Listening In, Feeding Back
Friday, February 13, 2009
301 Philosophy Hall
3:00 – 5:30
Listening, Feedback, and Composition
Otomo Yoshihide (Bio)
“Musics Between Noise and Silence” (Abstract)
James Fei (Bio)
“Feedback in Experimental Music: Folding Electricity, Space and Time Upon Itself” (Abstract)
Steven Feld (Bio)
“Bufo Variations” (Abstract)
5:30 – 6:00
David Novak (Bio)
Ana Maria Ochoa (Bio)
“Listening In, Feeding Back” Concert Performance
8:00 – 10:00
James Fei (Bio), Kato Hideki (Bio), Nakamura Toshimaru (Bio)
Alvin Lucier (Bio)
Otomo Yoshihide (Bio)
Saturday, February 14, 2009
301 Philosophy Hall
9:00 – 11:30
Sensing Sound, Text, and the Voice
Brian Kane (Bio)
“Listening to ‘The Burrow’: Kafka and Acousmatic Sound” (Abstract)
Elizabeth Travassos (Bio)
“The ‘Transparent Envelope’: Proust, Hahn, Listening and the Voice”(Abstract)
Steven Connor (Bio)
“Earslips: On Mondegreens and Mishearings” (Abstract)
Mark M. Smith (Bio)
“Sound Teaching and the Contexts of Listening” (Abstract)
11:45 – 1:45
Feedback and Public Circulation
David Novak (Bio)
“Feedback, Experience and Subjectivity in Japanoise”(Abstract)
Charles Hirschkind (Bio)
“Street Noise in the Egyptian Blogosphere” (Abstract)
Louise Meintjes (Bio)
“The Fedora, the Jogger and the Watch: Mimesis and Brokerage in Zulu Ngoma Song and Dance” (Abstract)
1:45 – 3:00
3:00 – 5:00
Technologies of Listening
Karin Bijsterveld (Bio)
“Tuning in: The Car Radio and the Rise of the Mobile Listening Booth” (Abstract)
Amanda Weidman (Bio)
“Sound and the City: Mimicry and Phonography in South India” (Abstract)
Jonathan Sterne (Bio)
“Sound Reproduction After Noise: Perceptual Coding and the Homology of the Fields, 1955-1979” (Abstract)
“Tuning in: The Car Radio and the Rise of the Mobile Listening Booth”
Since the late 1990s, car manufacturers increasingly stress their cars’ interior tranquility. Chrysler advertises the Voyager for its “whispering stillness,” and a recent Toyota television spot features a professor leaving a noisy library to find peace and quiet in his car. Moreover, the rise of car audio sets has enabled drivers to create a highly personal sonic bubble that enhances their feelings of control while traveling (Bull 2003). Yet how could the car, once a noisy vehicle driven by an explosion engine, evolve into a mobile listening booth? I will answer this question by studying the introduction of car radio, notably Philips car radio, and the rise of interior sound design in Europe between the 1990s and now. The car radio’s use and meaning shifted from an artifact that had to bring people to the car—by attracting those outside the car, or by acting as a virtual companion—to an instrument that helped drivers to mentally block out their fellows on the road. At the same time, car sound construction shifted from reducing noise to creating target sounds for specific groups of drivers.
I will use an “archeology of the innovator’s anthropology” to understand how Philips practically and conceptually embedded the car radio in the European mobility culture. Second, I will focus on the symbolism of sound and changing listening practices to understand the shifting appropriations of car sounds by drivers and others. Underlining the “feedback” or interrelationship between listening to the car engine and to the car radio will be part of this storyline. Finally, I will use Gerhard Schulze’s theory on the event society to understand the increasing interest of car manufacturers in interior car sound design.
