Digital Technologies and the Call for New Genres of Theory

[Cross-posted from the Fordham Graduate Studies Digital Humanities blog.]

I recently attended a panel discussion at the NYU Center for the Humanities to kick off the release of a new book, Theorizing Sound Writing, ed. Deborah Kapchan (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2017). The book explores the relationship of writing and aurality (the study of listening) in order to pursue two aims: It theorizes how to write about sound, and it uses its premise of listening to point toward compassionate scholarship. Kapchan, the volume’s editor and chair of the panel cites philosopher Jacques Attali’s pronouncement that theorizing through language and mathematics is insufficient because “it is incapable of accounting for what is essential in time—the qualitative and the fluid, threats and violence.”[1] From this criticism he calls for new “theoretical forms” that can better respond to temporal experience. Kapchan points out that thirty years later we find a similar call from theorist Lauren Berlant, who identifies the need “to invent new genres for the kind of speculative work we call ‘theory.’”[2]

I wonder what these new genres could be. I don’t wonder, however, whether digital technologies will be a part of them. They will, but how? Two examples illustrate the potential roles that digital technologies may take in theorizing our past and current experiences, even if the role is one of absence. In his chapter “Acoustic Palimpsests” J. Martin Daughtry lays out different iterations of his process of writing the article, beginning with a Russian poem by Anna Akhmatova, followed by the first draft of his introduction to the chapter but entirely crossed out like so. He moves through multiple other layers, each marked as a separate section of the chapter, that include a subsequent introduction draft written in 2009; a passage from Jorge Luis Borges; sonic accumulation in recordings of Iurii Kirsanov; photographic examples of street art palimpsests composed of accreted layers of pasted advertisements, graffiti, and partial decomposition from weathering; and various marginalia. In the penultimate section of the chapter Daughtry admits to doubts and asks,

Having inscribed this layered text, this meditation on erasure, can I erase what I’ve written so far? Can I wipe out my treatment of Kirsanov, and Filon, and soldiers in Iraq, and iPod users, only to try again to capture their essence tomorrow? Like a medieval scribe with a scraping knife, can I unwrite this text? In doing so, can I compel you, dear reader to unread it?

Of course I cannot.

[Delete all.] 

[Restart.][3]

Daughtry even does restart with one more brief section following this one, a transcription of pencil scribbles on the “back of the last page” in multiple hands that does not identify the authors, the document scribbled on, or the context of the scribbles.

I couldn’t help wondering what such an experimental chapter form would look like in digital format. In a video or audio version these layers could be shown individually, but then they could also be entirely stacked on top of one another at the end to show the cumulative palimpsest Daughtry creates. The potential for these digital technologies is because of their ability to capture events in and across time. But Daughtry’s sections are not equal in their textual length, and so if they were stacked, how would a digital format temporally deal with their varied lengths? Some layers might finish far before others. I.e., if the text was read at the same pace for each section (another formal and interpretive decision in and of itself), Akhmatova’s poem would finish long before the analysis of Kirsanov’s recordings. Although palimpsests are created over time, digital technologies show, by capturing moments in time, the singular, instant-like nature of palimpsests as well. If we consider different genres for theory, Daughtry’s experimental chapter exhibits the limitations of the standard text or book-based form and offers promising potential for foregrounding his ideas and for raising new ones through digital genres.

But another contribution, “Sound Commitments: Extraordinary Stories,” by Tomie Hahn, shows the limitations of digital formats. She begins her chapter with a warning that it is a performance and is to be read out loud. She entreats the reader, “Join in the performance. Explore the presence of text, the vulnerability and ephemerality of embodying text, by listening to each sound formed by your voice. In this way you will be sharing the text while also experiencing and altering Hahn’s fieldwork experiences.”[4] How would a digital format affect this chapter? The chapter itself asks to be performed, to be sounded. But a digital performance would remove the experience of personally performing the text. A digital performance risks pinning it down to a single, authoritative performance, like sticking a pin in a butterfly to preserve it, and this is antithetical to Hahn’s goals for the chapter. In this respect digital technologies can act as a collection (no doubt Hahn uses them in her fieldwork referred to above), but in tracking temporal performance, as Attali asks, textual forms may lose the potential of their timelessness and openness to multiple performers.

