Editor’s Note: Today I bring you installment #4 of Sounding Out!‘s blog forum on gender and voice! Last week Regina Bradley put the soundtrack of Scandal in conversation with race and gender. The week before I talked about what it meant to have people call me, a woman of color, “loud.” That post was preceded by Christine Ehrick‘s selections from her forthcoming book, on the gendered soundscape. We have two more left! In the next few weeks we’ll have A.O. Roberts with synthesized voices and gender, and lastly Robin James with an analysis of how ideas of what women should sound like have roots in Greek philosophy.
This week guest writer and professor Art Blake shares with us a personal essay. He talks about how his experience shifting his voice from feminine to masculine as a transgender man intersects with his work on John Cage. So, lean in, close your eyes, and try not to jump to conclusions before you listen. –Liana M. Silva, Managing Editor
When I walked into the packed lecture theatre at the start of the Fall term 2012 I was hoping, more than any other year, to sound convincing. I had been teaching for 11 years by that time so I knew what I was doing. But I was walking into class as a man, for the first time. I was not sure if my newly thickening vocal chords would hold me at a convincing “male” pitch or if I would be able to project that developing voice to the back of the room. I thought I looked “manly” enough; but would I sound manly?
I had been researching and teaching about sound since 2003 but had not confronted myself as a potential object of study until I was preparing to return to teaching in 2012 following the early phase of my transition from female to male. My notions of “masculinity” have never been conventional: as a somewhat incompetent butch-ish lesbian I’d attempted but never “mastered” the appropriate vocal or bodily swagger. I abandoned those conventions to evolve my own more elfin, more queer swish. But on that first day back in the classroom, and for much of that term, I felt I needed to produce “normal guy”—a gender-identity category I didn’t believe in or want to become—so I might feel secure enough later to explore and tweak my newly gendered voice and body. I wanted a baseline from which I could re-build. I wasn’t ready to be out as trans* in the classroom. Yes, I was in a closet; but I needed it to serve as a dressing room, a place of private preparation, rather than as a long-term hiding place.
I started testosterone therapy in January 2011, on a low dose as is the standard of care. As my doctor increased my dose over the months, I noticed the beginning of the physical changes I’d been waiting for: more body hair, muscle development, and a hoarsening voice. I earnestly weighed and measured myself, worked out at the local YMCA, chose a new name and made it legal … and dealt with months of severe anxiety and depression. Puberty isn’t fun, and doing it again in my forties, as part of gender transition, was not the seamless story of celebration familiar from the YouTube videos I’d watched obsessively charting other guys’ transitions. Those videos were mostly about looking male, not sounding male, and rarely addressed transitioning at work, within a profession.
I spoke to a transman, also an academic, to discuss the challenges of transitioning in our profession. His version of masculinity was more conservative than I had expected, and a bit homophobic, but what really worried me was his concern about my voice: “I really hope for your sake your voice changes,” he said. What did he mean? Would I fail the test of public masculinity not only because I wasn’t wearing a jacket and tie but because I sounded feminine?
All those images of authoritative, sonorous, academic masculinity flooded me with panic. Testosterone wasn’t going to make me any taller, give me an Adam’s apple, or bigger hands and feet. I was going to be a small guy, standing at the front of the classroom with years of academic expertise, but a mismatched voice might undermine that basic authority. Female academics, like most female professionals, have to work harder for the respect of students as well as colleagues; we all have seen or know of evidence for this sexism. Men, just by being perceived as male, get more generous teaching evaluations from undergraduates. As I transitioned I found myself grasping for that authority in a way I hadn’t imagined before.
In search of help, I went to see Dr. Gwen Merrick, a therapist in the Speech Pathology section of Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital. Gwen is known in the trans* community and trans* health networks for her work with transwomen. To my surprise I was her first transmale patient. While admitting her lack of experience she also welcomed the challenge to help masculinize my voice and lessen my anxiety around my vocal-gender dysphoria.
So we began: she examined my vocal chords (properly “vocal folds”). We then moved on to discuss my goals and concerns, and began the process of recording my voice—measuring its volume and tone, listening to the digital recordings, and training me to hear and then adjust my vocal pitch and speech rhythms. She gave me vocal exercises for homework, and taught me how to relax and move my larynx lower in my throat to lengthen it and create a lower pitch. Gwen also encouraged me to imagine myself into the vocal change I sought. I tried taking up more space as I sat in her office, head up and chest out, adopting an attitude of greater confidence, channeling the burliest and butchest of my cismale friends.
