Class Minutes- Dec. 2

Our discussion was structured around Jeff's reading response. We broke down our discussion into the three themes that he saw as emerging from the three readings. For the most part, I paraphrased the key points to what people said. Feel free to comment if you want to elaborate, or feel as though I didn't get your point across clearly!

1. The Merging of Technology and Content
Jeff (reading from his post)
Salient points: According to Bull, the Ipod merges song content with geographical space and users use music to "colour their space" (Jeff's words). In De Vries, mobile technology "unpacks" the cultural memories in the music despite the lower quality associated with mobile playback devices, ie. ringtones. Music can be used to demonstrate our tastes. Beers contrasts with Bull and De Vries to point out the "underbelly" of mobile music technologies (ex. the use of tracking, which isn't necessarily related to the effects that Bull and De Vries highlight).

Jeff's Question for Discussion: Do you think the convergence of musical content with mobile listening technology has shaped our music preferences? Do we favor music production/genres that are more conducive to our increasingly mobile routines? What about sounds that challenge us and push back against the lifestyles featured in mobile tech advertisements?
Jeff: If everything is being catered to our preferences, what does this say about how we live our lifestyles/ how are our lifestyles shaped by the technologies? Look at ads for Ipod (with the human silhouette against a solid colour background): They speak to Bull’s idea of individual breaking from the background but also erases the individuality - connections to the shadows of human bodies imprinted on buildings after atomic bombs in Hiroshima and the “destruction of the real”.

Megan: What do these technologies do to our sense of community? Are we creating divisions between people?
Kelsey: There's a shift in seeing music as something we learn from to something we use to identify ourselves with (or at least entertains us). Curating a playlist to listen to while you walk eliminates the sonic landscape and has the potential to create distance between ourselves and the physicality of our environment.

Kelsey: In connection to ringtones: the phone with a ringtone creates noise/noise pollution- those who can afford an iphone or smart phone can afford to now eliminate noise pollution, usually by using headphones (connects to inequalities in how rich/poor can partake in environmental issues)
[quick survey of who does and does not use headphones while walking. topic of danger is brought up]
Lily: Use headphones to seem unapproachable while walking alone, but not listening to music - allows me to be aware of potential dangers.
Christine: When living in Boston, walking with headphones was very common.
Jeff: Using headphones while walking seems to remove the self from the environment too much. Seems to be very dangerous. Sees students on their scooters around campus with headphones in and actually witnessed a minor accident involving a girl on a scooter who was listening to music. She ran her scooter into the tail-end of Jeff's car while he was at a gas station.
Sukyoung: Another issue is when people are listening to music with headphones but on really high volume. It imposes their musical space onto yours/ a shared public space.

Jeff: There's also a shift in how we listen privately in public spaces - a flattening of overtones and qualities of sound

Joe: How relevant is this discussion of ringtones since customized ringtones seem to be "out of vogue" now?
Kelsey: Only remembers customized ringtones being very 'in' when she was in high school and her first year as an undergrad. Perhaps customized ringtones were a fad, or maybe they're still prevalent amongst teens as a means of identifying oneself?
Jeff: As you get older, you're more likely to be in situations where you need to have your phone on silent.
Joe: Oddly enough, in the church services where he works, the ringtones that interrupt the service are customized, not default.
Christine: The only person she knows who has a customized ringtone is her boss, who uses it to let her coworkers know that he has an "important call".

2. Politics of private listening and public spaces
Jeff (reading from his post):
Salient points:

  • 3rd party non-spaces use music to set boundaries of space (ex. stores) so Ipod users see non-spaces without sound as a way to subvert regulated soundscapes (from Bull).
  • Connection to Christine's boss with De Vries: performing the act of telephonic communication
  • Beer asks: if the infrastructure that allows us to control our sonic space is tracking our information and collecting data, is there real agency?