In this volume’s project of more mindful listening digital technologies allow us, on the one hand, to do so in a more somatic sense. If theory needs new genres, digital genres may help to develop more sympathy from physical experience and help to better account for the lived and sensed experience of being human. On the other hand, digital formats will, as we continue to learn, also open new questions about the limits of mediating the human experience no matter what technology we use and argue for occasions when they, like analog technologies, come up short.

 

[1] Jacques Attali qtd. in Deborah Kapchan, “The Splash of Icarus: Theorizing Sound Writing/ Writing Sound Theory” in Theorizing Sound Writing (ed. Deborah Kapchan (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2017), 2.

[2] Lauren Berlant qtd. in Ibid.

[3] J. Martin Daughtry, “Acoustic Palimpsests” in Theorizing Sound Writing, 79.

[4] Tomie Hahn, “Sound Commitments” in Theorizing Sound Writing, 138.

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Duo Cantabile, Friday, June 16, 2017

Join us for an evening of music drawn from the lyrical repertoire of the past century. With Claudia Schaer on violin and Helen Lin on piano, the concert features music composed by Claude Debussy, Lawrence Kramer, Arvo Pärt, Igor Stravinsky, and Toru Takemitsu.

National Opera Center, Marc A Scorca Hall

330 Seventh Avenue (between 27th and 28th Streets)

Friday, June 16, 2017, 7:30 PM

Admission Free

Duo Cantabile - Flyer

Voices Up! April 22, 7:30PM, Fordham University, Lincoln Center

You are cordially invited to join us for a special Voices Up! concert featuring a musical setting of Elisabeth Frost’s poetic sequence All of Us by Robin Julian Heifetz on Saturday, April 22 at 7:30PM at the 12th-floor Lounge of Fordham University Lincoln Center, 113 W. 60th St., New York City.  Admission is free.

Performed by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Krasovec and pianist Jesse Goldberg, the concert also features music by Lawrence Kramer and poetry by Emily Dickinson and Hart Crane. All are invited to join the reception after the concert.

Kathryn Krasovec (http://www.kathrynkrasovec.com/) has performed on such prominent stages as The Metropolitan Opera, Spoleto Festival USA, Weill Hall/Carnegie Hall, National Theater of Prague, and Theater Bremen in Germany.

For more information visit http://tinyurl.com/Voices8.
Please contact Sharon Harris (sharris29@fordham.edu) with any questions.

CFP for Arvo Pärt: Sounding the Sacred

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A conference of the Sacred Arts Initiative and the Arvo Pärt Project at St. Vladimir’s Seminary,

in collaboration with the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University

May 1-4, 2017 | McNally Amphitheater | 140 W. 62nd Street

Fordham University Lincoln Center Campus | New York City

We are pleased to announce an international conference to be held from May 1-4, 2017 in the heart of New York City’s vibrant Lincoln Center music scene. This event will bring together scholars from diverse fields (music, theology, sacred acoustics/sound studies, architecture, religious studies, philosophy, et al.), as well as artists experienced in the performance and recording of Pärt’s music, to create a unique forum for the exchange of ideas, research, practices and creativity on the topics of sound and the sacred.

 

Description

The music of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is frequently connected with experiences of the sacred. Although the composer’s religious affiliation is specifically Orthodox Christian, his music and its impact carry an appeal beyond confessional and religious boundaries. His popularity crosses over customary distinctions between classical and popular music, sacred and secular art, liturgical space and concert hall.

The unique impact of Pärt’s music has been explored musicologically—and more recently through the lens of spirituality—but not yet in terms of the more basic elements of sound and embodiment. Through a two-fold approach, with more or less direct relationship to the Pärt repertoire, we seek to break new ground exploring primary questions around how music achieves its visceral and spiritual effect on human beings through the materiality of the movement of air impressing itself on the human body.