“Earslips: On Mondegreens and Mishearings”
Hearing has the reputation of being more inclusive, less subject to limit, prejudice and partition than other sensory modalities, and therefore perhaps standing in a less dominative or appropriative relation to things. But the fact of mishearing shows that hearing does not in fact lie obediently open to the world. The purported plenum of sound has always in fact been sliced, stretched, strained, mal-appropriated, by an incorrigibly error-prone ear. This talk will be a reflection on the different forms which such ‘mondegreens’ or slips of the ear may take, in sound, music and speech. It will keep half an ear throughout on the virtuoso uses of paracousis in the ‘Anna Livia Plurabelle’ section of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, which lathers up an eddying, sudsy wash out of the ‘missed understandings’ of two hard-of-hearing Dublin laundresses: ‘Can't hear with the waters of. The chittering waters of. Flittering bats, fieldmice bawk talk. Ho! Are you not gone ahome? What Thom Malone? Can't hear with bawk of bats, all thim liffeyng waters of.’
“Feedback in Experimental Music: Folding Electricity, Space and Time Upon Itself”
This talk will provide an overview of the application of feedback in experimental music and the aesthetic issues evoked by its use. In most electronic circuit design feedback has been used primarily to reduce distortion and enhance stability, but in amplified audio systems its appearance often signals danger and malfunction. This dualistic manifestation of control and entropy lie at the heart of the use of feedback in works by David Tudor, David Behrman, Alvin Lucier and others. By folding the output back into the system, electronic components designed to amplify and modify sound begin to oscillate and produce sound. An acoustic space can be also folded into the circuitry through the interaction of microphones and loudspeakers. With the distinctions between control and indeterminacy blurred in these self-enclosed systems, the role of the performer is similarly shifted to somewhere between listening and active manipulation.
The paper describes Bufo Variations, a recent CD recording-to-playback project in Accra, Ghana, featuring performance by multi-instrumentalist Nii Otoo Annan with environmental sound composition by Steven Feld. Ten times, with ten different sets of instruments, Annan recorded to playback of Feld's six minute piece comprised of sounds of Bufo regularis, the common West African toad. Using the toads as a calculator, stimulus, and click track, Annan's dubs perform the polyrhythmic math that generates hundreds of rhythm families and structures of variation. Is this what Goldberg Variations would sound like if Bach grew up in West Africa listening to toads and devoted himself to the mastery of polyrhythm? Listening to Annan's Bufo Variations with or without
the toads opens up a range of issues from indigenous mathematics and the musical intimation of infinity, to the place of improvisation in contemporary African experimental music.
“Street Noise in the Egyptian Blogosphere”
Focusing on the political blogosphere in Egypt, this paper explores how bloggers have pioneered new language forms and video styles in order to articulate an arena of political life they refer to as "the street," conceived of as a space of state repression and political violence, as well as one of popular resistance and political activism. Through stylistic innovations in vernacular Arabic and film, Egyptian bloggers render visible and publicly speakable practices of state violence that other media outlets cannot easily disclose due to censorship, practices of harassment, and the threat of arrest and torture. In discussing the sensory epistemology informing these blogging practices, I give particular attention to the way traditions concerning the sonority of the Arabic language and the relation of written to spoken forms are exploited and reworked by some of Egypt's most prominent political bloggers. I also examine how these language practices find a visual and aural analogy in the grainy cell-phone video recordings found on many of Egypt's political blogs. This paper analyzes such practices in relation to emergent forms of political agency and contestation in contemporary Egypt.
“Listening to ‘The Burrow’: Kafka and Acousmatic Sound”
“The Burrow” remains something of an exception in Kakfa’s late work, for it seems to resist two contexts that are often deployed in Kafka exegesis:
1) Deconstructive readings tend to focus on issues of textuality, reading the “passages” of the burrow as a double entendre: the construction of the burrow becomes an allegory for the constructedness of the text. But these readings neglect the sonorous aspects of the tale, the “pfeifen” or “whistling” heard inside the burrow.
2) Sonorous readings tend to lump “The Burrow” in with “Josephine” and “The Investigations of a Dog.” Although sound is theorized, often as a destabilizing force, sonorous readings of the late work generally neglect the differences between the production and reception of sound, focusing exclusively on the former. In addition, they address sound in a wholesale manner, which cannot account for the specifically acousmatic setting of “The Burrow.”
