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Blog 6 – Mobility and Audibility – Olivia Miller

18 May

Art M. Blake’s piece “Audible Citizenship” discusses the ways in which CB radio helped provide African Americans in the 1960s access to both mobility in terms of how many people and how far away they could communicate to, but also audibility in terms of being heard in their own communities and how this eventually turned into forms of radio still around today. Blake also discusses how CB radio allowed a more tangible kind of resistance, in which CBers could directly communicate about KKK attacks and threats. I’d like to return to my first blog of the quarter, in which I pondered how recording technologies gave freedom to resistant listeners and allowed them to ascribe their own meanings to audio texts because of the removal aspects of media. Now I would like to address the flip side of that original concept: resistant listening communities not just as receivers of cultural productions, but also as cultural producers themselves.

To backtrack a little, resistant listening is the process by which a listener of a minority community creates alternate readings of usually books or movies, but in this case, audio heard on the radio or from other recording devices, by consuming it through a queer context. For instance, an example of resistant listening would be changing the gender of the singer so that a love song becomes a same-sex love song. This is a survival technique to adapt to mainstream media that often does not accommodate minority communities.

Resistant listening is most necessary when minorities have no access to the means of cultural production (in this case recording or broadcasting equipment). Blake’s article demonstrates an example of an oppressed community finding a way to co-opt the means of production. Shortly after radio’s inception as a technology, monopolistic corporations finagled the government into restricting access to broadcasting. As Blake says, in the early days of radio (between 1906 and 1917) broadcasting showcased a wide variety of chatter from many civilian broadcasters. First World War I introduced a civilian broadcasting suspension, then big businesses induced the FCC into restricting civilian broadcasts to certain stations. However, those civilian broadcast (CB) stations were not accessible or easily usable until 1958, which is when African American CBers first started up. Blake maintains that Black CBers created a significant different in CB overall because they introduced the “sound” of blackness, or a “blaccent” into the airwaves. Blake relates an interview he had with a CBer who emphasized the importance of the first time he heard another recognizably African American voice on a CB channel. That recognition aspect helped create an airwave community between people desperate to reach out.

Blake mentions many concrete applications of Black CB communities- they were able to organize civil rights efforts and warn each other of KKK movements. Furthermore, this phenomenon of African American voices broadcast across America also created a specific lingo and form of cultural communication that translated into cultural productions still around today. The “superbowl” channel that Black CBers created for themselves showcased verbal competitions were participants practiced cleverly “dissing” each other with outrageous metaphors and rhyming lingo that eventually found its way into the inception of hip hop and rap that still exists today. Although resistant listening can still be performed, it is important to note how it can lead to active co-opting of cultural production – from Blacks listening for other Blacks on CB radio to Rap and Hip-Hop radio stations today.

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Blog #2: Replication, Emulation, Digitization

13 Apr

Kittler argues that media fundamentally deals with time, and that the advent of modern technological media, beginning with the phonograph, have altered and disrupted time in a profound way. He declares early on in Gramophone, Film, Typewriter that, “Time..is what determines the limits of all art.” Previously, old media such as literature, poetry, musical scores, and art simply emulated moments in time: there was no way to perfectly replicate moments that the creators wished to save so sensory experiences were transmitted through a type of human recorder (the artists, the writer, the composer) into symbolic notation. The phonograph, however, ushered in wave after wave of new replication technology, along with photography. Movies, record players, tapes, cds, polaroids, and eventually smart phones were all to follow. Yet something seems to be lost in the consumption of replication media that was possible during times when only emulatory media existed. Replicatory media seeks to occupy the space of memory, such that in modern times media defines memory: we remember events through pictures that were taken there, or home movies or other recordings. But since this media does the work of remembering for us, as a result we can only remember surrounding it and instances not captured are lost. Kittler quotes an essay by Chris Marker in which Marker muses, “I remember the images that I filmed in January in Tokyo. They have put themselves in the place of my memory, they are my memory. I ask myself how people remember if they do not make movies, or photographs.” Emulatory media, because it can only capture impressions of an instance, create a mythos around those instances that leaves room. A diary entry cannot record the sound of a voice: the reader must imagine how it sounded, perhaps with only moderate hints from adjectives like “deep” or “sad.” A live performance can only be remembered by thinking of it or perhaps looking over the score, and yet every live performance is different, shaped by errors, such that the score indicates a cymbal clash where there was none.

Yet Kittler fails to point out that even replication has its limits. Besides the fact that in an age of photoshop, no photo can be truly taken at face value, there have been ways to affect replicatory media since their inception. A group photograph may replicate who was present at a certain event, but what about the person behind the camera? Or the one who went to the bathroom and accidentally missed the photo? No recording media is perfect either: microphones do not pick up every sound present, creating imperfect replications. Furthermore, even our replicatory media present only instances of time: the person who went to the bathroom was indeed at that event the whole time except those few minutes, yet the replication lies. Consequently the only way to “fix” errors of omission in replicatory media is perhaps to record everything all the time. In a sense this is already happening, with security cameras strategically placed in every city, satellites constantly photographing landmasses, cameraphones always snapping photos, creating video, recording voices. But if a stream of simultaneous media flows parallel to real-time action, it devalues itself. Objects (and therefore media) become more valuable the rarer they are. Ubiquitous, omnipresent, ever-creating itself media destroys the point of media. How can value be determined from vast masses of every day replication? Who will sort through it all? Fifty years from now, what happens to video of you purchasing paper towels, toothpaste, and a carton of ice cream at the convenience store? It’s arguable if these moments should even be considered worthy of replication. At some point contemporary society will have to resort value systems of media and consider which, when, and how it is still valuable.

