Fall 2011 Course Offerings

SHUM 4851 Listening to Race in US Culture

(also AMST 4751, ASRC 4851, ENGL 4078, GOVT 4553)
Fall.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
J. Stoever-Ackerman
T 12:20 - 2:15

Conventional wisdom and previous scholarship have led us to believe that race is a visual phenomenon. This seminar unsettles the longstanding relationship between race and looking by exploring the often-undetected ways in which sound and listening have also functioned to produce race in the United States. Just as W.E.B. Du Bois delineated the dangers of the visual color-line, our mutual critical labors will reveal race’s audible contour, the sonic color-line, and examine how race can be heard as well as seen. The seminar is both an investigation of the role of sound in the historical production of race as well as an interdisciplinary introduction designed to open our ears to the field of sound studies from multiple vantage points: historical, textual, technological, and material. Over the course of the semester, we will discuss critical questions like: What is the relationship between listening and looking? How is listening historically and culturally conditioned? What does it mean to listen to race? What do “blackness” and “whiteness” sound like? To whom? How have aural idioms of race shaped American cultural history and thought?

We begin with an introductory unit (weeks 1-3) that focuses on three “keywords” that are essential for interrogating the history of sound and listening: “listening,” “race,” and “noise.” In the vein of Raymond Williams, we will explore these terms as contested lightning rods for our assumptions and beliefs about culture, society, and the field of sound studies. After critically examining these keywords, we will proceed historically, tracing the following themes as they shift from antebellum slavery to the post-World War II era: the development of racialized listening practices, the power dynamics and ethics of listening, the construction of “black” and “white” voices and musics, and the role of “noise” in the production of racially segregated space. To do so, we will interweave archival case studies with literary and cultural analysis that concentrates on four historical moments in the history of race before the Civil Rights Movement: late antebellum slavery, Reconstruction, the interwar Great Migration, and World War II. We will rethink each of these eras through the ear, beginning with an examination of the archival press reception of an iconic African American musical performer whose career is particularly bound up with racial controversy. Ranging from the inaugural performance of “The Black Swan” in New York City in 1851 to Lena Horne’s World War II-era radio appearances, our exploration of original press materials will enable us to reconstruct and challenge how mainstream media outlets represented various historical iterations of “the black voice,” a sound freighted with a complex blend of fear and fascination. For each case study, we will discuss how critics used music writing to record and discipline a “listening ear” attuned to national and racial ideologies, revealing the presence of deeply held cultural values surrounding listening, sound, and race. We will then use the work of African American writers and thinkers contemporary to the musical case studies to contextualize the racialized listening practices of each era, discussing how Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Charles Chesnutt, W.E.B Du Bois, Richard Wright, and Ann Petry used sonic imagery of their own to expose, resist, and re-plot America’s sonic color-line in their respective historical moments. 

Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman received her PhD in American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. Her dissertation, “The Contours of the Sonic Color-Line: Slavery, Segregation, and the Cultural Politics of Listening” was a 2007 finalist for the American Studies Association Dissertation Prize. Currently Assistant Professor at SUNY Binghamton, she teaches courses on African American literature and race and gender representation in popular music and is the director of the Binghamton University Sound Studies Collective. She has published in The Iowa Journal of Cultural StudiesSocial Identitiesand Social Text; her essay on Blackboard Jungle, the cold war, and the cultural history of the tape recorder is forthcoming in American Quarterly. Jennifer is on the editorial board of the Journal of Popular Music Studies and is co-editing an anthology on the politics of recorded sound with Gustavus Stadler. She is also Editor in Chief, Guest Posts Editor, and a regular contributor for an academic sound studies blog called Sounding Out! at www.soundstudiesblog.com

SHUM 4852 Afrofuturisms and Global Sonic Diasporas

(also ASRC 4852, COML 4116, MUS 4352, VISST 4852) 
Fall.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
M. Boon
T 10:10 - 12:05

This course explores contemporary Afrodiasporic sound cultures as they relate to issues of politics and aesthetics, community and praxis in the age of globalization, the Internet and the commodification of “lifestyle”. Discussions of contemporary music cultures tend to be framed even today in terms of subculture and mass or popular culture – words that are accurate in marking the way that most musical practice is framed by and organized within the logic of global capitalism, but which at the same time foreclose attempts to recognize practices that operate counter to that logic. Alain Badiou recently wrote of the need for a “new popular discipline” yet as with similar calls in the work of Hardt and Negri, Rancière and Laclau, there is a striking lack of examples of where one might find such a popular discipline today. Steve Goodman’s recent book Sonic Warfare allows us to rethink Afrodiasporic subcultures as forms of collective sonic experimentation and expression, and reveals a surprising but persuasive politics in soundsystem cultures such as hiphop, dancehall, house and their various global mutations. We will use the trope of “Afrofuturism” as a way of locating a variety of recent sonic and theoretical attempts at producing new forms of “popular discipline” beyond “subculture” (examples to include Fela Kuti, free jazz, as well more obviously technological forms), and as a key element in a broader analysis of the relationship between literature and alternatives to hegemonic global capitalism today.

