Hearing Cultures (Review: Marina Peterson)

Hearing Cultures: Essays on Sound, Listening and Modernity
Veit Erlmann, ed
Oxford: Berg, 2004

The reader of Hearing Cultures: Essays on Sound, Listening and Modernity is met first with the image of an ear that graces the cover of the book.  This is not any ear.  Rather, it is an ear cast in white porcelain.  It is an ear without a body.  Where a head would be, there is, instead, a flat, oblong background of porcelain.  The white ear foremost evokes European classicism qua modernism.  Singular, abstracted, and decontextualized, the ear represents some of the dominant tropes of modernism.  The ear both points to “the modern” and reproduces “modernism.”  It is available to unpack as referencing modernity at the same time as it is itself a modern ear.  Sound, it suggests, contains both the peril and promise of modernity. 

The title develops the content of modernism.  That the emphasis is on “hearing” – or sound consumption rather than production – we know already from the ear.  “Cultures” in the plural raises the spectre of difference.  But what is the subject that hears?  And what does it hear?  The abstract ear implies a universalist difference, cultures as serial entities, or cultures as the Other/s of the modern ear.  Is this modern ear locatable as part of a European modernism that imbues and accompanies projects that range from imperialism to anthropology, colonialism to globalization?  Or are cultures hearing, such that listening marks cultural difference?

Erlmann’s introduction (chapter 1, “But What of the Ethnographic Ear? Anthropology, Sound, and the Senses”) provides answers to some of these questions, answers that are drawn on and problematized through the rest of the chapters.  Erlmann opens the Introduction with a question posed in Writing Culture, “’But what of the ethnographic ear?’” (1).  The quote serves as a prompt to call for a greater inclusion of non-visual sensory experience in ethnographic writing.  To this end, “’Hearing culture’ suggests that it is possible to conceptualize new ways of knowing a culture and of gaining deepened understanding of how the members of a society know each other” (3).  “Hearing culture,” as an explanation of the title Hearing Cultures, defines culture as entity; rather than “culture” coming into being through sound, “cultures” hear differently.  The cultures whose modes of hearing are investigated are ones that are (or were) undergoing modernization, addressing the question of “how listening has come to play a role in the way people in modernizing societies around the globe deal with themselves as subjects in embodied, sensory, and especially auditory ways” (5). 

The problem of difference haunts this collection, as the terms of a European modern are deployed to analyze a range of times and cultures.  Following the thrust of modern projects such as colonialism, anthropology, and psycho-analysis, sound allows for a discussion of an Other in relation to cultural difference, the repressed, and the senses.  Modernity has produced difference through both violence and nostalgia, legitimating ideological or physical force in the service of modernization and looking within the modern self or to an Other outside for an alternative to the rationalizing tenets of modernism.  The chapters, in addressing the Other body or culture, create a generative analytic tension as they either reproduce the categories of modernity or use the material as a means of critiquing modernist tenets. 

For Smith (chapter 2, “Listening to the Wild Blue Yonder”), difference is located in the past and the body.  “For the early modern men and women, hearing was a whole-body experience” (37).  Literature provides evidence of the aurality of reading practices and the sonic environment of the time.  This mode of investigation recuperates sound for the subject and the scholar, as it “recognizes the embodiedness of historical subjects and attends to the materiality of the evidence they have left behind at the same time it acknowledges the embodiedness of the investigator in the face of that evidence” (41).  Ultimately for Smith, sound is uniquely phenomenological, with the capability of giving new life to the modern body.

Gouk (chapter 5, “Raising Spirits and Restoring Souls: Early Modern Medical Explanations for Music’s Effects”) discusses the philosophic relationship between sound and the body in early modern medicine.  Medical treatises posited ways in which music could heal by physically affecting a person’s nervous and spiritual system.  Such practices reveal an ideology of music that asserted a direct correlation between music and the body; historicizing this relationship helps deromanticize it.

