Created with Sketch.
33 minutes | Jun 14, 2021
Ep. 27: Emotional Rescue (Mack Hagood)
What can sound technologies tell us about our relationship to media as a whole? This is one of the central questions in the research of Phantom Power‘s host, Mack Hagood. To find its answer, he studies devices that get little attention from media scholars: noise-cancelling headphones, white noise machines, apps that make nature sounds, tinnitus maskers–even musical pillows. The story these media tell is rather different from the standard narrative, in which media are conveyors of information and entertainment. In his book Hush: Media and Sonic Self-Control, Mack argues that media are the way we control how–and how much–we let the world affect us. On Phantom Power, Mack has always focused on presenting the ideas of other scholars and sound artists. However, during our summer break we thought we’d share a piece by Mack that appeared in another podcast, the audio edition of Real Life, a razor-sharp magazine on digital culture. “Emotional Rescue” begins with the odd example of pillow-based audio technology to make the point that media are really about something more intimate than information: The cozy conflation of content and comfort… is not a recent digital development. Nor is it, I would argue, a quirky edge case of media use. In fact, this is what media are: tools for altering how the body feels and what it perceives, controlling our relationship to others and the world, enveloping ourselves, and even disappearing ourselves. Misunderstanding the true nature of our media use isn’t merely of academic concern–it has had disastrous effects on our politics and social cohesion. The article was written for the Real Life website, then subsequently dropped in podcast form. Writing for the eye is quite different from writing for the ear, but podcast producer and narrator Britney Gil is amazing at elucidating written prose for the listener. If you listen to nonfiction audiobooks and/or want to hear a great narrator reading insightful takes on digital life, be sure to subscribe to Real Life: Audio Edition. “Emotional Rescue” by Mack Hagood: Original Article Original Podcast
38 minutes | May 11, 2021
Ep. 26: Lightning Birds (Jacob Smith)
Today we present the first episode of Jacob Smith’s new eco-critical audiobook, Lightning Birds: An Aeroecology of the Airwaves. In this audio-only book, Smith uses expert production to craft a wildly original argument about the relations between radio and bird migration. The rest of the book is available, free of charge, from The University of Michigan Press, but this introduction is a great standalone experience that we think Phantom Power listeners will delight in. It tells a truly unique cultural history of radio, describes important scientific discoveries about bird migration through interviews with key researchers, and continues exploring Smith’s singular mode of ecocriticism, combining text-based scholarship with sound art, music, and audio storytelling. Professor Jacob Smith is Director of the Masters in Sound Arts and Industries Program at Northwestern University and author of numerous books. He is a cultural historian focused on media and sound who never fails to come at his subject matter from an oblique and completely original angle. His first three books focused on the relationship between the media technologies that developed over the course of the twentieth century—the phonograph, radio, film, and TV—and the kinds of performance styles we have come to expect from performers. For example, his 2008 book Vocal Tracks tackles questions such as how radio changed acting and why fake laugh tracks developed on television—and why we feel so weird about canned laughter. In recent years, Jacob Smith’s work has changed in a couple of ways. Thematically, he took a hard turn towards environmental criticism. His 2015 book Eco-Sonic Media lays out an agenda for studying the negative environmental effects of media culture while also telling a strange alternate history of “green” sound technologies: hand-cranked gramophones with eco-friendly shellac records and needles sourced from cacti instead of diamonds. His next book maintained this eco-critical perspective while revolutionizing the format of the scholarly book. 2019’s ESC: Sonic Adventure in the Anthropocene was a 10-part audiobook that mined golden age radio shows and sound art to explore the dawn of the Anthropocene era, in which humans emerged as the primary force affecting earth systems. In episode 12 of this podcast, we played an excerpt of that book and interviewed Jake about the process of crafting a book-length scholarly argument in sound by sampling sounds from other eras. Lightning Birds continues this Smith’s work in this innovative vein.
35 minutes | Apr 13, 2021
Ep. 25: For Some Odd Reason (Kate Carr)
Today’s guest, Kate Carr, is an accomplished sound artist and field recordist whose recent work grapples with issues of communication and longing—themes we can all relate to in the Covid era. In part one of the show, we mark Phantom Power’s three-year anniversary and 25th episode. Mack does a little thinking out loud about the different kinds of audio work that we’ve featured over the past three years. The terminology and practices for audio work always seem to be in flux—and people can have completely different terms for similar kinds of work. Mack imagines a spectrum of sound work, from more materialist genres like musique concrete to more conceptual or idealist genres like the audiobook, which emphasize meaning over form. In the end, the spectrum eats its own tail—the material is always conceptual and the conceptual is always material. Sound is always both resonance and meaning and the two can never be completely teased apart. Signal and noise are one. Episodes discussed: Ep. 20: What is Radio Art (Colin Black) Ep. 12: A Book Unbound (Jacob Smith) Ep. 15: Goth Diss (Anna M. Williams) In part two, we meet Kate Carr, an artist the critic Matthew Blackwell describes as a “sound essayist.” Since she began it in 2010, Kate Carr’s work as a musician and field recordist has taken her around the world, from her native Australia to a doctoral program at University of the Arts London. She’s been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wire, and Pitchfork. She also runs the field recording label Flaming Pines. Since slightly before the pandemic, the theme of communication at a distance—always implicit in field recording—has taken center stage in her work. We examine three such pieces by Kate Carr. Each one explores how sound helps us communicate at a distance and how it comforts us in moments of loneliness: “Contact”—a meditation on sonic connection through radio, morse code, and digital technology. “Where to Begin”—a study of love letter writing, which Carr says has profound similarities with field recording. “For Some Odd Reason”—an exploration of the kinds of noise we came to miss during social distancing and the mediated ways we’ve tried to add it back. Together, these three pieces—one from before the pandemic, one from its beginning, and one from its interminable middle—explore how earnestly we try to connect across distance—and how heightened these attempts have become over the past year. Huge thanks to our co-producer on this episode, Matthew Blackwell. He is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at the University of Iowa and a freelance music writer. He writes and edits Tusk Is Better Than Rumours, a newsletter that covers the discographies of experimental musicians. He is also a contributor to Tone Glow, a newsletter featuring interviews with experimental musicians.
34 minutes | Mar 9, 2021
Ep. 24: Voice of Yoko (Amy Skjerseth on Yoko Ono)
Phantom Power‘s Amy Skjerseth brings us the story of perhaps the most famous vocal performance artist and avant-garde musician whose actual work doesn’t get the attention it deserves: Yoko Ono. Collaborator with the Fluxus group in the early 60s, creator of performances such as Cut Piece and her Bed In with John Lennon in the late 1960s, director of experimental films such as 1970’s Fly, and recording artist of experimental pop albums such as that Fly’s soundtrack… Despite this large body of work, her most famous role was that of wife to that guy in that band—a performance that made her the target of misogynous and racist criticism that persists to this day. As Amy points out, much of this criticism centered on the sound of Yoko Ono’s voice. Of course, as we’ve explored on this show before, listening to the other with a racist or sexist ear is nothing new. But in Ono’s case, this prejudicial listening is compounded by the fact that, years before the emergence of punk rock, she was pushing the boundaries of what was considered acceptable vocal expression for anyone, let alone a woman—moaning, wailing, chortling, and screaming. The vast majority of listeners immediately dismissed these sounds as a punchline. On today’s show, we’re going to actually listen. What is the purpose and meaning and effect of Ono’s vocal artistry? We’re exploring it in her recorded work, in her feminist and pacifist political agenda, and most of all, in her film Fly, in which she uses her voice to destroy boundaries between sound and touch, human and animal, self and other. This episode includes elements from an audio essay Amy published at [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film & Moving Image Studies. Music by Yoko Ono, John Lennon, John Cage, Tanya Tagaq, and Graeme Gibson, as well as “Crickets, Birds, Summer Ambient” by Nikodemus Christian. You can hear most of the music again on this Phantom Power Spotify Playlist. Yoko Ono’s film Fly is available on MUBI. The soundtrack has been reissued by Secretly Canadian. You can hear Yoko Ono’s Twitter response to Trump (November 11, 2016) here.
37 minutes | Feb 9, 2021
Ep. 23: Forest Listening Rooms (Brian Harnetty)
What would happen if you took red state rural voters on a walk into the woods with left-wing environmental activists and experimental music fans? Our guest this episode knows the answer. BRIAN HARNETTY is a composer and an interdisciplinary artist using sound and listening to foster social change. While Brian studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music, London, one of his teachers, Michael Finnissy, suggested he look for musical inspiration in his home state of Ohio. Brian took that advice and the result has been eight internationally acclaimed albums. Brian’s music combines archival recordings of interviews and singing—often from the Berea College Appalachian Sound Archives—with his original compositions. For the past decade, Brian has focused on the myth, history, ecology, and economy of Shawnee, a small Appalachian town in Ohio. His 2019 album Shawnee, Ohio was praised by the BBC, the Wire, and named 2019 Underground Album of the Year by MOJO. The album engages with the social and environmental impacts felt by the town and nearby Wayne National Forest in their long history with extractive industries from timber to coal mining to fracking. But Brian doesn’t just document Shawnee’s narrative—he intervenes in it. He’s an environmental activist of a gentle kind, one who gets area residents of different political stripes to walk in the woods together to listen—to one another and to the forest. All in service of protecting and healing the land. In this episode, we are thrilled to present an audio documentary that Brian Harnetty has produced for Phantom Power about this quietly radical experiment, called Forest Listening Rooms. And afterwards I’ll speak to Brian about his project. Learn more: Visit Brian Harnetty’s studio in Ohio. Check out his Bandcamp page. Visit his website.
26 minutes | Jan 8, 2021
Ep. 22: HEY, ROBOT! (Frank Lantz)
The Hey Robot board game Today, we’re playing with voice assistants and thinking about the role of voices in gaming with our guest, game designer and NYU professor Frank Lantz. Over the past nightmare year of the coronavirus, many of us have been hunkered down, trying to figure out how to pass the time with our families. Board game sales on Amazon were up 4,000% percent in March, when Americans began sheltering in place. And, of course, we’ve also spent way more time interacting with digital technology. These two things have come together in a weird and delightful way in Lantz’s game Hey Robot. Created by Lantz’s family-owned company Everybody House Games, Hey Robot is a guessing game you play with a group of friends—including your voice assistant or smart speaker. The premise is simple: Make Google Home or Alexa utter the words written in a deck of cards. The questions it raises are complex: What are these digital entities that many of us interact with daily? How have web searches and voice-based computing changed the way we talk? And what does this reveal about language itself? Hey Robot is available in a free online Quarantine Edition that you can play remotely with your friends. The board game edition is available on Amazon. Today’s show was written and edited by Mack Hagood. Fake Cumbia music by Mack Hagood. Ambient music clip taken from Hiroshi Yoshimura’s album Green.
