Sound is motion. As vibration, sound travels through air, water, solid materials, as an affective transfer of energy from molecule to molecule–a moving flow. But let us not prioritize an acoustic or physicalist framework, as though ‘vibration’ were somehow the truest description of sound in its essence. Sounds travel through networks, memories, between people and places, from performers to audiences, through time as much as space, both live and as sonic potential stored in mechanical and electronic recordings, digital files and musical instruments. Sound is constantly on the move, at the same time as it resounds in the singular sonorous moments in which it is heard.
Owen Chapman, Sound Moves: Intersections of popular music studies, mobility studies and soundscape studies
The Mobile Media Lab, Communication Studies, is pleased to announce the publication of Sound Moves: Intersections of popular music studies, mobility studies and soundscape studies, the latest issue of Wi: Journal of Mobile Media edited by Owen Chapman.
Comprised of papers from the 2011 International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) Conference on Music and Environment, Sound Moves includes a stellar line-up of local, national and international contributions.
“ECOTONALITY AND LISTENING PRAXIS IN SOUND ECOLOGY, AMBIENCES, AND POPULAR MUSIC”
by Andra McCartney
“RE-SOUNDING PLEASURE IN SOUNDSCAPE STUDIES”
by Helmi Järviluoma-Mäkelä
“COMMENTED CITY WALKS”
by Jean-Paul Thibaud
“DESCRIBING URBAN AMBIANCES: THE CRESSON RESEARCH LABORATORY”
by David Paquette
by Sara Bannerman
“THE PERSON BEHIND THE MUSIC WE ADORE”: ARTISTS, PROFILES, AND THE CIRCULATION OF MUSIC”
by Jeremy Morris
“YOU ARE HERE: BINAURAL AUDIO, MOBILE MEDIA AND THE SONIC EXPLORATION OF URBAN SPACE”
by Lewis Kaye
“ADVOCATING SONIC RESTORATION: LES ONDES MARTENOT IN PRACTICE”
by David Madden
Wi is a peer-reviewed open-access journal, published twice yearly. This issue has been supported by the VPRGS, Aid to Research Related Events and the Concordia University Research Chair, Mobile Media Studies. IASPM was generously supported by SSHRC.
I hope you will indulge me a little in my few minutes with you. It’s a true honour to be speaking here, and to have received the Anne Marie MacKinnon Educational Leadership Award. I was asked to speak about good teaching, but as the recipient of the educational leadership award, based in part on my involvement in developing new courses and programs at CBU, I’d like to speak about good curriculum instead, and particularly about the role and future of arts programs in Atlantic Canadian universities.
But before I do that, I want to tell you a story. I promise that it is relevant.
In December 1989, a freighter from New Caledonia, a francophone community located 800 miles east northeast of Australia, was travelling the Cabot Straight when a vicious storm arose. Several ships went down that night. The New Caledonian freighter, called Captain Torres, lost its engines. It drifted among waves 50 feet high, in winds blowing 60 or 70 knots, and in temperatures well below freezing. When the crew realized that their ship would go down, they radioed the Coast Guard and requested that each of the twenty-three crew members be patched through to call home. They calmly took turns making two minute phone calls to their loved ones, saying goodbye.
The award-winning author Silver Donald Cameron gives this story a few paragraphs in his book, Wind, Whales and Whiskey: A Cape Breton Voyage. James Keelaghan, a well-known Canadian folksinger, later learned of this story which inspired a song. I’d like to play you an excerpt. [if you don’t have time to watch the whole video, watch 4:50-8:03]
If you’re wondering why you never heard about this story before, it’s because it happened on the same night as the Montreal Massacre, which eclipsed all other news stories. For Keelaghan, the two stories resonated. On the one hand was a story of the worst in men: a man who feared and therefore killed women. On the other was a story of the best of men: twenty-three men who, in the face of disaster, thought of their families and calmly lined up to say goodbye to them. For Keelaghan, his song illustrates that most times, in extreme circumstances, people exhibit the best of human nature rather than the worst.
