Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mapping, Sound and Race

(i also posted this as a blog on HASTAC here)

Hello Everyone,

I suppose this can serve as an introduction to the HASTAC world. If you have not been over to read and participate in the Feel the Noise: Sound, Music & Technology forum on Sound, please check it out! There are some great questions, discussions and ideas being generated and I'm honored to be one of the hosts.

I grew up in the Black Pentecostal Christian tradition as a musician (hammond b-3), singer, songwriter and choir director (it was a small church). I have always been attentive to the ways in which sound moves people within particular social worlds and situations, the Black Pentecostal sect or otherwise. When I would play "shouting music," (begin around :030) the congregation would respond with tears, hollers, moans, running and dancing in the space. When i "backed up" a preacher on the organ, their emotional intensity would become the greater, and the congregation would vigorously engage the more. The switch - in the same song - from the major mode to the minor mode, sometimes called "taking it to church," (listen to the change at 1:50) registers meaning, affect, emotion and intensity for the performer as well as the congregation.

These "affective intensities" of sound are not universal but take place in place and time, they are temporal. So I have noticed singing "congregational songs" that are pretty much the same song in places like Brooklyn having different rhythm, enunciation, lyrics, timbre, quality than the same song sung in Charleston. What I want to do is register difference - what some call "style" - as indexing notions of freedom, escape, migration, flight, politics.

I am writing here to speak about my deep interest in the relations between mapping, sound and race. My dissertation will be about the movement and sedimentation of sound, song and sentiment in various locations, using the Underground Railroad's relation to sound and song to map (the changes in) affect, emotion, sentiment, politics, theology from place to place. So, for example, when Harriet Tubman sung in Eastern Shore, MD, the politics of singing songs there meant differently than singing the same song in Canada. I want to think about how sound and song accrues to location, trying to think about identity and difference by way of sound. I also am trying to think about sound's connection to subjectivity as a spatially organizing principle; the sound of subjectivity is enacted and informs a topo-geo-logic.

These are just a few initial and scattered thoughts. I would love feedback, questions, comments...any form and mode of engagement is welcome!


  1. When I think of sound, something very different than "music" comes to mind, sound being the antithesis of that which is organized in a coherent manner to exist as music. This, of course, is subjective as the music that exists within an avant garde context may merely be sound, depending on how it is processed. I begin with these categorizations only because it was difficult for me to combine your mention of the music that encompassed your days in Church with the actual label "sound" that was used to discuss the nature of your research. Might this have been your intention as you stated "sound and song" as though to separate the two? And if my question is at all comprehensible, is your research exploring sound, music, both of these as being one in the same, or both of these as being two distinct aspects of noise?

    Just trying to ground my understanding of your research. More questions to follow!

  2. apologies for taking so long to reply! (for some reason, i don't have blogger set to email me when someone i always am "surprised" by the replies on thanks for your writing and questions!

    ...but i'm with you, i do think that music is but one way that sound is organized to make "sense" to hearers.

    so yes, my intention was to separate song (out from) and sound. sound exists previous to song, in my opinion. so my research will try to think about how both song settles *and* how sound settles in particular locations.

    think of Detroit as an example: it is a city where a certain sound has accrued - the "motown sound" - that is deeply related to the urban terrain, the economy of the city, the raced/gendered/classed nature of those who inhabited the city, as well as instruments, creative vision, musicians who pulled from environment to create a city's sound.

    my research will think of song and noise as sound (or maybe song and sound as noise...trying to work out that distinction right now).

    i hope this is helpful...