture, History, Memory in the Brazilian Music Documentary,” 09:00AM-10:45AM, Room: Constitution

Jason Zuzga (University of Pennsylvania), “The Violent, Silent World: Affect, History, and Ethical Orientation on Screen and at Sea,” 11:00AM-12:45PM, Room: Stanhope

Andrea Kelley (Indiana University), “From the Factory to the Ferry: Soundies’ Sites of Exhibition,” 11:00AM-12:45PM, Room: Stuart

John Connor (Yale University), “The Modern Sounds of Modern Massachusetts: The Friends of Eddie Coyle and the Voice of Southie,” 01:00PM-02:45PM, Room: Winthrop

Lisa Coulthard (University of British Columbia), “Dirty Sound: The Ethics of Noise in the New Extremity,” 01:00PM-02:45PM, Room: Constitution

Nina Cartier (Northwestern University), “Supa Soul Cinema: Blaxploitation Narration,” 01:00PM-02:45PM, Room: Newbury

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SUNDAY, March 25

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday, March 25, 2012 09:00AM-10:45AM (Session R)

R18: Radio Dynamics

Room: Stuart

Chair: David Uskovich (University of Texas, Austin)

Mette Simonsen Abildgaard (Southern University Denmark), “Intimate Messages: A History of Interactions in Youth Radio”

Catherine Martin (Boston University), “Re-imagining the City: Contained Criminality in The Radio Adventures of Sam Spade

Adrienne Foreman (Texas A&M University), “From Revolt to Style: Movements in Advertising and Text from The Maltese Falcon and The Adventures of Sam Spade

David Uskovich (University of Texas, Austin), “Programming Practice and Musical Genre: 1980s College Radio and the hifting Meanings of ‘Alternative’”

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R25: Expanded Cinema in Four Dimensions: Origins, Senses, Interactivity, Publicness

Room: Longfellow

Chair: Dimitrios Latsis (University of Iowa)

Dimitrios Latsis (University of Iowa), “Expanding Cinema: Genealogies of the Para-cinematic within American AvantGarde Cinema”

Justus Nieland (Michigan State University), “‘The Scale Is the World’: Expanded Cinema and the Midcentury Sensorium”

Marina Hassapopoulou (University of Florida), “Interactive Cinema: Expanding and Updating Film Theory”

Annie Dell’ Aria (CUNY Graduate Center), “Critical Synthesis: Reading Krzysztof Wodiczko through Film Theory”

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Sunday, March 25, 2012 11:00AM-12:45PM (Session S)

S3: Interwar Sounds

Room: Beacon Hill

Chair: Michael Slowik (University of Iowa)

Jessica Fowler (University of California, Los Angeles), “Open to Interpretation: Multiple Language Versions (MLVs) in the Early Sound Era”

Matthew Perkins (University of California, Los Angeles), “Can You Hear Me Now? Sound Department Creation and Personnel During the Transition to the Talkies”

Brian Hanrahan (Cornell University), “Radio, Film, Radio-Film: Intermedial Comparison in Discourses of Early German Broadcasting”

Michael Slowik (University of Iowa), “Why Max Steiner Was Wrong, Or, Re-recording and the Hollywood Film Score, 1929 to 1931”

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Sunday Individual Papers of Interest:

Paul Fileri (New York University), “Documentary Voices in the Algerian War: State Violence, Colonial Bureaucratic Filmmaking, and the Figure of the Refugee,” 09:00AM-10:45AM, Room: Whittier

Kiranmayi Indraganti (Ramoji Academy of Film and Television), “Song Taxonomies: New Categories of Songs in the Telugu Language Cinema in the Decade of 2000-2010,” Room: Back Bay

Robert Buerkle (University of Pittsburgh), “At a Loss for Words: Portal 2 and the Silent Avatar,” 11:00AM-12:45PM, Room: Cambridge

Craig Cieslikowski (University of Florida), “Writing Sounds: Cinematic Writing and Cinephilia,” 11:00AM-12:45PM, Room: Emerson

Inez Hedges (Northeastern University), “White Flash: Silence and Amnesia in Japanese A-Bomb Films,” 11:00AM-12:45PM, Room: St. James

Aniruddha Maitra (Brown University), “‘Narcissisizing’ the Locally Global: Language, Image, and a ‘Touch’ of Untranslatability in Tsai Ming-liang’s I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone,”11:00AM-12:45PM, Room: Stuart



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