experiments with sound

This week’s readings and experiment made me think about 20th century classical composer John Cage.  Cage was an experimental composer who is most known for his piece 4’33”  during which the musicians are instructed not to play throughout the entire three-movement piece.  The 1952 piece promotes the idea that all sounds can be music, requiring the listener to internalize the sounds of the environment as part of the musical composition. Other 20th century experimental classical composers laid the foundation for considering experimental music as art (and inspired others, like Frank Zappa and Playing Music on a Bicycle), although there are many who would argue that sounds are just noise, and definitely not art.  It’s interesting to think about what sounds can be considered “music” or “art,” as well as the accessibility factor of technology today: almost anyone can record sounds and turn sounds into music.  In terms of what sounds should be saved and recorded, how ordinary sound can be used to express a particular experience can allow for the listener to be transported to a specific place and moment in time.  I tend to have a very liberal definition of both art and music, and I think it is interesting to see people engage with these debates over time.

The mp3 has become a crucial part of contemporary debates in the worlds of sound, music, and property.  Sterne argues that the mp3 is an artifact as it is a “crystallized set of social and material relations” (826).  He argues, “a gestural, tactile form of embodiment is the requirement and result of digital audio” (827).  I thought it was interesting that the perspective of a “container technology” was typically seen as feminine.  Sofia says, “these kinds of technological objects are designed to be unobtrusive and…make their presence felt, but not noticed” (827).  The article points to the reason behind the design of mp3s as compressing audio so that audio files are easier to exchange on the internet and easier to store on hard drives (828).  I am curious if ownership of an mp3 has that same standard fulfillment Walter Benjamin says (831).  I think I would have to challenge this notion.  Does the collector of each mp3 feel the same way about it as an artist or a corporation?  I think that “collectors” of mp3s (which is really all of us, right?) take them for granted.  I don’t think an mp3 collector/human being has the same kind of attachment to mp3 because it is so freely exchanged.  It becomes just a number.


For my digital audio experiment, I attempted to cut up a few different pieces and merge them together using Logic Express (which I’m still learning how to use).  A few jazz musicians and I recorded a version of Peggy Lee’s “Blue Prelude” a few months ago (.  I added a few sound effects, and layered part of a Gloria Steinem speech on “The Future of Feminism” (here).  I also experimented with speeding up the second half of the song. Here it is on soundcloud: Blue Prelude Remix.

I saw some of this as related to Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto.”  She explores “Cyborg as a fiction mapping our social and bodily reality and as an imaginative resource suggesting some very fruitful couplings” (150). I thought Steinem’s speech especially connected to this idea: “I do not know of any other time in history when there was greater need for political unity to confront effectively the dominations of ‘race’, ‘gender’, sexuality’, and class’” (157). I’m interested in this concept of making “real connection” and allowing for fluidity of boundaries between groups of people.  What might help people to move beyond defined categories?  What might Haraway’s metaphor offer for feminists?

And for other senses?  Apparently smell-o-vision and other movie techniques didn’t work out so well.  Maybe people might get ready for that in the future if they become really numb via senses of sight and touch.  I predict that there will be future attempts in this arena, but right now, people aren’t ready for the full production of bodily experience from a machine.


About jeanettethall

graduate student in American Studies View all posts by jeanettethall

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