47 minutes | Sep 3, 2020
Ep. 21: A Life Based on an Experiment (Siavash Amini)
Episode 21 presents a portrait of Iranian experimental composer Siavash Amini. His music, which moves seamlessly between contemplative ambience, menacing dissonance, and spacious melodicism, has been released on experimental imprints such as Umor Rex and Room40. His latest, A Mimesis of Nothingness, just came out on the Swiss label Hallow Ground. Siavash tells host Mack Hagood that his entire life is based on an experiment and he doesn’t yet know what its outcome will be. This episode traces the contours of that story, from his boyhood as a metalhead in a small Iranian port town to his role in the development of Tehran’s lauded experimental music scene. Along the way, we drill down on the international and internal politics that add danger and difficulty to the life of this outspoken leftest composer. Amini is forced to navigate not only the authoritarianism of Iranian government censorship, but also the authoritarianism of western tastemakers, who sometimes want him to make the “Middle Eastern music” they hear in their own heads. Steadfast in his individuality, Siavash makes sounds that resist these authorities–the defiant anthems of an imaginary land, population: one. Most of the music in this episode is by Siavash Amini–listen to it again in this Spotify playlist and check out this great introduction to his music on Bandcamp. This episode was edited by Mack Hagood.
40 minutes | Mar 13, 2020
Ep. 20: What is Radio Art (Colin Black)
What is radio art? It’s a rather unfamiliar term in the United States, but in other countries, it’s a something of an artistic tradition. Today’s guest, Dr. Colin Black is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning radio artist and composer. He speaks to us about his practice as a radio artist and the influence the Australian radio program The Listening Room had on Australia’s sonic avant garde. We then listen to his piece Out Of Thin Air: Radio Art Essay #1, which both explores and exemplifies the possibilities of radio art. It’s both informative and a total treat for the ears! The piece was originally commissioned by the Dreamlands commissions for Radio Arts, funded by the Arts Council England and Kent County Council. Out Of Thin Air: Radio Art Essay #1 is a meta-referencing poetic reflection and meditation on radio art underpinned by an artistic treatment of dislocation, transmission, reception and place as a thematic underscore. The work is in the form of an abstract song cycle that chiefly oscillates between “songs” originating from High Frequency (HR) radio static/broadcasts between 3 and 30 MHz and those from interviewees replying to questions relating to radio art. Location recordings, sound effect and musical composition weave this originating material together to form a sonic confluence and juxtaposition of elements to stimulate the listener’s imagination while offering an insight into the work’s subject matter. Interviewees (in order of appearance): Armeno Alberts, Tom Roe, Jean-Philippe Renoult, Gregory Whitehead, Götz Naleppa, Andrew McLennan, Elisabeth Zimmermann, Heidi Grundmann, Andreas Hagelüken, Teri Rueb and Kaye Mortley Producer and Composer: Colin Black High Frequency (HR) radio receiver operator: Dimitri Papagianakis Duration: 00:25:10 Music for this episode is by Blue the Fifth. We also hear a brief excerpt of Things Change,Things Stay the Same by Rik Rue.
8 minutes | Feb 21, 2020
Ep. 19: Under Construction
It’s been a minute, so in this short episode, we update you on what’s happening with Phantom Power and what’s coming in 2020. The big (and sad) news is that co-host cris cheek is departing. After two years of lending his unique voice, ideas, and turns of phrase to the show–not to mention producing fantastic episodes like his interview with This Heat’s Charles Hayward–cris has decided to refocus on his many other creative endeavors. We will miss cris, but the show will go on. And he’s been kind enough to let us continue using his golden intro! Check out the pod to hear about some of our upcoming 2020 episodes, with guests including Colin Black, Harriet Ottenheimer, Jonathan Sterne, and Siavash Amini.
35 minutes | Dec 20, 2019
Ep. 18: Screwed and Chopped (Re-cast)
Slab trunks feature sound systems and visual displays. Today we re-cast one of our favorite episodes, an interview with folklorist and Houston native Langston Collin Wilkins, who studies “slab” culture and the “screwed and chopped” hip hop that rattles the slabs and serves as the culture’s soundtrack. Since the 1990s, many of Houston’s African American residents have customized cars and customized the sound of hip hop. Cars called “slabs” swerve a slow path through the city streets, banging out a distinctive local music that paid tribute to those very same streets and neighborhoods. Wilkins shows us how sonic creativity turns a space—a collection of buildings and streets—into a place that is known, respected, and loved. In this show we hear the slow, muddy, psychedelic sounds of DJ Screw and The Screwed Up Click, including rappers such as Lil Keke, Fat Pat, Big Hawk, and UGK–as well as songs by Geto Boys, Willie Dee, Swishahouse, Point Blank, Biggie Smalls, and MC T Tucker & DJ Irv. Photos by Langston Collin Wilkins. Transcript [low humming and static playing] [CRIS CHEEK] This…is…Phantom Power. [Tamborine beat blends in] Episode 7: Screwed and Chopped. [Hip hop music with vocals cuts in] Parental discretion is advised. Welcome to Phantom Power. I’m cris cheek. Today on the seventh and final episode of our first season, my co-host Mack Hagood converses with Langston Collin Wilkins. Langston is a folklorist an ethnomusicologist active in both academia and the public sector. Working as a traditional art specialist at the Tennessee Arts Commission. Mack spoke with Langston recently about his research into Houston’s unique slab, car culture. The city’s relationship to hip hop and hip hop’s to community. Enjoy. [Different hip hop music plays] [MACK HAGOOD] So before we get into the research of Langston Collin Wilkins, maybe we should get one question out of the way. Why would a folklorist be studying hip hop? Don’t they study things like folk tales or traditional music or quilting? Well, in fact the folklorist I know study things like bodybuilding and fashion and internet memes. Folklorists study everyday creativity. One contemporary definition of folklore is “artistic communication in small groups.” As Langston shows, it’s the way a town like Houston gets a look and a sound all its own, but folklore didn’t lead Langston to hip hop. In fact, it was quite the other way around. [Hip hop music cuts out] [LANGSTON COLLINS WILKINS] Back when I was a kid, around 12 years old, I received my first hip hop record, which was the “Ghetto Boys Resurrection Album” in 1996. [A song from the album plays] Born and raised in Houston, Texas, the south side, where Scarface is from that same area. The Ghetto Boys in my hometown heroes as they are for everyone growing up in Houston in those communities. I just became obsessed with hip hop, and not just the music, but just the larger culture and community surrounding it. I was reading everything I could get my hands on about hip hop, I was watching everything, just studying the culture and that kind of continued through college. When I got the grad school, I went hoping to study hip hop in some form or fashion. It was through hip hop that I learned about folklore and became interested in it. I spent a year doing ethnographic research in Houston amongst the hip hop community there. I focus mostly on I guess the more street oriented or gangsta rappers, and we’re studying the artists and producers connection to place. I was looking at how and why these artists was so deeply connected to the city itself, apartment buildings, streets, neighborhoods, and how these attachments and connection to place have been reproduced in their musical output. [Different hip hop song plays] Why do Houston Raptors always shout out, call out, give dedications to places that they are familiar and intimately connected with? [Several places are listed through hip hop songs] Washington, Armstrong, Mainwelles and St. Williams. Robinson, Thomas Hopes, we all be chillin but when a sucka starts illin’, the chillin gets rough, and like (inaudible) we tie an ass up. [song continues, then ends] [LANGSTON] That’s what I studied and as I was doing that research I realized that this car culture slab, which originated in Houston Texas, was a part of this place identity that these artists were projecting. [Street sounds with cars, motors running, and people talking] It originated amongst working class African Americans in the early 1980s. It’s hard to offer a concrete definition of slabs, but mostly they’re older modeled cars, older model American luxury cars. So we’re talking Cadillacs, Lincolns,old mobiles, if you can find those, and they’re modified in various ways. Some of the core components include the rims or wheels which are in the community call swingers or elbows depending on who you talk to. These are 30 spoked home like wheels made of chrome. That’s a core fundamental aspect to slap culture. Then you have the paint, which is typically called candy paint, really shiny, glossy, paint with bold colors, and beyond that you have the stereo systems which are also important components of the culture. These stereo systems feature multiple speakers, subwoofers that feature incredible bass sounds. They’re typically powered by multiple batteries. Essentially, slab is a modified, customized car and the components are unique to Houston because there are various car cultures, modified car cultures around the country, but I think the combination of the candy paint, the swingers, the elbows, and the stereo systems make slab unique to Houston. [Street sounds fade out] [MACK] Was there anything from your training in folklore that made you see this phenomenon and maybe even hear it in a different way? [Hip hop music plays in the background] [LANGSTON] I had seen these cars going up, but I’d never really appreciated them. They were just how people got from A to B. That’s how they traveled. My uncle who I’m close to, he had not a slab, but he had a modified car, but that was just his car. Going through the program and learning about how cars and other forms of material culture are results of both individual and communal creativity, I began to look at the cars more deeply. [MACK] It’s interesting what you’re saying there, that these material objects we come up with, almost as these reasons we create spaces to come together and generate a sense of community, but also promote this arena for individuals to show off their distinct abilities at the same time. It’s funny, because the automobile has formed that space for a lot of different subcultures. Those old codgers who have their vintage car things like in the parking lot of the Cracker Barrel, or whatever. [LANGSTON] Right, absolutely. [MACK] Maybe not that different in some ways. [LANGSTON] I don’t think it is. Beyond that, as I was taking the music, the cars were constantly referred to in these rappers’ verbal output. So, that’s what turned my attention for staying in the cars because I figured out that they were both an interesting form of creative culture in themselves, but also a fundamental part of Houston rappers, creative output. [Another rap song fades in, then fades out] People who own slabs aren’t going to your local car audio store to get their systems put together, they go to the audio guy in their neighborhood, who knows the culture, knows the community, and knows the aesthetic to put these sounds together. We were just talking about multiple speakers, heavy bass, and the base, you have to be able to feel the bass that’s part of the aesthetic. Actually, you’re able to see the music. That’s another part of this, that your slab is supposed to rattle, and the truck is supposed to rattle and kind of bump when you’re listening to your music which is typically local hip hop. [Hip hop plays from what sounds like a car stereo. You can hear the base.] At least in slab culture, in the music it’s meant to be felt and heard and seen. I think that’s why you get these terms like bang or bump, to refer to the sound systems. [The bass has completely taken over. Hip hop music slowly fades back in to show how the bass fits. Both sounds fade out] [MACK] You mentioned that it’s local music. Can you talk about the kind of music that’s associated with this culture? [LANGSTON] There was a major economic downturn recession in Houston in the early 1980s that resulted in a lot of people being out of work, a lot of black people being out of work, I’ll say. At the same time in the early 1980s, you saw the rise of crack cocaine and that offered a kind of an economic pathway for many of those guys in those communities. So that’s kind of the context. There’s this community of dope dealers in the south side who wanted to flaunt their wealth and wanted their names, and their presence to be as big as possible in the cars and the music, the local hip hop sound. Scared, Screwed and Chopped, kind of allowed them to do that. [Another hip hop song plays] Essentially, screwed means to slow a record down. Screwed records typically are between 60 and 70 beats per minute. It kind of creates a muddy, slow and somewhat psychedelic sound for hip hop. The pioneer of the sound is DJ Screw who passed away in 2000. He was from the south side of Houston, Texas, again, from these working class communities. [A song from DJ Screw plays. It sounds like a hip hop sound that has been slowed down.] [MACK] Anybody who’s familiar with dance music or hip hop production will know that 60 to 70 beats per minute is really slow. [LANGSTON] I think the slowness of the music is heavily influenced by the car culture, because these cars kind of originated out of the street culture in the mid 1980s. Pioneered by local drug dealers who kind of used modified cars to flaunt t
