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 –

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. fern nesson  |  March 17th, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    way to go, Wayne!
    F and C

  • 2. Poirier  |  March 18th, 2014 at 11:19 am

    Looking forward to read the essay!

  • 3. Mike Brown  |  March 23rd, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    On page 16, in quoted text, I believe Sterne gets spatialization somewhat wrong when he says “While it is very easy to locate the direction of sounds in the middle of the audible range when they are played back in stereo, it is close to impossible for people to locate very low or very high sounds. To save more dataspace, the mp3 encoder saves sounds at either end of the frequency spectrum only once for both channels, rather than twice and plays them back as mono files.”

    He must be thinking of intensity stereo coding, which is a technique only used in low-bitrate files, and only by some encoders. It involves storing the higher frequencies (the upper 50 or 75% of the full range) as a mono signal plus an indication of direction. This does not affect bass frequencies at all. It doesn’t make the audio truly mono, but it does tend in that direction.

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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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