My scholarly life took a nosedive during those months on medical leave. The first piece of scholarship I re-engaged with during this time was something I’d been thinking about for years: an article about the composer John Cage‘s voice. I wanted to write about the disconnect I had heard between Cage’s speaking voice and my assumptions about him based on his appearance. I sought to hear Cage’s voice in the context of the post-1945 period when he rose to great prominence as a composer. What I gradually came to hear as I returned to this research was how and why Cage’s voice, within the context of the 1950s in particular, spoke to me so profoundly as I emerged publically as trans*.
I first heard his recorded speaking voice while teaching some of his work in an early iteration of my sound studies seminar. I’d seen photographs of Cage as a middle-aged and older man; from those images of a tall, craggy-faced guy in a sports jacket or woolly sweater, I had expected to hear a baritone, chest-resonant, rich “masculine” voice. Instead, Cage’s voice was light, with very little chest register, almost breathy sometimes, and inflected with the rhythm and occasional sibilance of what I “recognized” as a gay male (American) voice.
How had Cage navigated the homophobia of the 1950s with a voice like that? Was what I heard as his audible difference perceived that way in the postwar period as he rose to prominence as a modernist composer? According to some older gay men I’d interviewed for my 2004 radio documentary on the early gay leather scene in the 1950s, they had consciously altered their voices in everyday situations where they didn’t want (or couldn’t risk) being heard as gay. As one guy mentioned, for such circumstances he adopted his “gas station voice”—a vocal pitch and style to get him through such commonplace moments of public masculinity as talking to the gas station attendant. I wondered if Cage also kept one voice in the closet and adopted another one he needed based on circumstance.
As I sought my own “gas station voice” in the fall of 2012, returning to Cage and listening to his voice in his 1956 composition Indeterminacy helped gradually lessen my anxiety about audibly “passing.” Listening to Indeterminacy, a series of stories occasionally interwoven with a piano, allowed me to not only hear but also admire Cage’s voice and the political resonance it may have held in McCarthy-era America.
I looked for examples of Cage speaking outside of his own compositions, someplace more public—someplace where I might hear him put his voice in the closet and butch himself up for the public ear. I looked for ways to contextualize Cage’s voice in the era of determinacy — mainstream 1950s America, high modernist, planned, and in love with postwar military-industrial efficiency and the performance of expertise.
My urban history self focused on New York in the 1950s, listening for other voices resonant with the era’s “structure of feeling.” If heard by a 1958 resident of New York City, Indeterminacy might have sounded somewhat familiar. The experience of listening to all or parts of Indeterminacy resonated with the interruptions, the drowned-out words, the overlapping and oppositional sounds, the proximity of people and machinery, which characterized Manhattan (in particular) in the late 1950s. Cage spent periods of time in New York City as well as upstate in the 1950s, moving between different art scenes. What did New York sound like in the 1950s? The Puerto Rican migration and urban renewal re-shaped the city’s soundscape on the west side, as documented by sound recordist Tony Schwartz and re-presented through the musical West Side Story. I had written about those encounters with audible difference but now wanted to listen more closely. What did the city’s infamous urban planner, master of urban renewal, Robert Moses sound like? What did his outspoken critic Jane Jacobs sound like? And how might I hear their contemporary John Cage in this context with reference to the notion of “indeterminacy”?
Within a Cold War-McCarthyist context, voices represented an aspect of the suspect-self available for investigation, interrogation, and pathologizing. I identified, to an extent, with such a predicament, such a fear of exposure and of the negative consequences I presumed would follow. While I listened to John Cage’s and others’ voices from this period, I listened for how Cold War authorities may have heard them. John Cage’s voice offers indeterminacy itself, hovering in the margins of the tonal, rhythmic, and pitch ranges of conventionally “masculine” and “feminine” voices at mid-century. Despite our contemporary resistance to stereotyping, one hears in Cage’s gendered oscillation, mixing minor chest resonance with the higher, softer, breathier sounds, a definitive type of “gay” male voice: the sissy voice. As Craig Loftin has argued in “Unacceptable Mannerisms: Gender Anxieties, Homosexual Activism, and Swish in the United States, 1945-1965,” during the 1950s gay men as well as the heteronormative majority, produced intense hostility to the archetype of the “sissy,” whose voice and body movements marked him as politically problematic in the context of both homophile activism and Cold War homophobia.
