Residential symposium at Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham - 10-12 April 2008

Lunch will be available before the start of the symposium, from 12.30pm on Thursday 10 April.



Day 1

Thursday 10 April 2008
4.15-4.45: Tea/coffee, plus short presentation by Per Dahl (University of Stavanger), 'Which Peer do you prefer?'
7.00-9.30pm: Dinner

Day 2

Friday 11 April 2008
11.15-11.45: Tea/coffee
2.00-2.45: Lunch
4.15-4.45pm: Tea/coffee
  • 4.45-5.30pm: Jonathan Sterne (McGill University, Montreal), 'Format theory'
  • 5.30-6.15pm: Jonathan Tyack (Royal Holloway, University of London) - details to follow
7.00-9.30pm: Dinner

Day 3

Saturday 12 April 2008
10.30-11am: Tea/coffee
12.30pm: Final discussion and lunch



Joseph Auner

Losing your voice: sampled speech and song from the uncanny to the unremarkable

Although any instrumental or natural sounds one can imagine have been used in loops and layers to build up complex textures and beats, recording speaking and singing voices have proven to be of particular interest to producers such as DJ Shadow, Prefuse 73, RJD2, Blockhead, Fatboy Slim, and in the music of groups such as Boards of Canada and The Books. I am interested in what these producers gain by losing their own voices and becoming ventriloquists, what it means for those whose voices are turned into objects to be manipulated, and the implications of our confrontations with speech and song that we can no longer assume to be issuing from bodies of flesh and blood. Through analyses of several tracks in the context of the characteristics of the hardware and software used to create them, I will argue that vocal samples offer a particularly effective solution to the compositional challenges of composing in a style with limited melodic and harmonic motion where contrasts in timbre and texture provide the main constructive device. Recent writings on speech cognition show that even the most distorted and artificial voices provoke a whole range of emotional and affective responses in listeners. Sampled voices thus allow producers to play with gender, race, history, and tradition, but the legal, ethical, and moral implications of this transformation into sound and data of something uniquely personal, individual, and human are only starting to be understood. But in realizing the centuries-old dream of the vox humana, of talking automata, of instruments that could speak or sing, the ability to compose with the vast sonic, emotional, and semantic palette that samplers provide raises a whole host of social and cultural issues. In some cases the pieces are designed to play up the strangeness and disorientation of the recorded voice, notable even in the critical vocabulary developed to describe it: uncanny, schizophonic, acousmatic. But there are many more examples where the remarkable act of speaking through borrowed voices is presented as absolutely unremarkable. While the pieces I will be discussing represent a narrow slice of a relatively limited genre, the demystified, disenchanted recorded voices that increasingly surround us point to broader transformations in how we define the borders of the human and the posthuman.

Joseph Auner, Chair and Professor of Music, Tufts University, received his MA and a PhD in the History and Theory of Music from the University of Chicago. His scholarly work focuses on Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School, turn of the century Vienna, Weimar Berlin, and music and technology. Publications include: A Schoenberg Reader (Yale University), Postmodern Music/Postmodern Thought, ed. with Judy Lochhead (Routledge), and A Cambridge Companion to Schoenberg, ed. with Jennifer Shaw (forthcoming Cambridge). He has served as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Musical Society, General Editor of Garland/Routledge Studies in Contemporary Music and Culture, and as organiser and chair of conferences on music and digital technology. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung, the J. Paul Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, and the NEH.

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Eric D. Barry

From presence to absence: the disciplining of sound via measurement, 1951-1970

My paper will explore the triumph of the engineer’s formulation of fidelity in the consumer hi-fi market which occurred in the context of the commodification of high fidelity in the late 1950s/early 1960s, the longer-term shift from performance to playback in music culture, and the proliferation of “recording effects” in recording themselves.

