Upcoming Concert and Conference: Music and the Moving Image

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Conference at Fordham University, Lincoln Center

Wednesday, August 12 – Friday, August 14

Concert at Poets House, 10 River Terrace on Saturday, August 15

all events free and open to the public

  

Wednesday, August 12, Lowenstein Building, 12th floor Lounge 113 W. 60th St.

6:45PM           Opening Reception

7:30PM           Concert

See Moving Image Concert Program for additional details.

August 12-15, Lowenstein Building, 12th floor Lounge 113 W. 60th St. and Poet’s House

See Moving Image Conference Schedule for additional details.

Bruce R. Smith – The Acoustic World of Early Modern England: Attending to the O-factor

On October 22, Fordham’s Music and Sound Studies reading group reconvened to discuss its first monograph of the semester: Bruce R. Smith’s The Acoustic World of Early Modern England: Attending to the O-factor.  Smith’s book was well-received, and we found his spatial approach to sound especially compelling.  While sound instinctively seems temporal and ephemeral, Smith responds that it actually is also spatial and enduring.  When we study spaces constructed for particular sonorous environments, we can recover traces of past sounds.  In this way, we can still engage with and act upon absent sounds; the past can become an object of present inquiry.  In other words, thinking of sound spatially grants it a persistence that is not accessible when we think of sound temporally.

We also spent time observing Smith’s astute challenge to Derrida (pp. 11-12). Whereas Derrida wants to locate writing in voice, Smith observes the body in sound production.  Smith criticizes Derrida for effacing the body’s role in creating sounds, as Smith points out that the body stores a set of practices that enables us to produce intelligible speech.

Smith’s book raised other questions about interdisciplinary study (particularly about the literariness of Smith’s endeavor) and about the presence of noise in both theoretical writings (Attali) and historical and literary scholarship (Picker, Cockayne).  These questions concluded our engaging and lively meeting.

The reading group will next meet on November 12 to discuss R. Murray Schafer’s The Soundscape.

March Discussion Recap: Listening and Voice: Phenomenologies of Sound, by Don Ihde

listening and voice

In our third meeting, we discussed Don Ihde’s difficult but classic Listening and Voice: Phenomenologies of Sound. Below are some highlights from the conversation and Ihde’s ideas:

Ihde reminds his readers that to listen phenomenologically is to hear sounds as they are — to hear their essence — and not to perceive them as attached to some objects, i.e. the sounds of the jackhammer. Sounds are not “sounds of things,” Ihde writes (61). By studying the phenomena of sound, Ihde breaks from the “traditions of dominant visualism,” where sounds serve as “anticipatory clues for ultimate visual fulfillments” (54). He also points out that the limit of sight is not darkness but invisibility, and that even a strong invisible wind has a distinct and tangible spatial presence that we perceive by the sound it creates even if we cannot see it directly.

In response to this dominant visualism, one of Ihde’s biggest interventions is his interest in reclaiming sound as spatial. Ihde writes that the auditory is often associated with temporality; it seems to arise and disappear, not occupying a spatial presence. However, Ihde contends that all sounds, even muteness, have their own auditory space. Matt elucidated Ihde’s claim by noting that muteness is always visually noticeable on a spectrograph.  The absence of sound, then, also occupies space and has a demonstrable spatial presence.

Step by step Ihde illuminates how in listening we hear shapes and surfaces. We can hear if an object rolling in a box is round or some other shape. Simultaneously we hear the surface of the box, just as we can hear the surface of a sidewalk as luggage rolls along it. This association of the sonic with the spatial departs from or, perhaps more accurately, expands on the typical sonic-temporal pairing.

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Sound+ Conference this weekend

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If you’re interested in a promising conference this weekend, check out the Sound+ Conference at the University of Maryland. You can see the program of speakers and panels here, and you can check out soundbites related to the conference here. It’s free to the public; just be sure to register. Below is the conference description:

Increasingly, and across a broad variety of fields, a conversation has been unfolding about the sounds that produce, surround and absorb “text.” Work on cultural sites ranging from the jazz of the Harlem Renaissance, to the resonance-chamber of Shakespeare’s Globe, to the audio compression format of the MP3, to the acoustic torture at Guantanamo Bay, has begun to challenge models in which text is understood as a predominantly visual, linguistic construct.

This conference brings together leading scholars who have helped to reconceive the relationship between sound and text. Emphasizing the interdisciplinary nature of sound studies and the importance of research on the ways in which experiences of sound are culturally produced, Jonathan Sterne has written, “Sound studies should be a central meeting place where sonic imaginations go to be challenged, nurtured, refreshed and transformed.” “Sound+” offers a space to pursue this goal.

As work on soundscapes, audio technologies and acoustic ecologies continues to open up new ways of thinking about the sonic dimensions of literature, this conference invites scholars from a range of fields to address the following questions:

  • What happens when text is mediated through acoustic environments?
  • How does sound become categorized as literary?
  • How do writing and sound thread together in areas such as theater, opera, jazz, film, hip-hop, poetry, performance art, and digital literatures?
  • How does writing encode or remediate sound, and how is literature shaped by acoustic technologies from voice to byte?
  • How does sound reshape the politics of literature, and how are political acts distributed between text and sound?

Scholars of literature, rhetoric, composition, media studies, science and technology studies, art and culture studies, architecture, philosophy, political economy, the practice of politics and other fields have demonstrated the limitations of conceiving of text in purely discursive terms. This work has helped re-direct attention to the voice, to performance, and especially to listening practices that impact how we understand cultures, contexts and objects previously analyzed through approaches that privileged the eye. This conference promises to extend and expand upon those conversations.

Ted Gioia: “Music Criticism Has Degenerated into Lifestyle Reporting”

220px-Ted_GioiaA few days ago on The Daily Beast, the prominent music critic Ted Gioia posted a scathing critique of modern mainstream music criticism, arguing that it has devolved from thoughtful analyses of sound into “lifestyle reporting,” or gimmicky reports of celebrity culture. Lamenting that “music journalism has retreated into a permanent TMZ-zone, where paparazzi and prattlers, not critics, set the tone,” Gioia concludes that lifestyle-driven criticism “poisons our aural culture.” He demands a critical shift from tabloid-y gossip columns to technical analyses of music (with its accompanying jargon), hoping that authentic talent can once again be acknowledged and celebrated by the masses and national media. This well-written article raises many questions: first, is he right? Has music criticism degenerated? Also, does Gioia subordinate cultural analyses to technical analyses of music? If so, is he wrong for doing so?

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February Discussion Recap: Noise, by Jacques Attali

Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Fight between Lent and Carnival

Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Fight between Lent and Carnival

Last week, our sound studies group met to discuss Jacques Attali’s Noise. For over an hour we discussed the central claims of Attali’s textits implications on sound studies, and the many ways it still resonates today.

First, we defined what Attali means by noise.  He argues that noise is violence: it disturbs, creates disconnects, and brings disorder in music and, more generally, daily life. (Think of a phone call interrupted by static, for instance). Noise has a special relationship with music, which Attali claims is ordered and harmonic. For such ordered music to exist, chaotic noise must be repressed, if not eliminated. In this way, the “code of music simulates the accepted rule of society” (29): music creates harmony by marginalizing unpleasant noises, just as society retains order by squashing subversion.

We then noted how Attali constructs a developmental narrative of music featuring four stages: ritual sacrifice, which makes people forget the general violence of their society; representation, which makes people believe in the harmony of the world; repetition, which silences people by mass-producing a deafening music that censors undesirable other noises; and composition, which has not yet occurred, but if it does it will be an entirely non-commercial art, where composers make self-communicative art.

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