Paul J. Moses aimed to analyze in his 1954 book, The Voice of Neurosis (one of the many works in the field of “personality studies” popular in the 1950s) the personality from the speaking voices of his subjects with a method he called “creative hearing.” Moses’s work suggested that the voice revealed the “true” personality, belying a person’s efforts to disguise themselves through dress, work or relationships. Such secrets could be heard, or listened for, through Moses’ “creative hearing.” Of course, when he published his work in 1954, the Cold War made aural surveillance, the use of listening devices, as well as the “creative hearing” of expert listeners, a crucial weapon in a war of secrets.
In January 1960 John Cage appeared as a contestant on the popular television game show I’ve Got a Secret (CBS, 1952-1967), a show that perfectly channeled concerns about hidden identities at the heart of public and Congressional anti-Communism within Cold War politics in the United States. Derived from the radio show What’s My Line in which a celebrity panel tried to discover a person’s job, in I’ve Got a Secret the panel tried to uncover the contestant’s “secret,” normally something unusual or perhaps embarrassing. The I’ve Got a Secret format played with the tension between who knew and who did not know the contestant’s “secret.” After being introduced by name and hometown, the show’s host asked each contestant to whisper their secret in his ear. During the on-camera intimacy of mouth-to-ear divulgence, text of the revelation scrolled up over the TV screen for the viewers at home and was visible to the studio audience. The panel of celebrity inquisitors could only observe the studio audience’s responses of laughter, shock, or titillation.
John Cage’s appearance on the show was devoted to the performance of his “secret.” Cage whispered to host Garry Moore that he had made a musical composition using a bathtub, jugs, a blender, radios, a piano, a tape recorder, a watering can, and other common household objects. In an absurdist version of a laboratory experiment, Cage darted from one to the other object, pressing buttons, pouring liquids, hitting radios, putting flowers in a bathtub, all the while holding and responding to the stopwatch in his hand. Cage performed inefficiency and absurdity, inviting laughter, the opposite of industrial modernism’s demand for logic, order, and compliance to norms. Cage’s non-compliant, queer performance and composition satirized the efficiency experiments of twentieth century time-management experts; the “Water Walk” “instruments”, all objects from everyday life, bear no productive relation to each other and are not arranged in a manner producing efficiency. Cage thus queered the modern, as typified in mid-20th century American industry, corporate capitalism, and national infrastructure projects such as urban renewal.
Cage’s voice provides an added and unexpected queer flourish to his TV appearance on I’ve Got a Secret. The sound of Cage’s voice (soft, higher-pitched, lilting, slightly sibilant) contrasts with his formal attire and hetero-normative environment. Cage’s voice reveals a “secret”—his homosexuality—different from the “secret” featured on the show. Like most Cold War secrets, it was not a secret to him or his close friends but was supposed to function as a secret in that historical context. Cage resisted, consciously or not, the vocal closet; he made no attempt, as far as I can hear, to alter his voice in the very public context of a live television show. John Cage appears happy, playful, and delighted to perform for the audience. His antic performance of “Water Walk” endeared him to a mid-century audience who came ready to enjoy the show’s pleasurable revelation of secrets.
Other “hearings” of Cage’s non-normative self might well have produced a less relaxed response from those same audience members: his voice at a Congressional HUAC hearing; his voice overheard on the street or in a cafe. The gay or gender non-conformist audience members may have thrilled to Cage’s double-edged performance of his “secrets,” or they may have cringed at such possible revelations, in fear of their also being heard as different but lacking the protection of Cage’s (albeit limited) celebrity.
Standing at the front of the lecture theatre in September 2012, I felt I too had a secret, and my heart pounded, my stomach jittered for fear of its revelation. But, as I continued to listen to Cage’s voice on a recording of Indeterminacy, and to think through his TV performance on I’ve Got a Secret, I grew more able to let go of my fear of being heard as trans*. I heard and saw Cage as a man who resisted convention and a culture of fear and judgment.
Four years on, I no longer worry whether or not my voice signals my transmasculinity. I can’t control how my students or anyone else hears me, or the joy, confusion, curiosity, or disgust their hearing me may produce in them. My last term’s teaching evaluations, from Fall 2014, for that same large lecture class I first taught in Fall 2012, included many positive comments about my teaching; they also included a student’s written comment describing my voice as “gentle” and thus sometimes harder to hear. I will wear a microphone for volume, if needs be, to increase my audibility. But I feel no need to alter what that student heard as “gentle.” I can live with gentle, for which I thank John Cage.
Featured image: from Issue Project Room
Art Blake is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Ryerson University, Toronto, where he also teaches and supervises grad students in the Communication and Culture program. He is completing his second book, Talk To Me: Mediated Voices in 20th Century America. His new research concerns contemporary international urban “maker” cultures.