For a time in the late 1940s and early 1950s, terms such as presence, tone, brilliance, and “breath of life,” which were understood to correlate faithfully to the technical characteristics of audio componentry, evoked the “elusive pleasures…hidden in the grooves of fine recordings,”[1] that hi-fi could redeem. But as high fidelity was popularized, journalists, advertisers, and enthusiasts articulated a new ideal of absence over presence and denigrated subjective assessment. In the engineer’s formulation, audio systems were meant to be transparent, and attributes like “presence,” enjoyable or not, implied infidelity. As a consequence of this formulation, magazines abandoned subjective description, holding instead that “the ‘total performance’ [of audio] is described by its technical characteristics and specifications.”[2] These technical specifications were taken as proof the industry had “marvelously triumphed over…the challenges inherent in the reproduction of high fidelity sound.”[3]

I will argue that this shift not only tamed the unruly market for audio but, just as important, disciplined listening and helped enshrine the record as the canonical form of music. The early discourse of high fidelity highlighted a romantic ethic of sonic judgment by ear and participation in which “the baton is yours”—to create a personalized sound by careful equipment selection and mastery of its facilities to tailor sound. But from the late 1950s, the prescriptive literature of audio discouraged such tailoring as faithfulness to the original sound, which listeners could imagine for themselves, was challenged by a new ideal of faithfulness to the record as the only “stable, unchanging thing” in the system of musical provision.[4] The assurances of the technical formulation of fidelity have been remarkably successful in focusing listeners on their romantic connection to music’s commodified form rather than the mediation of sound. My paper will trace the ramifications of sonic “absence” by analyzing the debate over objective measurement as it played out in the letters, editorial, and advertising texts of High Fidelity, Stereo Review, and Audio.

  • [1] Advertisement for Pickering, Audio Engineering 36, n. 11 (1952): 17.
  • [2] "What do the Specifications Mean," High Fidelity 16, n. 1 (1966): 55.
  • [3] "As High Fidelity Sees It," High Fidelity 16, n. 1 (1966): 45.
  • [4] J. Gordon Holt, "The Haunted Loudspeaker," High Fidelity 6, n. 3 (1956): 47ff.

Eric Barry is a PhD student in history at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. He is currently writing a dissertation entitled "Sonic Boom: The Business and Culture of High Fidelity Sound, 1931-1973."

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Per Dahl

Which Peer do you prefer? - presentation to accompany Grieg exhibition

The Norwegian Institute of Recorded Sound in Stavanger, Norway has 150 recordings of Grieg's orchestral suites from Peer Gynt. After a short introduction about this institution and the choice of LP-covers for this exhibition, I will comment upon some aspects from the history of the record sleeve, the connection between the music and the image, and the adaptation to national markets which seem so important in this case.

Per Dahl (b. 1952) was educated at the University of Trondheim, Norway (musicology, philosophy and psychology), and has been working in Stavanger since 1979 (Music Conservatoire, now Department of Music and Dance). He has been consultant to The Norwegian Institute of Recorded Sound, Stavanger, since the opening in 1985. He became Associate Professor in 1986 and was Principal (Rector) at Stavanger University College 2000-2003 when SUC developed its basis to become a full fledged university. He finished his PhD dissertation on the recordings of Grieg's op. 5, no. 3 in 2006. (Title: Jeg elsker Dig! Lytterens argument. Grammofoninnspillinger av Edvard Griegs op. 5, nr.3. / I Love Thee! The listener's approach. Recordings of Edvard Grieg's op. 5, no. 3.)

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Tia DeNora

Music and health - practices and couplings

Outside the realm of music therapy, and with some very notable exceptions, music's role as an everyday health technology has been little studied. In this paper I will report on recent work that builds upon the concept of music as a 'technology of self' and puts music into action as a 'health technology'. I will describe some of the practices for harnessing music as a health technology ('health musicking'), in particular how this process is facilitated through formal or informal learning. I will conclude by considering the radical message 'health-musicking' offers for our etiologies of illness, which in turn highlights the important and varied contributions recorded music makes to individual and collective health.

Tia DeNora teaches music sociology, research methods and social theory in the Department of Sociology & Philosophy at Exeter University. She is the author of Beethoven and the Construction of Genius (California, 1995), Music in Everyday Life (Cambridge, 2000) and After Adorno: Rethinking Music Sociology (Cambridge, 2003). She is part of the editorial team of MAiA. Her ongoing research is in the area of music, health, well-being and disability studies and she is currently collaborating with the Nordoff Robbins Centre for Music Therapy in London on a project that examines music and identity work in a mental health setting.

