September 4th, 2014

Fresh Jamaican Catch-Up

What can I say? It’s been a chockfull summer. Mostly with farming and teaching, but also, I’m happy to note, with writing and talking about music as well. And while I’ve found the time to do some “dancing about architecture,” I’m afraid I’ve been a little slack when it comes to linking/re-posting it here. So here are some items from the last few months that I’d like to call attention to if you haven’t already seen & heard em. (FYI, I’ve also been reviewing albums for The Wire, but I’ll be reposting those separately.)

First, I’m excited to report that I was asked by the nice ppl at Mixpak Records to pen an essay for Popcaan’s debut album, Where We Come From. Writing reggae liner notes is something I’ve always dreamed about doing, and I was thrilled to sit with this stellar set of chunes for a few months before it went out to the world. Here’s a little teaser, but definitely click through to read the wole ting — and do give the album a good listen, it’s well worth the time!

In turns uplifting and haunting, reverent and rude, Where We Come From gives voice, as the best reggae does, to the contradictions of life in a society rife with inequities and yet so rich. Whether odes to the ghetto or the good life, Popcaan’s lyrics bring realist portraits and utopian visions into dynamic tension. Songs about struggle and sex and happiness occupy the same space because they do. …

Like his predecessors in crossover without compromise, Popcaan appeals to listeners outside of Jamaica precisely because he brings a distinctively Jamaican voice to the proceedings. In a world gone global, Popcaan occupies that sweet space of possibility where a deeply local accent communicates to outernational listeners. With his patois lyrics, plainspoken and poetic, his own takes on the latest slang, and his vowels stretched in that Portmore twang, Popcaan is unapologetically uberlocal in address. But since dancehall is itself a globe-spanning style and symbolic code, Popcaan’s performances are also pitched to the world. For all the downhome detail, nuff translates—and plenty comes across in universal terms: hustle for the money, too damn evil, everything is nice.

Speaking of hustle for the money (and it shall appear?), the Popcaan essay dovetails with a conversation I had recently with Afropop Worldwide for their “Money Show,” which explores the role of money (or not) in music scenes spanning Ghana, Kenya, Colombia, Jamaica, and South Africa. The topic turns to Jamaica at around the 45 minute mark:

Also on the reggae tip, I make a brief appearance in an article by Max Pearl on Polish Reggae, to wit:

Ethnomusicologist Wayne Marshall says reggae’s success can be attributed to its many divergent (even contradictory) forms and meanings. “The genre offers a flexible palette for a wide range of ideological positions,” he explains, “from Pan-Africanism and other forms of transnationalism to utterly provincial nationalism, from peaceful and respectful postures to aggressive machismo and militancy, from tolerance to its own forms of oppression.” So whether it’s the image of Bob Marley as a revolutionary avatar, the liberated body politics of dancehall music, or simply the flows of culture enabled by the sprawling networks of English empire, something has made reggae stick in a number of unlikely locales.

“You can find local reggae scenes just about anywhere in the world: Germany, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Native American reservations, you name it,” Marshall continues. “It really is remarkable that reggae has inspired local scenes all over the world, especially since Jamaica is such a small place.”

Remember “treble culture“? I’m pretty sure it’s still alive and well, and I rounded up some examples for Norient to give people a sense of some of treble culture’s sounds and contexts. Here’s a taste, but click through for all 5:

This is, admittedly, an exaggerated example, and it’s hard to imagine anyone enjoying it save from a certain ironic distance. But it’s noteworthy – if not mindblowing – that someone uploaded it at all, and it speaks volumes about the political economy of contemporary music circulation. The intense compression artifacts may or may not be intentional – whether anti-piracy technique or incidental product of crappy software defaults. It reminds me of Jonathan Sterne’s contention that the MP3 puts the listener on a «sonic austerity program». Illustrative because so extreme, the warped sound of this clip is deeply familiar to the MP3 generation – like cumulative tape hiss or dusty record crackles for older ears. Due to better bandwidth, the death of DRM, hi-qual darknets, and more liberal leaking practices, such distortions already strike us as «artifacts» in the archaeological as well as audio sense.