Connor (chapter 8, “Edison’s Teeth: Touching Hearing”) discusses the physicality of sound (where it is produced in and by the body), to explore a mimetic relationship between sound and touch (154).  The tongue touches the inside of the mouth and teeth can “hear” vibrations.  Engaging the embodied production of sound head on enables Connor to raise charges against some of the projections that are made onto sound; sound, Connor writes, is not so much an effect or marker of difference but “brings difference into the world” (162) as  “sound can come about only as a result of some more or less violent disturbance: the collision of objects with each other (we never hear the sound of one thing alone…)” (161). 

For Bull (chapter 9, “Thinking About Sound, Proximity, and Distance in Western Experience: The Case of Odysseus’s Walkman”), the person on the street with headphones in her ears uses her body to colonize the world around her.  A combination of Odysseus’ measure of controlling his relationship to the sound of the sirens and Fitzcarraldo’s blasting of opera into the Amazon, “Walkman users habitually aestheticize their daily experience through sound in order to transcend their geographical space and manage their sense of presence in the world” (189).  Thus Bull inscribes modernity on the Walkman user, positing that sound is instrumental for a modernist mode of being in the world.  Bull’s Walkman user points to the other Other of modernity, the Other outside the modern self: the explorer’s encounter, the colonial subject, or the anthropologist’s field site.

Carter (chapter 3, “Ambiguous Traces, Mishearing, and Auditory Space”) argues that an investigation of listening rather than hearing enables the recognition of possible gaps in sonic legibility across difference.  Such gaps might include misunderstandings between groups of people where difference is organized around spoken language as well as the transformation of an original sound through recording.  Focusing on listening, Carter argues, allows for the possibility of transformation as we dwell in the muddle of modernity.

The Runa, a Quechua-speaking group, are an ethnographic Other, who, Nuckolls (chapter 5, “Language and Nature in Sound Alignment”) argues, have a closer relationship to the environment through sound than we do.  Nuckolls’ discussion of their sound world allows for an understanding of a different ideology of sound in relation to culture, in which ideophones reflect “a complex of cultural constructions that link sound to sentiments of shared animacy with the nonhuman life-world” (82).  While such an investigation yields new ways of thinking about ways to analyze and explore sound, the approach is necessarily posited on a premodern/modern split that also reproduces these terms.  With the assertion that “the use of ideophones is diminishing as “traditional subsistence-based culture becomes increasingly dependent on market-economy activities” (82), sound becomes an additional marker in the geographic and temporal divide between the modern self and the ethnographic subject.

Kahn’s discussion (chapter 6, “Ether Ore: Mining Vibrations in American Modernist Music”) of the French-American composer and esoteric philosopher Dane Rudhyar describes how a Euro-American modernist musical tradition was used to incorporate sounds and musical ideologies from the “East.”  Rudhyar drew on Tantric cosmogony to develop a musical ideology and composition form that argued for an idea that all harmony emanates from a single vibration.  His Single Tone theory, however, ultimately supported a compositional form that was rooted in European art music traditions.  With a modernist project of appropriation as his case, Kahn is able to reflect on the nature of modernism without reproducing its categories in his analysis.  As the Single Tone theory suggests, modernism has the “the capacity to generate difference from…unity” (117).

Hirschkind’s (chapter 7, “Hearing Modernity: Egypt, Islam, and the Pious Ear”) modern is the Egyptian state, which utilized recorded sermons as part of its twentieth-century modernizing project.  Cassette sermons emerged as modes of contesting the state (144); a medium not controlled by the government, cassettes also reflect an alternate philosophy of listening found in writings of mystics.  Rather than the message coming from the recording with the ability to transform the listener, cassettes mark a return to an idea that “the rhetorical act is accomplished by the hearer and not the speaker” (134).  Sound, therefore, is mutable, able to be put to different uses with differing ideological foundations.