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Peter Doyle

Technologies of capture: the field recording, the mug shot and the early twentieth-century mediascape

In this paper I will argue that some early electric era popular music race and hillbilly recordings effectively and swiftly bypassed the then dominant codes of respectability and theatrical professionalism, in favour of what I argue is a kind of intimate vernacularity. I attempt to contextualise the rise of the field trip and the broad interest in folk authenticity historically - these are roughly contemporary with the appearance of hardboiled pulp literature, a popular craze for the first-person hobo-lowlife narrative/memoir, the appearance of the proletarian-centered documentary film (Robert Flaherty, Soviet agit-prop, Dziga Vertov etc), and the general revulsion towards Victorian and Edwardian manneredness which followed WW1.

I make comparisons with an extraordinary collection of recently discovered police mug shots from early 1920s Sydney. Like the 1920s field recordings in the US and elsewhere, many of these afford a surprisingly intimate access to a coterie of declasse subjects, but paradoxically seem not to be as simply or uncomplicatedly repressive as we might expect: indeed the subjects seem to so fully occupy the space, as to call into question the matter of agency. I go on to suggest that in such vital recording enterprises agency is not easily attributed to one or other party, but rather is contested, sometimes shared among those represented and those wielding the recording apparatus.

Unlike say the recordings made by seasoned vaudevillians from the time, local musicians typically approached the sound recording apparatus with a mixture of ambition and shyness, self-assertion and embarrassment, eagerness and class resentment. Such a posture, in fact, meant that folk performers sometimes tended to orient themselves to the microphone and their immediate audience - the sound recording technicians - rather than to a notional theatre audience. In so doing they inadvertently discovered a type of modernist authenticity. Almost accidental occurrences during the recording - traces of everyday subjectivity - became part of the aesthetic artefact, and indeed a kind of studied vernacularity quickly assumed a near-dominance in Anglophone recorded popular music (Ink Spots, Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday etc).

I will try finally to take into account the historicising processes within which these artefacts are necessarily framed. Those particular recording activities are intrinsically narrativistic: they offer endlessly repeatable periods of duration - anywhere from a hundredth of a second up to three whole minutes - excised from their temporal flow, samplings from real lives, from real space, from real circumstances, moments which however self-contained they may be, always invite the restoration of the whole via an investigation of context. And that increases with the passage of time: we know so much about Jimmie Rodgers, or have speculated so heavily about say Robert Johnson's personal history, for example, that their recordings now exist as much as evidence in the construction of biographical and historical narratives as they do simply as musical performances.

Peter Doyle lectures in writing and media studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. His publications include Echo and Reverb: Fabricating Space in Popular Music Recording, 1900-1960 (Wesleyan 2005), City of Shadows: Sydney Police Photographs, 1912-1948 (HHT 2005), and the novel The Devil's Jump (Arrow, 2001).

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Andrew Flory

Marvin Gaye, politics, and power at Motown

This presentation chronicles how Marvin Gaye navigated the political hierarchy at Motown Records during the 1960s, gained control over his creative process, and used recording technology to compose music. Beginning in 1968, Gaye covertly started working as a producer and expanded upon the method of creating music in the Motown system--which involved a discreet separation between the processes of recording the instrumental track and vocal portions of a recording--when he started composing the melodic and lyrical portions of his songs directly to tape over an already-completed background track. Once he was officially at the helm, Gaye freely employed this method, which I call “vocal composition,” to integrate the acts of recording and composition. Vocal composition was used to create much of Gaye’s most popular and enduring music of the 1970s (the albums What’s Going On and Let’s Get it On), in addition to a body of less popular, but nonetheless astounding, work (Here, My Dear and the Bobby Scott sessions). I will expose this working method in my presentation using a large body of rare audio examples and graphic transcriptions, which range from Gaye’s first efforts at production in 1968 to his last album for Motown in 1979, In Our Lifetime. By promoting topical ideas and sexually charged themes, and engaging in public discussion of his marital difficulties with Anna Gordy (sister of company president Berry Gordy), Gaye imbued his music with a resistance to the culture of conservativism at Motown. Furthermore, there is evidence of Gaye’s own internal conflict with his newfound role as vocal composer as he vacillated between risqué and conformist traditions of African-American music and tried to reconcile his deeply religious upbringing with his hedonistic lifestyle. In sum, using biographical, analytical and aural evidence, this presentation will demonstrate how the culture of creativity at Motown formed the basis for political resistance in the music of Marvin Gaye, and how this opposition helped to form the musical output of this important vocalist and composer.

