Tag Archive | Sonic Borders

Sound at ASA 2013

Although this year’s American Studies Association conference location is not as warm and sunny as last year’s (can we have all November conferences in warm, sunny places, please?), Washington DC has a lot to offer this year’s conference attendees. The title for this year’s annual meeting, which takes place from November 21 to November 24, 2013, is “Beyond the Logic of Debt, Toward an Ethics of Collective Dissent.” The focus on debt in all of its dimensions couldn’t be more timely, considering that the conference comes on the heels of a government shutdown that the United States is still getting over, in addition to formal and informal conversations about recovery. In this sense, Washington DC seems an ideal setting for the topic: it’s the center of many of these national conversations about debt.

It is no surprise then that, according to the co-chairs of this year’s programming committee, Roderick Ferguson, Lisa Lowe and Jodi Melamed, many of the panels chosen for this year’s ASA revolve around keywords such as “debt, obligation, ethics, collectivity, and dissent.” The focus on such topics may explain why there are less panels and papers that fall under Sound Studies. The connection between debt and sound may not be immediately apparent for some, which may either keep panels or papers that focus on sound out of the conversation. It may also be the case that the overall topic may not immediately resonate for those who work on or write about sound matters. Sound Studies is still staking its claim, loud and clear. For example, bright and early at 8:00 am on Thursday, November 21st, there’s the Sonic Lives of Debt panel, which looks at how debt is represented in music and sound in general. Another highlight from Thursday is one of two American Studies Journal panels, titled Chocolate Spaceship: Gender Politics and Afro-Futurism in Funk, with papers on Patti Labelle, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Roger Troutman.

For artists and scholars of Sound Studies, the conference theme summons Jacques Attali’s famed text, Noise: The Political Economy of MusicHis theoretical arguments about music as an audible mirror of capitalism, a structured representation of noise, and a means of understanding “debt” through sound, serve as an academic companion to this year’s lineup of panels and papers that address sound.  Some sound-related panels complicate ideas of “dissent” and “debt.” Sonic Ledgers of Dissent (Saturday, 4:00-5:45 pm), chaired by Deborah R. Vargas, focuses on dissent addresses not only the State (FBI), but also gay rapper Caushun, racial musical miscegenation, and Black/Brown alliances in Los Angeles.

However, it’s not just a matter of the connection of the theme with sound. Last year, SO! Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman pointed out in her ASA 2012 conference round-up that there were less sound studies panels than other years, and suggested that this turn may indicate that the field is entering a moment of reflection.  Stoever-Ackerman rightfully argues that academic presentations related to Sound Studies are moving beyond making the presence of the field known and moving toward engaging with sound on a deeper, more complicated level. Consider how some of the panels listed below may not be precisely about sound studies, but include a sound-oriented approach. The panel Debts of Spirit and Substance includes a paper that looks at songs of protest: Glenda Goodman’s “Unsung Songs of the ‘Swinish Multitude’: Transnational Tunes of Eighteenth-Century Political Protest.” Another example is Sunday’s Latinas/os Onscreen and On/Off Air: Rethinking Contemporary Media Audiences and Discourses panelwhich includes a presentation by Dolores Inés Casillas titled “Lost in Translation: The Politics of Spanish-language Radio Ratings.” It is encouraging to see how cultural critiques also include sound as a way to analyze and understand cultural phenomena.

"Washington DC - National Museum of American History: Fireside Chat microphone" by Flickr user Wally Gobetz, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Washington DC – National Museum of American History: Fireside Chat microphone” by Flickr user Wally Gobetz, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The ASA Sound Studies Caucus is bringing it this year with three panels that carry the caucus’s stamp of approval. The three panels (two on Friday and one on Saturday) address questions of listening, recording, and memory. The Friday panel at 2:30, chaired by Nicole Hodges Persley, is titled Sampling Phonographies: Sonic Memory and the Long History of Sampling and stars two SO! contributors: Gustavus Stadler (“Charles Chesnutt, Sonic Memory, and Racial Terror”) and Meghan Drury (“Across Time and Space: Hearing Sun Ra’s Egypt”). Each of the papers on this panel discuss the intimate relationship between music’s ritual of sampling and racial memory. That 2:30 presentation is immediately followed by Musical Debts: Appropriations, Reparations, or New Traditions?, chaired by Barry Shank. Shank participated in this year’s cross-blog (and only!) virtual IASPM-US Conference panel on popular music and Sound Studies, Sonic Borders Virtual Panel. Musical Debts explores how music trespasses across racialized, global boundaries for capitalist gains. On Saturday, you can catch the last of the SSC panels, on listening and community: Connected Listening: Re-imagining Community Through Sound. Chaired by Michelle Habell-Pallan, the papers in that panel delve into the role of listening for communities of color.