43 minutes | Nov 1, 2019
Ep. 17: The Sounds of Silents
What did going to the movies sound like back in the “silent film” era? The answer takes us on a strange journey through Vaudeville, roaming Chautauqua lectures, penny arcades, nickelodeons, and grand movie palaces. As our guest In today’s episode, pioneering scholar of film sound, Rick Altman, tells us, the silent era has a lot to teach us about why sound works the way it does at the movies today. And as our other guest, sound and film historian Eric Dienstfrey tells us, “What we think of today as standard practice is far from inevitable.” In fact, some of the practices we’ll hear about are downright wacky. Audiences today give little thought to the relationship between sound and images at the movies. When we hear a character’s footsteps or inner thoughts or hear a rousing orchestral score that the character can’t hear, it all seems natural. Yet these are all conventions that had to be developed by filmmakers and accepted by audiences. And as Altman and Dienstfrey show us, the use of sound at the movies could have developed very differently. Film sound scholar Rick Altman and Mack after their interview at the University of Iowa. Dr. Rick Altman is Professor Emeritus of Cinema and Comparative Literature in the Department of Cinema and Comparative Literature, University of Iowa. Altman is known for his work on genre theory, the musical, media sound, and video pedagogy. He is the author of Silent Film Sound (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), Film/Genre (Bloomsbury, 1999), and A Theory of Narrative (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008). Dr. Eric Dienstfrey is Postdoctoral Fellow in American Music at the University of Texas at Austin. Eric is a historian of sound, cinema, and media technology. His paper “The Myth of the Speakers: A Critical Reexamination of Dolby History” won the Society of Cinema and Media Studies’ Katherine Singer Kovács Essay Award for best article of the year in 2016. Transcript [ominous music plays] [CRIS CHEEK] This…is…Phantom Power. [MACK HAGOOD] Episode 17… [low horn instruments play] [CRIS] The Sounds of Silents [ERIC DEINSTFRY] We think of going to movies as going to the movies but for a lot of audiences, they were going to hear a live concert that was accompanied by motion pictures. And there’s this great anecdote that Anna Windisch uncovered in their scholarship in Viennese practices from the turn of the century. And they found a series of films, I believe, where you had the motion picture printed on film, but you also had a visual recording of the conductor, conducting a score that was meant to go along with that film. So I believe it was sort of like a superimposed image. So when you screen the film, you’ll see the conductor on screen conducting. And then the orchestra that was live in the theater playing would take its cues from the conductor that was on screen. [conductor taps baton, and orchestra plays] [MACK] It’s Phantom Power. I’m Mack Hagood. [CRIS] And I’m cris cheek. So what are we listening to here, Mack? [MACK] This is Eric Deinstfry. He’s a historian of sound technology and sound media working at the University of Texas, Austin. And he knows a lot about the history of sound in motion pictures. [CRIS] So what’s he talking about? [MACK] It’s this crazy story told me about the silent film era in Vienna. You know, back in the early days of film, people had to figure out how to combine music and film. And as you can imagine in Vienna they had this illustrious classical music today. With fame conductors, and it seemed like a good idea to just put the conductor in the film and let the local orchestras where the film was being shown just sort of follow his conducting. [CRIS] Yeah, but I’m imagining this didn’t go so well. [MACK] No, it didn’t. [orchestra music continues] [ERIC] And, like a lot of these practices, they’re fine. They’re enjoyable, but they don’t always work. like nothing ever really works the way that it’s supposed to. In this case, it definitely didn’t work. Because as films were distributed over time, with real changes and as pieces of the film are cut out, you lose seconds, or fractions of a second of the conductor moving his baton, which means you might actually you may lose the downbeat, you may lose various other cues or whatnot. So becomes very different to play as a symphony. When watching a conductor that’s missing frames. [orchestra continues with occasional stops, as if parts have been cut out] [CRIS] So this is that sense that we all experience sometimes of the sound and the image being out of sync, right? [MACK] Yeah, yeah. Like if this film is kind of beat up and it’s missing some frames, then Suddenly the whole orchestra is off of the beat. [CRIS] Which is comedic. [MACK] It must have been hilarious. And that’s really what our show is about today. Where does the relationship between sound and images at the movies come from? I mean, it might sound like a weird question because it seems completely natural to us, right? You take a film class at college, you learn about diabetic sound. [CRIS] That’s the sound,am I right, that comes from the world being represented in the images like a horn blowing in the street, or a clinking teacup in a Victorian palace? [MACK] Yeah, you the characters hear it, and the audience hears it. It comes from the world of the film. And then there’s what they call non diabetic sound. [CRIS] the sound that the characters don’t hear, like the orchestral score or pop soundtrack or the narrator the film talking to the audience. [MACK] Exactly. And this seems entirely natural to us that there’s music playing that the characters can’t hear. Right. But all of this is just a set of conventions. And these conventions are habitual to us. But someone had to invent them, right? Someone had to figure all of this stuff out and kind of the audience’s needed to buy into it. [CRIS] It’s a lot of trial and error. [MACK] Yeah, exactly. [ERIC] What we think of today is just sort of standard practices is far from inevitable. And there were a lot of experiments going on ways to try and think of the merge of motion pictures and music as much more of a multimedia experience and So we’re we arrived at if anything is far more conservative in conventional than what was actually being practiced in that early era. And I think that’s why this early era attracts so many people, because you just see of just this. So many creative practices that, you know, have since been lost but that you know, there are records out for when you uncover them. It’s just really funny to see like, this is what cinema could have been maybe in an alternative universe. [slow menacing music plays] [CRIS] I really liked that idea. And I hear it in many different kinds of disciplines. The sense that we’ve lost potential things that could have been really great to pursue have been put in put into the disciplined track. [MACK] Yeah. And so if you really want to understand the film soundtrack as we know it today, you need to go back to its prehistory in the so called silent era. Luckily, I got to talk with one of the OG scholars of the silent film era. [CRIS] I ask you what’s an OG scholar? It feels like it’s missing the M. [MACK] Original gangster. He’s an original gangster of silent film sound scholarship. [RICK ALTMAN] Hi, my name is Rick Altman, I used to teach at the University of Iowa. Now I am an emeritus faculty member, still teaching a graduate seminar on film sound. [MACK] Rick is the author of a lot of things. But most importantly for our purposes, he wrote this book Silent Film Sound that came out in 2004 and Columbia University Press. It’s this multiple award winning book full of archival finds and insights and really great pictures. It’s kind of a large format book. And in one poll, it was voted one of the top five books on film of its decade. [CRIS] He doesn’t sound like a gangster at all. [MACK] No, he doesn’t. Sounds like a nice man who lives in Iowa. But when Rick got started in his research, silent film sound was not exactly a hot topic. [RICK] People seemed to think that everything that needed to be said about silent film, and silent film sound in particular, had already been said. I came along and thought to myself, this is going to make it very easy for me to write the first chapter of my general history of film sound. [MACK] So, you know, Rick thought that he was just going to be able to, like summarize all of this work that had already been done on silent film and silent film sound. And that was just going to be a chapter in this longer Opus about the history of sound and film. There was just one problem. [RICK] Unfortunately, when I went to the library, I found that the whole area was un-interegated. [MACK] Basically, Rick was gonna have to do this research himself. So he starts digging into historical materials, newspapers, trade magazines, technical documents ephemera from the silent film era. But as he did it, [RICK] I kept running into confusion about what I was dealing with what I was reading about, I would be reading about sound effects. And they would be called, somehow music. Well, I didn’t understand how that was possible. But every time I would find this confusion of terminology, it sent me to a new domain and made me realize I was dealing with a much more complex situation than had been presented in my professional press. [MACK] So what Rick altman discovered is that the story of silent film sound was multiple. It was really the story of a whole bunch of other forms of 19th century entertainment. [vaudeville music plays] [RICK] I worked a lot on vaudeville. I worked a lot on the history of magic lanterns. I dealt with the architecture
61 minutes | Sep 27, 2019
Ep. 16: Soar and Chill (Robin James)