Finally (for now), I also make a brief appearance in a lengthy, strengthy article by Eric Harvey about the “Past, Present, and Future of Music Streaming” (and don’t miss the cool flashy version):

In the wake of Rupert Murdoch buying Myspace and “nuking” the imeem streaming service in 2009, ethnomusicologist and blogger Wayne Marshall, a longtime annotator of the microtrends popping up every second on any number of online streaming platforms, wrote an extensive blog post, spurred by the very real fear that “entire media ecosystems” might suddenly “succumb to the sudden slash and burn of corporate logic, which cares little for what we might celebrate as cultural vitality.” I’ve been using the word “platform” throughout this article as linguistic shorthand to describe a variety of streaming services, but as Marshall notes, the term can disguise as much as it describes. YouTube and other services use “platform” as strategic PR, Marshall contends, to cover up the much more precarious technological and political realities that underpin their use. Calling YouTube and other streaming services “platforms” creates the image of an elevated space on which one might communicate to a large audience, strategically eliding the fact that uploads can vaporize at any point, often without warning.

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August 7th, 2014

Summer of Technomusicology (2014): DJ Mixes

technomus-megamix

The fifth etude in our summer session required students to cook up short DJ mixes that follow a particular musical thread across time and space. As readers will know, I’ve made a few of these over the years, and I’m obviously enamored of such an audible form of storytelling about music culture in the age of digital sampling.

Of course, not every etude made it up on Soundcloud thanks to its algorithmic/automatic pre-screening according to a draconian and short-sighted copyright regime — sensors are the new censors, innit — but several are still standing, spinning, and shining there. Allow me to share a few.

Here’s a ton of Ashley’s Roachclips:

And here are several iterations of Barry White’s “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby”:

Variations on Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, perhaps?

Or echoes of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good”?

How about a big playback for “The Big Payback”?

Finally, in quite an inspired, creative departure, here are some Polynesian war/rugby chants sutured onto remixed dubstep instrumentals:

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July 31st, 2014

YouTubology Summer 2014 Edition

For their 4th etude of our summer adventures in technomusicology, my students produced their own YouTube montages (as I’ve discussed here and there), and, as usual, I’m smitten by the results. I even shed a few YouTubeTears in class as we screened them together. I’ve rounded them up in playlist form, but allow me to embed here several examples that are well worth a watch.

Many students did the mega-montage thing, and they selected quite a range of songs and routines to explore this way. Their subjects run the gamut from predictably enduring songs such as “Imagine” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to more recent upstarts such as “Let It Go” and “Thinking Bout You” to such YouTubey phenomena as “Canon Rock” and routines inspired by K-pop and the collectively-sourced cultural products built around Vocaloid software to tango warhorses. Wow!

A few videos merit a little more contextualization, so here they are with the students’ explication:

This is a video montage of “Bar Bar Bar,” the popular song by K-pop band, Crayon Pop. K-pop is largely characterized by bubble gum tunes and catchy lyrics, and “Bar Bar Bar” is no different. However, the song has somehow managed to rise above the rest of the K-pop scenery, taking Korea by storm and causing a multitude of different dance covers to surface in the past year . The various groups shown here range from Korean police departments to taekwondo teams in Korea, and this montage attempts to offer a vivid perspective into one aspect of the pop culture minutiae that permeates through Korean life today.

///

Kokoro x Kiseki is an original Vocaloid mix of two versions: Kagamine Rin’s and Kagamine Len’s. In Len’s version, he usually sings over a recording of Rin, but not vice versa. In some parts of this montage, it is possible to hear just Rin’s version, just Len’s version, as well as the mix of the two versions.

Due to the nature of this being a Vocaloid song, there is heavy emphasis on the accompanying video. Though there are some vocal and instrumental covers of the song, the majority creative works kept the original song but changed the video. In the different videos, people got creative with using their own drawings to make an animation, making slideshows of pre-existing art and playing with timing, cosplaying and acting out the story of the song, translating the song, and playing with camera angle and various other features of the Miku Miku Dance (MMD) program. There is an official dance for this song, so the dance is the same in the videos that use the dance, but the smoothness of the dance, the camera, and the backgrounds and costumes are noticeably different.

In this video montage, I focused on showing the different videos that people have uploaded onto Youtube. The song’s lyrics tell a linear story, so I wanted to keep the flow of the story of the song. I achieved this by keeping the video clips with their respective section of the song and by giving the videos their own space in the limelight. The only video that I showed multiple times throughout the montage was the Official Live version. The Live performance of a Vocaloid song is impressive, and I felt that letting it flit through the montage follows the story of Kokoro x Kiseki.