I don’t know how you are all feeling after hearing that song, but it regularly brings me to tears, even after listening to it dozens of times. My, and perhaps your, visceral, physical reaction to Keelaghan’s song is the power of the arts. I’m sure you all know cognitively, intellectually that the arts are powerful, but I think it’s sometimes helpful not just to know it, but to feel it. And this is also the value of the arts: knowing not just with our minds, but through our bodies. The arts open up different ways of understanding the world.
When I speak of the arts, I don’t only mean the creative arts of music, dance, drama, and visual art, but the arts of the humanities and social sciences too. They invite us to think of our worlds in creative ways, which our region surely needs in this age of uncertainty: economic, religious, ethical, social, cultural, and political uncertainty. The arts offer paths to learning about unfamiliar others, leading to greater compassion, empathy, and understanding. This is so urgent on a global level, of course, but also relevant close to home, in our universities where local students are encountering ever greater numbers of international students, and where international students want to learn not just a discipline, but about Canadian life and culture.
Again, I fully expect that this is all completely familiar territory. But sometimes we stop seeing familiar territory for its familiarity. Atlantic Canadian faculty are very fortunate in this time of declining populations on Canada’s east coast, and particularly a declining youth population, that you, our universities’ presidents, have found ways to protect our universities by developing and expanding increasingly popular programs in business, science, health, and technology, programs that have far-reaching impacts not just on our region but, thanks to growing international student populations and the success of our local graduates, throughout the world. I’m grateful for those programs that keep our universities healthy and vibrant. They are essential because all good universities need a variety of programs, in the same way that strong communities need citizens with wide-ranging skills and expertise.
But where are the arts in the future of Atlantic Canadian universities? Yes, all Atlantic Canadian universities have long-established and well-developed arts programs. But our arts programs are also experiencing a precipitous decline in students.
So here’s my point: Atlantic Canadian universities are in a unique position to champion the arts. Canada’s east coast is known nationally and internationally as an area of great cultural strength and wealth. We produce a ridiculous number of successful artists, and scholars, and powerful speakers, and charismatic leaders. We also attract them. Perhaps some of you are “come-from-aways” yourselves. I am. Silver Donald Cameron is. When I interviewed Keelaghan, a Calgarian, I asked him why so many disaster songs seem to come from Atlantic Canada. I was surprised and intrigued by his answer. He suggested that it was because Atlantic Canada has already had hundreds of years to develop its culture since the arrival of European settlers, whereas Canada’s west has had a much shorter history and will require hundreds more years to get to the same cultural place where Atlantic Canada already is today.
We need business, science, technology, and health programs, absolutely. But we also need healthy arts programs. We in Atlantic Canada have the unique opportunity of becoming leaders in the arts at a time when many institutions are unwilling to invest in them. My point is that good curricula in Atlantic Canadian universities shouldn’t just include the arts because of tradition or expectation, but should champion them. Let’s forge our own curricular path. Let’s build on our region’s acknowledged strengths and show the world how the arts can lead the way to a more prosperous, healthy, and happy world. Thank you.
Captain Torres by James Keelaghan
How small the Captain Torres
How high the sea
Gale ten and engines failing
No quarter, no lee.
They know when the wrong wave hits them, Perdu, they’re gone.
They’ve played their share of poker
They know odds are long. La mer ne pardonne pas
Time yet for consolation;
Each makes one call.
Signals came ship to shore,
Words plucked from the squall.
His heart a deep, deep ocean,
His voice so small.
So faint through all the static,
Five words, that’s all. La mer ne pardonne pas
Do I count myself lucky?
I was home, the phone was ringing.
What of others’ wives who missed it,
Came home to red lights blinking?
How strange this world of wonder
Ships sailing, planes flying,
Sound sent at speed of light —
Phone calls from young men dying.