Why do certain musical sounds move us while others leave us cold? Are musical trends simply that—or do they contain insights into the culture at large? Our guest is a musicologist who studies pop and electronic dance music. She’s fascinated by the way EDM privileges timbral and rhythmic complexity over the chord changes and harmonic complexities of the blues-based rock and pop music of yore. However, Robin James is also a philosopher and she connects these musical structures to social and economic structures, not to mention structural racism and sexism. Robin James In this episode, cris and Mack have a lengthy, freeform interview and listening session with Robin in which she breaks down the sounds of EDM, pop, hip hop, “chill” playlists, and industrial techno, conceiving them as varied responses to neoliberalism’s intensification of capitalism. Her analysis includes lyrical content, but her main focus is the soars, stutters, breaks, and drops that mimic the socio-economic environment of the 21st century. It’s an environment that demands resilience from all of us—and especially from women and people of color. Robin James’s books include: Resilience & Melancholy: pop music, feminism, neoliberalism (Zer0 Books, 2015). The Sonic Episteme: acoustic resonance & biopolitics (Duke, 2019). The Conjectural Body: Gender, Race, & the Philosophy of Music (Lexington Books, 2010). Transcript [ominous music plays] [CRIS CHEEK] This…is…Phantom Power. [techno music fades in] [MAC HAGOOD] Episode 16. [CRIS] Soul and chill. [MACK] Hey, I’m Mack Hagood, and yes, you are hearing Calvin Harris on Phantom Power, the podcast on the sonic arts and humanities. Why you might ask? Well, our guest today spends a lot of time listening to Calvin Harris and David Guetta. She calls them the Coke and Pepsi of pop, electronic dance music or EDM. As a musicologist, she’s fascinated by how EDM pushes beyond tonality. That is the harmonies and chord progressions that are the focus of blues based rock and pop music. EDM cares more about Tambor, and rhythmic complexity, ear catching sounds and intense Sonic experiences. moments when the vocal stutters for the beat drops moments like this one, where the entire song begins to soar. [music continues] But Robin James isn’t just a musicologist. She’s also a philosopher. She really wants to know what these songs can tell us about society. And while many cultural analyses of pop songs focus on song lyrics, with a few vague gestures towards sound, Robin James brings her musical logical experience to bear connecting musical structures to economic structures, not to mention structural racism and sexism. To my mind, the strength of her work is that she makes admirably bold and clear claims about why certain kinds of popular music are popular in a given moment. And whether or not you decide you agree with those claims by the end of the show, you may never hear an EDM sore quite the same way again. In today’s episode, my co host cris cheek and I have a lengthy freeform conversation and listening session with Robin, in which she breaks down EDM pop songs featured in her book “ Resilience and Melancholy: Pop Music, Feminism Neoliberalism.” We also get into a bit of hip hop, as well as songs from her current research into chill music in the streaming era. Robin James is Associate Professor of Philosophy at UNC Charlotte, and co editor of the Journal of Popular Music Studies. For the 2019-2020 academic year. She is also visiting Associate Professor of Music at Northeastern University. And by the way, she got her started musicology and philosophy as an undergraduate at Miami University in Ohio, where cris and I teach. [music fades out] [ROBIN JAMES] So I started college as an oboe major back in the 90s. Yeah. [CRIS] You were playing oboe at Miami? [ROBIN] Yes. [CRIS] Okay. [ROBIN] I played Piccolo in the marching band. I thought I wanted to be a conductor. I was taking philosophy classes. And I realized that sort of the questions that music theorists ask sometimes are similar to the questions that philosophers asked and that the questions that I was interested in about music were like,why do people think this sounds good, right? For it to music to go this way, as opposed to some other way? Why does music sound certain ways in particular socio historical moments? And those are really philosophical questions about music.So then when I was deciding what kind of graduate program do I want to go into? Do I want to go into, like a musicology program, you want to go into a gender studies program? Do I want to go to a philosophy program? I said, Well, in philosophy, I can do all of that stuff. [CRIS] So in terms of good,is it that it makes you feel good? Or is it that it’s good in relation to aesthetic standards that one has had brought down to you when you’re thinking about music? [ROBIN] Both. And often, I think the interesting things to think about when those two are in conflict, yes. So Khalifa San is optimism article came out in 2004. And that’s when I was writing my dissertation. I finished it in 2005. And poptimism, is the idea that pop music or music traditionally devalued, because its associated with like, team girls, is just as worthy of critical and intellectual attention as music that’s traditionally received that attention, such as jazz, or rock or music or something like that. So I was writing my dissertation at that time. And part of what I was trying to think about was sort of the conflict between, you know, the elite aesthetic standards and what people like, right? So for example, one of the things I did in the dissertation was show how, in some ways, Nico was the first poptimist. With his arguments, that Italian opera because they make you feel good, and they’re kind of not sensical, and just fun, is better than German.I was kind of thinking about the instances where what makes people feel good is in conflict with what the elite say is good, capital G. [CRIS] So kind of, I don’t know, low art versus high art will be another way of putting this. [ROBIN] Yeah. [CRIS] The kind of the things that you feel that you ought to develop an appreciation for. Because they’re held to be culturally iconic as as distinct from the thing that you just like. [ROBIN] Right. And for me, as a scholar of gender and race, that’s interesting, because there’s those two factors are often deeply deeply behind The conflict between the sort of critical standards and, quote, unquote, guilty pleasures, right? [MACK] Yeah. It seems like a lot of your work is asking what is it about the social environment that makes certain musical sounds? Like you said, feel good, or feel pertinent, become popular? But then we could also flip that and say, what can the rise of certain musical sounds tell us about our society? Is there a way that musical sounds can tell us what’s actually going on? [ROBIN] Yeah, and that’s a great way to sort of describe what I try to do, because I think, in a lot of ways, what I’m interested in is understanding society and relations among people, so we can be better at it. And society is obviously vast and complicated, but pop songs are three minutes long. So they’re much easier to study in their completeness. We understand songs, because they contain structures that make sense to us as a structure. And those structures that we hear in songs also structure things in the world. So gender would be one example. We use gender to organize everything from like, what kind of bag what we call the kind of bag someone carries to bathrooms to all sorts of things, right. But we also use gender to organize relationships among songs, right? And I love Susan McLaren’s famous example about you know, the cadence, or the song that ends on a strong beat is called masculine. And the song that ends on a weak beat is called feminine because we associate masculinity with strength and femininity with weakness, right? So I try to find these structures in songs as sort of analogs or microscopic versions of the structures or logics or relationships that we experience macroscopically in our relations with each other with the world out in society. [MACK] Yeah. Is this a different question from what we might call like a hermeneutics of music? [ROBIN] Um, this is maybe where I get all nitpicky philosopher. So I would understand hermeneutics to be something where you’re interpreting a hidden meaning, right? You’re revealing something underneath the surface? And that’s one way of understanding meaning, like a hidden content, but I don’t know that I’m necessarily doing that. I’m not finding the, the expressed or hidden meaning so much as trying to figure out how it works. And why does it work this way? If that makes sense, right. And in that way, I think I’m thinking kind of like a music theorist. [CRIS] Can we have a look at some of the ways in which you break these pop songs down to show how they’re working? And what kind of effect they’re producing? [ROBIN] Sure. [MACK] Yeah. Yeah, maybe we could start with one musical feature that you have studied, which is the sore? [ROBIN] Yeah. So the sore is a device that I identify as sort of coming from early 21st century dubstep. [dubstep plays] Then sort of filtering up into the early 2010s, top 40, right? Remember this sort of EDM boom? [EDM music plays] It’s been around for a while, but it kind of rose to the top of the pop charts and became kind of a common language in pop songwriting around 2009 2010. And what it does is, it’s a way to build and release tension in a song, right, to build a climax is what it does. So what the sore does is it uses rhythmic intensification to build the song up to a climax and then release that tensions. You guys have probably
58 minutes | Jul 1, 2019
Ep. 15: Goth Diss (Anna M. Williams)
With My Gothic Dissertation, University of Iowa PhD Anna M. Williams has transformed the dreary diss into a This American Life-style podcast. Williams’ witty writing and compelling audio production allow her the double move of making a critical intervention into the study of the gothic novel, while also making an entertaining and thought-provoking series for non-experts. Williams uses famed novels by authors such as Anne Radcliffe and Mary Shelly as an entry point for a critique of graduate school itself—a Medieval institution of shadowy corners, arcane rituals, and a feudal power structure. The result is a first-of-its-kind work that serves as a model for doing literary scholarship in sound. Anna M. Williams This episode of Phantom Power offers you an exclusive preview of My Gothic Dissertation. First, Mack Hagood interviews Williams about creating the project, then we listen to a full chapter—a unique reading of Frankenstein that explores how the university tradition can restrict access to knowledge even as it tries to produce knowledge. You can learn more about Anna M. Williams and her work at her website. This episode features music from Neil Parsons’ 8-Bit Bach Reloaded. Transcript [ominous music plays] [CRIS CHEEK] This…is…Phantom Power. Episode 15: Goth Diss. [sound of wind blowing] [ANNA WILLIAMS] It’s May 4th 2017, and I’m in room 311 of the English philosophy building. [jazzy music plays] Room 311 is a windowless closet crowded with a conference table and rolling chairs that currently contain the five members of my dissertation committee. A radio scholar, A romanticist, an 18th century-ist education theorist and Victorianist. [MALE VOICE] So we’re here to talk prospectus and I welcome you with my colleagues. And we’re interested in raising constructive questions that will help you with clarifying focus, the scope, and the process because the process is so interesting. [ANNA] It’s the job of these five people to advise me over the next months, or more likely years as I write my dissertation, which is the only thing standing between me and my doctorate in English. What we’re here to discuss today, isn’t my dissertation per se, but rather my prospectus, a Microsoft Word document spanning anywhere from six to 20 pages that describes the dissertation, the one I haven’t written yet. In this way, think of the prospectus as a sort of dissertation permission slip, a sheet of paper that once signed allows me to climb on board the bus and head into the field of academic literary criticism. And if I don’t earn my committee signatures at the end of this meeting, then I guess I’m going to have to stay behind and eat my bag lunch all by myself. [music fades out] [MACK HAGOOD] Hey, everyone, its Phantom Power. Sounds about sound, the podcast where we explore sound in the arts and humanities. I’m Mack Hagood. My partner, cris cheek is out vagabonding. It’s summer, I caught sight of him via social media on the Appalachian Trail. As you hear this, he may be in London or Rome. cris, if you’re listening, I hope you brought your recorder with you pick up some good sounds for us. And yeah, it’s summer. But there was something I wanted to share with you because it’s hot off the audio presses. One of the really nice and unexpected fringe benefits of doing this show is we’ve started to get invites to come and talk to folks about how to do academic work in sound, and what the potential of podcasting is in the world of sharing ideas. And so I was giving one of those talks at the University of Iowa. And people were telling me we have a PhD student who is doing her dissertation in podcast form. The author’s name is Anna M. Williams, and her project is called My Gothic Dissertation. [carnival sounds and music play] It’s a study of the Gothic novel, something that many literary critics, like Williams have studied in the past. But she does it in podcast form. And she uses the Gothic novel as a venue as an avenue into a critique of graduate school itself. So it’s sort of this narrative about being a graduate student about that the actual practice of writing a dissertation, and how that experience is, in itself, a very Gothic style experience. You totally do not have to be a literary scholar, to understand and to, in fact, enjoy this podcast. It’s a compelling project. It’s really nicely produced. And it’s a peek behind the curtain into what grad school is really like. [sounds and music end, replaced with victorian music] [ANNA] It’s as if I’ve been lowered into a mind maze, or like the heroines of the literary genre that developed contemporaneously with the Enlightenment, the Gothic novel, maybe I’ve been lowered into a crumbling ancient castle. [organ music plays] What led me to this place is the prospect of a life devoted to literature of professing it as a career. But once I arrived, the prospect