Since the majority of videos used the original song, it was not very difficult to sync the videos to make a smooth song. The difficulty in creating this montage was choosing which frame to switch videos because this song is riddled with pickups. Depending on what followed the pickup, I alternated between changing videos on pickups and on downbeats. The instrumental/vocal covers also used the original song, so even if they weren’t perfectly synced 100% of the time, they always met back at the start of new phrases. I decided not to forcibly sync the covers with the original song because it would be destroying the artistic license of a human musician.

Aside from the videos with creative animations, MMDs, cosplays, and covers, there are some videos there that are more featured for the translation. The few that I incorporated into this montage are Vietnamese, Spanish, and English subs, which give a small view at how popular and widespread this particular song is.

///

The seeds for this Etudé were actually planted last summer. Specifically though, the La Cumparsita (“The Little Masked Parade”) obsession of mine erupted last November during a minor email contention between my friend and teacher, a tango expert from Buenos Aires, and her teaching partner, a US born tango expert. During the discussion the original snapshot of the lyrics caught my fancy because they revealed to me the dark internality that is the thread running through Argentinian/Uruguayan Tango. While Uruguay claims the song as its own and has made it their national anthem, it is intrinsic to traditional Tango as practiced worldwide. Tango was an expressive outlet for the lower classes dwelling in the underside of Buenos Aires and Uruguayan society. It was not a fashionable or high brow entertainment to begin, and this song, La Cumparsita, really exemplifies a rather destitute and bluesy pastime originating from a night life and its creative expressions of peoples of color in Argentina and Uruguay.

In the pre-WWII era, the song was recorded throughout the world by classical, jazz, opera, and popular music artists, swing bands, and orchestra’s. I have tried to pull from my own research into the song: the ripped collection of videos as well as those recordings and amusing or exciting interludes that best exemplify most of the era’s this song has run through, as well as some really old Tango dancing by Rudolf Valentino (who was really quite passionate about Tango dance) from the film, The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse and taken from a video that mashed up Rudy’s moves with the Italian pop singer Mina’s over the top production of the song from 1968.

I also include some very nice dancing by Tango artist Chicho, dancing with a lot of ornamentations with his partner to a recording of a live band. A little later in my clips, I cut in Mina’s production film as she is singing the last verse of lyrics from the popular version, an ending to the effect of, to paraphrase: “the sun no longer shines the same on the abandoned bedroom, and even our dog stopped eating because you left and finally ran away from me, on seeing me so miserably alone.” An amusing farce indeed! Since it matched up to the Mina versions eventual cheesy guitar passage, I added Gene Kelly’s solo stepping to the song, from Anchor’s Aweigh. On a humorous note, I close it out with a scene from Some Like It Hot, when Daphne (Jack Lemmon disguised as a woman) forgets and starts taking the Tango lead from his/her would-be suitor and the orchestra plays an interesting version of La Cumparsita.

I took advantage of the many pauses and lurches inherent to the song and made single audio layer with plain cuts of the phonographs playing 78′s and a 45 rpm of the song. I did the same with the cuts between the live Tango orchestra’s of Alfredo De Angelis and Juan D’Arienzo. I did not need to do any fading or layering until at the end of Mina singing the farcical passage after which the song starts again with a real twanging 60′s guitar and a rock beat. That is when I fade it out and in comes Gene Kelly dancing a relatively soft shoe tap dance to the song. I enter the song from that scene of Anchor’s Aweigh since it matches with Mina’s rock passage, and that then easily lends to the rather interesting version from Some Like It Hot.

And I’ll close with an example that departs from the collages above as one student was inspired to take a page from Kutiman‘s book and create his own YouTube sourced jam session that opens with an overture of sorts, revealing the sources of his palette:

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July 23rd, 2014

Gone Farmin’

It’s been *crickets* here on the blog for a while, and the main reason is that I’ve been spending more time behind a tractor and less in front of a laptop. And loving it.

I don’t spend very much time on the tractor, actually, because the work I do at Belmont Acres, a 5 acre farm 5 minutes from my house, is always a varied mix of seeding, weeding, transplanting, watering, harvesting, and other forms of ongoing and ad-hoc maintenance. I’ve learned tons about farming in the process, and spending so much time doing physical work, outdoors, with simpatico people, all the while attending and responding to the forces of nature — and gnoshing on fresh vegetables — has made me substantially healthier and happier. I’m pretty sure humans were made to do the kinds of work that farming involves. In its way, agriculture simply seems like a particular (sedentary) approach to hunting and gathering.