If you can’t make any of the sound studies panels, make sure to check out the ASA Sound Studies Caucus+Journal of Popular Music Studies Happy Hour Meet and Greet on Friday, November 22, 2013. We’re big fans of the work going on at JPMS, and we’re thrilled to see them partner up with the Sound Studies Caucus. The Caucus’s co-conveners, Roshanak Kheshti, Deb Vargas, SO!’s own Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman and D. Ines Casillas, welcome colleagues equally steeped in topic of sound to help build this important caucus. From the get go, this Caucus has set out to not only bring scholars together under the umbrella of sound but to also push ideas of gender, race, and sexuality as integral components of Sound Studies. Sadly, the editorial crew of SO! will not be present for this year’s SSC Happy Hour, but be sure to swing by and meet some of our guest writers who will be at Glen’s Garden Market from 5:30 to 7:00 pm!

Lastly, if you are not presenting at ASA, not attending the conference, or simply want to check in on the action, take a glance at the official Twitter hashtag #2013ASA . Hopefully we’ll get to meet you at the next ASA meeting: Los Angeles, 2014!

Please comment to let SO! know what you think–both before and after ASA 2013.  If we somehow missed you or your panel in this round up, please let our Managing Editor know!: lms@soundingoutblog.com

This post was co-authored. Liana M. Silva-Ford is co-founder and Managing Editor of Sounding Out!. Dolores Inés Casillas is Assistant Professor in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UC Santa Barbara this fall. She writes and teaches on Latino media, language politics, and sound practices.

Featured photo: “Stormy Salute” by Flickr user Joey Gannon, CC BY-SA 2.0

"Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon" by Flickr user Cliff, CC BY 2.0

“Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon” by Flickr user Cliff, CC BY 2.0

Jump to THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2013
Jump to FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2013
Jump to SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2013
Jump to SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2013
 
THURSDAY, November 21, 2013

 
8:00 am – 9:45 am

004. Debts of Spirit and Substance

Washington Hilton, C – Cardozo (T)

CHAIR: Elisa Tamarkin, University of California, Berkeley (CA)

PAPERS:

James Deutsch, Smithsonian Institution (DC)
In Debt to The Poor of New York: Dion Boucicault and the Panics of 1837/1857

Gino Conti, University of Southern California (CA)
Oh, I feel, I feel, I feel: Moravians, Wasted Labor, and the Afterlives of Enthusiasm

Glenda Goodman, University of Southern California (CA)
Unsung Songs of the “Swinish Multitude”: Transnational Tunes of Eighteenth-Century Political Protest

Tanja Aho, State University of New York, Buffalo (NY)
Wives and/as Debt: Women’s Lived Dissent in the Eighteenth Century

COMMENT: Elisa Tamarkin, University of California, Berkeley (CA)

 

007. Sonic Lives of Debt

Washington Hilton, F1 – Fairchild West (T)

CHAIR: Alexandra Theresa Vazquez, Princeton University (NJ)

PAPERS:

Ray Allen, City University of New York, Brooklyn College (NY)
Holy Ground: Woody Guthrie’s Unsung Lyrics

Elliott H. Powell, New York University (NY)
Sampling among the Margins: Hip Hop, Indian Film Music, and the Sonic Life of Debt

Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, University of California, Berkeley (CA)
Sound Nation Empire: Emory Cook’s “Sounds of Our Times”

Mark Krasovic, Rutgers University, Newark (NJ)
Steve Reich’s “Come Out” and the Sound of Evidence in the Long Hot Summers

COMMENT: Alexandra Theresa Vazquez, Princeton University (NJ)

 

014. Televising Multiculturalism and its Discontents

Washington Hilton, Georgetown East (C)

CHAIR: Sharon M. Leon, George Mason University (VA)

PAPERS:

Allison McCracken, DePaul University (IL)
Blind Auditions and Vocal Politics: Enacting and Exposing Vocal Essentialism on NBC’s The Voice

Janani Subramanian, Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis (IN)
Mindy Kaling and Television Multiculturalism

Gregory Zinman, Georgia Institute of Technology (GA)
Nam June Paik and the Aesthetics of Interventionist Media

COMMENT: Sharon M. Leon, George Mason University (VA)

 
10:00 am – 11:45 am
 
019. Nineteenth-Century Public Lecturing, New Media, and Technologies of Orality

Washington Hilton, D – Du Pont (T)

CHAIR: Thomas Augst, New York University (NY)

PAPERS:

Carolyn Eastman, Virginia Commonwealth University (VA)
Speechless: America’s First Celebrity Orator and the Origins of Nineteenth-Century Platform Culture

Granville Ganter, Saint John’s University (NY)
Anne Laura Clarke, Lecturer on History, 1822–1835

Tom F. Wright, University of Sussex (United Kingdom)
How Silence Spoke for Lucy Parsons

COMMENT: Thomas Augst, New York University (NY)

 