These walls bought and paid for
By labours on board
Gone months to clothe and feed us,
Gone now, forever more. La mer ne pardonne pas.
Many Canadians of a certain age will have drawn great comfort from news reports about a team of Spanish scientists who have proved that modern pop music really does all sounds the same (and elsewhere). The Reuters news story describes a study of pop songs from 1955 to 2010, analyzing melody, instrumental timbre, and loudness, and concluding that music has become blander and more homogeneous during the past sixty years.
While this story may have inspired glee in Hendrix fans and gloom in their Skrillex-listening offspring, it also caused a lot of exasperated sighs among professional music scholars. Members of IASPM-Canada (the Canadian branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music) question the value of a nationally-funded (admittedly by Spanish taxpayers, not Canadian ones!) study that seems simply to proclaim “music was better when we were young.”
In our email conversation over the last few days, we also wonder about the reliability of the findings, given that the algorithms included only melody and instrument sound. It’s a bit like comparing sentence structure and word choice in recent fiction: sure, Zadie Smith and EL James might use adverbs in similar ways, but would that really tell us anything useful about their work?
Furthermore, Adam Krims (Professor of Music Analysis, University of Nottingham) points out “potential problems in the study on its own terms: for instance, what is being defined as a ‘chord,’ and how is differentiation being measured?” Is it really true that Lady Gaga and Diana Krall sound the same, since both play the piano and they have approximately the same vocal range? Can listeners hear no difference between Justin Bieber and Jack White? Have genres such as hip hop, electronic dance music, and metal truly had no discernible impact on the sounds of mainstream pop?
Like any scientific study, this one has produced results that are determined by the tools and methods used. Lori Burns (Professor of Music, University of Ottawa) notes that “scientists necessarily constrain their research parameters, asking very limited questions about a restricted sample so that they can make finite conclusions using the potential of their computer programs … they were certainly not thinking about the advances in production and technology and I cannot imagine that their computer programs could produce analytic results for hip hop or dub step!” By choosing melody as the crucial parameter and ignoring rhythm altogether, for example, the scientists fail to identify a great deal of what makes music powerful.
Nevertheless, Serge Lacasse (Associate professor of music, l’Université Laval) cautions us not to assume that innovation, variety and evolution are always of utmost importance to music, and he wonders why this should be the “basis of any sort of evaluation of popular music (or another music for that matter).” To be fair, this responds to a problem less with the Spanish study itself, which does not offer any value judgements, and more with the smug headlines attached to the news report in various media: “Pop music too loud and all sounds the same: official” (Reuters) and “Pop Music All Sounds the Same Nowadays” (Yahoo! News).
Because of course, listeners in some settings do prefer music that sounds predictable. Referring to the playlist of a radio station that identifies itself as “your music at work,” Jody Berland (Professor of Humanities, York University) describes “singing within a 13-14 note range, with the men all singing in the same range as the women. The range of sonic expression is extremely narrow and about 80% of the songs are confined to two or three musical keys.” The function of this kind of music is to provide a suitable backdrop for a certain kind of workspace, and the radio programmers will carefully avoid disruptive sounds and styles. In this way, the demands of the music industry lead to homogenized product, which might sometimes be at odds with the artists’ intents. Listeners use and value music in different ways, depending on many factors. Susan Fast (Professor of English & Cultural Studies, McMaster University) reminds us that “music is listened to by people with diverse histories, often based on gender, sexuality, age, class, race and ethnicity, to name a few, and who gravitate to certain musics, at certain times, for particular reasons. These social contexts and others have to be taken into account and in studies such as these, they are not.”