But I’m sorry for the silence in this space, especially since I have continued to publish things about music that may be of interest here — and to teach my favorite class in the world, Technomusicology. And I intend to share a bunch of that stuff here very soon. (Famous last words, I know. Also: the sorriest sort of blog post is the apology for not blogging, so enough already.)

A bit more about Belmont Acres: the farm is run by a lovely family who live down the road, and the farmer, Mike, has turned the operation at this long-farmed plot of land — allegedly since the 17th century, though you wouldn’t know it by the rock load — from an oldschool corn-stand into a place that grows a great variety of vegetables without the use of pesticides or other “conventional” farming methods. (Belmont Acres is not certified organic, but our growing practices are concerned with sustainable, food-web-friendly agriculture.)

Last year, Mike and crew grew over 120 varieties of vegetables, and this year we’re on par for a similar showing. (And people say the farm looks as good as it ever has. You can judge for yourself.) This week alone you’ll find the following at the stand: beets, bib lettuce, new potatoes, fingerling potatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, zucchini, artichokes (!), green peppers, green beans, faro and caraflex cabbage, garlic, scallions, sage, parsley, oregano, chard, and Tuscano kale. (For those who are local, you should come check the place out, pick up some of the freshest food you’ll find in the vicinity, and say hi. The stand is open Tues 3-6pm, Fri 2-5, & Sat 1-5, and we’re located just across Blanchard Road from Fresh Pond.) They even let me indulge my enthusiasm for abundant, delicious “weeds” like purslane, which has now appeared in shares as well as on the stand.

Though I haven’t written much about it on this blog, I think that supporting small-scale, sustainable agriculture like that practiced at Belmont Acres is one of the most important ways of nourishing our food system and our families and communities, and I’m just delighted to be so directly involved, getting my hands dirty in a way that feels so wholesome. I haven’t blogged much about it — or anything, recently — but I hope to find the time to share a lot more from this new realm of fascination and commitment. I suspect some of you may see a kinship between my work on music ecologies and my interest in food webs.

To whet appetites, or at least give a glimpse, allow me to present a convergence of sorts — a farmey soundscape I cooked up last month as a brief demo for my class. It’s not an accomplished work, or even a finished one, but it does offer a sense of the sights and sounds of the place (the smells I’ll have to leave to your imagination):

belmontacrescape from wayneandwax on Vimeo.

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April 11th, 2014

Where’d the Beef?

No one does radio (by which I mean, audio storytelling) like Benjamen Walker. You may know him from his incarnations as the host of Your Radio Nightlight, Too Much Information, or Theory of Everything, which has recently become one of the flagship programs in PRX‘s new podcast network, Radiotopia.

I feel very lucky to count Ben as a friend. His incisive sense of humor consistently cuts to the chase of the kinds of things we find ourselves concerned about in this modern world, or should be. His commitment to running down good stories and telling them with audio aplomb is downright inspiring. Man oh man, the stories he could tell…the stories he does tell!

So I’m thrilled to report that Benjamen has made one of the best episodes of his life with “1984.” To put it plainly, this is a monumental work of media history, largely sourced from YouTube (but also via vintage TV Guides, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, & his own rich trove of alienated adolescent experience). “1984″ is a deeply engaging examination of, as Benjamen puts it, the year, not the book.

I found myself totally entrained and entertained listening to it, and you will too. Benjamen masterfully interweaves and teases out trenchant themes as US society tries to come to grips with the advent of the hyperreal and media politricks in precisely the year that George Orwell freighted with such significance. Borrowing Orwell’s central narrative conceit of the diary is a stroke of genius on Ben’s part, but it’s the dazzling execution of his vision that is most impressive. Imagine Marclay’s The Clock stretched out over a calendar year with grainy advertisements and newscasts in place of Hollywood film fragments.

Here’s how Benjamen frames it:

In 1984 your host was twelve years old, and like Winston Smith he kept a diary for the citizens of the future. For this special installment of Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything we travel back in time and give this diary a soundtrack. TV commercials, radio spots, movie clips — all from 1984 (the year, not the book). Along with personal memories of making the transition to middle school the show focuses on four of the most important people of year: Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson, Steve Jobs, and Clara Peller.