Kittler, however, poses the opposite of this. He imagines a world of undifferentiated, passive reception of conglomerate media. The advent of fiber optic cables, he writes in 1997, will serve to undifferentiate all media because they will all be transmitted digitally and reduced to computer language (binary number systems). This, he hypothesizes, will allow unprecedented blending of all media lumped together in order to serve all senses, stripped down the binary language of computers that contains so many fewer symbols that the 26-letter alphabet. Kittler’s essay suggests a narrowing of media when in fact I am more inclined to describe the current (and subjective) experience of media to be omnipresent: digitization has not narrowed the human mind, but instead engaged all its trivialities. The social media device Twitter is built specifically for mundanities and other unimportant thoughts, reduced to cell signals and computer language, but reformed into alphabet soup about class, work, sleep, and boring dining hall food. Kittler’s computerized world in 2012 is not stripped of creativity, of passive consumer of piped in digitized media: as always, media is encoded and decoded, repurposed and always humanized. Surely Turing never imagined that his scanning strips of computer language would someday serve not only to post this blog’s ruminations on media, but also everyone on facebook’s endless desire to know who, exactly, is getting “complicated” with who.

-Olivia Miller

Blog #1: Creating Room for Resistant Listening Through Removal

6 Apr

Media and mediation are very complex words that each contain several definitions; when discussing media it is then crucial to draw out which aspect of either is under scrutiny. Williams’s Keywords concerns itself with the careful separation and definition of each. As Williams writes, the two oldest uses of the word “mediation” describe it as a go-between; one in the modern sense of a “mediator” and the other as what Williams calls “a means of transmission” (Williams 204). The first originates from the practice of describing Christ as a mediator between divinity and humanity in order to reconcile them. The other sense leads to the concept of media as an intermediary source: music is performed, then recorded. The phonograph, or other playback device, provides the link between the original live audio and the sound reproduced for the listener. This view of media as a transmission or connecting force is complicated when considering the converse: media may also be viewed as a “removal of the source” as discussed in lecture on April 5. Deterministic theory posits audiences as passive receivers of whatever meaning is ascribed by the creators of material. Anti-deterministic viewpoint follows Stuart Hall’s 1973 encoding/decoding theory wherein receivers ascribe their own meanings, criticisms, and associations to incoming broadcasts, advertisements, music, et cetera. This means that sound culture is endlessly variable, changeable by every individual and those they interact with. Anti-deterministic perspectives of media lend themselves to considering media as a removal of the source. For instance, early in its public life the phonograph was considered creepy or frightening: disembodied sounds and voices emerging from a machine were unnatural and unfamiliar to audiences. Efforts were made to integrate other senses into the experience, such as the Edison Realism Test. It encouraged listeners to close their eyes and attempt to recall their last live experience of the music in order to add emotional and visual components to the experience. Sound playback devices are considered impersonal in comparison to experiencing a live performance where the musician or speaker can be directly observed.
Although this impersonality can, and has been, considered a negative aspect it also presents opportunities. When a device (such as a phonograph) depersonalizes the audio it plays, it gives the listener a chance to re-personalize it in a unique fashion. Significantly, the listener’s re-personalization can contain political significance when considered in connection to feminist literary critic Judith Fetterly’s concept of “resistant readings” where the reader goes against dominant understandings of the text to incorporate implications contrary to oppressive ideology. For instance, queer resistant readings of canonical texts may focus on homoerotic subtext more important to the queer reader than overt narratives of heterosexual relationships. Non-normative consumers of audio therefore may engage in “resistant listening” techniques. Importantly, the absence of visual stimuli when listening to a recorded piece creates ample room for re-imaginings of audio. Live performances involve not only the appearance of the performer but often physical actions meant to lend impact and communicate additional meaning. Hearing a recorded song the resistant listener may imagine the gender of the performer singing a love song to be opposite in order to perceive it as queer and thus re-personalize it as a queer love song instead of a heterosexual one. The combination of visual and auditory stimulation creates a restrictive effect, that while still requiring decoding (thus making room for the consumer’s own interpretation) restricts possibilities of resistant listening or viewing more than each in isolation. Removing content from source creates “gaps” that can be filled in by the listener themselves, creating a vast and varied world of meaning and understanding. Furthermore, the removal aspect of media facilitates anti-deterministic theories of listening that acquire political significance when viewed as providing opportunities for resistant listening.

-Olivia Miller