2:00 pm – 3:45 pm

048. Song, Screen, Stomach: Cultural Debt and Transnational Italian Americanism

Washington Hilton, D – Du Pont (T)

CHAIR: Grace Hale, University of Virginia (VA)

PAPERS:

Joseph Sciorra, City University of New York, Queens College (NY)
“Core ‘ngrato,” a Wop Song: Mediated Renderings and Diasporic Musings

Benjamin Cawthra, California State University, Fullerton (CA)
Under the Volcano: Gordon Parks, the Bergman-Rossellini Romance, and Postwar U.S.-Italian Relations

John Gennari, University of Vermont (VT)
The Knife and the Bread, the Brutal and the Sacred: Family Trauma and Retaliatory Gastronomy in Louise DeSalvo’sCrazy in the Kitchen

COMMENT: Grace Hale, University of Virginia (VA)

 

050. American Studies Journal: Chocolate Spaceship: Gender Politics and Afro-Futurism in Funk

Washington Hilton, F1 – Fairchild West (T)

CHAIR: Randal Maurice Jelks, University of Kansas (KS)

PAPERS:

Tammy Kernodle, Miami University of Ohio (OH)
Deconstructing the Groove: Meshell Ndegeocello and the Politics of Funk in Post–Civil Rights America

Francesca T. Royster, DePaul University (IL)
Labelle: Funk, Afrofuturism, Feminism and the Politics of Flight and Fight

Scot Brown, University of California, Los Angeles (CA)
Roger Troutman and Blues Afrofuturism

COMMENT: Randal Maurice Jelks, University of Kansas (KS)

 

4:00 pm – 5:45 pm

077. Transpacific Dissent

Washington Hilton, Monroe (C)

CHAIR: Yu-Fang Cho, Miami University of Ohio (OH)

PAPERS:

Chris Suh, Stanford University (CA)
Beyond the Logic of International Indemnity: How an American-educated Korean Became an Anti-American Leader

Fritz Schenker, University of Wisconsin, Madison (WI)
Imperial Producers: Filipino Jazz Musicians in 1920s Colonial Asia

Elizabeth Son, Northwestern University (IL)
Monuments of Dissent: Transpacific Memorializations of Sexual Slavery and Social Justice Struggles

Jennifer Sun Kwak, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (MI)
Spam, Sex Work, and U.S. Militarism: Consumption and Conscriptions of Empire in Nora Okja Keller’s Fox Girl

COMMENT: Yu-Fang Cho, Miami University of Ohio (OH)

 

"Washington DC - Shaw - U Street Corridor: True Reformer Building" by Flickr user Wally Gobetz, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Washington DC – Shaw – U Street Corridor: True Reformer Building” by Flickr user Wally Gobetz, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2013

2:00 pm – 3:45 pm 

144. Caucus – Sound Studies: Sampling Phonographies: Sonic Memory and the Long History of Sampling

Washington Hilton, Columbia Hall 9 (T)

CHAIR: Nicole Hodges Persley, University of Kansas (KS)

PAPERS:

Gustavus Stadler, Haverford College in Pennsylvania (PA)
Charles Chesnutt, Sonic Memory, and Racial Terror

Alexander William Corey, University of Colorado, Boulder (CO)
Collaborative Sampling: The John Coltrane Quartet’s Favorite Thing

Meghan Drury, George Washington University (DC)
Across Time and Space: Hearing Sun Ra’s Egypt

Jack Hamilton, Harvard University (MA)
Making Beats, Making Wakes: Loss, Memory, and Style in the Music of RZA and DJ Premier

COMMENT: Nicole Hodges Persley, University of Kansas (KS)

 

4:00 p– 5:45 pm

160. Caucus – Sound Studies: Musical Debts: Appropriations, Reparations, or New Traditions?

Washington Hilton, Columbia Hall 9 (T)

CHAIR: Barry Shank, Ohio State University, Columbus (OH)

PANELISTS:

Kirstie Dorr, University of California, San Diego (CA)

Sumanth Gopinath, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (MN)

Roshanak Kheshti, University of California, San Diego (CA)

COMMENT: Jonathan Sterne, McGill University (Canada)

 

5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

 

 

Glen’s Garden Market PUB

 

2001 S Street NW, Washington DC
"50.MakeSomeNoise.Newseum.NW.WDC.17August 2013"  by Flickr user Elvert Barnes, CC BY-SA 2.0

“50.MakeSomeNoise.Newseum.NW.WDC.17August 2013” by Flickr user Elvert Barnes, CC BY-SA 2.0

 
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SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2013

 
8:00 am – 9:45 am
 
180. Caucus – Early America Matters: Commons Democracy

Washington Hilton, F1 – Fairchild West (T)

CHAIR: Dana Nelson, Vanderbilt University (TN)

PAPERS:

Joanna Brooks, San Diego State University (CA)
Why We Left: Archives of Common Memory, Martial Power, and Peasant-Class Anglo-American Communities

Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, Northeastern University (MA)
Performative Commons in the Atlantic World

Melissah Pawlikowski, Ohio State University, Columbus (OH)
Endeavors for The Common Good: The Communitarian Foundation of Frontier Republicanism and the Populist Push West

COMMENT: Dana Nelson, Vanderbilt University (TN)

 
181. Repudiating Debt Across the Americas: Latinidades, Embodied Performance, and the Archive as Site of Contestation

Washington Hilton, F2 – Fairchild East (T)

CHAIR: Ernesto Javier Martínez, University of Oregon (OR)

PAPERS:

Magdalena Barrera, San Jose State University (CA)
Refusing Pedagogical Debts: Mexican Women in the Verbal and Visual Archives of Americanization

Laura G. Gutiérrez, University of Arizona (AZ)
Sell Your Love Steep: Prostitution, Indebtedness, and other Transnational Transactions in Rumbera Iconography

Marisol Negron, University of Massachusetts, Boston (MA)
Tributo a “El Cantante”: The Making and Unmaking of Héctor LaVoe’s Abjection

Micaela Díaz-Sánchez, Mount Holyoke College (MA)
From the Page to the Stage and Screen: Queer Chicana Cultural Production, Spectatorship, and Community

COMMENT: Ernesto Javier Martínez, University of Oregon (OR)

 

193. American Studies Journal: Groove Theory: Funk, Feminism, and Afro-Beat

Washington Hilton, Monroe (C)

CHAIR: Deborah Whaley, University of Iowa (IA)

PAPERS:

Nikki A. Greene, Wellesley College (MA)
Don’t Call Her No Tramp: The Feminist Funk Power of Betty Davis and Renée Stout

Tony Bolden, University of Kansas (KS)
Groove Theory: A Vamp on the Epistemology of Funk

Alex Stewart, University of Vermont (VT)
Funky Drummer: Fela Kuti, James Brown, and the Invention of Afrobeat

COMMENT: Deborah Whaley, University of Iowa (IA)

 
12:00 pm – 1:45 pm

222. ASA Artist in Residence Ricardo Dominguez: Disturbance Research Lab: Digital Disobedience (Practicum)

Washington Hilton, International Ballroom West (C)

 
2:00 pm – 3:45 pm

246. ASA Women’s Committee: Critical Conjunctures of Debt: Women of Color, Healthcare Disparities, and Advocacy

Washington Hilton, Jefferson West (C)

CHAIR: Alondra Nelson, Columbia University (NY)

PAPERS:

Shirley Tang, University of Massachusetts, Boston (MA)
Invisible Debt: Digitizing and Voicing The Health Disparities and Experiences of Asian American Women

Jacki Rand, University of Iowa (IA)
Native Dissent and Debts of Imperialism: Choctaw Women, Violence, and Health Disparity in the Southeast

Koritha Mitchell, Ohio State University, Columbus (OH)
Pay Yourself First and Pay it Forward: The Black Girls RUN! Project

COMMENT: Alondra Nelson, Columbia University (NY)

 

 4:00 pm – 5:45 pm

258. Caucus – Sound Studies: Connected Listening: Re-imagining Community Through Sound

Washington Hilton, Columbia Hall 9 (T)

CHAIR: Michelle Habell-Pallan, University of Washington, Seattle (WA)

PAPERS:

Jessica Schwartz, Columbia University (NY)
No Longer Can I Stay, It’s True: The Politics of Hearing Harmony in Marshallese “Free Association” Diaspora

Kevin Fellezs, Columbia University (NY)
You Listen But Don’t Ask Question: Listening for the Sounds of Hawaiian-ness

Eric Porter, University of California, Santa Cruz (CA)
Bill Dixon’s Voice

COMMENT: Michelle Habell-Pallan, University of Washington, Seattle (WA)

 
263. Sonic Ledgers of Dissent

Washington Hilton, Jefferson West (C)

CHAIR: Deborah R. Vargas, University of California, Riverside (CA)

PAPERS:

Andreana Clay, San Francisco State University (CA)
Searching for Caushun: Homo Thuggery and the Search for Queer Black Masculinity

Gaye Theresa Johnson, University of California, Santa Barbara (CA)
The Future has a Past: Spatial Entitlement, Race, and Cultural Expression in Black and Brown Los Angeles, 1940–Present

Sherrie Tucker, University of Kansas (KS)
Following the State on the Dance Floor of the Nation: The FBI at the Hollywood Canteen

Shana Redmond, University of Southern California (CA)
All Around the World, Same Song: The Trials of Black Musical Genre and Racial Solidarity in the Twentieth Century

COMMENT: Herman Gray, University of California, Santa Cruz (CA)

 

"Washington DC_cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin" by Flickr user robposse, CC BY 2.0

“Washington DC_cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin” by Flickr user robposse, CC BY 2.0

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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2013

 