Do yourself a favor and make some time for this one. Ben brings the beef, no doubt.

Word to Clara Peller!

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March 27th, 2014

Montage Is the Method: Migos Flow Edition

Over at Complex, David Drake offers up a supercut that “trac[es] the lineage of the Migos flow” — that is, the 8th note triplets that underpin “Versace” and have been making waves across the rap world.

For Drake, the recent, remarkable spread of the so-called “Migos flow” offers compelling evidence that, even as it may rankle all manner of commenters, the Migos’ Quavo is no less than “the most influential rapper of 2014“:

part of the reason Quavo has become so influential is because his rapping isn’t overly concerned with the intricacies of lyricism. Instead, he’s imprinted a very specific rhythmic pattern on hip-hop’s psyche. By finding a flow that stood apart and emphasizing it, he shifted the way rappers rap.

This is a contentious claim, and the technomusicologist in me loves that Drake has gone the extra mile to put together some audible evidence to convince the skeptics — a video montage that speaks for itself. So don’t take my word for it, or Drake’s, just peep the supercut:

As you’ll note, the montage not only depicts the undeniable post-Migos spread of the flow, it also includes a series of clips that predate Migos and show how the flow has been around for quite a while, especially in Southern hip-hop but even all the way back to a memorable turn in Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise”!

Such an audible genealogy is certainly convincing, and even the pre/proto-Migos examples don’t necessarily lessen Drake’s argument about Migos’ role in popularizing the flow for 2014. (As something of a sidenote, it’s interesting that this sort of cross-rhythm is also a consistent presence in recent juke/footwork tracks from DJ Rashad and cohorts. That’s one helluva hemiola!)

That said, I’m not totally persuaded that, as Drake further contends

No single rap artist has so completely popularized a single, distinct flow.

I suspect we could pick out a few examples from the 80s or 90s or 00s, but even in the last few years — as Drake himself notes — something like Lil Reese’s / Chief Keef’s trademark stuttered, splattered, staccato syllables would seem to offer a similar example. It may be true that that flow has had less “reach” than the Migos flow, relatively speaking, but it’s still a remarkable spread. Rihanna’s “Pour It Up” was maybe the most obvious example of copping that flow and making it “pop,” but echoes continue in “Drunk In Love” and other recent recordings. Moreover, far as I can tell, that Chicago drill flow has less of a history than 8th note triplets, which have been a staple flow — if not for entire verses — for a couple decades, especially if we look to, say, Bone Thugs’ early oeuvre.

But perhaps I need to make a supercut to make my point ;) Better yet, sign up for my Technomusicology class this summer and you can do it as homework!

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March 24th, 2014

Watch Out for the Big Girl

Today marks five years with Charlie in the world. That’s five years full of her sweetness and smiles and sensitivity and boundless love.

As Becca recently recounted, a few months before Charlie was Charlie, we were very afraid that we had lost her. I’m still struck by the sadness of the thought of that little life-that-could-have-been lost, even in the abstract, but to imagine that we would have had to live without Charlie the concrete, the joyful and kind and utterly delightful kid we’ve gotten to know over the last five years, well, that’s just unthinkable.

So, to our dear Charlie, who we are so happy to have in the world, and who may or may not one day see this bloggy birthday card…

Here’s looking at you, you adorable dandelion gatherer, foraged flower muncher and pizza devourer, wearer of wonderful hats and funnier faces, jam enthusiast and sourdough steward, all around cutiepie and light of our lives, you just keeping being sweet little you <3 <3 <3 <3 <3













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March 17th, 2014

Treble Culture, the Essay!

It all started with a provocative turn of phrase and a successfully solicitous blog post, and now some 13k words and 5 years later, I’m delighted to report that my epic essay on “Treble Culture” has finally been published! It’s been a little frustrating to watch something I completed a long time ago — and which is so concerned with the contemporary moment — languish through the incredibly lengthy academic publication process, but I’m very glad it’s finally ready to be shared & circulated.

In brief, the essay examines so-called “treble culture” (vis-a-vis bass culture) — or the apparent ascent of mobile listening and music made for it — in three ways: 1) by assembling an anecdotal ethnography of the remarkable public life of trebly broadcasts; 2) by offering a long view of the treblification of music; and 3) by considering ways that musical aesthetics, especially at the level of production / composition / mastering but also (always) listening, have themselves been involved in embracing and reshaping how music sounds in the latest epoch of its technological mobility.

