April 17, 2018
Summary: Sound has a profound effect and control on our society and our daily lives. In turn, being able to control sound (what sounds are allowed, how they’re allowed to be used, etc.) allows one to control aspects of society.
Synthesis: We know from the various readings that different ways in which sound are used can be used to control people not only on an individual level but on a societal level as well. To illustrate the effect sound has on an individual, chapter 31 of The Auditory Culture Reader by Suzanne G. Cusick focuses on the use of music (or more accurately, sound) as a weapon or tool for torture. Although the use of music and sound in these examples were taken to an extreme, they were shown to have physical and deep psychological effects on their subjects. As Cusick points out, “The common premise is that sound can damage human beings, usually without killing us, in a wide variety of ways.” (Bull & Back, p. 383) Knowing sound can have such an effect on us should make us rethink what it means for certain people at different levels of power to be in control of sound. Chapter 2 of Sound in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and chapter 18 of The Auditory Culture Reader demonstrate how these effects are produced at multiple levels of the sociopolitical hierarchy. In “An Audible Sense of Order: Race, Fear, and CB Radio on Los Angeles Freeways in the 1970s”, Angela M. Blake describes how white suburban males in the 70s policed their communities using CB radio. CB radio was used to quickly contact law enforcement. Given that the culture of CB radio was predominantly and, at times, exclusively low- and middle-class white men, only crimes that threatened the white suburban status quo were enforced by this method, essentially making the police force an extension of this particular demographic. Blake refers to this as an “audible sense of order.” (Blake, p. 160) Chapter 18 of The Auditory Culture Reader, titled “Busking and Negotiations of Urban Acoustic Space in South Bank, London”, Meri Kytö and Elina Hytönen-Ng illustrate the tightly controlled busking culture in London. Although street music is typically viewed as something inherently unregulated and an expression of freedom, London law requires a street musician to be licensed with strict rules regarding where they can play and for how long. Obtaining a license requires auditioning for one. This is the main operation of control. The government, through the audition process, can veto certain styles, messages, genres, or even entire cultures or languages simply by deeming them inappropriate to be played on the street, essentially criminalizing them in public spaces. This dictates what sounds Londoners expect to hear in the city, which in turn influences the cultural environment. Sounds that are expected are accepted, sounds that are unexpected are deemed foreign or other and are rejected. In fact, this is directly stated by Christine Ehrick in chapter one of Radio and the Gendered Soundscape: “What we hear as excess and dissonance, of course, is entirely conditioned on what we consider proper and pleasing sound rather than noise.” (Ehrick, p. 69) In her instance, she is referring to Silvia Guerrico’s career in Argentinian radio that spanned the 1930s-40s. At first, her voice in radio was tolerated and accepted, and her strong feminist message reached many people. She was a force for change until her praise of a Mexican actor was deemed scandalous by Argentinian men and her voice was severely diminished. As a result, revolutionary change in women’s role in radio was pushed back by a decade. Although the circumstances and setting are vastly different, this is another case of sound being controlled and having a huge impact on society.
Questions: If Silvia Guerrico hadn’t become the subject of a scandal, would progress have come sooner? What kind of a sonic landscape would London have if busking wasn’t so heavily regulated? What kind of moral philosophical discussions are being had about using music/sound as torture? Are there some sounds that should be or deserve to be controlled? Should sound never be regulated? What methods in conjunction to sound control are being used to shape social atmospheres?
