English 7520

Topics in Contemporary Culture:
Sonic Culture

Fall 2005, Tuesday, 3pm-6pm, 326 State Hall
Steven Shaviro (313-577-5475; 5057 Woodward, room 9309; office hours Tuesday 12-2pm and by appointment)

Course Description

Visual culture has been a central focus of cultural studies for some time; but sonic culture, arguably of equal importance, has been pretty much ignored until recently. It's only in the last few years that a body of work has begun to emerge that looks seriously at the roles of music and sound in modern and postmodern culture. In this class, we will look at some recent theorizations of music, noise, and sound, as they have shaped the culture of the 20th and 21st centuries. We will consider, among other things, historical accounts of modern sound culture and technology and of modernist sound art, theorists concerned with the role of sound, noise, and music in modern and postmodern culture, and commentators on the role of digital technologies and electronic sound manipulation in contemporary popular musical culture, including a consideration of issues around copyright, sampling and appropriation. There will be a special focus on hip hop and techno, as exemplary instances of postmodern popular sonic culture.

Schedule of Classes

1.September 6
Introduction. Sonic Modernity. Sound reproduction.
Mark Coleman, Playback
Alvin Lucier, "I am Sitting in a Room" (sound)
Strictly Kev, "Raiding the 20th Century" (sound)

2.September 13
Theorizing Sound (I).
Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: Part 1
Marshall McLuhan "The Medium is the Massage" (sound)
Erik Davis, "Acoustic Cyberspace"
Leigh Eric Schmidt, "Hearing Loss" (ACR 41-59)
Friedrich Kittler, "Gramophone," from Gramophone, Film, Typewriter

3.September 20
Theorizing Sound (II)
Theodor Adorno, "On the Fetish Character of Music and the Regression of Listening" (pdf); "The Form of the Phonograph Record" (pdf)
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, "Of the Refrain" from A Thousand Plateaus (pdf)

4.September 27
Theorizing Sound (III)
Jacques Attali, Noise
Theodore Gracyk, Outline/Summary of Attali
Don Ihde, "Auditory Imagination" (ACR 61-66)

5.October 4
Histories of Sonic Modernity
Jonathan Sterne, "Hello!" (Introduction to The Audible Past) (pdf)
Jonathan Sterne, "Medicine's Acoustic Culture" (ACR 191-217)
Douglas Kahn, "The Sound of Music" (ACR 77-90)
Karin Bijsterveld, "The Diabolical Symphony of the Mechanical Age" (ACR 165-189)

6.October 11
Anthropologies of Sound
Jo Tacchi, "Nostalgia and Radio Sound" (ACR 281-295)
Fran Tonkiss, "Aural Postcards" (ACR 303-309)
Jean-Paul Thibaud, "The Sonic Composition of the City" (ACR 329-341)
Caroline Bassett, "How Many Movements?" (ACR 343-355)
Michael Bull, "Soundscapes of the Car" (ACR 357-374)
McKenzie Wark, "Cellphones and the Cancer of Cellspace"

7.October 18
Hip Hop 1: From Funk to Hip Hop
Forman and Neal, eds., That's the Joint, Parts 1-4

8.October 25
Hip Hop 2: Bring the Noise
Charles Mudede, "The Turntable"
Forman and Neal, eds., That's the Joint, Parts 5-7

9.November 1
Paul Gilroy, "Between the Blues and the Blues Dance" (ACR 381-395)
Simon Reynolds, "A Tale of Three Cities" (pdf)
Erik Davis, "Roots and Wires"
Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant Than the Sun
Kodwo Eshun, "Motion Capture"
Kodwo Eshun, "Abducted by Audio"

10.November 8
Posthuman Sound
Julian Henriques, "Sonic Dominance and the Reggae Sound System Session" (ACR 451-480)
Alexander Weheliye, "Feenin'" (Social Text, Vol 20 #2) (access via online journals in library)
Simon Reynolds, "Wargasm: Military Imagery in Pop Music"
William Burroughs, "The Invisible Generation" and "Electronic Revolution"
Douglas Kahn, "Two Sounds of the Virus: William Burroughs' Pure Meat Method" (pdf)

11.November 15
Ambient Music and Sound
David Toop, Ocean of Sound

12.November 29
Sound in Film and Video
Michel Chion, from AudioVision (handout)

13.December 6
Digital Sound. DJing, mixing, mash-ups, downloading.
Paul Miller, Rhythm Science
George Clinton and Hank Shocklee on sampling (audio) (video)
The Kleptones, "A Night at the HipHopera" (sound)

14.December 13
Presentation of student projects.

Class Requirements

The following books are available at Marwil Books:

One required book is currently out of print, but used copies can be easily obtained online, via sites like Amazon and Bookfinder:

Class requirements include leading class discussion once during the semester, writing a long (approx. 15 pages) final paper, and doing a presentation based upon this paper during the final class session.

Extra note: Mark Anthony Neal is scheduled to give a DeRoy Lecture on Thursday, October 20; and Kodwo Eshun is scheduled to give a DeRoy Lecture on Friday, November 4. Both lectures are at 3pm, in the English Department Lecture Room (10302, 5057 Woodward). Everyone in the class is urged to attend.