Andrew Flory is assistant professor of music history at the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, VA. He completed his PhD in musicology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2006, where he was a member of the Royster Society and awarded the John Motley Morehead Fellowship. His doctoral dissertation, entitled "I Hear a Symphony: Making Music at Motown, 1959-1979," was awarded the Glen Haydon Award for Outstanding Dissertation in Musicology from the UNC Music Department. Current research includes an article entitled "Marvin Gaye as Vocal Composer" for the collection Sounding Out Rock: Analytical Essays in Popular Music (University of Michigan Press), a review of the Bang on a Can comic book opera The Carbon Copy Building in the Journal of the Society for American Music, and a lengthy encyclopedia entry entitled "African American Pop Singers and Balladeers" for the forthcoming Encyclopedia of African American Music (Greenwood Press). He is currently working on a large-scale monograph entitled I Hear a Symphony: Listening to the Music of Motown, which is under contract with The University of Michigan Press. Andrew has read papers at the meetings of the American Musicological Society, the Society for Music Theory, and the United States chapter of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. He has also given talks for the North Carolina Symphony, the Popular Music Interest Group of the Society for Music Theory, the North Carolina meeting of Tanglewood II, the South Central Graduate Music Consortium, and the Cleveland Youth Orchestra and Progressive Arts Alliance.

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John Michael Gómez Connor

Gramophones in trenches

This paper will investigate the presence and meanings of gramophones in the Great War trenches. I will firstly outline a context that considers the many and varied roles sound recording technologies undertook during the war period: as entertainer, propagandist, worker, and archivist. I will then register a literary modernity grounded in the fragmented body and a troubled relationship with technology. I will argue that gramophones served to bridge the gap between home and the front, and between a unified past, a fractured present, and the possibility of a restored future. I will use texts such as Parade’s End (1924-28) by Ford Madox Ford, Siegfried Sassoon’s poem Dead Musicians (1918), and the letters of Arthur Bliss to consider the associations between music and humanity and the regenerative power assigned to recorded music more specifically. This contrasts with early understandings of sound recording technology that associate the devices with a rhetoric of death. The gramophone is assigned a strangely re-humanising and redemptive function, which counter-balances the de-humanising and destructive purpose of war machines. The paper will also raise the issues of substitution and fidelity, the employment of recorded music as a collective memory device, the prosthetic reliance on technology (for being human), and the competing noises of killing machines and musical machines.

John Michael Gómez Connor is a PhD student in the English Faculty at Cambridge University. He is writing a thesis on the literary impact of phonographic technology in Modernism.

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Garry L. Hagberg

Jazz improvisation and ethical interaction: a sketch of the connections

Jazz improvisation, an artform that displays the processes of artistic creativity as well as an aesthetic product, is one in which performers have a complex network of obligations to each other. This paper explores a number of those obligations, which include a fine attentiveness, the need to maintain an awareness of the circumstances of action, the need to acknowledge the autonomy of others, the artistically-enforced demand for mutual respect, the role of memory, the requirements of resourcefulness, and a nuanced sensitivity to context, among others. The paper also attempts to show something of the distinctive way that improvisation simultaneously mimetically represents as well as exemplifies in artistic action the categories of ethical content just listed; this thus constitutes one of the many areas where a close inquiry into musical performance sheds special light on some central questions (i.e. the analysis of intentional action) in moral philosophy.

Garry L. Hagberg is presently Professor of Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, and for some years served as the James H. Ottaway Professor of Philosophy and Aesthetics at Bard College. Author of Meaning and Interpretation: Wittgenstein, Henry James, and Literary Knowledge and Art as Language: Wittgenstein, Meanin, and Aesthetic Theory, his Describing Ourselves: Wittgenstein and Autobiographical Consciousness is forthcoming from OUP. Hagberg is also editor of Art and Ethical Criticism, forthcoming from Blackwell, and is co-author, with Howard Roberts, of the three-volume Guitar Compendium: Technique, Improvisation, Musicianship, Theory. He now records as a jazz guitarist for small labels in Europe and the United STates, and early in his career was featured soloist on a record that spent twelve weeks in Billboard's top ten jazz chart.

