Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Listening Spaces at CMU - preliminary thoughts

I'm a fan of Pittsburgh. I like industrial cities and  I feel a strong connection to the rust belt, even though I grew up a Yankee in Boston. Not because of some ruin porn fetishism, but I like the scrappy reminders of a strong labor movement and working-class pride (my mother's family were mostly labor organizers in the midwest and California), I like the lack of pretension, and I like the drive of outsiders to do good, weird, extreme, out-there art when there is no network of media hype to support you or sponsor you, only space, lots and lots of space.

And then there is the great engine of CMU and the other universities, that have brought a bit of a tech boom, but without the media-centric hype of NY (which I like but can be tiring) or the silicon valley libertarian fantasyland which occasionally got a bit wearing in the Bay Area.

I've dj'd there a couple of times, at the Garden of Earthly Delights, and I was lucky enough to speak at Dorkbot (co-sponsored by the Studio for Creative Inquiry) as well. (Video of that talk is here, and check a review of that whole weekend here).  Through those conversations I met some more great people at CMU, through whom now I am thrilled to be invited to return for this awesome project.
The Listening Spaces project is part of an ongoing interdisciplinary research grant at the university where people are exploring how people encounter music, from the perspective of the listener. For folks who have followed my work, you will not be surprised that I'm happy about the emphasis on the audience (rather than the  artist) and on the space in which people engage with music.

I'm going to be discussing and developing some concepts that come out of my research on Jamaican music-making and also my own experience as a DJ. One of my central concerns, these days, is about exactly this event's title: what is the space in which people listen to music? What defines that space? what are the political and social implications of how those spaces are defined?

Although listening includes being alone with sound, my work focuses most on the social spaces where people engage with music, especially people who are not privileged as artist, owners or creators in the legal sense. Fans, dancers, audiences - these are what makes a scene, makes a culture, makes a movement, make a genre (for better or for worse - witness how the changing fandom changed the meaning of the term 'dubstep'). How people hear music can't be separated from the context in which they encounter it and what they bring to that context - listening is a constructive and productive --and maybe sometimes a destructive process... It's this last concept that I want to explore in this talk - what do specific music scenes and culture gain and lose from wider availability and wider reach, especially as networked technology opens up those scenes in new ways? What's the difference between publicity and surveillance? here, I'm not focusing as much on the politics of appropriation, branding, marketing etc, instead I'm attending to the role of law and corporations in profiling, surveilling and tracking creative communities and practices. As people's lives are increasingly networked via technology that can track and report, what does this mean about the kind of creative intimacy that may be necessary for cultures to flourish?

Come through and help me work it out, or follow along online or elsewhere (I hope for livetweeting of this event - it is free and open to the public, too).

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Looking forward to hanging out with you tomorrow in Pittsburgh!

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