8:00 am – 9:45 am

 288. Folklorization on the National Mall: Representations of Culture through the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Washington Hilton, Georgetown West (C)

CHAIR: William S. Walker, State University of New York, College at Oneonta (NY)

PAPERS:

Virginia Myhaver, Boston University (MA)
Institutionalizing the Folk: Emergent Neo-Liberalism and the Mixed Legacy of the Bicentennial Folklife Festival

Jesse Pearlman Karlsberg, Emory University (GA)
Participation on Folklore’s Terms: Sacred Harp Singing at the 1970 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife

Olivia Cadaval, Smithsonian Institution (DC)
Negotiating Cultural Representations through the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Diana Baird N’Diaye, Smithsonian Institution (DC)
Curating Crucial Conversations about Twenty-first-Century African American Diversity at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

COMMENT: William S. Walker, State University of New York, College at Oneonta (NY)

  

10:00 am – 11:45 am

300. Latinas/os Onscreen and On/Off Air: Rethinking Contemporary Media Audiences and Discourses

Washington Hilton, D – Du Pont (T)

CHAIR: Mari Castañeda, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (MA)

PAPERS:

Jillian Báez, City University of New York, College of Staten Island (NY)
Losing Weight, Balancing, and Aging: Intergenerational Readings of the Mediated Latina Body

Dolores Inés Casillas, University of California, Santa Barbara (CA)
Lost in Translation: The Politics of Spanish-language Radio Ratings

María Elena Cepeda, Williams College (MA)
Latinidad as Transnational Marketing Construct and Performative Category: Latina/o Youth Interpret Los Tigres del Norte and Calle 13’s “América”

Hannah Noel, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (MI)
Imagining NPR’s National Publics: Latinas/os and Neoliberal Models of Social Regulation

COMMENT: Mari Castañeda, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (MA)

 

"Washington DC Day 2 - a bit blurry" by Flickr user H. Michael Miley, CC BY-SA 2.0

“Washington DC Day 2 – a bit blurry” by Flickr user H. Michael Miley, CC BY-SA 2.0

Sonic Borders Virtual Panel: Devon Powers’s “Popular Music Studies: An Audible Discipline?”

listening1“Without careful deliberation about these issues, then, the perennial marginalization of sound in numerous fields may quite easily result in the eclipse of popular music studies. Given the choice, it is quite possible that sound studies will become the terrain of choice for answering questions related to sonic phenomena, leaving popular music scholars with  an existential question: who are we and where are we going? And more: how should those of us who study popular music think about ourselves? Are we sound studies scholars by another name? What might be lost were we to decide that we were? In short, does popular music studies continue to matter?[. . . ].”  [Reblogged from IASPM-US.net]

Click here to continue reading today’s installment at IASPM-US.

SO IASPM7

Sonic Borders Schedule

1/21 – Liana Silva, Sounding Out! – “I’m on My New York Sh*t”: Jean Grae’s Sonic Claims on the City

1/28 – Regina Bradley, Sounding Out! – I Like the Way You Rhyme, Boy: Hip Hop Sensibility and Racial Trauma in Django Unchained

2/4 – Marcus Boon, Sounding Out! – One Nation Under a Groove?: Music, Sonic Borders, and the Politics of Vibration

2/6 – Barry Shank, IASPM-US – On Popular Music Studies

2/11 – Tavia Nyong’o, Sounding Out! – Freedom Back: Sounding Black Feminist History, Courtesy the Artists

2/13 – Theo Cateforis, IASPM-US – No Control, or: How I Learned to Start Worrying about Sound

2/18 – Tara Betts, Sounding Out! – They Do Not All Sound Alike: Sampling Kathleen Cleaver, Assata Shakur, and Angela Davis

2/20 – Shana L. Redmond, IASPM-US – The Sounds We Make Together: Chuck Berry’s Onomatopoeia

2/25 – Airek Beauchamp, Sounding Out! – Queer Timbres, Queered Elegy: Diamanda Galás’s The Plague Mass and the First Wave of the AIDS Crisis

2/27 – Devon Powers, IASPM-US – Popular Music Studies: An Audible Discipline?

 

Queer Timbres, Queered Elegy: Diamanda Galás’s The Plague Mass and the First Wave of the AIDS Crisis

SO IASPM7Welcome to the final week of our February Forum on “Sonic Borders,”  a collaboration with the IASPM-US blog in connection with this year’s IASPM-US conference on Liminality and Borderlands, held in Austin, Texas from February 28 to March 3, 2013.  The “Sonic Borders” forum is a Virtual Roundtable cross-blog entity that will feature six Sounding Out! writers posting on Mondays through February 25, and four writers from IASPM-US, posting on Wednesdays starting February 6th and ending February 27th.  For an encore of weeks one through four of the forum, click here. And now, while we regret to inform you that Art Jones’s dispatch from Pakistan must be re-booked at a later date, the show must go on . . .and I am thrilled that writer and Ph.D. student Airek Beauchamp is stepping in as our closing act. Make no mistake, he brings the pain!  Once again, Sounding Out! gives you something you can feel. –JSA, Editor-in-Chief