As a research project that I largely crowdsourced via this blog and my Twitter account, I need to offer my deeply unattenuated thanks here to all the dear interlocutors who helped push the piece into unforeseen corners of our bass-impoverished sonic and cultural worlds. I feel it is a duty to all of you, and to wider publics, to exercise my authorial prerogative and offer the proofs here for your reading pleasure. So without further ado, I give you

     Marshall, Wayne. “Treble Culture.” In The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies, Vol. 2,
          eds. Sumanth Gopinath and Jason Stanyek, 43-76. New York: Oxford University Press,
          2014. [PDF]

I’m happy to note that my chapter helps to kick off volume 2 of a 40 essay (!) collection of writings about music in the age of mobile technologies. Congrats to the editors, Sumanth Gopinath and Jason Stanyek, for bringing this behemoth to completion! I’m honored to be a part of such an ambitious undertaking alongside so many sharp contributors. And I hope readers of “Treble Culture” will have an opportunity to check out the rest of the contents too.

Here’s what Vol 2 — and the volumes more generally — are all about:

The two volumes of The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies consolidate an area of scholarly inquiry that addresses how mechanical, electrical, and digital technologies and their corresponding economies of scale have rendered music and sound increasingly mobile-portable, fungible, and ubiquitous. At once a marketing term, a common mode of everyday-life performance, and an instigator of experimental aesthetics, “mobile music” opens up a space for studying the momentous transformations in the production, distribution, consumption, and experience of music and sound that took place between the late nineteenth and the early twenty-first centuries. Taken together, the two volumes cover a large swath of the world-the US, the UK, Japan, Brazil, Germany, Turkey, Mexico, France, China, Jamaica, Iraq, the Philippines, India, Sweden — and a similarly broad array of the musical and nonmusical sounds suffusing the soundscapes of mobility.

Volume 2 investigates the ramifications of mobile music technologies on musical/sonic performance and aesthetics. Two core arguments are that “mobility” is not the same thing as actual “movement” and that artistic production cannot be absolutely sundered from the performances of quotidian life. The volume’s chapters investigate the mobilization of frequency range by sirens and miniature speakers; sound vehicles such as boom cars, ice cream trucks, and trains; the gestural choreographies of soundwalk pieces and mundane interactions with digital media; dance music practices in laptop and iPod DJing; the imagery of iPod commercials; production practices in Turkish political music and black popular music; the aesthetics of handheld video games and chiptune music; and the mobile device as a new musical instrument and resource for musical ensembles.

And here’s what my 13k+ words look like in cloud formation –

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March 12th, 2014

Summer of Technomusicology

The Summer of Love is way behind us, as is the Second Summer of Love, & perhaps the Third and Fourth. The Summer of Technomusicology, however, will soon be here!

I’m thrilled to report that I’ll be offering my favorite class to teach in the world right now, as premiered last year at Harvard U, this July-August as an intensive 7-week course at the Harvard Summer School. If you’re planning to be in town and around, it should be a good chance to make some conceptually cogent, historically situated, and, we hope, aesthetically engaging media.

Here’s a taste of what we did last year. So if that whets the appetite, you can access the syllabus and look into registering via this page:

     http://www.summer.harvard.edu/courses/technomusicology

For your browsing ease, here’s the syllabus as it presently stands; please note that this is preliminary, and items may shift between now and the summer:

MUSI S-190r: Technomusicology

Summer 2014
Instructor: Wayne Marshall
Tues/Thurs 6:30-9:30pm
4 credits
Room: TBA
Course reference number: 33209

INTRODUCTION
This course uses hands-on media production to examine the interplay between music and technology. Using audio production software, we will explore new techniques for telling stories about music and media by composing a series of études, or studies in particular media forms.

Readings, discussions, and projects focus on significant forms and their histories, including soundscapes, mashups, montages, DJ-style mixes, and radio sound design. Students will develop a fluency in the history of sound studies while cultivating competencies in audio and video editing, sampling and arranging, mixing and remixing, and, in framing their projects, descriptive and poetic forms of writing.

Class sessions comprise a mix between discussions of relevant readings and audio works, software demonstrations, and in-lab project-centered work. Readings and listening/viewing selections will be available via the course website or the WWW.