In this paper, I will attempt to read Kafka’s “Burrow” in light of acousmatic theory. At the same time, I will try to show how this theory can be enriched through close attention to Kafka’s tale. In particular, Kafka’s understanding of “acousmatic” sound reveals a complex overlapping of various axes: sensory (the eye and ear), genetic (cause and effect) and affective (certainty and anxiety).
“The Fedora, the Jogger and the Watch: Mimesis and Brokerage in Zulu Ngoma Song and Dance”
This paper focuses on moments of encounter between mediating figures and ngoma singer-dancers in a rural community in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. What does a British cultural promoter ask of the singer-dancers? What do singer-dancers take and give? Ngoma dance has a particular history of having been made “musical” through cross-cultural staged performance and studio production. This history sets the possibilities for contemporary relationships with cultural brokers at the same time as it secures enduring aspects of ngoma aesthetics. The complexity of the transcultural dynamics of mutual listening in/feeding back that shape ngoma aesthetics prompts me to wonder about the adequacy of notions of cross-cultural collaboration and mediation in analyses of ngoma practice.
“Feedback, Experience and Subjectivity in Japanoise”
This paper will describe an electronic music genre called Japanoise that was formed in the US-Japan exchange of recordings, beginning in the late 1980s through the millennium. Here I describe Japanoise as a production of feedback that incorporates experiences with the unevenness of cultural globalization, and sounds out the crucial role of media circulation in emplacing new musical subjectivities. Feedback is a powerful metaphor for circulatory experiences -- of musical authorship, listening, reproduction and representation – as well as noisy interruptions, shared distortions, and the personal affects of sensory overload. In Japanoise, feedback is also a key performance practice that generates a heightened mode of listening among its practitioners. Feedback links the separated publics of Japanoise within the amplified conditions of musical identification and subjectivity in recorded music and its lopsided transnational exchange.
“Musics Between Noise and Silence”
I will speak about my recent creative work of the past several years, addressing in particular my experiences with a new Japanese musical style called “onkyo,” which was created at a small Tokyo space called Off Site at the turn of the millennium. The extremely quiet performance developed at Off Site inspired me to think about listening, noise, and silence in new ways, and to reconsider the relationships between improvisation and composition. Musicians typically think more about time than space. But when I started to listen to silence and noise, I began to think about two different senses of space in music’s vibrations: the physicality of music occupying space, and the space of the situation between the listener and the performer.
Since my work at Off Site, I have been focused on the ways these relationships of sound and space reflect on social relationships of place, especially in the very special conditions of the “ensemble” for musical creation. In discussing my recent installation, entitled “Ensemble,” at YCAM in Yamaguchi, Japan, I describe how interactive ensembles are compositions of people brought together to connect with visitors in further plurality. “Ensembles” can be multidirectional contexts that reflect social situations of production; they can probe into both the possibilities and impossibilities inherent in the relations between person and person, person and object, and person and machine. I will speak about my participation and organization of several different ensembles and consider the variety of creative people in these groups, including amateur musicians, children’s groups, and physically challenged musicians.
Mark M. Smith
“Sound Teaching and the Contexts of Listening”
Scholarly histories of sound and listening are burgeoning. We now possess fine studies of sound in colonial America, the history of noise in the twentieth century, and acoustemology in the Middle Ages, among others; major historical journals, including the Journal of American History and the Journal of Social History, now take the history of sound seriously and have, in the past three years alone, published several articles on the topic. It is, arguably, a good time to be an historian of the senses generally, of sound, listening, and silence specifically. Despite our progress, historians of sound have failed to comment in any real detail on its importance to a central part of their professional lives: their teaching. For better or worse, our professional duties go beyond the production and dissemination of scholarly work; many of us also teach students and, in our capacity as public intellectuals, are also called upon by museums to suggest how to introduce sound to the general public. But how, precisely, should we teach the history of sound? This paper explores some of the “wrong” turns that appear to be creeping into such endeavors and suggests how best to teach the history of sound in a suitably, even radically, historicized fashion which eschews the temptation to encourage students and the general public to “consume” and “recover” the sounds of the past and, instead, underscores the importance of context in trying to understand the history of sound.