At dinner a few days later in the Village Jarrod tells me that he cries whenever anyone says that they really ‘get’ his work. Because his work is so horrifying. It hurts him to know that he has inflicted it upon someone, someone able to understand it.–A.W. Strouse, in reference to the recent performance of Jarrod Kentrell at Ps1‘s “The Meeting”

I first heard Diamanda Galás’s The Plague Mass (1991) around 1994, when I would have been about 20 years old. Equal parts mass and babble, The Plague Mass is an elegiac tribute to Galás’s brother and other victims of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a sonic rage against the silence surrounding the disease that redefines “the elegy” in the process. I suppose that I should make a confession here and say that contracting HIV was one of my biggest fears at the time. I was fresh out of the closet and ready to experiment, yet the media coverage of the crisis had pretty much told me that, as a gay man, an active sex life was a death sentence, a message I had been receiving since I was in fourth grade. There was something in Galás’s record to which I automatically, deeply connected.  Although this brand of desire was new to me, there was also something deeply familiar about it–ancient even–and this feeling was produced by the horror of her work, not in spite of it.

PM

Cover of The Plague Mass (1991)

Recorded live in 1990 at Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, The Plague Mass was  conceived as a performance piece, enabling Galás to use sound to move in a messy, unstructured, and often terrifying way across multi-dimensional space.  Her sonic trajectories seemed to take my global, abstract fears and make them intimate and concrete. In “Diamanda Galás: Defining the Space In-between,” Julia Meier describes Galás’s soundscape as composed of “chants, shrieks, gurgles, hisses often at extreme volumes, frequently distorted electronically and accompanied by a torrent of words” which defy description (2). In the space created by this cacophony, Galás mourns her brother, responding to the silence surrounding AIDS by making use of what composer and sound theorist Yvon Bonenfant refers to as “queer timbres” in “Queer Listening to Queer Vocal Timbres,” the unique, dynamic sounds of desire and self in the voice that also operate as a kind of touch, a reaching out to other desired and desiring bodies.  In homage to Antonin Artaud’s theory of the theater of cruelty–in which audiences are exposed through multisensory domains to truths they often do not wish to see–Galás uses queer timbres to form an outsized means of aural communication in The Plague Mass that fills more affective space than standard musical productions or theater productions.  The shrieks and howls suggest Galas as depicted on the album’s cover: flayed, raw, and radically open to the passage of every vibration. By erasing semantic and syntactical codes, these sounds deeply engage the entire body in the process of making sound.

Artaud

Artaud

Queering the traditional theater, Artaud argued for new intersensuality that would occupy space in a three-dimensional manner.  In The Theater and Its Double, Artaud describes how the “intensities of colors, lights, or sounds, which utilize vibration, tremors, repetition, whether of a musical rhythm or a spoken phrase, special tones or a general diffusion of light, can obtain their full effect only by dissonances. But instead of limiting these dissonances to a single sense, we shall cause them to overlap from one sense to the other” (125).  Texturing sound, or working with dissonance and disruption to create a more forceful product,  offered Artaud a unique play between the senses, allowing it a more direct and apparent physical impact upon the bodies of both performers and the audience.

The plague and how it inhabits and destroys bodies is a central metaphor for sound and language in the work of both Artaud and Galás. Artaud focused much of his theory on the plague as an example not only of an affective space but also as a transformative event in human history and in individual lives. Artaud’s writing on the plague, however, also garnered him harsh criticism. By suggesting a theater in which language became subordinate to the shriek, the grunt or other non-semantic orality, he decried all of traditional French theater and its lofty legacy. Nonetheless, he was invited to speak about his essay “The Theater and the Plague” at the Sorbonne.  Deciding to actually incorporate his ideas about ‘liquefying boundaries,” he began speaking in a standard oratorical mode but slowly devolved into a theatrical performance of the plague, eventually ending in shrieks of physical pain. In Watchfiends & Rack Screams, Clayton Eshleman describes how, by the end of his speech, the only people left in the lecture hall were a minor contingent of his close friends, including Anais Nin, who recounted the tale (12).  The shrieks, the howls are all a further way to engage the whole body in the process of making sound, while also erasing semantic and syntactical code. In Gilles Deleuze’s estimation of Artaud’s work in The Logic of Sense, it reached the depths of language: “The word no longer expresses an attribute of the state of affairs; its fragments merge with unbearable sonorous qualities, invade the body where they form a mixture and a new state of affairs… In this passion, a pure language-affect is substituted for the effect of language” (89).