But the appeal of this kind of scientific study is that it promises conclusive proof and definite answers (as well as furnishing a few glib newspaper articles). That kind of neat analysis is difficult to produce when we have to deal with humans and their messy lives — the kind of work that scholars in the arts and humanities undertake. There is no real need for conflict between these scholarly approaches, but research with “quantifiable” results is often valued more highly (not least in terms of funding dollars) and Dana Baitz (independent scholar and musician) points out that “the reception of this study — the way newspaper editors position the findings — redoubles the sense of scientific superiority over the arts.” Eric Smialek (PhD candidate in musicology, McGill University) notes the “valorization of research that affirms what a large segment of the population already believes, rather than research that problematizes, destabilizes, or changes conventional ways of thinking.”
Thus, a frankly frivolous study offering conclusions about music based on scientific methods is paid for by the Spanish National Research Council, even when it does not try to address the ways in which people listen to music, why certain songs catch a collective audience in a particular moment, why musicians make songs at all. The richness of popular music stems largely from the creativity of individual performance, which involves varying timbre, rhythm, phrasing and more, with various tools and technologies, and within the context of genre conventions and listener expectations. The best studies of music and its crucial role in our lives address the notes and much more.
Associate Professor of Music
More thoughtful and comprehensive articles about the study can be found here and here. The scientists’ own report is here.
In the past, Stan Hawkins has produced worthwhile work for researchers in popular music interested in gender, masculinities and the singing voice, particularly in the form of his book, Settling the Pop Score: Pop Texts and Identity Politics (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002). This newer book, entitled The British Pop Dandy: Masculinity, Popular Music and Culture, is part of the same Ashgate series as the earlier title, and seems to be an expansion of some of the thoughts and ideas in the earlier volume.
Hawkins begins his book by providing a list of “dandies,” even prior to defining what a dandy actually is. In his list, which he notes is not comprehensive, are singers like Bryan Ferry, Mick Jagger, Robbie Williams, David Bowie and Steven Morrissey. The last two are particularly interesting to me, since my graduate work revolved around their artistic output and celebrity image.
Hawkins does well to attempt to work through the definition of “dandy,” suggesting its gradual transformation “from a term of abuse to one of resentful respect,” describing those employing “displays of tame eccentricity, dry wit, vulgarity, comic excess and most ‘troublesome’ behaviour.” (2, 3) Hawkins is concerned with the British (English) pop musician as dandy, the conflation of Britishness and masculinity, and he locates identity, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and class as sites of dandyism.
Hawkins suggests that, central to his study is “the positioning of the body and its presence in recorded form,” and our imaginative responses to music performances: “In multimedia settings, then, music mediates desire by instructing us to imagine what we see.” (7-8) In a way, I agree, though in my work on Morrissey, I suggest that we construct the image of the celebrity from fragments, and over time (perhaps using our imaginations, as Hawkins suggests). Our desire comes from wanting a complete picture of those celebrities, working through their enigmatic star images for wholeness. If only I would have had Hawkins’ book a few years ago during the writing of my doctoral dissertation; Morrissey is “signifying difference through musical practice,” a particularly elegant way of expressing the singer’s transgressing of conventions. Hawkins also calls this a kind of “dissident masculinity.” (35)
In his discussion of Morrissey’s music video for “You Have Killed Me,” from 2006, Hawkins suggests that this performance is “one of the countless examples of how pop maximizes hyperbole as an emotional crutch.” (72) Here is where some of Hawkins’ analyses are both elegant and thorough, but seemingly surface as well. He briefly speaks of the lyrics which reference Italian culture: the director Pasolini and his film Accatone, as well as Morrissey’s “introduction in Italian by a compère.” (71) There is no mention of how this problematizes Morrissey’s own Britishness, perhaps imbuing him with a cosmopolitan sensibility; it is quite possible that such a reading would correspond with Hawkins’, but he seems to simply glance over an important characteristic of both this video and this period of Morrissey’s career.