While Egypt had an internal modernizing project, the imperialist projects at the center of European modernism depended on and helped construct an uneven world of the West and the rest.  Thompson’s work (chapter 10, “Wiring the World: Acoustical Engineers and the Empire of Sound in the Motion Picture Industry, 1927-1930”) on American sound film engineers reveals a moment of cultural imperialism that bridged colonialism and globalization.  Installing sound technology around the world for talkie movies was construed in imperialist terms, reflected most blatantly in the language of an AT&T (the ERPI) newsletter that proclaimed, “’Africa Falls Under ERPI’s Advance’” (202).  Modernity itself was the aspiration, as, “American engineers (as well as filmmakers) saw the worldwide expansion of sound film as a broadcast enterprise – one in which American technologies, commodities, and culture would disseminate throughout the world, standardize it, and thereby make it modern” (192).  This project aspired for the creation of a modern ear, abstracted and universalized.  An ear represented by the image on the cover of the book. 

Whose ear is the modern ear?  And what of the ethnographic ear?  The focus of the collection, ultimately, is not of what the ethnographer hears as sound, but of an ethnographic ear for what is heard by the subject.  For most of the authors, their subject is historical, with listening practices, abilities, and experiences found in texts.  This approach yields a wealth of methodological insight into how sound can be unearthed and recuperated from existing documents.  How we might hear today ­– with an ethnographic ear that can experience sound and hear the sonic world of others – now stands as a challenge, one that can continue to provide insight into the ways in which sound is a mode of being in the world.


A new popular music research project in Finland

The Starnet. Changing Discourses of Popular Music Stardom. This research project deals with the relationship between the star phenomenon and popular music. The main questions of the project are: How is popular music stardom constructed at specific historical moments? What kind of meanings popular music stars incorporate? Stardom is characterised by different media-oriented public actions which form a web-like texture. The project calls this discursion the starnet. In order to understand traditions and changes in this discursion, as well as the triumph of stardom in the latter part of twentieth-century, the project produces three studies. Docent Kari Kallioniemi examines the democratization of eccentricism in British stardom and popular music. MA Kimi Kärki focuses on Anglo-American stage designing and the multifaceted relationship between “stadium rock stardom” and technology. Dr Janne Mäkelä explores how Finland’s quest for international popular music stardom in the late tw
entieth-century was connected to globalisation processes and national identity.

The project has funding from the Academy of Finland from August 2005 to December 2007. http://users.utu.fi/kierka/populus.html

IASPM-US 2008 Conference: Global Pop, Space and Place

IASPM-US 2008 Conference:
Global Pop, Space and Place

University of Iowa
April 25-28, 2008
Iowa City, IA

For many, popular music would, by definition, transcend any particular space, propelled by the technologies of mass media. Connecting every wired corner of the globe, today’s digital media technologies — from mp3s and p2ps to Myspace and YouTube — would appear to amplify popular music’s inherently translocal character. At the same time, popular music remains deeply entwined with significations of place, of home and away, town and country, here and there, black and white; and it remains shaped by real spaces and the changes that affect them. Popular genres and styles are nurtured and inflected in social spaces, and they enrich one’s sense of place as they shape one’s imagination of others. How is popular music shaped by, or how does it shape, social uses of space? Does popular music look and sound fundamentally different in an increasingly interconnected world? What happens to the notion of the popular in a peer-to-peer age? How does greater access to more music from farther away change our senses of our cities, regions, countries, selves, others? The conference program committee of the 2008 meeting of IASPM-US invites proposals for papers, panels, or roundtables relating to these questions and, of course, welcomes proposals on any aspect of popular music.

Possible paper topics might address questions such as the following:

    * How do new uses of space inflect popular musics’ sounds, uses, and meanings?
    * How does popular music inform regionalism and geographical identity?
    * Are ‘translocal’ and ‘global’ popular music coterminous, or crucially distinct?
    * What is the relationship between popular music and urban space?
    * How does popular music draw the lines of community?
    * How do we conduct research in a MySpacey, YouTubey world?
    * What is popular music without the music industry?
    * In what ways does popular music animate politics, ideology, or propaganda?
    * How does popular music give voice and strength to its collective listeners?
    * How does popular music mediate social tragedy?