Jaap Blonk performs Artaud’s “To Have Done with the Judgement of God”

Reflecting and refracting Artaud, Galás uses the space of The Plague Mass to re-consider and re-theorize the ailing body. In her work the body represents not just Galás herself, but also the bodies of all the afflicted, the bodies issuing negation of suffering, and finally, the collective body of the spectacle of the AIDS crisis.  Like Artaud, Galás sees the plague of AIDS as transformative, but without the safe buffer provided by the critical space of history.  This plague is instead an immediate issue made all the more volatile due to the refusal to help the victims by the conservative Reagan administration as well as the rigidity of the Catholic Church’s encoded dogma that characterizes homosexuality as sinful depravity and refuses to acknowledge the need for AIDS education and condom distribution.  Galás evidences this in the opening track “There Are No More Tickets to the Funeral” which incorporates traditional Christian hymns, liturgical representations of condemnation, and the voices of the afflicted.

These appropriated sounds circulate in constant tension, queering the ominous, authoritative patriarchal drones by contrasting them to the timbres of desire and pain embodied by the shrieks.  In “Confessional (Give Me Sodomy or Give Me Death),” the narrator’s voice bleeds into the frantic voice of the defiant dying, blending in with the conjured voices of angels of death that hover over the bed. This commentary places the listener in a very immediate and uncomfortable multidimensional space encompassing several terrifying aspects of death.  Here Galás exemplefies Bonenfant’s queer timbres through the tactile effect of layered sound that is felt with the skin, in the bones, as well as with the ears, communicating a palpable experience that lies beyond the barely-nuanced music it is seductively easy to grow accustomed to.

It is Galás’s use of sound’s affective properties that makes The Plague Mass most effective as queered communication.  In “This is the Law of the Plague” she incorporates elements of glossolalia, colloquially known in religious communities as “speaking in tongues,” a speech act that embodies voice by implying a physical loss of control of the body as well as the casting off of concrete linguistic structure.  Galás’s use of glossolalia deliberately blurs the border between spiritual possession and the madness inherent to AIDS as the virus passed through the blood/brain barrier of its human host.

Aided by electronics, Galás’s vocals begin as the chant of orator. Punctuated by a throbbing, sparse single drum-beat, her sickened, keening crawl of words enumerates in detail what it is that defines a person as unclean.  The language is precisely enunciated, each word sharply edged and cornered—a practice that would no doubt double Artaud over in pain, given his struggle with schizophrenia that left him vulnerable to crisp sounds.  Slowly, Galás’s voice rises to the shriek of a pious, avenging angel, a shrill, wail shimmering with vibrato communicating the sound of a raptured body, rent in chaotic ecstasy. Eventually her ululations are submerged in a bath of primordial babble, a place where language moves in every direction through a body somehow more permeable, a sonic space that Deleuze would describe as topographic, that is, possessing heights and depths. Enacting and inviting the babble of the mad and the afflicted maintains a red line on the tolerance of the listener’s psyche before returning, without ceremony, to the sparse and cold incantations of the church.  Here queer(ed) timbres push the audience to limits well past the reaches of patriarchal or accepted sound; Galas plays along the edge of tolerance before dropping the audience abruptly back into the decidedly colder and less humane sonic tropes of an unforgiving religion.

Galás’s sonic practices encourage in me a listening that reaches out into space to connect with these sounds, whose physicality communicates fears and apprehensions that are old enough to feel genetically encoded in my psyche.  Bonenfant describes this reaching as “queer listening,” an extrinsic process based on desire in which “we listen ‘out’ for (reaching towards) voices that we think will gratify us” (77).  Bonenfant queers the body in the process of sound; it becomes abstracted, absorbed into a process and functioning on many layers that include—but also subsume—the subjective Cartesian body of agency we are comfortable with. The body becomes bodies, and it becomes present in spaces that go beyond the immediate space it occupies in space/time.  Galas traverses time and space in The Plague Mass, from the ancient litanies of hymns and spirituals to the anguish of those afflicted with AIDS, and layers voice on voice until they are inextricable, a huge din telling more than just a story, or The Story but the stories of many.

Image by Flickr User 1v0

Image by Flickr User 1v0

In a personal e-mail exchange, Bonenfant clarified his relation to both Artaud and Galás.  When asked if he was influenced by Artaud he explained:

Not directly, but certainly indirectly, and his ideas affect extended voice practice generally. I think the idea of the ‘theatre of cruelty’ is often deeply misunderstood and it was a product of its time. I understand Artaud to have been crying out for an anti-bourgeois theatre that actually stirred people up. But stirring people up is only part of the story. What stirs some, attracts others. Now, my argument is more that: these voices we might call ‘queer’ stir SOME people up but actually they ATTRACT others – others who might be seeking queered bodies to contact.