  • By directly exploring Pärt’s music and its effects, we seek to build upon and deepen previous studies addressing the tension-resolution dynamic inherent in his signature tintinnabuli In addition, the following kinds of Pärt-specific questions will be explored: Does Pärt’s music carry its own sonic esthetic? What does that esthetic, and its particular qualities, entail for his performers and recording engineers? What are the acoustical and sensory factors involved in the venues of Pärt performances? What are the effects of texts/words, and their respective languages, as vehicles for the music’s impact? How, through Pärt’s work, is the sacred conveyed through sound?
  • Drawing on—but also going beyond—the music and impact of Pärt as phenomenon, this conference also seeks to open up broader but related questions of sound and the sacred: Given that Pärt’s sacred music is frequently performed in the secular concert hall, how is/is not the sacred bound by environment, text, or liturgical/religious purpose? What is the nature of sound as phenomenon to represent, reveal, communicate, and/or effect the sacred? Can one assume that a composer’s spirituality informs the sound of her/his music, or might the question be fruitfully turned around to ask how the practice of making music might inform the composer’s spirituality? This effort is part of a broader reconsideration of how the materiality and physicality of sound and the practices of music-making interact with spiritual, theological, and philosophical domains and concer

 

Speakers

Confirmed speakers include Jeffers Engelhardt, Alexander Lingas, Bissera Pentcheva, Kevin Karnes, Toomas Siitan, Andrew Shenton, and Robert Saler, as well as an exclusive filmed interview on the conference theme with Paul Hillier. We are seeking to interweave musical performances with presentations and discussion sessions. The conference will open with a special appearance by Manfred Eicher.

 

Call for Papers

We welcome papers (~2,000 words) exploring the kinds of connections outlined above. Please email your proposal of 500 words (maximum) to Dr. Peter Bouteneff at pcb@svots.edu by January 15, 2017. Papers accepted for delivery at the conference will also be reviewed for inclusion in the publication of its proceedings.

 

Details

The conference will be held at the Lincoln Center campus of Fordham University. Affiliated events may be held at nearby venues.

This conference is open to the public. Registration and further details forthcoming; learn more at

http://www.sacredartsinitiative.com/activities-2/arvo-part-sounding-sacred/

Conference Advisory  Board:

  • Peter Bouteneff (director, Sacred Arts Initiative / Arvo Pärt Project)
  • Jeffers Engelhardt (Amherst College)
  • Lisa Radakovich Holsberg (Fordham University)
  • Nicholas Reeves (Adelphi University)
  • Robert Saler (Christian Theological Seminary)

 

Contact: conference@arvopartproject.com

Download the CFP: arvo-part-sounding-the-sacred-cfp-unicode-encoding-conflict.

 

Upcoming Concert by Seven)Suns, Dec. 1

sevensuns

The Voices Up! concert series presents Seven)Suns at

Fordham University Lincoln Center, 12th floor lounge

Thursday, December 1, 7:30PM

Free Admission

SEVEN)SUNS is the first classical/metal/hardcore string quartet. Its repertoire is drawn from works by the members of the group, reimagined string quartet versions of metal and hardcore songs, and music from the Western art music tradition.

SEVEN)SUNS has played The Gallery at Le Poisson Rouge, The Cell Theater, Firehouse Space, Shapeshifter Lab, and The Knitting Factory. They held a residency at the Avaloch Farm Music Institute in New Hampshire last summer and will return there in summer 2017. They are the recipients of a generous grant from the Brooklyn Arts Council to write and perform a piece tentatively entitled “Songs of the Voiceless” based on their visits to Rikers Island Correctional Facility in New York City.

Music by Arvo Pärt, Earl Meneein, Kenny Grohowski, Ben Weiman, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mr. Bungle, and the premiere of Mosaics by Lawrence Kramer.

Subways: 59th St. Columbus Circle (1, B, D, A), 66th St. Lincoln Center (1). Entrance to Fordham’s Lowenstein Building on the NW Corner of 60th St. and Columbus Ave.

 

 

Upcoming Concert by Zentripetal Saturday, Oct. 15

zentripetal-again

Jennifer DeVore, cello and Lynn Bechtold, violin. Photo by Robert Morton.

As part of the Literary Partners Program, Zentripetal, the violin and cello duo, presents

“Where Words Leave Off, Music Begins Again”

Saturday, October 15, 2016, 4:00 PM

Poets House, 10 River Terrace (at Murray Street)

Admission Free (more…)

Music, Sound and Space: Transformation of Public and Private Experience

On March 4, our reading group convened to discuss two chapters from Cambridge UP’s 2015 anthology Music, Sound and Space: Transformations of Public and Private Experience.  We began with Eric F. Clarke’s “Music, Space and Subjectivity,” which acknowledges both the human capacity to hear space and the ways that sound and music can “specify various real and virtual spaces” (90).  Clarke notes the ocularcentric bias in spatial perception–we can see space so well that we often overlook how effectively we can actually hear space–and examines songs by Pink Floyd, Goldfrapp, and Bjork to highlight how each forms acoustic spaces.