ASSIGNMENTS / GRADING

1) Attendance & class participation – 25%
2) Études (6 in all) – 60%
3) Final Project – 15%

In general, études should be between 2-5 minutes, and will be due, along with a brief prose gloss and/or other forms of annotation, on the Monday of the week after each has been assigned.

SCHEDULE

Week 1 /
Intro to Technomusicology, Sound Studies, & Soundscapes

June 24-26

Sterne, Jonathan. “Hello!” In The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction, 1-31. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003.

Suisman, David. “The Musical Soundscape of Modernity.” In Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music, 240-72. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.

Schafer, R. Murray. “The Music of the Environment.” In Audio Culture, ed. Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner, 29-39. New York and London: Continuum, 2004.

Gould, Glenn. “The Prospects of Recording.” In Audio Culture, ed. Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner, 115-26. New York and London: Continuum, 2004.

Feld, Steven. “A Rainforest Acoustemology.” In The Audio Culture Reader, ed. Michael Bull and Les Back, 223-240. Oxford and New York: Berg 2003.

_______. Rainforest Soundwalks (liner notes). EarthEar 1062. 2001.

Étude #1: Compose a soundscape collage from your own local recordings. Include brief description of subject, methods, and poetics.

Week 2 /
Histories & Aesthetics of Radio
July 1-3

Wu, Tim. “Radio Dreams.” In The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, 33-44. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.

Marshall, Wayne. “Love That Muddy Ether: Pirate Multiculturalism and Boston’s Secret Soundscape.” Cluster Mag. December 2011.
http://theclustermag.com/blog/2011/12/love-that-muddy-ether-pirate-multi-culturalism-and-bostons-secret-soundscape/

Étude #2: Compose a radio collage, focusing on a particular dimension/station/time of the Boston/Cambridge airwaves. Include brief description of subject and methods.

Week 3 /
Mashup Poetics & the Ethics/Aesthetics of Sampling
July 8-10

Sterne, Jonathan. “The MP3 as Cultural Artifact.” New Media & Society 8:5 (2006): 825–842.

Katz, Mark. “Listening in Cyberspace.” In Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music, 158-87. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

Marshall, Wayne. “Mashup Poetics as Pedagogical Practice.” In Pop-Culture Pedagogy in the Music Classroom: Teaching Tools from American Idol to YouTube, ed. Nicole Biamonte, 307-15. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010.

McGranahan, Liam. “‘It Goes Beyond Having a Good Beat and I Can Dance to It’: Mashup Aesthetics and Creative Process.” In Mashnography: Creativity, Consumption, and Copyright in the Mashup Community, 35-70. Ph.D. dissertation, Brown University, 2010.

Schloss, Joseph G. “Elements of Style: Aesthetics of Hip-hop Composition.” In Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-hop, 135-168. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004.

Taylor, Timothy D. “A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery: Transnational Music Sampling and Enigma’s ‘Return to Innocence.’” In Music and Technoculture, ed. René Lysloff and Leslie C. Gay, 64-92. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2003.

Étude #3: Make a mashup using 2 (or more) related recordings. Include notes discussing thematic and/or musical linkages (i.e., poetics).

Week 4 /
Video Montage in the Age of YouTube
July 15-17

Gillespie, Tarleton. “The Politics of ‘Platforms.’” New Media & Society 12:3 (May 2010): 347-364.

Tagg, Philip. “The Milksap Montage”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzYqBcUipok,
“Harvest Song from Bulgaria”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34ZHJj0lW0I,

Marshall, Wayne. “The Montage Is the Method”
http://wayneandwax.com/?p=6952
“Megamontage Is the Method”
http://wayneandwax.com/?p=7884
“Gasodoble”
http://wayneandwax.com/?p=5019
“Bump Con Choque”
http://theclustermag.com/blog/2011/06/wayne-marshall-bump-con-choque

Étude #4: Create a video montage that illustrates a particular story of musical circulation and/or relationship.

Week 5 /
DJ-style Mixing & the Mini-Mega-Mix
July 22-24

Katz, Mark. “Mix and Scratch—The Turntable Becomes a Musical Instrument: 1975-1978.” In Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-hop DJ, 43-69. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Fikentscher, Kai. “‘There’s Not a Problem I Can’t Fix, ‘Cause I Can Do It in the Mix’: On the Performative Technology of 12-Inch Vinyl.” In Music and Technoculture, ed. René Lysloff and Leslie C. Gay, 290-315. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2003.