“Sound Reproduction After Noise: Perceptual Coding and the Homology of the Fields, 1955-1979”
MP3s get their small file size through a process called “perceptual coding.” An MP3 encoder scans a soundfile, estimates which parts of the recording will be inaudible to the ear, and disposes of those parts, thereby making the resulting MP3 file considerably smaller than the “same” song on a compact disc. In this talk, I will trace the origins of the ideas behind perceptual coding, and show how they traveled from psychoacoustics to communications and computer engineering in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the key insights of psychoacousticians and engineers during this period carry strange and interesting parallels to key writings on music and sound in the humanistic tradition, most notably by Roland Barthes and Jacques Attali. The paper considers what Pierre Bourdieu calls “the homology of the fields” among psychoacoustics, engineering, aesthetics, architectural acoustics and political economy in an attempt to explain why perceptual coding emerged when it did, given that the technology and the theory were available for at least a decade before the process was first realized.
“The ‘Transparent Envelope’: Proust, Hahn, Listening and the Voice”
A renewed and multifaced curiosity for the voice can be sensed through recent books and articles. Considering this flowering, it is surprising to find out that in the academic field of music the voice is still considered a frontier. As has already been noted, there is a décalage between musicological approaches to tonal and temporal organization, to musical form and syntax, and to musical instruments – on the one hand –, and to vocal qualities and vocal styles – on the other. If there isn’t a “vocology” analogous to organology, what are the reasons for this imbalance? Why is the voice the last frontier of musicological rationalization?
To review the ways the voice has been represented in the modern Western ideology seems to be an important task if we want to understand the claims for a more precise and incisive discursive approach to the vocal qualities. Contributions to that review have been made recently by authors who see in the modern Saussurean theory of the sign a touchstone in the “devocalization of logos” (Adriana Cavarero). Actually, the beginnings of the twentieth century were not only a fertile moment in the study of language, but also in the development of the scientific discourse on music, which eventually left the musicality of the voice to the aesthetic, subjective realm. Those were also the times when the telephone and the phonograph – technologies enabling to remove the voice from its spatial and temporal settings – became part of everyday life.
In my paper, I intend to present a contribution to the analysis of the places the voice has assumed in modern Western ideology. I will present some of the ideas on listening and voice put forward by Marcel Proust (through the voice of Marcel, the narrator of À la recherche du temps perdu). Among the many reasons for that choice is the fact that Marcel represents the ideal “native” in our quest for the native’s point of view: besides his well-known passion for music, his friends diagnosed in him an “auditory hyperesthesia.” Continuously describing other’s voices was one of his main démarches in mapping the social world and trying to gain access to the others’ selves in order to keep in tune with the monde. Describing degrees of transparency and opacity in the sounds of voices, Marcel, the hyperesthesic listener, shows us, among other things, that the musicality of voice ciphers a relationship between social actors.
Proust was an intimate friend of the singer, composer and critic Reynaldo Hahn. Both of them, witnessing the rise of schizophonia and scientific musicology, are prolific commentators of singing, dramatic declamation and speech. What can we learn from Marcel Proust’s and Reynaldo Hahn’s vocology? How did they listen to and feed back each other?
“Sound and the City: Mimicry and Phonography in South India”
From 1902-1903 until the mid-1930s, commercial sound recording in South India focused not only on music but also included a genre known as vikatam, a Tamil vocal/verbal art involving impersonation and vocal mimicry, featuring a single male artist enacting multiple roles. The subjects of these vikatams ranged from mimicry of sounds, like “Imitation of Birds” or “Imitation of a Passing Train,” to the dramatization of social interactions: for example, “Brahmin Going to a Dancing Girl’s House,” “Teaching a Dancing Girl Music,” “Madras Beggars,” “Country People Settling Fees with a Lawyer,” or “Street Scene in Madras.” By offering listeners of an emerging urban middle class the capacity to play and replay otherwise ephemeral everyday scenes of public city life, or of the private escapades of characters defined as “other,” vikatam records fixed those potentially assaulting voices as sounds to be contemplated.