Topics to be addressed include: the meaning of “futurism” in Afrofuturism(s); music, sound and noise as universals; global, local and nomadic sound cultures; “folk”, populism and popular discipline; subculture, mass culture and counterculture in the digital era. We will read theoretical works by Alain Badiou, Kodwo Eshun, Paul Gilroy, Steve Goodman and George Lewis alongside literary texts by Chris Abani, Amos Tutuola and Gautam Malkani and musicological writings by Amiri Baraka, DJ/Rupture, Rammellzee, Graham St. John and Sun Ra.

Marcus Boon is associate professor of English at York University in Toronto, where he teaches contemporary literature and cultural theory. He is the author of The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs(Harvard UP, 2002) and In Praise of Copying (Harvard UP, 2010), and the editor of America: A Prophecy! The Sparrow Reader (Soft Skull, 2006) and Subduing Demons in America: Selected Poems of John Giorno 1962-2007 (Soft Skull, 2008). He writes about contemporary music for The Wire and Signal to Noise. He is currently co-editing a book on Buddhism and critical theory, and a new edition of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin’s The Third Mind. His current work concerns a crisis in the concept of practice in contemporary life, and various possible remedies. His project for the Society for the Humanities, “Sound and Popular Discipline, 1950-present”, attempts to think through music and sound making in Afrodiasporic dancehall scenes and avant gardes as a set of models for the radicalization of practice.

SHUM 4854 Urban Soundscapes of the Middle East

(also HIST 4854, NES 4954)
Fall.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
Z. Fahmy
R 12:20 - 2:15

This reading seminar examines the urban soundscape of the modern Middle East. We will explore the expansion and cultural influence of Middle Eastern sound and audiovisual media from the late nineteenth to the late twentieth century. Through our weekly readings and discussions, we will interrogate how the intersection of popular music, theater, poetry, film, and later on satellite television and music videos shaped culture, ideology, and identities in the modern Middle East. Topics we will consider include contested media representations of religiosity, “modernity,” gender and sexuality. We will also pay close attention to evolving interpretations of cultural, religious, national, and transnational identities. All the while, we will examine some of the latest theories and works analyzing the importance of aurality/orality and hearing in analyzing culture and society.

Ziad Fahmy (Ph.D., History, University of Arizona, 2007) is an Assistant Professor of Modern Middle East History. His interests include nationalism in the modern Middle East, colloquial Arabic mass-culture, and media and identity in Egypt and the Arab World. His dissertation “Popularizing Egyptian Nationalism” was awarded the Malcolm H. Kerr Dissertation Award (2008). His book, titled: Ordinary Egyptians: Creating the Modern Nation through Popular Culture, is forthcoming at Stanford University Press (June 2011). He is currently working on another book project tentatively titled: Listening to the Nation: Mass Culture and Identities in Interwar Egypt.

SHUM 4856 Video Games and Sonic Recreation

(also MUS 4456, STS 4856, VISST 4856)
Fall.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.   
R. Moseley
R 12:20 - 2:15

Within and across historico-cultural milieux, technological developments tend to estrange sound from source. As Max Weber pointed out in The Rational and Social Foundations of Music, the onus of (re)production is typically divested from individual agents to increasingly intricate instruments and other acoustic devices, giving rise to complex acousmatic relationships between performative acts and sonic outcomes. For Weber, these processes were bound up with industrial disenchantment, and theorists of sound from Adorno to Attali have followed him in conceiving of its production and dissemination according to economic criteria: whether as medium or commodity, sound conveys and connotes capital. From the aulos to the MIDI keyboard, technological advancements have transformed and problematized the relationship between means of sonic production on the one hand and patterns of perception and consumption on the other.

Supplementing these insights, this seminar will explore the idea that disjunctions between “literate” texts that encipher reproductive rules or instructions, whether they be quarter notes, digital audio bitstreams, or computer code, and “oral” acts of performance, from operatic singing to the wielding of plastic pseudo-guitars, can open up sound worlds of musical play as well as sites of labor and exchange. Play takes place in the spaces that open up between sign and sound, instruction and execution, the permissible and the imaginable. Play is performative and sometimes transgressive: players operate both within and against the technological and ideological constraints that define the rules of sonic engagement.