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Sam Halliday

Time, citation, and the soundtrack: the literature of recorded sound

In a little-known, ragged, yet extraordinary text, two of the great literary personalities of the late nineteenth century, Mark Twain and William Dean Howells, make the phonograph an actor in a stage play. In Colonel Sellers as a Scientist (1883), the phonograph features both as a plot device and as a de facto character, reproducing words spoken by a “real” character, now departed from the stage. In its imbrication of the latest sound recording technology into its structure—not only as a topical reference point, but also as a formal facilitator of dramatic action—the text exemplifies the ways in which literature, in all its forms, absorbed such technologies into itself from the late nineteenth century onwards. In this paper, I discuss further examples of this absorption, focusing on two connected issues: the way recording devices function as “citational” technologies (for example, by allowing one to play records which reflect or calibrate one’s mood); and use of sound technologies to store and navigate in time.

To explore the first of these two issues, I focus on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, Tender is the Night (1934). Here, extraordinary care is taken to describe the music characters listen to, and the media used to do so. The result is a prescient and highly complex use of what we might call “soundtracking”: the deliberate commentary on and/or cultivation of subjective states through the reproduction of recorded music. In ways that anticipate subsequent cinema—a topic that, not coincidentally, the novel’s plot looks forward to—Fitzgerald shows characters playing records to each other; meanwhile, he cites other music himself, thus piling his own “musical” commentary on to that of characters. The fact that all reproduction of recorded sound involves the importation of past time into the present brings me to my second major issue: the relation of time to recorded sound as such. I discuss this primarily with reference to Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man (1952), and Samuel Beckett’s play Krapp’s Last Tape (1958). Here, both authors explore the layering and interpenetration of past and present achieved when multiple recordings are put in play at once. By discussing this, I hope to show not only how literature has been changed by sound technology, but also how it has functioned as a source of theoretical reflection on recorded sound itself.

Sam Halliday teaches nineteenth-century American literature at Queen Mary, University of London. He is the author of Science and Technology in the Age or Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, and James: Thinking and Writing Electricity (2007) and is currently preparing a monograph entitled Sonic Modernity: Representing Sound in Literature, Culture and the Arts for Edinburgh University Press.

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Steen Kaargaard Nielsen

For your ears only - audio cultural reflections on the remediation of the symphonic film score as soundtrack album

Since the 1940s the commercial soundtrack album has represented a phonographic distillation of the film score isolating and removing it from the ’original’ multi-modal and ’functional’ context of the film experience. This remediation of the film score as music ’in its own right’ has produced a specific and today quite prominent phonographic genre often dismissed as a purely commercially motivated by-product, which has merited only sporadic attention.

Drawing on canonic examples from the Hollywood tradition of symphonic film scoring, first and foremost Max Steiner’s Gone with the Wind (1939) and John Williams’ first Star Wars trilogy (1977-83), this paper examines select soundtrack albums both as originally released and as reconceptualized re-releases to offer critical reflections on changing and conflicting culturo-aesthetic conceptions of the ’meaningful’ listening experience as manifested in this sixty-year history of transforming cues into tracks. Thus the soundtrack album, the form and content of which are inevitably the result of an amalgam of technological, commercial, aesthetic and cultural factors, is viewed and explored as a reflection of predominant interactional conventions in a commercialized Western audio culture, where music listening (still) figures as a distinct and treasured activity.

Steen Kaargaard Nielsen is Associate Professor at the Department of Music, part of the Institute of Aesthetic Studies at Aarhus University, Denmark. He specialises in various areas of 20th- and 21st-century music ranging from European and American post-minimalism, and film music, to forays into popular music. Steen's areas of interest are linked by an ever more prominent interest in phonographic music, both historical and contemporary. Among his publications related to recording are: 'A change of scene: on the phonographic reconceptualization of the Broadway musical in the 1940s as reflected in commercial Kurt Weill cast recordings' (2005), and 'Wife murder as child's game: analytical reflections on Eminem's performative self-dramatization'.

He is currently on the board and the repertoire committee of the national record company Dacapo Records.

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Anahid Kassabian

From synchronisation to affect: attention, listening, ubiquity

In considering the problem of listening as a ubiquitous contemporary practice problems of attention and affect immediately arise. Prevailing models of listening, whether explicit or implicit, rely on presumptions of narrativity and primary attention. I will argue that both listening practices and new media technologies demand a wholesale rethinking of these assumptions.