Étude #5: Produce a brief DJ-style mix guided by some logic of musical, cultural, and/or historical connection between the recordings involved. Make efforts to use blends, cuts, and other edits strategically. Include notes explaining aesthetic choices and narrative (i.e., poetics).

Week 6 /
APIs & Algorithmic Remixes
July 29-31

Seaver, Nick. “On Reverse Engineering: Looking for the cultural work of engineers.” Anthropology and Algorithms (Medium.com).
https://medium.com/anthropology-and-algorithms/d9f5bae87812

Lamere, Paul. “Where’s the Pow?” Music Machinery.
http://musicmachinery.com/2009/06/21/wheres-the-pow/

The Echo Nest Lab
http://static.echonest.com/labs/index.html

Echo Nest Remix
http://echonest.github.io/remix/

Étude #6: Create a remix of a music video using commands and features made available by the Echo Nest’s API.

Week 7 /
Sound Design & Final Projects
Aug 5-7

Mitchell, Jonathan. “Using Music.” Transom.
http://transom.org/?p=40865

Mitchell, Jonathan. “Sound Design from Hell.” Third Coast Library.
http://www.thirdcoastfestival.org/library/37-sound-design-from-hell

Rosenthal, Rob and Kathy Tu. “The Fighter Pilot.” How Sound.
http://howsound.org/2013/12/the-fighter-pilot/

Final project: Using the contemporary techniques of radio sound design, put together a brief tour of your études from the semester, highlighting whichever projects you choose and, when possible, making linkages to the readings and themes we’ve discussed.

Final Projects Due: August 8

Update!

Here are our collected works, in progress:

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March 10th, 2014

Sound Studies of Jeff Goldblum

For whatever reason, I’ve now become the guy that your crazy internet uncle (in my case, El Canyonazo) now forwards emails about Jeff Goldblum remixes. The latest, which appeared delightfully unsolicited in my inbox last week, samples his unnervingly odd laugh from Jurassic Park (which someone else has turned into a 10 hour version if that sort of thing is your thing) to great effect over some trappy beats. Deservingly, it’s got over 600k plays after just a month —

Why do I deserve this? Probably for, at various points in the last several years, linking to the two transformative takes on Jeff Goldblum I embed for your convenience below. You can thank me later, if you haven’t already.

That last one is still criminally underwatched, so I don’t mind sharing it here again.

Do keep me abreast, all you crazy uncles out there!

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February 12th, 2014

Jampacked Picó

Picó Picante is always a nice nice time, but this Friday they’ve really stacked the decks —



All these DJs are stellar and longtime friends & colleagues, and among other things, Jubilee has a poppin new EP out on Mixpak Records, and Dev/Null just posted a helluva 2 hour session devoted to atmospheric jungle from ’94-95 (which clearly presaged so much drum’n’bass that would follow) –

But I’m especially happy to welcome BBrave to town as he’s the only one I’ve yet to meet IRL.

I suspect Benjamin “BBrave” Lebrave needs no introduction here at W&W, but for those who don’t know, Benjamin is the force behind Akwaaba Music, an independent label devoted to African music of the post-Fruityloops era, or as he puts it “syncopated music made on computers all across the African continent.” Carefully and lovingly curated by Benjamin, a champion for genres and artists from West to East Africa, South to North, Akwaaba has served since 2008 as a crucial international platform for emerging artists, including acts as varied as Just a Band or FOKN Bois.

Akwaaba’s latest offering is a blistering rap album, Burkin Bâ, from Burkina Faso’s Joey Le Soldat, who pushes social critique with wicked flow over jagged electronic soundbeds that recall the Bug’s distorted dancehall. The lead single boasts an arresting video too; should slay in London or anywhere grime resounds –

But BBrave’s DJ sets are more focused on dance music per se, as opposed to head nodding beats, pivoting around hiplife, azonto, kuduro, afrohouse, tarraxinha, coupé décalé, zouglou, and the like. Here’s 8+ hours if you’d like a taste ;)

And don’t miss Benjamin’s most recent column in the Fader, a Q&A + mixtape c/o kindred spirit, none other than “Mr. African Hip-Hop” Thomas “Jumanne” Gesthuizen, which also includes a gracious s/o to this here humble blog. Thanks, Bbrave — we look forward to finally welcoming you to town!

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Wayne&Wax

I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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