We also explored Jonathan Sterne’s chapter “What the Mind’s Ear Doesn’t Hear,” which, building on his major study MP3: The Meaning of a Format, presents the MP3 as “a political modulation of private listening experience” (111).  Describing the development of the MP3, Sterne explores the criteria sound engineers used to create the most imperceptible decay in sound quality.  Yet, as Sterne explains, since “no two people can occupy the same exact subjective space,” the MP3 must at best rely “upon the measurement of something that can only be approximated: interior listening experience” (113).

We concluded by briefly mentioning another essay on the politics of sound and physical spaces: Michael Bull’s “The Audio-Visual Ipod.” This article observes how the iPod (or any mobile listening device,  I suppose) alters a listener’s perception of his/her environment.   Listening to, for instance, a sad song influences the way we perceive our current environment; the world may, as a result, seem melancholic. The iPod, then, transforms our perception of physical spaces, creating “a satisfying aestheticized reality for [listeners] as they move through daily life” (198).

Next month we will meet to analyze articles from, excitingly, the very first issue of Sound Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal!

Works Cited

Bull, Michael. “The Audio-Visual iPod.” The Sound Studies Reader. Ed. Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012. 197-208. Print.

Born, Georgina, ed. Music, Sound and Space: Transformations of Public and Private Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Print.

New sound studies journal

The first issue of Sound Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal has been published!  The issue’s wide-ranging articles cover a broad range of theories and topics, including “the growing significance of object-oriented ontology, or the shift from an earlier focus on the sound–vision binary to other senses such as touch and its interconnections to issues of affect.”

Editors Veit Erlmann and Michael Bull describe the new journal as follows:

Sound Studies aims to provide a forum for… emergent ideas, theories, and topics [in the field], but it is also committed to an ongoing dialogue with some of the field’s rich legacy in areas such as soundscapes, sound art, film music, histories of listening, the tensions and synergies of sound and vision, and many others.

Check it out at http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rfso20/current.

Scholarly blog: Sounding Out!

Since 2009, Sounding Out! has been publishing rigorous, accessible scholarship in the field of sound studies on a born-digital platform that seeks to curate “scholarship, podcasts, art, and essays—and rhetorical re-mixes of all these elements—devoted to answering four interconnected and interlocking research questions,” to wit:

  • How does listening impact the production of social difference? And vice versa?
  • What is the relationship between sound and power?
  • What is the role of sound and listening in everyday life, particularly in regards to identity construction and performance?
  • How do we understand the cultural histories of various sound media—the phonograph, the radio, the tape recorder, the telephone, the digital recorder and its various playback systems—in relationship to power and the production of social difference?

Editor-in-Chief J. Stoever-Ackerman writes that “Sounding Out! is a weekly online publication, a networked academic archive, and a dynamic group platform bringing together sound studies scholars, sound artists and professionals, and readers interested in the cultural politics of sound and listening.  Every Monday, our writers offer well-researched, well-written, and accessible interventions in sound studies, directing the field’s energy toward the social, cultural, and political aspects of sound and listening, particularly their differential construction of and material impacts on variously positioned bodies.”

Notably, Sounding Out!  is peer-reviewed scholarly publication indexed by the MLA Bibliography (ISSN 2333-0309), but as Stoever-Ackerman explains, the blog “follow[s] an open, developmental model fostered by digital humanities, in which editors and advisors are known to our writers, and provide several rounds of feedback, commentary, and collaboration before publication.  The editorial collective invites contributions via themed calls-for-posts as well as on more general topics related to our research mission.  We especially invite work that uses sound as more than an object of study, but also as a medium of argumentation, experience, provocation, and communication.”

Recent CFP’s include Medieval Sound, Sound and Affect, Gendered Voices, Round Circle of Resonance: José Esteban Muñoz, Sound and Surveillance, and Sound and Pleasure.