of a professorship began promptly to fade from view, like the Gothic ghost that it is. And now I’m trapped here in this Gothic castle known as grad school, with its intricate system of locked passageways, trap doors and dead ends, all lorded over by the mysterious Cult of the profession. The only way out for me, the intrepid heroine, trembling with trepidation, is to figure out the secrets of the ancient cult. To gain some knowledge that for the next 500 pages or so will continue to evade my grasp. I’ve got to show my mastery of the rules of literary criticism, but at the same time critique them. I’ve got to outsmart the Baroque villain of the grad school Gothic, the dissertation itself by doing it, while also simultaneously undoing it. And like those breastfeeding readers enraptured by the illicit world of the Gothic and the 18th and 19th centuries, you’re invited along to witness my own daring PhD adventure, because this is my Gothic dissertation. [music ends, the sound of thunder is heard] [MACK] Like I said, this thing is hot off the presses so hot, in fact that the final episode has not yet been produced, because that’s the episode where Anna Williams defends her dissertation. So I don’t even know she defended it successfully. We’ll have to wait and see. But I want to share an interview that I just did with her this morning. And then I’m also going to share a chapter that she did on the novel Frankenstein, because I think it’s a really interesting reading that she does, and it’s a lot of fun to listen to. [sound of thunder is heard again] [ANNA] So there were three primary things that I wanted to accomplish in this dissertation. And the first one was that it was my actual dissertation. And so I needed to make some kind of critical intervention. So what I ended up doing was highlighting some under recognized educational themes that run through the Gothic. The second thing that I wanted to accomplish was just to share the lived experience of what it’s like to be a grad student, in this particular historical moment in the humanities, because I think there are a lot of hidden obstacles, and a lot of them are emotional, and psychological. And those things don’t get talked about a lot. And so I was pointing out these like emotional factors, this kind of like emotional privilege that people have this, like a thick skin, or whatever you want to call it, that helps certain people succeed more easily than others in academic settings. And then the third thing that I wanted to do, because I didn’t want it to be purely critique, I wanted to offer some positive alternatives for how we might do better in graduate education to make things more accessible. And just a healthier environment for education overall, in general. [MACK] One of the really distinctive things that I think is happening here is that you’ve written the dissertation that is impart a critical reflection on the process of writing a dissertation. So this idea of this sort of reflective peek behind the curtain. And in fact, the podcast format itself, were those in the game plan from the beginning? [ANNA] They were, the podcast part especially because I had, I had kind of a real one day, this one day and the summer of 2016, I was out walking and listening to this American life. And it was an episode in which Ira Glass and Hannah Jaffe Walt, were talking about their work life balance in their 30s, which was like, exactly where I was, I had just turned 30, I was trying to figure out what to do with my professional life. And they were both talking about how much they love their job, they love making radio, and how difficult it was to balance that with raising children and, and having friends and that kind of thing. And I was thinking like, God, I, maybe this is an unusual response. But I was like, I would love to have a job that I loved that much that I didn’t want to stop doing it at the end of the day. And then all of a sudden, I think this idea had been brewing for a long time, because of the way that I was listening to this American life as like a budding literary scholar, it just occurred to me like what they do is tell stories, and then explain why those stories matter. And that’s what we are supposed to be doing as literary critics like at the very fundamental level. So it just occurred to me, I could totally make a career, doing literary criticism in the same kind of podcast format that has been so successfully pioneered by This American Life. And that very afternoon, when I got home from my walk, I went, you know, I’m gonna see if Iowa Public Radio has any job openings, just on a whim, they’re probably not even based in Iowa City where I live, but I’m just going to check. Long story short, I ended up interning there for a year, while I was writing my perspective. So that is
40 minutes | May 24, 2019
Ep. 14: Resonant Grains (Craig Eley on Carleen Hutchins)
In the 1950s, a schoolteacher named Carleen Hutchins attempted a revolution in how concert violins are made. In this episode, Craig Eley of the Field Noise podcast tells us how this amateur outsider used 18th century science to disrupt the all-male guild tradition of violin luthiers. Would the myth of the never-equaled Stradivarius violin prove to be true or could a science teacher with a woodshop use an old idea to make new violins better than ever? We also learn about the mysterious beauty of Chladni patterns, the 18th century technique of using tiny particles to reveal how sound moves through resonant objects--the key to Hutchins' merger of art and science. In this episode, we hear the voices of:Quincy Whitney, Carleen Hutchins biographer and a former arts reporter for the Boston Globe.Myles Jackson, a professor of the history of science at Princeton.Joseph Curtin, a MacArthur-award winning violin maker.Sam Zygmuntowicz, an extremely renowned violin maker and creator of Strad3D.Carleen Hutchins herself. You can subscribe to Craig Eley's Field Noise podcast to hear the original version of this story. This episode was edited by Craig Eley and Mack Hagood. Music is by Blue Dot Sessions and Marc Bianchi. The archival interview clips of Carleen Hutchins were provided by filmmaker James Schneider. The interview with Quincy Whitney was recorded by Andrew Parrella at New Hampshire Public Radio. Transcript [ominous music plays][CRIS CHEEK]This…is…Phantom Power.[MACK HAGOOD]Episode 14.[CRIS]Resident grains.[a whirring sound plays, then a string being plucked][CARLEEN HUTCHINS]What I’m interested in now is to see what the waves that are traveling through the woods are like. And those are the things that I think are making a lot of difference in the way, energy and the waves of energy can go through the wood itself. And wood is all sorts of sort of discontinuity, if you will, that will make the energy have to slow down or go around something, it’s a little bit like a river flowing. And if you put some rocks on the edge of a river, you’ll change the whole flow of the river downstream. Think that’s what’s happening in violins. There are certain ways that those blockages, the discontinuity can be worked out. And that’s the kind of thing I’m looking for us to see what happens. Because some of the beautiful issues that I’ve been working with and testing show that there’s a good deal of this sort of thing going on.[CRAIG ELEY]Well, let’s just back up a little bit. There’s a line of thought, which is that every object vibrates according to its nature.[A more persistent humming, then fades out][MACK]Welcome to another episode of Phantom Power. I’m Mack Hagood.[CRIS]And I’m cris cheek.[MACK]Today we have the pleasure to speak with one of our collaborators, Craig Eley. Craig is a producer on Phantom Power. And he’s also the producer of his own podcast, a podcast called Field Noise. Hi, Craig. [CRAIG]Hey, guys. Thanks for having me.[CRIS]Yeah, thanks for being with us.[MACK]Alright, so Craig, we’re doing a little bit of a swap-a-roo this week. We’re going to hear basically an episode of your podcast Field Noise. Do you want to tell us a little bit about your show?[CRAIG]Yeah, you know, the idea has always revolved around my own research interests: sound studies, history of technology, environmental history, and just the sort of relationship between sound and technology in the environment. You know, when I finished graduate school, I actually did do a research postdoc for a year, but then I ended up working in public radio. And I’m trying to incorporate some of my own research, but also just do some original reporting and just kind of follow my ears as it were for some stories that I’m that I’m interested in trying to tell.[MACK]So today, you’re bringing us an episode of Field Noise that is about an outsider who revolutionized the field that she entered.[CRAIG]That’s absolutely right.
56 minutes | May 3, 2019
Ep 13: Jams Bond (cris cheek)
In an unusual episode, we listen back to field recordings that co-host cris cheek made in 1987 and 1993 on the island of Madagascar. It's a rich sonic travelogue, with incredible musicians appearing at seemingly every stop along the way. Mack interviews cris, who discusses the strangeness and surprises of listening back to the sounds of that other time and place--and listening to the voice of an earlier version of himself. The BBC broadcast some of this material on Radio 3 as ‘The Music of Madagascar,” produced by John Thornley. It won the Sony gold radio award for ‘specialist music program of the year in 1995. A longer version aired as "Mountain, River, Rail and Reef," produced by Phil England and Tom Wallace for Resonance FM, the world’s first radio art station as part of 1998's Meltdown Festival at the South Bank Centre, curated by John Peel. This episode takes its name from a boat cris traveled on in Madagascar. Transcript [ominous music plays][CRIS CHEEK]This…is…Phantom Power.[sound of glass being smashed][MACK HAGOOD]Episode 13. [CRIS]James Bond. [MACK]Welcome to another episode of Phantom Power, the podcast about sound in the arts and humanities.[CRIS]Who are you?[MACK]*laughs* I’m Mac Hagood. [CRIS]I’m cris cheek. [MACK]And today we have a very unusual episode because I get to interview cris.[CRIS]Yay![MACK]cris has brought in a program that he produced for the legendary community radio station in London, Resonance FM. Based on your travels in Madagascar, actually two trips you took right?[CRIS]That’s right 1987, 1993, yeah. [MACK]cris, why don’t you tell us a little bit about this show?[CRIS]It was originally broadcast on the BBC. And there was some format things that got in the way of it being a longer show on the BBC. And I wanted to let some of the recordings play a little bit more than they could do in the original.[MACK]In resonance, it was much more of a sort of freeform kind of space where you could let something like that stretch out right?[CRIS]It was pretty emergent as a station at that point, but also yeah, the BBC wanted to cut me distinctly to just under half an hour. [MACK]And why Madagascar? Maybe we should start off with where is Madagascar? [CRIS]Madagascar is off the east coast of Africa. It’s in the Indian Ocean. Fourth largest island on the planet. 90% unique in flora and fauna. Really extraordinary mixtures of people who came fromFrom Polynesia, down the Amoni Arab coast from particularly Southwest India, pirates. Did I mentioned pirates yet? [MACK]No, you didn’t.[CRIS]There were several pirate bases in Madagascar. [MACK]Yeah, and the musical traditions that resulted from that mix are really, really incredible. [CRIS]They are, and the people are really incredible. [MACK]So what we’re going to hear, I’ve heard a little bit of it already. It’s gorgeous music and really some delicious sounds recorded, just delectively. I just really love these recordings and sort of what interests me beyond this sonic travel log that you’re presenting to us, is just the fact that I’m going to hear the you that I didn’t know from 20 years ago, and then you’re also going to sort of hear yourself, the person that you used to be back then.[CRIS]Yeah, that’s why I brought this. I mean, I brought it because we’ve been talking in so many different ways about listening about paying attention to the sounds that are around you, the things that are at the edges of our attention, and really concentrating on those. It felt like it was in conversation with so many of the other programs that we’ve made.[MACK]Great well, so maybe what we should do is just let it roll, check in, and debrief?[CRIS]We’ll stop. [MACK]Okay. This is Mountain, River, Rail and Reef by cris cheek.[upbeat, almost latin style music plays][CRIS]Mountain, River, Rail and Reef. A field sound narrative.[music continues then fades out, a low drumroll plays]Monday, March the 13th, 1993. It’s so hard to see out of those distortionary plastic L...