Proposals will be read blind by the program committee, which consists of Connie Atkinson (University of New Orleans), Rebekah Farrugia (Western Michigan), Jonathon Grasse (California State University, Dominguez Hills), Kwame Harrison (Virginia Tech), Adam Krims (University of Nottingham), and Wayne Marshall (Brandeis University).
Proposals will only be accepted via the online submission form at http://www.iaspm-us.net/conferences. Abstracts for individual papers and roundtables should be no longer than 300 words, and proposals for panels should include an abstract of no more than 300 words for the panel as a whole, as well as abstracts of no more than 300 words for each paper proposed for the panel. The program committee reserves the right to accept a panel but reject an individual paper on that panel.

For questions about the conference, contact Wayne Marshall, Program Committee Chair, at 2008conference@iaspm-us.net.

Submission deadline: 11:59 PST November 1, 2007.

2008 EMP Pop Conference

Call for Papers: 2008 Pop Conference at Experience Music Project

Hi! Please forward this call to writers and musicians not part of IASPM: as
a gathering dedicated to bringing together people from the widest possible
range of backgrounds, we rely on your help. Email me if there are any
questions. Many thanks, Eric

Shake, Rattle: Music, Conflict, and Change

April 10-13, 2008,  Seattle, Washington

How does music resist, negate, struggle? Can pop music intensify
vital confrontations, as well as ameliorating and concealing them? What
happens when people are angry and silly love songs aren’t enough? The
migrations and global flows of peoples and cultures; the imbalanced
struggles between groups, classes, and nations: what has music’s role been
in these ongoing dramas? We invite presentations on any era, sound, or
geographic region. Topics might include:
–In conjunction with the new EMP exhibit, American Sabor:
Latinos in U.S. Popular Music, how Latino musics have shaped the American
soundscape and challenge black and white rock-pop paradigms, or more
broadly, the unsettling effects of immigration, internal migration,
displacement, assimilation, and colonization. 
–How music enters politics: social movements and activist
responses to crises such as New Orleans; entertainment’s connection to
ideology and propaganda; music within “cultural policy” and as part of the
public sphere; debates over copyright, corporate power, and cultural
democracy; performing dissent
–Social and musical fragmentation: segregation and
constructions of whiteness, divisions of class and gender, versus musical
categorization and niche marketing, from big genres to smaller forms such as
“freak folk”
–“Revolution” as a recurrent theme in popular music, a social
or technological reality it confronts, or an association with particular
genres and decades of music.
–Clashes between communal, local, identity — tradition,
faith, nativism — and  cosmopolitan, global, modernization
–Music in times of war, economic crisis, adolescence, and other
intense stress
–Agents of change: tipping points, latent historical shifts,
carnivalesque subversions, and accidents or failures of consequence
–The sound of combative pop: what sets it apart?

Send proposals to Eric Weisbard at EricW@empsfm.org by December 17, 2007;
please keep them to 250 words and a 50 word bio. Full panel proposals,
bilingual submissions, and unusual approaches are welcome. For questions,
contact the organizer or program committee members: Joshua Clover (UC
Davis), Kandia Crazy Horse (editor, Rip it Up: The Black Experience in Rock
‘n’ Roll ), Simon Frith (University of Edinburgh) Holly George-Warren
(author, Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry), Michelle
Habell-Pallan (University of Washington), Michele Myers (KEXP), Ann Powers
(LA Times), Joe Schloss (NYU), RJ Smith (Los Angeles magazine), Ned Sublette
(author, Cuba and its Music), and Sam Vance (EMP).