This paper will address three aspects of these recordings. First, examining several of the recordings in detail, it will explore how the colonial city of Madras was represented through sound. Second, it will address how these recorded performances, with their pretensions to realism, created an analogy between the mimicking capacity of the voice and the recording capacity of the phonograph. Third, it will discuss the kind of listening practices these recordings invited, as listeners were placed in the position of omniscient overhearers separated physically and socially from the voices on the records.
Karin Bijsterveld is professor in the Technology & Society Studies Department, Maastricht University. She has recently published Mechanical Sound: Technology, Culture and Public Problems of Noise in the Twentieth Century (MIT, 2008). With José van Dijck she has co-edited Sound Souvenirs: Audio Technologies, Memory, and Cultural Practices (Amsterdam University Press, forthcoming June 2009).
Steven Connor is Director of the London Consortium Graduate Programme. He is a writer and broadcaster, who has written much about sound and hearing, including the book Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism. A book entitled Next to Nothing: An Historical Poetics of the Air is forthcoming. Many of his writings and broadcasts can be found at www.stevenconnor.com, with materials relating to sound in particular at www.bbk.ac.uk/english/skc/seeingtosound.htm.htm. The text of his talk will be available at www.stevenconnor.com/earslips.
James Fei (b. Taipei, Taiwan) moved to the US in 1992 to pursue a degree in electrical engineering. He has since been active as a composer, improviser and electronic musician. Fei teaches Sound Art and Intermedia at Mills College.
Steven Feld's acoustemology and sonic ecology projects range from rainforest New Guinea (1975-2000), to European bells (2000-) to jazz cosmopolitanism in Accra, Ghana (since 2005). He teaches at the University of New Mexico and University of Oslo.
Charles Hirschkind is associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests concern religious practice, media technologies, and emergent forms of political community in the urban Middle East and Europe. In his recent book, The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics (2006), he explores how a popular Islamic media form-the cassette sermon-has profoundly transformed the political geography of the Middle East over the last three decades. He is also the co-editor (with David Scott) of Powers of the Secular Modern: Talal Asad an his Interlocutors (2005). Other publications include "Cassette Ethics, Public Piety, and Popular Media in Egypt" (Media, Religion, and the Public Sphere, eds. A. Moors and B. Meyer, 2005) and "The Ethics of Listening: Cassette-Sermon Audition in Contemporary Cairo" (American Ethnologist, 2001). His current project is based in southern Spain and explores some of the different ways in which Europe's Islamic past inhabits its present, unsettling contemporary efforts to secure Europe's Christian civilizational identity. This project has been funded through an award from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Brian Kane is an Assistant Professor of Music Theory at Yale University. His compositional and theoretical work addresses questions of listening and new music from an interdisciplinary perspective, working in the intersection of compositional practice, music theory and philosophy. He has composed acoustic and electronic music for a variety of ensembles, both in America and Europe. Currently, he is developing a project on the acousmatic reduction and its implications.
Kato Hideki is a Japanese-born composer/bassist/multi-instrumentalist, who lives in New York City. He is the co-founder of Death Ambient with Ikue Mori & Fred Frith. His other groups as a leader are: Green Zone with Otomo Yoshihide & Uemura Masahiro and OMNI wtih Nakamura Toshimaru & Akiyama Tetsuji. His compositions include: solo piece "Turbulent Zone" for electric bass with prime number tuning and "Tremolo of Joy" for his band with Charles Burnham, Briggan Krauss, Ed Tomney & Calvin Weston. Besides his own projects, Kato collaborates with Nicolas Collins, James Fei, Akamatsu Masayuki and Ursula Scherrer. As a bassist, he has worked with Eyvind Kang, Zeena Parkins, Marc Ribot, Michael Schumacher, and John Zorn, among many others. He is also a member of analog synthesizer collective, Analogos at Diapason Gallery.