39 minutes | Mar 28, 2019
Ep. 12: A Book Unbound (Jacob Smith)
What would it be like if scholars presented their research in sound rather than in print? Better yet, what if we could hear them in the act of their research and analysis, pulling different historical sounds from the archives and rubbing them against one another in an audio editor?In today's episode, we get to find out what such an innovative scholarly audiobook would sound like--because our guest has created the first one! Jacob Smith's ESC (University of Michigan Press) is a fascinating sonic exploration of postwar radio drama and contemporary sound art, as well as a meditation on how humans have reshaped the ecological fate of the planet. Before we listen to an excerpt of ESC, Mack interviews Jake about how his skills as a former musician came in handy for his work as an audio academic. You can listen to ESC: Sonic Adventure in the Anthropocene in its entirety for free courtesy of the University of Michigan Press. You can also watch Jake's 90s band The Mysteries of Life perform in the "bad music video" Jake mentions or on Conan O'Brien.Jacob Smith is founder and director of the Master of Arts in Sound Arts and Industries, and professor in the Department of Radio/Television/Film at Northwestern University. He is the author of three print-based books on sound: Vocal Tracks: Performance and Sound Media (University of California Press 2008); Spoken Word: Postwar American Phonograph Cultures(University of California Press 2011); and Eco-Sonic Media (University of California Press, 2015). He writes and teaches about the cultural history of media, with a focus on sound and performance.Today's show was edited by Craig Eley and featured music by Blue Dot Sessions. Our intern is Gina Moravec. Transcript [ethereal music plays] [CRIS CHEEK]This…is…Phantom Power. [MACK HAGOOD]Episode 12. [CRIS]A book unbound. [MAN ANNOUNCER]Tired of the everyday grind? Ever dream of a life of romantic adventure? Want to get away from it all? We offer you escape. Escape, designed to free you from the four walls of today. For a half hour of high adventure. [old, dramatic music plays. In between are people listing off natural disasters.] [MACK]Hey everyone. Welcome back to another episode. This is Mack Hagood. My partner chris cheek is out, so you just got me today. What you just heard is an excerpt from ESC. A fascinating project that’s one part podcast, one part audiobook. And it’s produced by my guest today, Jacob Smith. Jake is the founder and director of the Master of Arts in Sound Arts and Industries program at Northwestern University, where he’s also a professor in the Department of Radio, Television, and Film. So, for those of you who are regular listeners to the show, you know that I work in this disciplinary space that gets called sound studies. So we have all these folks working in this space of sound studies. And yet, how do we publish all of this research that we generate? We publish it in print, or in pixels on the screen, right? We do it via the written word. And that’s why I was so excited about having Jake Smith on today because he is challenging that paradigm, working in sound, and doing something that really could only be done in sound. His new project ESC is an audio native audiobook. [guitar music plays] So what do I mean by that? So basically, this is a book length critical reading of a CBS radio drama from the 1940s and 50s called Escape. But instead of just reading about the radio drama, we actually hear the radio drama itself. And through Jake’s excellent production techniques, we also hear his criticism, and we hear these sounds sort of matched up against the work of contemporary sound artists. The through line argument of the the piece is that this moment in the 40s and 50s, after World War Two, when this radio drama was being produced, is also the moment that was sort of a tipping point in the Earth’s geological history. It’s the moment when human beings start having a larger impact on the Earth’s ecology...
41 minutes | Mar 14, 2019
Ep. 11: Breathing Together (Caroline Bergvall)
Working across and among languages, media, and art forms, Caroline Bergvall’s writing takes form as published poetic works and performance, frequently of sound-driven projects. Her interests include multilingual poetics, queer feminist politics and issues of cultural belonging, commissioned and shown by such institutions as MoMA, the Tate Modern, and the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Antwerp, and won numerous awards. Ragadawn is a multimedia performance that explores ideas of multi-lingualism, migration, lost or disappearing languages, and how language and place intersect. Ragadawn is performed with two live voices and recorded elements, outdoors, at dawn, which means the start and end times are location specific. It features song composed by Gavin Bryars, sung by Peyee Chen. Ragadawn premiered at the Festival de la Bâtie (Geneva) and at the Estuary Festival (Southend) in 2016. You can find more work(s) by Caroline Bergvall at: http://carolinebergvall.com Also on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/carolinebergvall/ohmyohmy and Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/carolinebergvall/videos Her publications include: • Éclat, Sound & Language, 1996 • Fig: Goan Atom 2, Salt, 2005 • Middling English, John Hansard Gallery, 2010 • Meddle English: New and Selected Texts, Nightboat Books, 2011 • Drift, Nightboat Books, 2014 Transcript [CAROLINE BERGVALL] Jigsaw of traveling languages. [ominous music plays] [CRIS CHEEK] This…is…Phantom Power. Caroline Bergvall. [CAROLINE] How does one keep one’s body as one’s own? What does this mean about the relative safety of boundaries. Could I make sure that what I called my body would remain in the transit from other languages, that it would hold this progression into English, and because I didn’t know and wasn’t sure, and since for a great number of people, for an overwhelming number of persons, for an overwhelming a large number of persons for all always growing number of persons. This is far from self evidence. This is not self evidence. This does not apply, this doesn’t even begin to figure, I never knew for sure. Some never had a body to call their own before it was taken away. Somehow the [speaks in norwegian.] Some never had a chance to feel it body as their own before it was taken away. Some never had a chance to know their body before it was taken away. [speaks in norwegian]. Some were never free to speak that body before it was taken up and taken away. [speaks in norwegian]. Some tried their body on to pleasure in it before it was taken up beaten violated taken away [speaks in norwegian] Some had their body for a time that was taken away or parts of it somehow [speaks in norwegian] Some thought they had their body safely then were asked to leave it behind the door or parts of it some little dirty trick how the [speaks in norwegian]. Some hoped they had one safely only to find it had to be left across the border or parts of it [speaks in norwegian]. Some wanted to leave their body behind and couldn’t [speaks in french]. Some could neither take it or leave it behind [speaks in norwegian]. Some are loved at, some are spat out some are dragged into the crowd [speaks in norwegian]. Some bodies are forgotten in the language compounds. Some immense pressure is applied on to the forgetting of the ecosystem some escape from. Some bodies, like languages, simply disappear. [speaks in french]. Some or many are being disappeared [speaks in norwegian]. Some or many disappear. [speaks in norwegian]. Some are many that disappeared arise and some are many of us. [speaks in norwegian]. Some arise in some of us. [speaks in norwegian]. Some arise in some of us, arise in many of us. [speaks in norwegian]. Some arise in some of us, arise in each of us. [speaks in norwegian]. [MACK HAGOOD] It’s Phantom Power. I’m Mack Hagood here with cris cheek. Cris, that was amazing. [CRIS] Unusual to hear more than one language inside a poem. [MACK] Yeah, and there was something almost liturgical about it. The repetition of certain phrases, the cadences of it reminded me of my childhood in the Catholic Church and given the subject matter really appropriately solemn. Who’s the poet? [CRIS] Caroline Bergvall. That poem was called “Crop” from her book “Meddle English.” Bervall writes borderlands among languages, materials stories and creative communities into a plural lingual poetics. Translation written into it. So much about the politics of language and the kind of damage that is done to the human, particularly women, in so many different situations disappearing, silencing. We will hear her introduce a piece called “Shake” from her most recent book “Drift out from Night Boat” books. Finally and most extensively, we talk with Caroline Bergvall about an extraordinary new project “Ragadawn.” [MACK] I heard in that piece, she was kind of switching between English and another language that I just was completely not familiar with. [CRIS] Norwegian, and you can claim connections between these languages. [MACK] Yeah I could tell sometimes that she was repeating the English line in that language. [CRIS] She is repeating it as much as one can ever truly repeat in a different language. So you hear spat and then you hear spoot. [CAROLINE] Some are loved at, some are spat at, some are dragged into the crowd. [speaks in norwegian]. [CRIS] You hear those kinds of kinships between languages. It’s like a making strange, right? You recognize it. And then what happened? What was that? Did she just make that up? [MACK] She’s using, I don’t know, I sort of distortion sound in the background. [the sound fades in] [CRIS] It’s like a wash. Which is great thinking about this business of the migration of languages from one place to another, but it’s also injecting noise and that’s very interesting and important too. That sense of signal to noise ratio that we have between and then among languages and among voices. [the sound continues to play] Caroline, there’s a deep kind of meditation going on here. Right? [CAROLINE] Yeah. It’s funny because if we are not talked about us 20 years ago, I would never ever have used that, because so much of the work might have had a very strong as, you know, embodied sense about it and physicality. So much of it also had to do with sexual identity and much more singular eyes bodies, and that the idea of the wounding, it’s not something that I was talking about in relation to healing. I was much more perhaps interested in the wounding, you know, in the in the wounds that we all have to go through in order to come to an understanding and an acceptance of the way we can build ourselves in the world. Whereas now there’s especially in [inaudible] that perhaps also in the final piece in “Drift” the rise of melody at the end of “Shake.” [music and sounds play, very peaceful] [CAROLINE] *speaks in norwegian* [sounds and music fade out] [MACK] I really liked her delivery. [CRIS] I liked that too. [MACK] Highly performative and it doesn’t have that detached you maybe call it poet voice? I get the sense that this is a poet that might appeal to poetry novices like myself. [CRIS] That would be great. She would like that a lot. It’s not an arcane world, Mack, we’ve had the Black Arts Movement, poetry and jazz. We have the spoken word scene, which is massive. I think many people are exposed to more poetry than they realize, maybe more poetry then. they would like. [MACK] Well, I certainly listen to a lot of hip hop. [CRIS] Right, exactly. [MACK] All right, cris, let’s talk about Ragadon. What’s the experience that the audience has? [CRIS] The audience needs to be facing the rising sun. The performance occurs the hour of dawn. Sitting outside, not in a theater space in a conventional sense. The darkest hour is just before the dawn as Bob Dylan said. They are watching the light appear in the sky and the day beginning in that sense of dawn. At the same time as they are listening to a combination of speech and song and the places in between. [CAROLINE] The poetry that had come from the Middle East across the sea to Spain and also Sicily and that much later on became this troubadour, this first macular love poetry and then since then, has become all these other traditions. That travel, that love poetry did is what I’m thinking about. Also, when I’m thinking about community connection, how do we speak love today? How would we want to do that? And then how do we face the day together? So, I’m using the love poetry as part of the historic ,trans historic, geographical trajectory that I want to do that, that the work is also taking. So it’s that poetic heritage of singing the poem and of playing it or being musicians and of traveling across all these different languages and cultures across all these centuries also has created the absolute logic that holds this project together. [CRIS] What conditions are you looking forward to be able to stage your performance of Regadon? [CAROLINE] Well, east facing for the audience. That’s the early absolute condition and ironically, living in cities or even elsewhere. That’s not always easy to find, because the second is not a condition that is a strong sort of claim that I like to make is the fact of the type of space that it is. So that the way this where we are when the sun rises, basically is an important aspect of the work as well. In Geneva, what happened is that we could have died on the lake, which we’ve done as a very first performance of it in 2015, because there’s a tradition of morning song and morning concerts dawn concerts they call them actually in Geneva on the la