March 26, 2018
Sound Memoir Project Summary and Script
The idea was to capture the sounds I hear in my room. Most of my time is spent in my room where I read comics, play video games, watch shows and movies, listen to music, and talk to my friends. While that seems like I’m wasting hours of my time every day, I see it differently. As an artist, it is my job to create culture, and I cannot create culture without learning and digesting culture. Every comic book I read, every video game I play, every show I watch, and every song I listen to shapes and informs my ideas and beliefs on culture. If I like something, I strive to understand why I like it, what was done to create that effect, why that works, etc. If I dislike it, I try to figure out the reverse. When I discuss this with my friends online, I gain their insights and perspectives that comes from very different cultural backgrounds. I don’t waste a second of my life not learning something new about media and culture. In order to capture the “feel” of my room, I recorded the sounds of my room itself. These sounds are always present when I’m in my room so I had them playing throughout the entire project itself. The actual recorded audio was very quiet so I had to normalize it so it would be easier to hear. However, I didn’t want them to be in the foreground throughout the entire recording, so I automated the volume to decrease and stay quiet for the rest of the recording. Next, I recorded my sister’s piano playing. I hear it every day from my room and it makes me reflect on my time learning piano and music in general when I was her age and how much I’ve grown since then. I recorded on my phone in the same room as her to get good sound quality but that isn’t how it actually sounds from my room. So, I used an equalizer to get rid of some low and middle-range frequencies to make the piano playing sound like it was coming from a distant room. I edited where my narration came in based on what she was playing. When I discussed her making a mistake, I paused my narration so the audio of her making a mistake would play by itself. I had the piano playing immediately go into the recording of me talking to my friends on Discord. Because my voice was in it, it didn’t feel like an unnatural break from the narration. I edited the audio of the call to make it more coherent and digestible, but without cutting anything crucial from the discussion. I specifically chose to record my friends Marc, Jamie, and Owen because they are from Germany, Sweden, and England, respectively. This way, I was able to capture three distinct accents to highlight the fact that they are all from different countries. After the audio of the call fades out, I begin my narration describing why my calls with them are so unique and important to my development as an artist and a person. I close my narration by cutting out the audio and summarizing the main point of how the sounds in my room all come together. Overall, recording and editing was a very simple process. I recorded the audio on my phone using the Sony Audio Recording app and edited everything in Audacity. The assignment was interesting to do because it challenged me to think more about my surroundings and reflect on how the sounds in my environment not only influence my thoughts but also represent them. I feel like I am now more conscious of different sounds around me and how they affect my mood or contribute to my ideas.
This is the sound of my room. There isn’t much to it; mainly just the hum of my electric fireplace, the air conditioning, and the sounds of me clicking and typing away at my laptop. And while I admit this relative silence isn’t particularly interesting on its own, this ambience provides a canvas for the sounds that make up most of my world. Whether it’s communicating with people in almost every time zone to diving infinitely into my own mind, these sounds are always in the background and in the silent spaces between. It’s in this ambience that I read comics, and I hear the voices and sound effects come to life in my head, and I think of what music would sound good as I read a certain part. To me, the ambience of my room represents the place where I’ve let my mind wander through countless universes.
Every day, from my room, I hear my sister practice the piano. Actually, it sounds more like this. Immediately, I am reminded of when I used to practice the piano. I began when I was seven years old and still play to this day. I had always loved music, but I definitely didn’t imagine at the time that I would make a career out of it. While I listen to my sister play, I notice all her mistakes and poor musical choices. She’s still young and learning, of course, and I made the same mistakes when I was her age. But my mental critiques and comments on her playing make me realize how far I’ve come as a musician. I remember how mechanically I used to play and think now how I can make music sound emotional and alive in a way that I never could when I was her age. Which gets me to thinking about how I was when I was her age, and so on and so forth. Just the simple act of listening to my sister play the piano sends me on a reflective and nostalgic train of thought.
This is the sound of me talking to my friends, something I do on an almost nightly basis. And while Jamie, Owen, and Marc are only a fraction of my friends, this sample of a conversation is a fairly good example of how our calls usually are: we talk about games, music, comics, and movies, we crack jokes with each other, talk about world news, and all kinds of other stuff. But what’s really going on is a massive cultural exchange. We’ve all recommended each other all kinds of different things to play, read, watch, or listen to. They’ve opened me to so many new things and I’ve had the same effect on them. Besides that, I learn about their perspectives on the world and day-to-day things that are vastly different from the perspectives I come across. Without a doubt, I wouldn’t be who I am today without having ever met them. [brief pause] Many different sounds fill my daily life, and while these are a few of the most important, they’re not the only ones. The many sounds in my life not only influence much of my thoughts but also greatly represent them.
February 19, 2018
Summary Synthesis Report #1
Summary: The concept of “visibly black bodies with audibly ‘black sounds’” (Stoever 133) as a sonic image that white producers, managers, and listeners reinforced lies at the core of the establishment of the sonic color line and, from a larger perspective, how socioeconomic politics travel through the sonic medium.