REWIND!…If you liked this post, you may also dig:
Music to Grieve and Music to Celebrate: A Dirge for Muñoz—Johannes Brandis
On Sound and Pleasure: Meditations on the Human Voice—Yvon Bonefant
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.
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.
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!].
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!: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Back to menu
WEDNESDAY, March 21
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Wednesday, March 21, 2012, 10:00AM-11:45PM (Session A)
A12: Music and Media Shifts
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
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
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”)
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.'”
C9: The Culture and Practice of the Sound Image in Japan around 1930
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”
C17: Audiovisual Archives in the Digital Age
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)
C19: Rebooting the Music Industry
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”
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)”
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)
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)
Back to menu
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
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”
E21: Digital Methodologies for Screen Histories: Performing Research in the 21st Century
Chair: Paul Moore (Ryerson University)
Richard Abel (University of Michigan)
Janet Bergstrom (University of California, Los Angeles)
Ross Melnick (Oakland University)
Jan Olsson (Stockholm University)
James Steffen (Emory University)
Thursday, March 22, 2012 11:00AM-12:45PM (Session F)
F7: Signal Traffic: Researching Media Infrastructures
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”
F10: On the (Re)Death of Radio: Continuities and Changes in Radio in the 21st Century, Part II: Programming
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”
Thursday, March 22, 2012 01:00PM-02:45PM (Session G)
G21: Sound Thinking: Rick Altman and Sound Studies
Chair: Jay Beck (Carleton College)
Co-Chair: Norma Coates (University of Western Ontario)
John Belton (Rutgers University)
Donald Crafton (University of Notre Dame)
Michele Hilmes (University of Wisconsin, Madison)
Amy Lawrence (Dartmouth University)
Jonathan Sterne (McGill University)
Thursday, March 22, 2012 03:00PM-04:45PM (Session H)
H7: Playing With Feelings 1: Video Games and Affect
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
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”
I25: Video Essays: Film Scholarship’s Emergent Form
Chair: Girish Shambu (Canisius College)
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)
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
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. .
Friday, March 23
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
Chair: Andrew Miller (Sacred Heart University)
Co-Chair: Judd Ruggill (Arizona State University)
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)
Friday, March 23, 2012 12:15PM-02:00PM (Session K)
K6: Sonic Approaches to Genre
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
Chair: Joshua Gleich (University of Texas, Austin)
Mark Shiel (King’s College London)
Joshua Gleich (University of Texas, Austin)Merrill Schleier (University of the Pacific)
Erica Stein (University of Arizona)
L21: Over the Borderline: Transnational Radio Histories
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”
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, Room: Constitution
Julianne Pidduck (University of Montreal), “Thinking the Audiovisual Relation: Su Friedrich’s Experimental Kinship Documents,” 02:15PM-04:00PM, Room: White Hill
The organizational meeting to establish a Radio Studies SIG is Friday morning, March 23, from 9am – 10:45am in the Stanbro Room Level 4.
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)
Back to menu
Saturday, March 24
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
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
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”
N15: A Scholarship of Audiovision: Theory/Praxis/Production in the 21st Century
Chair: Brigitta Wagner (Indiana University, Bloomington)
Brigitta Wagner (Indiana University, Bloomington)
Charles Musser (Yale University)
Gabriel Paletz (Prague Film School)
Hanna Shell (Harvard University)
Jesse Shapins (Harvard University)
N23: “You Are Who, Exactly?”: A Workshop on Working with Non-traditional Scholars
Chair: Joan Saab (University of Rochester)
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)
Saturday, March 24, 2012 01:00PM-02:45PM (Session O)
O1: Laughter That “Encounters a Void?”: On Humor and Cinema in the Middle East
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?”
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”
O9: Sound Across Media and Genre
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)
O13: New Perspectives in Cinema and Multilingualism
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”
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”
Q12: Materialities of Film Sound
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
Q16: Collective Scholarship in Digital Contexts
Room: St. James
Chair: Kristina Busse (Independent Scholar)
Kathleen Fitzpatrick (Modern Language Association)
Jason Mittell (Middlebury College)
Richard Edwards (Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis)
Louisa Stein (Middlebury College)
Francesca Coppa (Muhlenberg College)
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
Back to menu
SUNDAY, March 25
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Sunday, March 25, 2012 09:00AM-10:45AM (Session R)
R18: Radio Dynamics
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’”
R25: Expanded Cinema in Four Dimensions: Origins, Senses, Interactivity, Publicness
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”
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”
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
The humid dog days of summer are upon us, and with them their unique soundscape. In central-AC bereft Binghamton,NY, this means the opening of windows from now until the air turns crisp in September, an act whose necessity casts the intimate sounds of my daily life into my neighbor’s homes and invites their sounds into my apartment. You don’t need to be Mrs. Kravitz to pick up on the comings and goings next door; basically, summertime means your biz is in the streets whether you want it to be or not. In my former neighborhood, youthful and well worn, this meant anything from the heated fights of newlyweds—and the equally passionate make-up sessions, stereotypical but true—to bumping music and whose kids go to sleep when. I used to know what video games the guys next door played and how they were progressing, even though I still couldn’t tell you what they looked like.