35 minutes | Mar 1, 2019
Ep. 10: Animal Control (Mandy-Suzanne Wong, Robbie Judkins, Colleen Plumb)
This week, we examine the sounds humans make in order to monitor, repel, and control beasts. Author Mandy-Suzanne Wong’s Listen, We All Bleed is a creative nonfiction monograph that explores the human-animal relationship through animal-centered sound art. We’ll hear works by Robbie Judkins, Claude Matthews, and Colleen Plumb, interwoven with Wong’s unflinchingly reflective prose. By turns beautiful and harrowing, these sounds and words reposition us, kindling empathy as we listen through non-human ears. Links to works by the artists heard in this episode: Mandy Suzanne-Wong’s Listen, We All Bleed. Robbie Judkins: Homo Tyrannicus, "Pest" (video), live in London, 2017 Claude Matthews: “DogPoundFoundSound (Bad Radio Dog Massacre)” Colleen Plumb: "Thirty Times a Minute" (homepage), indoor installation (video) Transcript [ethereal music plays] [CRIS CHEEK] This…is…Phantom Power. [pig grunting] [MACK HAGOOD] Episode 10. [CRIS] Animal Control. [MANDY SUZANNE WONG] If humans did this to each other, they call it sonic warfare, terrorism or crowd control, depending on who did it and whom they did it to. They call the end result for the victims, that is post traumatic stress, but skunks aren’t human. They’re not even pets. Not like your spaniel who clearly enjoys notions of his own. Can a skunk suffer post traumatic stress? Aren’t they just wild animals? Yes and yes, sound is contact. Fear is a weapon. The wild is here. [sounds fade out] [MACK] Welcome back to another episode of Phantom Power, where we explore the world of sound in the arts and humanities, I’m Mack Hagood. [CRIS] And I’m cris cheek. [MACK] Hi, cris. [CRIS] Hi Mack. How you doing? [MACK] I’m okay. We’ve got an interesting episode in store today I think. [CRIS] Good. [MACK] I spoke with an author of fiction and nonfiction work. Her name is Mandy Suzanne Wong. She hails from Bermuda. She’s got a PhD from the University of California in Los Angeles. You may have heard of the place. [CRIS] I have. she’s very interdisciplinary right? [MACK] Yeah, she’s another person that I met through that crazy conference for science literature and the arts. Like the other person that we met. [CRIS] Brian House. [MACK] Brian House, yeah. The other person we met at that conference, Brian House. She has a concern with animals and the sounds of animals and sound art about animals. [CRIS] Right, it seems like she is a creative writer in short fiction and also has a novel coming out this year. It seems like she is also an essayist about sound almost a creative nonfiction thinking about sound is that right? [MACK] Yeah, and she’s got this manuscript that she recently finished and it’s called “Listen, We All Bleed.” It’s her critical response to a number of sound art pieces that focus on the human animal relationship through sound. So, on today’s show we’re going to listen to four pieces of audio that Mandy Suzanne Wong has written about in “Listen, We All Bleed.” We’re going to listen to those pieces and we’re also going to listen to her words about those pieces. So, the first piece we’re going to listen to is by Robbie Judkins. It’s called “Desired Place” and it’s on his album “Homo Tyrannicus.” [low, ominous music plays, sounds like an orchestra] [MANDY] What is empathy? There are at least two definitions of empathy out there on philosophers of animal ethics. One is basically if I empathize with you, I feel something similar to what you feel. Another is when I empathize with you, I am deeply affected by your situation, but in my own way/ I think Robbie Jenkins desired place could be about either or both. I think empathy is a kind of resonance. [music continues] The final track on his album “Homo Tyrannicus: Desired Place” opens with a beautiful electronic chord. Long and rolling in slow motion through the tones of some major triad with a bit of fuss....
38 minutes | Feb 15, 2019
Ep. 9: A Drummer’s Tale (Charles Hayward)
Charles Hayward is one of the most propulsive, resourceful and generative rock-plus drummers of the past half-century. An influential percussionist, keyboardist, songwriter, singer of songs, and forward thinker through sound, Charles spoke with Phantom Power about a 40thanniversary touring with a partly reformed and enlarged This Heat as This Is Not This Heat, and then opened into generous reflections on his solo works The Bell Agency and 30 Minute Snare Drum Roll. Charles is founding member of the experimental rock groups This Heat and Camberwell Now. Since the late 1980s he has concentrated on solo projects and collaborations, including Massacre with Bill Laswell and Fred Frith. Most recently he released an album of improvised duets with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. This Is Not This Heat play their final concerts at EartH Hackney Arts Center in London March 1st , a two-day residency in Copenhagen March 5th-6th, Le Poisson Rouge in New York City March 18th, Zebulon in Los Angeles March 20-21, the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville TN on March 24th, the Albany in Deptford, London May 25th. Live performances: 30 Minute Snare Drum Roll live at Café Oto, London Improvisations with Thurston Moore This Is Not This Heat Full albums: this heat Deceit Health and Efficiency Camberwell Now Images provided by Emma McNally and Fergus Kelly. Transcript [CHARLES HAYWARD] Song is to be human.. [ethereal music plays in the background] [CRIS CHEEK] This…is…Phantom Power. [radio or television static mixed with an orchestra] [MALE ANNOUNCER] The time now, very nearly three o’clock. The next program on BBC One: “Songs of Praise” follows at three fifteen… [Funk/techno music suddenly cuts in] [MACK HAYGOOD] Episode nine. [CRIS] A drummer’s tale. [music fades out] [MACK] So it’s great to be back. Phantom Power Season Two, and this episode is one that I have been waiting for with a certain fan-ish frenzy, because we’re going to talk about Charles Hayward; the drummer, keyboardist, vocalist, tape manipulator, pioneer of experimental rock and roll. [CRIS] Yeah, right. And still putting out albums. Still touring. This Heat, the band that you would just hearing, they’ve recently done a 40 year set of concerts under the name “This is not This Heat.” [MACK] It’s amazing to hear This Heat still making such an impact on music, because I remember playing music in Chicago in the late 90s and early 2000s and at that time post rock was a genre that was a pretty big deal. Those of us playing that sort of music were really inspired I would say by a few bands. There was Can. There was Lee Scratch Perry. There was This Heat. Talk Talk was another one. [CRIS] Interesting to hear that. I like them too, especially their later albums. [MACK] So, This Heat was just a group that once you heard them you’re like, I can’t believe this already existed so long ago. [CRIS] They they take a punk DIY aesthetic and then they retain some of the immediacy of the elements of that music. They were more involved with a very different kind of idea about the interrelationship between melody and rhythm and noise. Dirty sense and dirty samplers and expanded sense inside music making that leads into trance ambience, precise bursts of silence. I think all of that is part of what makes their music still sound fresh. [ethereal music fades in] [MACK] Charles Hayward went on to play with so many interesting bands, including Massacre with the guitarist Fred Frith and the bass player Bill Laswell. [CRIS] They just put out an album this year of improvisations with [inaudible] from Sonic Youth. [MACK] By the way, how do you know Charles Hayward? [CRIS] Loosely rubbing shoulders on and off over the years. When I was playing music around various different scenes in London. This sort of person who I felt was part of a community of music makers and interested audiences over a period of about 25 years. Of course, I’ve been over here for a while now. [music changes to have more bells clanging] It’s been a while. I know. [CHARLES] It’s been one hell of a while. [CRIS] It’s been a lifetime and you’ve just been so unbelievably busy. Are you ever at home these days? [music becomes faster tempoed, more contemporary] [CHARLES] I’m at home less often then I have been in the past, but it’s all good. I broke my ankle quite literally a jolt. I was back to playing pretty much right away, but while I was lying in bed, I told myself, I wasn’t gonna hold myself back anymore. I was going to do all the things that were in my head that I thought were good, and I was going to share them with as many people as possible. It’s all about now as opposed to having this luxurious time span up ahead. [CRIS] How does it feel getting back into those somewhat old shoes? [CHARLES] We’re not doing any new material, we’re only doing what’s on the albums and the records. That can either be an incredible constraint or it can be a big liberating with this is what it is, let’s get on with it. It’s been the second one. There was this agenda when the group was a trio, which was about moving forward. We’ve found a way by integrating it with these five other players to actually, completely revitalize it. The materials got “now” written into it from 40 years ago. For instance, on Cenotaph the chorus is “history repeats itself.” [a sample of the song plays. Very slow and contemporary] The deep sense of irony. A thing happening and being said, at one point, and then: [lyrics come in singing “history represts itself] Unfolding sometime later, and the contradictions inside that or the parallels inside that is really being investigated, partly because history has taken us around this loop. Partly because, for instance, my daughter’s in the group and to be doing that with the younger generation, all the players are at least 20 years younger than me and Charles. With lots of new versions of what the material means. New input often about technology, or about instrumental attitudes, something beyond that concept of non musician. Some might say, well, I don’t know anything about the note F sharp but that thing where they don’t know the names of the notes, but they they now to get the emotion across, and they’ve got their own way of doing that. Then you’re constantly learning and that’s good, really. [music fades out] It feels to me like how I imagined the folk tradition, some non-industrialized position inside music seems to be a good model. When I think about my childhood, I was getting that sort of quiet orthodox 50s music tuition, school. That would be things like English folk songs, really. Then all the Anglican Church of England hymns, and all that stuff. [a song plays inspired from English hymns, but still sounds contemporary] I used to love going along to the school assemblies and singing, I wouldn’t sing the words, I would just do the tunes. I still really love opening up my lungs. Doing that nine o’clock in the morning, I used to feel absolutely fantastic. So I never ran away from that. I had a lot of mates who sort of turn their back on that. That sense of song, for me, the