Synthesis: Stoever defines the sonic color line as “the process of racializing sound – how and why certain bodies are expected to produce, desire, and live amongst particular sounds – and its product, the hierarchical division sounded between “whiteness” and “blackness”. (Stoever 7) The clearest example of this we have discussed is the comparison between Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind and African-American singer Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield. Lind’s importance to white audiences lied in her role as a model for what a white voice was supposed to sound like and how the person attached to that voice should sound like, to which Greenfield was an “opposition” to. Greenfield, who sang some of Lind’s repertoire, was perceived as noise that was invading white spaces. While words such as “angelic” were used to describe Lind’s voice, “manly” and “disgusting” were used to describe Greenfield’s voice. In another instance, John Lomax controlled blues singer Lead Belly’s image using racial stereotypes to control the sound that Lead Belly would evoke. According to Stoever, “Lomax’s costuming staged Lead Belly in the visual protocol of lynching, which, in turn, altered white Northern listeners’ experience toward the threatening sonics they imagined emanating from a ‘to-be-lynched’ body… Lomax hoped the sound of his racialized performance, and the sound of his racialized performance would confirm his visual display of race, gender, and regional identities, activating the feedback loop between racialized sight and sound.” (Stoever 194) The resulting reaction to this image would be one of fascination, or fear, or anger, or rejection, and anything in between. Beyond physically describable traits, this extended to the sounds that black musicians made throughout history. Jimi Hendrix referred to a collective group of politically minded musicians who were recognizing the changing tides of society and politics and actively speaking on it and referencing it in their music. Paul Gilroy wrote, “The electric church was all around us then; it was inseparable from the revolutionary upsurge of that moment. The traditional celebrations of Afro-Baptism had been profaned and adapted to the task of community defense. Under the banners of black power and anti-colonial solidarity its irregular services began to alter the political mentality of black Britons and to transform our understanding of our emergent place in the postcolonial world.” (Bull & Back 325) In this instance, we see that black musicians were inextricably linked to the sociopolitical messages their music reflect, and the black listeners who shared those political ideas were linked to them.
Attaching these aesthetic qualities and descriptors to definition of race allowed white society to identify itself with the white aesthetic, as well as identify and separate itself from the black aesthetic. These practices and perspectives on visual race and audible race are crucial for understanding how race functioned in these time periods and the effects of those functions on today’s society. As Mark M. Smith wrote in chapter seven of The Auditory Culture Reader, “Taking seriously the sensory history of race and racism helps us appreciate just how unthinkingly race is made, how racism is learned, and how the ideology of race and racism have arisen historically… Once we begin to understand that people sensed their worlds – heard sounds they did not want to hear, had to smell smells they did not want to smell, used the putatively premodern, proximate, nonvisual senses to invent “modem” racial stereotypes – we begin to understand the historically conditioned, visceral, emotional aspect of racial construction and racism.” (Bull & Back, 101) Ultimately, the function of race not just as a visual phenomenon but as a holistic sensorial experience is used to categorize and divide populations, and use that division for anything from political to economic gain and everything in between.
Questions: Other senses such as smell and touch were mentioned as factors to defining race, but how did they interact with the other senses to create a full definition of a race? Were there examples of people who were subjected to these divisions that also embraced them and used them to their advantage? Conversely, how were these divisions resisted by both white and black populations? In what ways did other races face the same treatment?
Because I spend most of my time at home, I want to capture the various sounds that I hear in the space where I am most comfortable and how they shape my inward thoughts. I plan to record the sound of my sister playing piano, the sounds of my friends from across the world talking in our voice chat, and the ambient sounds in my room.
The sound of my sister playing piano reflects that my family is very musical. My dad played guitar and bass, I play piano and bass, and my sister plays piano. But more importantly it reminds me of when I was her age and learning to play the piano. The things that I tell her to improve on and the memories of how I was playing at that age show me how far I’ve come as a musician, as well as reminding me of my childhood. The sounds of my friends and I’s voice chat is a huge part of my life. I have friends from Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, Bangladesh, Australia, and many other parts of the world, and we frequently communicate with each other. I probably spend more time talking to them than friends I’ve met in person (not that I value them more or less). I met them all in September 2016 and have been in constant contact with them since. The empty sound of my room is actually filled with many noises. The air vent, the hum of my electric fireplace, the sounds of me writing or typing. This is where my creative space is. It’s where I feel most comfortable and where I come up with my best and worst ideas. It’s where I consume an endless amount of media that informs my thoughts on art and media which in turn inspires my own art. The emptiness of my room is the sound of me growing as an artist.