In wintertime, this heat-necessitated, neighborhood-sanctioned audio voyeurism ends abruptly with the first frost; double-paned windows tell no tales. But for now, the sonic community is vibrant, even in my current neighborhood comprised mainly of retirees: the brush of wind through the trees, the yap of small dogs, the hum-and-drip of wall units, the snarl of lawn mowers and the high-pitched whine of edging equipment—I have learned after trying to work at home a few times that retirees reserve the right to mow any time they damn well please, thank you—and the gossip of family gathered in lawn chair semi-circles two doors down. I knew my next-door-neighbor’s grandchild was visiting two days before she saw me watering my plants and proudly introduced me to the sheepish little one.
I have to say that even after three years of living here, there still a part of me that finds the annual summertime ritual-cum-reality show novel and slightly unnerving. In my home state of (Southern) California windows are rarely opened unless they have bars on them—people worry that strangers will crawl inside, especially when Robert Downey, Jr. is off the wagon—and I have my dad’s perpetual “we aren’t paying to cool the outside” burned into my brain. Not knowing one’s neighbors is often a badge of pride in SoCal and privacy is treated as a right rather than a financially and technologically-enabled privilege or an unfortunate side effect of paranoia. The closest I have come to such a high degree of sonic intermingling was when I lived in a first-floor studio apartment at the bottom of an air-shaft in an old LA building, where, in addition to overhearing all sorts of drama, I would also find unexpected gifts in my shower: old razors, half-used designer shampoos, crusty loofahs.
This season, however, I was really settling in to the summer soundscape until we finally had our first real heat wave. Temperatures skyrocketed into the 90s and the dew point wasn’t far behind, creating an intense humidity that unleashed a noise the likes of which I have never heard before. . .at least not in this acutely painful way. It was finally warm enough for the people behind us to start SWIMMING in their POOL. Pools are a rarity in the Bing, and I have to say that when it is hot enough for sweat to creep down your back, the sheer torture of hearing splash after splash is enough to push anyone over the edge. But my discomfort with the sound is due to more than simply heat frustrations; it reminds me more than anything that even after three years, I remain a stranger in a strange land. Like sound artist and theorist Tony Schwartz reminded us, “There’s no party so noisy as the one you’re not invited to.” And I feel that intensely with every cannonball and yelp of pleasure that I hear over the back fence. I don’t know my neighbors yet—definitely not well enough for impromptu pool parties—and I don’t know anyone with a pool to holler at on a hot day, something I took for granted growing up in suburban SoCal, where swimming pools and homies with some kind of access to them, illicit or not, were much more plentiful. While sound has the ability to moor us to particular locations, it can also unmoor us in the same moment. As I hear the slurp of the choppy water against the concrete rim, I am simultaneously stewing in the shade of the neighbor’s giant pool-view blocking white fence—ironically the only shade in our yard—and I am back in 1980s Riverside, playing Marco Polo until my lungs ached from gulping too much smog. The sounds of swimming are so familiar to me that they are completely foreign in this new location and I can’t help but feel a little alien myself as a result.
A friend recently suggested that I should resolve my noise-related tensions the old-fashioned upstate New York way, by knocking on their door, son in tow, with a basket full of tomatoes fresh from our garden. I have long disagreed with the slogan of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse—“Good Neighbors Keep their Noise to Themselves”—believing that in many occasions, noise is a product of social relations. This instance seems like an excellent test case. Perhaps if good neighbors shared more fresh produce, they would get more pool invites, and all that splashing would blend seamlessly back into the Binghamton summer soundscape. Or, I will pack up the car like usual and continue to be grateful that, unlike SoCal, public pools are still king in these parts.
Sounding Out! would like to hear about your favorite summer sounds. . .and the ones that drive you a little bit crazy. Drop some in our comment box, then adjust the bass and let the Alpine blast. . .