Anahid Kassabian is James and Constance Alsop Chair of Music at the University of Liverpool. She is the author of Hearing Film (Routledge, 2001), co-editor of Music, Sound, and the Moving Image, past editor of Journal of Popular Music Studies, and past chair of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. Her forthcoming book, The Soundtracks of Our Lives (University of California Press), focuses on the questions under discussion in this talk.

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Mark Katz

Born in the Bronx: the origins of the hip-hop DJ

This presentation will examine the birth of hip-hop DJing in 1970s New York. Based on interviews with pioneering hip-hop DJs as well as historical research, it will explain how a handful of DJs created what we now know as hip-hop music through the use of turntables and vinyl records, and situate the birth of this art form in the socioeconomic context of the time.

Mark Katz is Assistant Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a member of CHARM's International Advisory Panel. He is the author of Capturing Sound: How Technology has Changed Music (2004) and The Violin: A Research and Information Guide (2006). He is currently at work on two new books, The Social Life of Sound Technologies (with Timothy Taylor and Anthony Grajeda) and Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-Hop DJ, as well as a new edition of Capturing Sound.

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Keir Keightley

Imagining the studio, historicizing record consciousness

This paper investigates the history of the privileging of the sound recording over the "live" performance, what Theodore Gracyk calls "record consciousness", by challenging Gracyk's assertion that images of the recording studio are rare in popular music culture. I argue there was in fact a proliferation of discourse about the recording studio from the 1950s to the 1970s, on album covers, liner notes, album tracks and early music video. Along with other developments in popular music culture, these "imaginings" helped position the studio as the new, true locus of musical creativity and thus both echoed and amplified shifts in the status of sound recording.

Keir Keightley is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. He conducts research into the history of post-war US popular music, from the "mature Tin Pan Alley" era into the early "rock" era. He has published work on the ideology of rock culture, on early rock 'n' roll movies, on musical commodities such as the standard song and the LP album, and on the gender politics of high-fidelity home audio. He is currently researching a history of the globalization of the US sound recording industry between 1946 and 1968.

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Adam Krims

Classical recordings as design: a preliminary view from Paris

This paper reports some extremely preliminary observations from an empirical study conducted in 2003-4, in Paris; that study tested some conclusions that I had suggested in an earlier article (2001) and reported more systematically in Music and Urban Geography. In the latter, I suggested that many classical recordings were increasingly merging with trends in spatial design, as part of a larger trend toward design as a crucial aspect of commodity value in advanced capitalism; further, I proposed that that trend may be most developed in urban centres with particularly high concentrations of educated workers active in knowledge production and 'creative' fields. This study tested that contention in Paris (which particularly concentrates these workers, as Allen Scott and others have shown), through visits to retailing sites, observation of inventories and sales conditions, and interviews with key players related to retail conditions. My initial findings did confirm some of what I had theorized, although I had also underestimated the tenacity of many residual cultural practices of classical recordings which had been well established in this particular city.

Adam Krims is Professor of Music Analysis at the University of Nottingham. He specializes in music theory, urban geography, and the political economy of music recordings. His most recent book is Music and Urban Geograpny (Routledge, 2007).

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Jens Gerrit Papenburg

Transatlantic echoes: Elvis Presley's voice as a product of German magnetic tape machines and its function in Reeducation in Postwar Germany

In Germany in the summer of 1945 American Signal Corps officer John Mullin found two magnetic tape machines of a new generation in Reichssender Frankfurt which was sourced out to the city Bad Nauheim north of Frankfurt. A symphony orchestra could play make-believably live at night with those machines for American ears which knew radio only in combination with noisy records or live performances. Back in the USA Mullin rebuilt those tape machines from Bad Nauheim and marketed them with support of singer Bing Crosby and Ampex company. The machines of Ampex stood in diverse recording studios soon. One of these recordings studios was the studio of Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. As it is generally known Elvis Presley made his first recordings in this studio and found – without any experience in live performance – his voice. This voice was not just recorded in the studio but was constructed with the help of an echo which was produced with two of Ampex’s tape machines. Presley’s hiccup vocal style can be seen as an answer to this echo and helped to expose the echo effectively. The so called slapback-echo became a constitutive factor for a sound of a new genre of music which emerged in the 1950s – the sound of Rock’n’Roll. In 1958 Presley moved to Bad Nauheim for his military service (surely not as compensation for the knowledge which was purloined out of the city 13 years before). He contributed to the popularization of Rock’n’Roll in the Germany of Reeducation.