The Pop Conference at EMP, now in its seventh year, joins academics,
critics, writers of all kinds, and performers in a rare common discussion.
Our second collection, Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop Music, will
be published by Duke University Press in November: email Laura Sell
(Lsell@dukeupress.edu) for a review copy. The conference is sponsored by the
Seattle Partnership for American Popular Music (Experience Music Project,
the University of Washington School of Music, and KEXP 90.3 FM), through a
grant from the Allen Foundation for Music. For more, go to

Position at University of Virginia

The University of Virginia’s McIntire Department of Music invites applications for a
tenure-track Assistant Professor of Critical and Comparative Studies in Music, from
scholars with a disciplinary background in musicology or other relevant field. Specialty
will include 19th-, 20th-, or 21st-century music. The successful applicant will join a
department committed to studying music from a range of historical, critical, and
performance-based perspectives, and to crossing boundaries between musicology,
ethnomusicology, music theory, performance studies, and related disciplines.
Responsibilities include undergraduate and graduate teaching. The appointment begins on
August 25, 2008. Completed Ph.D. or ABD required. Teaching experience preferred.

To apply, 1) submit letter of application, curriculum vitae, and brief writing sample
(maximum 20 pages) at jobs.virginia.edu/applicants/Central?quickFind=52619, and 2)
arrange to have three letters of recommendation sent to Stacey Trader, Musicology Search
Committee, McIntire Department of Music, P.O. Box 400176, University of Virginia,
Charlottesville, VA, 22904-4176. Review of applications by the committee will begin on
October 4, 2007; however, the position will remain open to applications until filled. The
search committee expects to conduct preliminary interviews at the American Musicological
Society convention in Quebec City.

Music and trauma

I am writing to invite contributions to a collection of essays on music in relation to trauma. Essays in the collection will relate aspects of trauma to aspects of music in a range of ways. Trauma may be understood as individual or collective/social; as the result of particular traumatic events or as the “insidious trauma” of sustained negative experiences, e. g. of racism or sexism etc. Any musics – popular, vernacular, concert, ritual, etc. – may figure in these essays. Essays may be case studies, or more general or theoretical treatments. The collection will represent a range of disciplines within music scholarship, and will draw on various non-musical disciplines within which trauma has been discussed, including psychiatry, psychoanalysis, literary studies, historiography, etc.

Contributions already agreed upon deal with childhood sexual abuse, childhood experiences of war, spousal abuse, responses to the Holocaust, and responses to AIDS; authors come from primary backgrounds in musicology, music therapy, ethnomusicology, and composition. I hope this call for proposals will yield further expansion of topics and approaches; additional treatments of topics already represented will also be welcome. Essays will be around 8000 words in length, though some variety is possible. Here is the anticipated schedule:
1. submission of proposals for essays by September 23, 2007; my decisions shortly thereafter;
2. my preparation of a prospectus for submission to press, October 2007; formal abstracts, author bios, and other supporting materials due to me by October 7 if possible;
3. completed essays due to me in May 2008;
4. my editing of essays and submission to press by September 2008.

Please send, by September 23, a description of work that you wish to contribute, to me as the collection editor: Fred E. Maus, University of Virginia, at fem2x@virginia.edu. A description along the lines of an abstract would be helpful, as would any draft material (such as the text of a conference presentation) that you can supply.

New group blog on (post) Soviet popular music


Sergio and I are pleased to announce a new group blog on (post) Soviet popular music:


The blog is bilingual with posts both in Russian and English (or sometimes both – depending on the author). We define popular music in a broad sense, in other words anything from rock to pop.  Geographically we also include the post Soviet diaspora.