Bonenfant went on to explain that artists such as Galás can thus make contact with people who desire the kind of disruption or ‘stirring’ that they provide. He went on to relate a story that Galás shared in an interview, in which she described a performance in which she looked out at the audience and noticed a very young boy listening to her perform. For the rest of the concert, Galás said she felt guilty for the damage she was undoubtedly inflicting on the young boy’s ears and psyche. However, after the concert the boy approached her and thanked her profusely. It turns out that he had suffered from a terminal and painful illness and felt unable to express the physical and emotional distress that he lived with. Here, though, was an artist onstage articulating it, broadcasting it to him and others, for him and others.  This is what Bonenfant refers to as “an affective, somatic bond” created through shared sonic experience, and this is what Galas constructs.  By standard definitions The Plague Mass is almost unlistenable, but yet it has connected audiences remote in space and time (a nod here to Karen Tongson’s “remote intimacy”).  A sonic reaching out attracting listeners similarly reaching, its indelicate music draws the suffering near, providing a form of collective comfort by exploring and embodying the suffering, grief, and rage located beyond the permeable membrane of conscious thought and feeling.

Diamanda Galas performing in the 1980s, Image Courtesy of Flickr User Carl Guderian

Diamanda Galas performing in the 1980s, Image Courtesy of Flickr User Carl Guderian

It is this kind of connection through a tonal richness that is uncoded but yet full of information  that is radically important.  Galás’s groans, growls, and chants create an intersubjective circuit of communication that moves active listening outside of the body and draws visceral connections in a three-dimensional psychic space. This is what Galás immediately stirred in me back in 1994, and what I have been determined to recover and communicate since that first listening cut me to the quick. Queer listening does not just entail an affirmation of the soundtracks of queer lives–a kind of perpetual disco, 12” remix project–but rather it also demands a critical–and visceral–vulnerability to the jarring, violent world arranged against queer agency.  Galas’s work  hijacks the elegy and queers it, extending it to us as an offering against the true horror: the official silence in the face of so much death.

Featured Image of Diamanda Galás courtesy of Flickr user digital_freak

A Taurus who enjoys the ocean, Airek Beauchamp is currently at SUNY Binghamton pursuing his PhD in Creative Writing. He also studies composition pedagogy and queer theory, although he is becoming more and more seduced by sound studies.  He can rock a disco all night or just stay in and maybe catch up on some 30 Rock. Some call him fancy, some call him a bitch, but really he is both. He is a multiplicity of multiplicities, all in one mortal shell.

Sonic Borders Virtual Panel: Shana Redmond’s “The Sounds We Make Together: Chuck Berry’s Onomatopoeia” from IASPM-US

chuck-berry-my-dingaling-chess-4For a song often derided as trite, “My Ding-a-Ling” has much to tell us about the immediate post-civil rights sexual imagination. This imagination was not organized around the puerility of the title but rather the performer’s unique history, which he demonstrates through distinct musical and listening practices on stage. Chuck Berry’s 1972 live recording from the Lanchester Arts Festival in Coventry, England, models musical reciprocity as he sings both to and for his co-ed audience. His vocal of the onomatopoeia “ding-a-ling” resonates as a thinly veiled sexual reference while also lingering in the performance space as that which beckons the audience to sing-a(-)long, a practice that he regularly responds to with improvisatory comments. The “harmony” that he notes coming from two women attendees is announced by Berry in the moment as a sexual relation, not only with him as they sing with his “Ding-a-Ling” but also with each other, producing their own queer counterpoint. A number of asides within his performance exhibit the collaborative nature of Black music-making and the play involved in Black crossover to the mainstream. Berry’s project on stage that night also manifests a collision and collusion of popular music and sound studies by erotically traversing a number of performative and sonic boundaries through the exposure of alternative sexual relations. [Reblogged from IASPM-US.net]

Click here to continue reading today’s installment at IASPM-US.

SO IASPM7Sonic Borders Schedule

1/21 – Liana SilvaSounding Out! – “I’m on My New York Sh*t”: Jean Grae’s Sonic Claims on the City

1/28 – Regina BradleySounding Out! – I Like the Way You Rhyme, Boy: Hip Hop Sensibility and Racial Trauma in Django Unchained

2/4 – Marcus BoonSounding Out! – One Nation Under a Groove?: Music, Sonic Borders, and the Politics of Vibration

2/6 – Barry Shank, IASPM-US – “On Popular Music Studies”

2/11 – Tavia Nyong’oSounding Out! – “Freedom Back: Sounding Black Feminist History, Courtesy the Artists”

2/13 – Theo Cateforis, IASPM-US – “No Control, or: How I Learned to Start Worrying About Sound”

2/18 – Tara BettsSounding Out!, They Do Not All Sound Alike: Sampling Kathleen Cleaver, Assata Shakur, and Angela Davis

2/20 – Shana L. Redmond, IASPM-US – The Sounds We Make Together: Chuck Berry’s Onomatopoeia

2/25 – Art JonesSounding Out!

2/27 – Devon Powers, IASPM-US

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