It is with this in mind that we will approach the music-themed video game as both case study and lens through which to perceive how sonic elements can rub up against the visual and the tactile. As sites of cultural contestation and mediation that problematize distinctions between consumption and production, performance and reception, music and noise, action and reaction, and empowerment and enslavement, video games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band constitute the most explicit evidence of the collision of the sonic, the playful, and the technological in the early twenty-first century.

As a scholar, teacher, and pianist, Roger Moseley focuses on intersections between the musical disciplines of history, theory, and performance. His interests range from the music of Brahms, on which he wrote his PhD dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley, to music-based video games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and from eighteenth-century keyboard improvisation to technologies of musical (re)production.

Prior to his appointment as assistant professor of music at Cornell University in 2010, Moseley lectured in music history and theory at the University of Chicago. From 2004-2007 he was a junior research fellow at University College, Oxford, and in 2007 he was awarded an MMus with distinction in collaborative piano from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. More information on Moseley’s activities and recordings of his performances and improvisations are available at www.rogermoseley.com.

SHUM 4857 Dictation, Disenchantment, and Irish Modernism

(also ENGL 4070)
Fall.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
D. Keane
W 2:30 - 4:25

From its symbolically formative moment after the failure of Parnellite agitation in 1890, modern Irish writing has been structured by debates and controversies over literary autonomy and political engagement, over the ideal virtues of art and the practical effects of propaganda, within the project of forging and consolidating a national community. Because literary expression was held to evince a singular Irish identity that had both aesthetic value and political utility, it was repeatedly mobilized in fields of institutional contest governed by very different, if oftentimes complicit, protocols of production, classification, and reception. This seminar will consider how the three primary meanings of “dictation”—the exercise of political dictatorship; the act of dictating (for transcription); a dictated utterance—provide a reflexive entry point into the field of Irish modernism. Course readings will examine the logic of rationalization and mimesis that underpins this nexus of dictation, especially as it was materialized in political and institutional contexts marked by uncertainty over the mechanisms of democratic polity and the rise and success of dictatorial forms of authority. By following the evolution of the practical interactions of dictation machines, radio broadcasting, and print media in the period, we will trace a course from anti-colonial agitation against imperial coercion through the rise of fascism to the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, when the dynamic features of a new media environment could not entirely dispel the central concerns of the preceding decades.

Over the course of the semester, we will approach Irish writing roughly from Bram Stoker to Samuel Beckett, with a syllabus arranged chronologically and incorporating non-Irish works when appropriate. The first section of the course will attend to the deployment of the voice at the politicized intersections of early sound recording technology with textual production and circulation. In the second section, we will track how these interactions respond to changing institutional configurations, from the professionalization of folklore collecting to self-determined statecraft and international diplomacy to literary networks and negotiations. The third section of the course will be devoted to the dominance of radio. 

Damien Keane received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently an assistant professor in the English department at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He teaches courses on Irish writing and modernism, and his research interests broadly revolve around the sociological relations of technologies of sound reproduction and transmission, printed matter, and institutional formations. He is nearing the completion of a manuscript entitled Ireland and the Problem of Information.

SHUM 4858 The Transnational Hookup: Radio and Literature in the Americas

(also COML 4901)
Fall.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
T. McEnaney
M 2:30 - 4:25

In this course we will consider how broadcast engineering channeled sound’s notorious immateriality through a medium, radio, both praised and decried for its border-crossing ability. We will explore written and sonic works from Argentina (Piglia, Puig, Borges), Cuba (Guevara, Sarduy, Cabrera Infante), Mexico (Maples-Arce, Quintanilla), Puerto Rico (Rafael Sánchez), and the United States (McCullers, Alarcón, Chandler, Hagedorn) in order to ask how writing and reading with an ear for radio renews debates about public and private space, copyright law, and national territory, as well as notions of post-colonial, transnational, and world literature. In our attempt to tune in to writers’ experiments with sound, we will also try out a variety of reading practices drawn from anthropology (Hirschkind), socio-linguistics (Agha, Silverstein), new media (Sterne), psychoanalysis (Dolar, Silverman), and musicology (Bergeron, Kun) to think through what might be particular about the way literature mediates sound.

SHUM 4307 Visualizing Sound

(also MUS 4307/7307)
Fall.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
E. Bates
M 1:25 - 4:25

A 21st century transcription/analysis class, designed to provide useful analytic methods to ethnomusicologists, musicologists, and composers. We will explore myriad notational systems, from chant and tablature to ethnomusicological analytical transcriptions to experimental music scores, and a variety of computer analysis and transcription tools for visualizing musical and nonmusical sound.