Hope you enjoy it and feel free to leave comments!

sergio and david-emil

Popular Music Studies: Problems, Disputes, Questions

Call for Papers Popular Music Studies: Problems, Disputes, Questions, University of Glasgow, 12-14 September 2008. The biennial conference of the UK and Ireland branch of IASPM will be hosted by the Department of Music at the University of Glasgow between 12 and 14 September 2008. Conference Theme The aim of this conference is to address the issues that have in recent years excited most conversation and disagreement among IASPM members. Papers are invited on three topics in particular. Music and National Identity [When, if ever, can music usefully be described in national terms? (English or Scottish folk? Welsh or Irish rock?) What are the problems of national music policies? Should popular music studies reject the concept of the nation entirely? Are concepts of ‘ethnic’ or ‘hybrid’ music any more valid? How is the nation gendered within popular music?] Popular Music Theory [Does popular music studies ‘lack theory’? What sort of theory do we need? What are the most useful theoretical concepts in the field? Which the most redundant? Has gender been under-theorised within Popular Music Studies? What is or should be the relationship between academic/theoretical approaches to popular music and vocational/practical approaches?] The Musical Experience [What is a musical experience? How are people’s responses to music determined? How/why do they change over time? How does gender impact on the musical experience? What can we learn about musical subjectivity and response from psychologists of music? Is popular music necessarily a source of pleasure?] Proposals Paper proposals are invited on these topics-and on any other issue of popular music debate. Proposals will be welcomed from any perspective, using any methodology and addressing any kind of music. Papers should last for 20 minutes and the conference organisers will be asking chairs to keep to this limit. Guest Speakers Guest speakers at the conference will include Professor Simon Frith (University of Edinburgh) and Professor Allan Moore (University of Surrey) in debate, and Bill Drummond (formerly of the KLF). In addition John Williamson (manager of Belle and Sebastian) will present a discussion of the Glasgow music scene with local musicians. Social Events The conference will feature a Civic Reception at Glasgow City Halls and a Saturday evening social at a local venue. Other Information Glasgow has one of the most vibrant music scenes in the UK, having in the past few years produced acts such as Snow Patrol, Franz Ferdinand and The Fratellis. It has a great range of venues including The Barrowland Ballroom, King Tuts Wah Wah Hut, the Academy, the ABC, Barfly, the Garage, the (Renfrew) Ferry, the Royal Concert Hall and the SECC. It also boasts a highly diverse music scene with significant dance, country and western and folk scenes. For more information see: www.seeglasgow.com/seeglasgow/photo-gallery/cityofmusic The conference will be located at the University of Glasgow which is located in the West End of the City. This location is host to a range of excellent restaurants, bars, pubs and venues all of which are in walking distance of the venue. Organising Committee A local Organising Committee has been established consisting of: Martin Cloonan (University of Glasgow Simon Frith (University of Edinburgh) Raymond MacDonald (Glasgow Caledonian University) Mark Percival (Queen Margaret University) John Williamson (University of Glasgow) Submitting Proposals Proposals should include the name and contact details (email) of the proposer, the tile of the proposal and an abstract of no more than 150 words. Please send proposals to Martin Cloonan – M.Cloonan@music.gla.ac.uk. The deadline for proposals is 1 May 2008. Website The conference website will be updated regularly. It can be found at: www.music.gla.ac.uk/iaspm/ Dr Martin Cloonan Convener of Postgraduate Studies Department of Music University of Glasgow 14 University Gardens Glasgow G12 8QQ Phone: 0141 330 4903 Fax: 0141 330 3518 E-Mail: M.Cloonan@music.gla.ac.uk In September 2007 the Department of Music will introduce a new M.Litt in Popular Music Studies. Please contact me if you would like further details.

trans 11

TRANS  11 (2007)  is on-line now with a special issue devoted to African music, that includes articles by Simha Arom, Polo Vallejo, Nathalie Fernando, Ruth M. Stone, Willie Anku, Leonardo D’Amico, Michelle Kisliuk, Kofi Agawu, Andrew L. Kaye y Marcos Branda Lacerda. This issue is matched with  some studies about the African influence in popular and traditional Latin American music by Rolando Pérez, Luis Ferreira, Carlos Ruiz Rodríguez y Norberto Pablo Cirio.

You can check it in http://www.sibetrans.com/trans/trans11/indice11.htm