In my presentation I will discuss the function of magnetic tape in the formation of Rock’n’Roll in examination of this story and some early records of Elvis Presley. I will show that:

  • tape was not used in a documentary but rather in a constructive way in Rock’n’Roll
  • with tape a new policy of voice became possible in the USA; this policy can be confined clearly from those of the crooners of former decades; the new voices which emerged out of this policy participated in Reeducation in Germany.

Born in 1976, Jens Gerrit Papenburg studied musicology, communication studies and economics in Berlin. Since 2006 he has been Scientific Assistant to the Chair for Popular Music & Theory (Professor Peter Wicke) at Humbolt-Universität zu Berlin. He is Executive Editor of the online platform PopScriptum - Beiträge zur populären Musik (PopScriptum - Essays on Popular Music). Publications include: Der Synthesizer als Apriori. Körper und Maschinen in der Popmusik (The Synthesizer as Apriori. Bodies and Machines in Popular Music), in: Wulf, Christoph et al. (Hrsg.): Paragrana, Internationale Zeitschrift für Historische Anthropologie (14, 2), Berlin: Akademic Verlag 2005; Hörgeräte. Zur Psychomathematik des akroamatischen Leibniz (Hearing Devices. Towards the Psychomathematics of the acroamatic Leibniz), in: Ernst, Wolfgang et al. (Hrsg.): Zeitkritische Medienprozesse, Berlin: Kadmos 2007 (in print).

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Keith Negus

Bob Dylan and the studio: a performer's confrontations with recording

Bob Dylan has been recording since the early 1960s. Yet most of his music making (particularly during the last 20 years) has occurred on the stage, and much evidence supports the claim that his most compelling renditions of songs have been in live performance, rather than recorded in the studio. Bob Dylan is primarily a performing artists: his approach to recording as a process, and his attitude to his recordings as freestanding artefacts, has been at best ambivalent and frequently dismissive. He has only fleetingly embraced recording as an aid to composition, and often wilfully released albums with a non-contemporary sound. By focusing on his recordings as practices, processes and products, I want to think about the ways that Dylan has negotiated the changing cultures of recording that have become institutionalised since the 1960s. Through this I will be revisiting the enduring tensions, in popular music culture, between songs as multiple performances and songs as definitive recordings.

Keith Negus' research engages with all aspects of the production, circulation and reception of music. He is particularly interested in the study of popular music, and engaging music with contemporary debates in cultural and social theory. He has completed extensive research on cultural production, creativity and the music industry, and has interviewed senior recording industry executives in Britain, the United States and Japan. His ongoing research is an attempt to bring together insights from social and cultural theory with musicology, and to link text (lyric, voice, sound, gesture, image) to context (media, political systems, economics, commercial and state institutions). He is currently researching the often tense relationship between music and television, considering how aesthetic choices made by both popular and classical musicians have been influenced by the institutional practices and aesthetic formats preferred by television, and looking at how television has shaped public knowledge and experiences of music. He is also writing a book on Bob Dylan, and is co-ordinating editor of Popular Music (Cambridge University Press).

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Thomas Porcello

Through the listening glass: sounding voices voicing sound

Fundamental to the processes of recording and producing music is the need to talk about sound. This paper is an exploration of how acoustics, epistemology, and technology are mediated by linguistic and discursive practices in sound recording studios. How are body, voice, language, and performance mobilized to create descriptions of sonic features such as timbre, texture, and spatialization? How are discourses for the description of sound - and the distinction between the sonic and the musical - circulated by those involved in the making of recordings? How do such discourses themselves become constitutive of our understanding of sonic aesthetics for music, particularly popular music? This paper both provides a description of some of the means used by engineers, producers, and musicians to describe recorded sound, and prise open a theoretical question about how such means contribute to our understanding of 'the voice.' Evidence is drawn from my ethnographic work in American recording studios, including extensive field recordings of workplace conversations during tracking and mixing sessions.