Bo: We’re gaining agency through the act of pushing the “sound envelope”.
Jeff: Activism is pushing against muzak not for its aesthetics but because of its exploitation of music to control space (delineating what is and isn’t common sonic space)
[Example of Taylor Swift and her article as a means of carving out her own space and how marketers use/abuse this; focus shifts to Spotify and tracking]
Kelsey: Most users don’t seem to mind the gathering of metadata but focus is on the immediacy of consumption, especially if the reason they listen to music is entertainment-based.
Bo: Is information tracking problematic? It gives the producers and advertisers feedback about the musical product and genres - connection to Adorno's categories. Even if there are ads on Youtube, "joke's on them" because that does not necessarily mean the viewer is going to buy the product. It may even dissuade them.
Kelsey: Adorno's homogeneity of culture - Genres are blurred: "rock sounds like pop sounds like hip hop"
Jim: Example of musical convergence - see country music (ex. Conway Twitty and Taylor Swift played back to back. It's hard to see the connection because Swift has more pop qualities).
Joe: Is convergence driven by the market/advertising?
Christine: Not just the market- the prevailing social idea that anyone can do anything, which results in people trying to mash up all their interests in the hopes of being innovative.
Jeff: Music is appropriation, though. Can we see cultural convergence as appropriation?
[Brief discussions of appropriation and historicism; often appropriation isn't grounded in historical accuracy, but the idea of music borrowing from other traditions is not necessarily new]
Kelsey: Another issue is that the "underlying digital structure is so opaque”, but we know that there are huge corporate interests. Problem of economical/capitalist structure dictating how creators can create in order to make a sucessfull living

Jeff's Question for Discussion: Performing private listening in public spaces harmonizes the individual with their geographic locale. But the idea of harmonizing is a tricky concept. Some folks (like Attali) interpret musical harmony as an act of subjugation – a ‘going with the flow’ set forth by dominant political interests. Is private public listening an act of approval toward the public infrastructure that surrounds us? By individualizing our soundscape, do we also relinquish our agency?

Jeff: Defining politics of harmony and physical harmony (Bull) - being able to "paint over" a non-space with your own musical preferences…but is that really harmonizing?
Kelsey: When in Colorado, she observed mountain climbers at the summit with earphones in. One person was listening to Queen. It's possible that they wanted the right song to amplify their experiences at the summit, to harmonize with the space by picking the right song. But wouldn't not listening to other music (and listening to the sounds around you) be more like harmonizing with the space?
Jeff: They're essentially becoming non-spaces.
Kelsey: Could be connected to film. Surprising that the authors (and our discussion) didn't bring that up. What about thinking of your life as a movie that needs background music?

3. Musical memories and the ‘technological unconscious’
Jeff (reading from his post):
Salient points:

  • Beers: The music that is being collected as metadata is a performance of knowing capitalism - ties back to chicken-egg debate of “who wins” in advertising (advertisers v. consumers) and Swift
  • Bull: Mobile listeners risk merging agency with the contents of their music - User becomes the ipod

Kelsey: Is it really an act of activism? It’s not necessarily an overwrought analysis, but this idea of subversion might not be something that is present in the average listener. It seems to be more selfish in that the user has access to the music that they like and can listen to it all the time.
Jim: Sometimes uses headphones as an act of isolation, but ultimately listening to music while walking from place to place is an opportunity to take a break; “music is what i do” and there often isn’t enough time in the day to to just listen.
Bo: Mahler composes “sound worlds” in his music - “why listen to the real world when I can listen to Mahler’s” imagined world.
Kelsey: Sonic spaces as spaces of freedom is a bit problematic. Based on personal experience, imposing your aesthetic on an activity can be distracting.
Megan: Her husband wants to listen to music all the time at home while she’s more used to listening to music as a focused activity. If it’s not a focused activity, it has the potential to be freeing.
Sukyoung: Uses noise-cancelling headphones at home because her husband likes to have music or the TV on. Having music playing or just the TV on can be freeing to him. But, "we listen to music so often as music students, that I just want silence when I’m home".
Christine: Can "turn off her listening ears".
Lily: Similar to Christine: sometimes can listen to music while doing work, but other times not. Makes playlists not necessarily related to the environment, but related to what could create a space that is conducive to the activity/task.


Thank you, Lily, for taking these notes and posting them on the blog. Very helpful!

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