melodies are so right. It’s not about trying to show off some sort of oblique angle or anything, it’s just getting the tune across, in a way that comes out of your own body. [ethereal music plays] I’ve always loved that folk thing, crossing over into Greek music, and you get it crossing over into African music. I mean, just the very same Indian music the same…it’s not even aesthetic, it’s the same ethic. There’s a story I heard about a session in the pub in Sligo in Ireland, where one of the Fiddler’s was like the man. Next to him was this 12 year old who was practically scratching at the fiddle. No one thought that the music was being impaired, that this virtuoso was being limited. What was happening was, the music was growing. That’s the good thing about this is not that it doesn’t actually sound exactly like the record. It’s more like a garden. [simple jazzy music plays] [CRIS] Drummer, keyboard player, songwriter, singer of songs, forward thinker and reflector on sound. [MACK] So, there was This Heat and then there was This is not This Heat, but there was a long period in between those. [CRIS] Yeah, that’s kind of 35 years in between those two events. Charles has taken the politics of collective music production into community workshop settings. I asked him if he had a kind of ready made travel kit that he used. [CHARLES] I just be me. the most I’m ever really me is when I’m playing, unless I’m with my wife and kids. Then there’s that version of me but I don’t really find it very easy to share that with lots of people. The me that I do share with lots of people is is music. I’ve got a thing that I can carry very easily, it’s a frame drum, a little keyboard, a melodic. I think that’s basically it. Then there’s our little set of bells and my voice. Almost never words, or its words, but they’re mumbled and sort of half there. The bell agency, it grew out of disability arts workshops. [MACK] So what is the bell agency? [CRIS] Well, it’s like a game. A musical game, anybody can play. And any number of people can play. Each person as a beater, and there is either one or more bowls made of metal. Each person can take the opportunity or the opening to strike the ball with their beater, with this stick. Not in turn, but when they are moved, so to do, but then they have to wait until somebody else strikes it before they can strike it again. A music making structure that people with varying abilities could all participate in. [MACK] So this really gets into that thing he was just talking about folk music, right? Music for the people. [CHARLES] It started as a workshop thing with the brief that we’ve got to try and get funding admin and NHS. [CRIS] National Health Services. [CHARLES] Local coordinators, and us
37 minutes | Feb 1, 2019
Ep. 8: Test Subjects (Mara Mills)
Season Two erupts in our ears with a film-noir soundscape—an eerie voice utters strange and disjointed phrases and echoing footsteps lead to sirens and gunshots. What on Earth are we listening to? We unravel the mystery with NYU media professor Mara Mills who studies the historical relationship between disability and media technologies. An ink blot, often used on test subjects in projective tests. In Episode 8, “Test Subjects,” we examine the strange and obscure history of sound’s use as a psychological diagnostic tool. In the late 20th century, while many disabilities were eliminated through medical interventions, a host of new disabilities were invented, especially within the realm of psychology. Mills’s historical work in the audio archives of American Foundation for the Blind reveals how auditory projective testing was used to diagnose blind people with additional psychological disabilities. As we listen to these strange archival sounds, we learn how culture and technology shape the history of human ability and disability. Read Mara Mill’s article on auditory projective tests, “Evocative Object: Auditory Inkblot” and visit NYU’s Center for Disability Studies, which she co-directs with Faye Ginsburg. Thanks to archivist Helen Selsdon and the American Foundation for the Blind for the use of the auditory projective tests. This episode’s theme music is by Mack Hagood with additional music by Graeme Gibson, Blue Dot Sessions, Claude Debussy, and Duke Ellington. The show was edited by Craig Eley and Mack Hagood. Transcript [ethereal music plays in the background] [CRIS CREEK] This…is…Phantom Power. [static and creaking sounds fade in and out] [MACK HAGOOD] Episode 8. [dial tone plays] [CRIS] Test Subjects. [MAN OVER PHONE] This is the first sound. [fast ticking of a clock fades in. Water sloshing, then dramatic, ethereal music fades in] [WOMAN] They walk together slowly, their feet making a sound together. And the man wonders…wonders why all the noise, all the turmoil, so quiet. When will it stop? So quiet, so peaceful, so serene, so quiet. You can’t forget the quiet. You can’t ever forget. [sound of a whistle, then a crash. Music and ticking play in background] [CRIS] I feel as if I’m being thrown into a space or a place that I am experiencing as anxiety, that sense of the alarms, the hurrying footsteps, the dramatic voice and the time passing. It’s just a kind of a…its a terror of time passing. It’s Jonathan Query’s 24/7 being made manifest in my ears. [MACK] Yeah, these are sounds I’ve been playing around with. Our guest for today’s episode just shared this archive of amazing sounds with me, and so I was just playing with them putting them into a collage. A lot of them do seem to induce a bit of a feeling of dread. [CRIS] No, I liked it. It was it was full of portent. It was almost as if I was in radio play where most of the dialogue could have been removed and I just had the sound effects left. [MACK] Yeah, and as we’ll learn, the sounds are sort of a relative of radio drama and believe it or not, they’re intended to be healing sounds cris. [CRIS] No way. I mean, the idea that the clock was kind of coming forwards and going backwards into the distance this stuff is pure terror! [MACK] I did mess around with the sounds a little bit, but these are sounds that are supposed to help you become the best person that you can possibly be. Welcome back to another episode of Phantom Power where we explore the world of sound in the arts and humanities. I’m Mack Haygood. [CRIS] And I’m cris cheek. [MACK] cris is a poet and performance artist. I’m a scholar of media and communication. Welcome to season two. Today we examine the strange and obscure history of sound being used as a diagnostic tool for the betterment of human beings. Now, how can anyone think that the chilling film noir sounds we just heard could possibly be good for you? Well, maybe I should just let our guest explain it. [CRIS] Exactly. [MACK] So let’s introduce her. [MARA MILLS] My name’s Mara Mills. I’m an associate professor of media culture and communication at New York University, where I also co-direct the Center for Disability Studies. [MACK] Mara is a scholar of both media studies and a scholar of disability studies. [CRIS] Right. [MACK] But the reason she’s on our show is that she combines these two seemingly different fields by working in sound. The mysterious recordings that we were just listening to have to do with research that Mara was doing on books for the blind. [MARA] Well in 2015, I was collaborating with Helen Selsdon, who’s the archivist At the American Foundation for the Blind to digitize their Talking Book collections. [jazzy music plays in the background] So we took the entire collection because they were fairly fragile to a high end digitization company in New York. I had a grant from the National Science Foundation to pay for the digitization, so we towed them in the trunk of my car, tons and tons of these records to this company and had them digitize them for us. They gave us back an external hard drive with completely unlabeled WAV files, which meant that I had to go through and listen to each one of the files to figure out what it was and to correlate it to whatever the title was on the finding aid, if there even was one, it was extremely time consuming. [MACK] So Mara has all of these digitized, unlabeled files. Meanwhile, she gets this really great invitation to be a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. So by day, she’s doing all of this stuff there at the institute, and then by night, she sitting in her Berlin apartment just listening to these strange files. [MARA] Many of which, in fact, are pretty remote from what one would think of as a book. [music continues to play] So listening to these files, many of them were in fact talking books, which were novels narrated by famous Broadway stars in New York in the 1930s and 1940s for blind readers made in the AFB studios. I expected that. [a sample of an audio book is played. Has underlying static throughout.] [AUDIO BOOK WOMAN] “The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde. Recorded solely for the use of the blind in the Talking Books Studios of American Foundation for the Blind Incorporated. Read by Eva Le Gallienne. High above the city on a tall column stood the statue of the Happy Prince. he was gilded all over with… [MARA] Some of them were very unusual. It would be sort of 60 minutes of electronic beeping, which turned out to be the output of reading machine,s scanner based electronic reading machines that were text to tone, things like the visi-toner or the stereo-toner. [several beeps are heard] [CRIS] What’s A visi-toner? [MACK] Well, the visi-toner is like a brand of something called an optophone. The visi-toner was actually made really nearby to us in Dayton, Ohio under a contract from the United States Veterans Administration. Basically, it’s this little machine that you would pass over a line of printed text. It would turn the letters into these sort of musical tones that blind people were able to interpret as letters. [CRIS] That is super interesting, so they have to learn the alphabetic-turnel correlation. [MACK] Yeah, and they can listen to their utility bills. It was used for these sort of perfunctory things just like the mail came in, I got to see what my bills are and they could listen to it like that. [CRIS] I love that. [MAN ON OLD TAPE] You’re hearing capital B now. [beeping that is the equivalent of a capital B] Here’s capital C. [Mara] Then, I came across this album. It seemed to me to be a series of nonsense words and completely ambiguous, nonsensical, disconnected sentences. So, a narrator with a ambiguously gendered voice sounding like a speaker from mid century radio, reading out sentences like you touch and a little comes off on your fingers. [NARRATOR] You touch, and a little comes off on your fingers, and you have to dust off your fingers. [MARA] Then moving on to another sentence totally disconnected from that one. [NARRATOR] A long shiver, it passes. Steps coming slowly. [MARA] My mind was racing to understand what those sentences could mean. Was this about a sugar donut? Was it about bicycle grease? What could this possibly be about? [a ticking clock is heard in the background] [NARRATOR] Afraid. Afraid. [ominous music plays with the ticking clock] The chair was hard, but you knew she didn’t care, and she sat very straight, and around her there was silence. He picked up the little thing and turned it in his fingers, and it seemed he might never stop turning it and feeling of it. They walk together slowly, their feet. making a sound together. [MARA] I decided I had to know more about what this was. Who made this? What was it meant to do? [NARRATOR] All the noise, All the turmoil. When will it stop? So quiet, so peaceful, so serene. [music and clock ticking fade out] [MARA] It turned out that the American Foundation for the Blind, the AFB had actually commissioned this record in 1952, and they commissioned it to be an auditory version of the thematic apperception tests, or TAT, which by then was a fairly well known means of psychological testing for sighted people. It was a series of still images, black and white sketches designed in the 1930s by a psychologist Henry Murray, who worked at Harvard and artist Cristiana Morgan. [old timey music plays in the background, light static is in the recording] The images that Morgan drew were meant to be extremely ambiguous. They were meant to be generalized. They wer
Terms of Service
Do Not Sell My Personal Information
© Stitcher 2021