Thomas Porcello is Associate Professor of Anthropology, former Director of the Program in Media Studies, and Associate Dean of Planning and Academic Affairs at Vassar College in New York. His academic work bridges linguistic anthropology, ethnomusicology, and media studies. His co-edited volume Wired for Sound: Engineering and Technology in Sonic Cultures (Wesleyan University Press, 2005) was awarded the Klaus T. Wachsmann Prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology, and American Anthropologist. He is currently finishing a book on recording studio practice, and has received grant funding for fieldwork on a project concerning the soundscapes of American baseball.

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François Ribac

The circulation and uses of recorded music and musical tools: the spaces of popular music

Recording(s) play(s) a central role in popular music. On one hand, popular musicians view recording, less as a form of duplication, than as a fundamental stage of the creative process. On the other hand, recording technologies and sound reproduction devices, including domestic equipment, function as apprentice musicians’ instructors. In the domestic sphere, especially in their rooms, teenage musicians absorb and emulate the music they love and, thus, acquire its stylistic vocabulary and simultaneously become familiar with the process through which records are made. Shared enthusiasm for a recorded repertoire brings together music fans, who subsequently go on to form bands and make their own music. The absorption and emulation of a musical repertoire, thus, lay the ground for a process of individuation. The advent of house music and scratch, in which musicians perform with turntables, small mix desks, and samples, has further demonstrated that listening devices and the (often neglected) domestic sphere play a central role in the ways in which music is learned and created. Indeed, in popular music, devices that are initially conceived for the private sphere (home or studio) are regularly used in public performances as musical instruments. The translational movement described above can be divided into three stages: the first is the process through which a repertoire is imported; the second involves the appropriation of this repertoire in the domestic sphere; the third is the moment when a musician exports to the public sphere his/her own repertoire. These processes, which involve people and objects, take place in interconnected and hybrid spaces: territories and residences (the domestic sphere, the neighbourhood block, the record shop, schools, neighbouring cities, administrative regions, etc.), networks in which recorded music circulates (record labels and dealers, the radio, Internet, peers, relatives, etc.), interfaces for representing and manipulating music (records, tablatures, software programmes, iPods, musical instruments). In order to examine these processes and spaces/places, I undertook a study, between 2005 and 2007, of the circulation and uses of recordings in the Île-de-France (Paris and its suburbs). I tried to trace the different stages in the learning process of thirty young rock, hip-hop and techno musicians (women and men) who are carrying out their work in the Internet age. I examined the repertoires that they imitated, loved, and shared, as well as the recording tools – including domestic equipment – they used and where these came from (i.e., I identified the sources – people and objects – of these tools). I also studied the processes through which musicians appropriated them, the objects they had recourse to, the places they went to, and how they recorded their own music (most of the time with other musicians). Finally, I looked at the ways in which they exported their musical production (e.g. MySpace and web sites) and the channels they used to allow sounds to circulate within their bands. To represent these multiple spaces/places and itineraries, I relied, in particular, on network mappings. What do these mappings tell us? They represent what we might describe as “the spaces of popular music”, those territories in which actors and their innovations are constantly reconfiguring the “local” and the “global”.[1]

  • [1] This report, entitled “la circulation et l’usage des supports enregistrés en Île-de-France”, was commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture, the local council of the Department of the Seine-Saint-Denis and the programme “Cultures et Territoires [Cultures and Territories]” (jointly sponsored by various French ministries). The report may be downloaded here.

Born in 1961, French composer François Ribac is mainly involved in vocal music. Associated since 1990 with the singer and set-designer Eva Schwabe, he has written seven operas and scores for theatre, dance and television. Since 2003, he began research in the academic field of popular music. He is currently completing his PhD: Feedback, towards a genealogy of popular music. His research interests include: (history of) recording technology, cognitive approach to musical practices, and the scientific origins of music technologies. His first book, l'Avaleur de rock (La Dispute Éditions), was published in 2004.

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Jonathan Sterne

Format theory

Today, more recordings exist in mp3 form than in any other form in the world. What difference does it make? Arguments about sound quality abound in scholarship and the popular press, but much less has been said about the format as itself a cultural phenomenon. This is not entirely accidental, as scholars are more often in the habit of conceiving of technology in terms of hardware. In this paper, I consider the historical significance of format as a defining feature of recent audio media history, and argue that the history of the mp3 reveals otherwise hidden dimensions of twentieth-century audio history.

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, 2003), and numerous articles on media, technologies and the politics of culture. His next book is tentatively entitled MP3: The Meaning of a Format.

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