What Hawkins does provide is an elegant, and much needed, analysis of the singing voice in popular music. In particular, Hawkins provides a brief but deft discussion of tremolo and “glottal shakes” in Morrissey’s voice (drawing from Lomax), something sorely needed in studies about the singing voice in general. Much further study can come from Hawkins’ work here. Hawkins suggests, though, that exaggeration is the most common trait of Morrissey’s vocality, which songs like “Seasick, yet Still Docked,” or “Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning” (both which show Morrissey’s vocal constraint) seem to contradict. (128-129)
Hawkins’ analyses here are particularly heartening to me in that he works to unify ideas regarding meaning in the singing voice; his discussion of how Morrissey’s persona is “filtered” through his singing style is particularly useful, not only in discussions of Morrissey, but also in greater discussions about meaning in the singing voice. Of interest is Hawkins’ argument that “sound is no less camp than the imagery we associate with the artist: for to be camp in pop is to sound camp.” (151)
In relation to this concept, Hawkins explores the idea of camp as “mask.” He assumes that music is about the intersection between what we as consumers of music hear and what we see; his concern is with popular music as mediated through recording, both sound and video. For Hawkins, “to mask something is to place weight on that which is not there,” but that which seemingly makes itself known at the conflation of the heard and the seen in mediated popular music performance. (154) In this study, then, Hawkins promotes analyses taking into account the “complete picture” of the mediated performer, focusing on the whole consumed cultural object engaged by fans.
This book follows and builds from Stan Hawkins’ earlier work in the area of masculinities and performance and, as such, is highly recommended for scholars interested in popular music, and the singing voice in popular music. Those researching masculinities in pop music performance might find it particularly useful.
As an undergraduate, how many of your classes were taught by professors, how many by graduate students, and how many by adjunct lecturers?
The answer partly depends on your alma mater and its location along a continuum of resources. For example, community college courses are more likely to be taught by adjuncts than by full professors, while most courses at elite schools are taught by senior scholars.
But college type is only one determinant; another factor is time. The more recently one attended a college (save but a few), the less likely one was taught by tenure-track professors. That is because tenure is eroding. And as tenured professors retire, their teaching responsibilities, when not shifted to grad students, are increasingly handed over to adjuncts, who perform the same duties at less cost to the administration, and whose proliferation on campuses everywhere threatens the very existence of tenure. Not literally a “crisis,” the tenure problem has century-old roots. But it has deepened over the past three decades, and in response most public and some private universities have been pulled in antithetical directions, toward the Ivy-grade prestige that their inclusive admissions policies disallow, and toward the for-profit model, now swelling, that offers accessible and expeditious vocational preparation.
That, at any rate, is the thesis presented by Frank Donoghue in his book The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities (Fordham UP, 2008). Donoghue, an associate professor of English literature at the Ohio State University, writes from out on a limb, since his background is not properly university administration but literary careers in the eighteenth century. Which is not to say he was unprepared: Donoghue mentions the “various incarnations of [his] seminar on academic labor,” thanks Stanley Fish for introducing that topic to Donoghue “long ago,” and provides a rich bibliography (over 175 items) to suggest the cast of his research net.
There may be a better book for quickly bringing today’s readers up to speed about the complexities of tenure erosion, but I doubt it. As concise as it is erudite, The Last Professors provides nourishing food for thought for those with a vested interest in the humanities.
It also provides plans of action, in sketch form (pp 135-end). “Professors of humanities,” Donoghue concludes, “can resist their extinction only by shifting the focus of their attention in two important ways.” First, healthy skepticism of the corporate model, to prevent its “tenets from becoming articles of faith for everyone: students, society at large, even disempowered humanists.” The second action is for humanists “to balance their commitment to the content of higher education with a thorough familiarity with how the university works.” Reading Donoghue’s monograph is a great start.
Action will be required – not just words – for the erosion of tenure to slow or reverse. But the humanist’s words are often the humanist’s deeds. Here’s to Frank Donoghue for taking action, for publishing a compelling account of a topic surely on the minds of many academics. And here’s to further action, to the future readers of that book.