Alvin Lucier performs, lectures and exhibits his sound installations extensively in the United States, Europe and Asia. He has visited Japan twice: in 1988 he performed at the Abiko Festival, Tokyo, and installed MUSIC ON A LONG THIN WIRE in Kyoto; in 1992 he toured with pianist Aki Takahashi, performing in Kawasaki, Yamaguchi and Yokohama. In 1990-91 he was a guest of the DAAD Kunstler Program in Berlin. In January 1992, he performed in Delhi, Madras, and Bombay, and during the summer of that year was guest composer at the Time of Music Festival in Vitaasari, Finland. He regularly contributes articles to books and periodicals. His own book, Chambers, written in collaboration with Douglas Simon, was published by the Wesleyan University Press. In addition, several of his works are available on Cramps (Italy), Disques Montaigne, Source, Mainstream, CBS Odyssey, Nonesuch, and Lovely Music Records.
Louise Meintjes is associate professor of music and cultural anthropology at Duke University and author of Sound of Africa! Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio (Duke University Press, 2003). She is working on an ethnography which situates Zulu ngoma song and dance in post-apartheid South Africa.
David Novak is a postdoctoral fellow at the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University. His work considers the circulation of popular media and sound technologies in relation to cultural practice, especially in contemporary Japan and the United States. He is the author of Japanoise: Global Media Circulation and Experimental Music (Duke University Press, forthcoming), and is also a performing musician and sound engineer.
Nakamura Toshimaru has been producing electronic music on the self-named "no-input mixing board," after long unhappy years with the electric guitar. The name describes the method of his music. "No" external sound source is connected to "inputs" of the "mixing board." Nakamura is mostly an improviser, occasionally a composer for dancers and an instrumentalist for compositions.
Ana Maria Ochoa came to Columbia University in the fall of 2003, having previously worked as researcher at the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History, as director of Music Archives at the Colombian Ministry of Culture and as a researcher at the Centro Nacional de Investigación y Documentación Musical Carlos Cháves in Mexico. She is currently editor of the Latin American branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music, IASPM and member of the editorial board of TRANS which is the Journal of the Iberian Society for Ethnomusicology (Sociedad Ibérica de Etnomusicología, SIBE). Her research interests lie in traditional Latin American musics and transculturation, music and literature, music and cultural policy and the construction of the popular in Latin America.
Otomo Yoshihide was born in 1959 in Yokohama, Japan. He is a musician, composer, turntable and electronics player and guitarist. Otomo’s current projects include Anode, Cathode, Filament, and Otomo Yoshihide’s New Jazz Orchestra (ONJQ), among others. He is also known as an innovative composer of film soundtracks, and as a writer for his wide-ranging essays on music.
Mark M. Smith is Carolina Distinguished Professor of History at the University of South Carolina. He is author or editor of a dozen books, including Listening to Nineteenth-Century America (2001), Sensing the Past: Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting and Touching in History (2007), and is General Editor of Studies in Sensory History, published by the University of Illinois Press.
Jonathan Sterne teaches in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies and the History and Philosophy of Science Program at McGill University. He is author of The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (Duke University Press, 2003), and numerous articles on media, technologies and the politics of culture. His next book is tentatively entitled MP3: The Meaning of a Format. He is also an editor of Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life (http://bad.eserver.org/), one of the longest continuously-running publications on the Internet.
Elizabeth Travassos is Associate Professor in Anthropology and Ethnomusicology at the University of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO). She is the author of Os mandarins milagrosos: arte e etnografia em Mário de Andrade e Béla Bartók (1996) and Modernismo e música brasileira (1999).
Amanda Weidman teaches in the Department of Anthropology at Bryn Mawr College. Her work explores the intersections of voice, performance, and technology in the context of classical and popular music in South India. She is the author of Singing the Classical, Voicing the Modern: The Postcolonial Politics of Music in South India (Duke University Press, 2006), and is currently working on a historical and ethnographic project on female playback singers in the Tamil cinema industry. She is also a Karnatic violinist.