"Listening to pop music isn’t a matter of choice… How does one not become a passive recipient?"

John Oswald finished his 1985 essay, “Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative" by asking this question. In the face of the recording industry’s efforts to shut down copyright infringement in a variety of settings, Oswald hoped to use recording technologies from variable speed turntables, digital samplers, and the humble cassette tape as a means of appropriating sounds into the public domain. He wasn’t alone in his efforts, as he traded tapes with other participants in the cassette underground of the 1980s to develop a wholesale critique of the industry’s copyright agenda. This show concentrates on some of the music that used other music.

Readings:

Playlist Pt 1
Playlist Pt 2

Sounding Out America - Week 14 Pt 1 by Exquisitecorpse on Mixcloud

Sounding Out America - Week 14 Pt 2 by Exquisitecorpse on Mixcloud

Play That Beat Mr. DJ

(via Toledo Hip Hop)

We were like young entrepreneurs, we couldn’t drive cars and all that, so we had to get older guys that would drive us around. We’d get the place, we’d rent it, then we had to get the fliers made, then we would have to get them back to the place where we were having the function and just flood the town with the advertisement of the event. And also sell what you’d call our album-cassettes. You would play from nine to about four in the morning, so you had some 60-minute or 90-minute cassettes that would become like your records. Everybody would wanna buy your tapes between the different areas and luxury cabs. Or you’d mail out tapes to your cousins and other friends in other places and they would make copies. It was a lot of work involved.

-Afrika Bambaataa, quoted in Mark Katz, Groove Music, p. 46

From the Zulu Nation’s throwdowns to the discofied extended 12” singles on P&P and Enjoy Records; from the Grandmaster’s adventures on the wheels of steel to Bambaataa’s never-ending search for the perfect beat; from DJ Afrika Islam’s live radio mixes to Steinski’s tape spliced payoff; from Run DMC’s disses to Doug E. Fresh’s human beat box, this show is about work. Putting on shows, putting out flyers, tapes, and records. Rockin’ on to the break of dawn, making sounds with instruments, records, microphones, sequencers, samplers, voices and more. 

Readings:

  • Mark Katz, Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-Hop DJ (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), chapter two, “Mix and Scratch – The Turntable Becomes a Musical Instrument,” (43-69)
  • Thurston Moore, ed., Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture, introduction

Playlist Pt 1
Playlist Pt 2

Sounding Out America - Week 13 pt 1 by Exquisitecorpse on Mixcloud

Sounding Out America - Week 13 Pt 2 by Exquisitecorpse on Mixcloud

Can’t Stop Dancing: Disco and the Politics of Production

From the extended and lush arrangements of Isaac Hayes, Gamble & Huff, and Barry White to Tom Moulton megamixes, Arthur Russell’s outsider disco, and Giorgio Moroder’s synthesized masterpieces, this week’s show explores the many worlds of disco.

After last week’s focus on John Sinclair and the MC5’s earnest embrace of live and “authentic” music, there’s maybe something jarring about this celebration of artifice. After listening to this and reading Alice Echols’ Hot Stuff, however, I think it’s an open question which musical culture was more revolutionary in its wider cultural politics… Despite all of the MC5’s emphasis on togetherness, what could bring people together more than the imperative to dance non-stop? And is it possible to separate discophobia from homophobia in late-1970s American culture? 

Readings:

  • Alice Echols, Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture (New York: W.W. Norton, 2010), intro and chapter two, “More, More, More; One and Oneness in Gay Disco,” (xv-xxvi, 39-70).
  • Robert Vare, “Discophobia,” New York Times, 10 July 1979
  • Frank Rose, “Discophobia: Rock & Roll Fights Back,” Village Voice, 12 November 1979, 36-37.

Playlist, Part 1
Playlist, Part 2

Sounding Out America - Week 12 Pt 1 by Exquisitecorpse on Mixcloud

Sounding Out America - Week 12 Pt 2 by Exquisitecorpse on Mixcloud

Rock & roll music is a weapon of cultural revolution

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This 7” cover sums up the first part of today’s show, as John Coltrane is looking at you, MC5. Heavily influenced by Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Pharaoh Sanders, Marion Brown, Sun Ra, Amiri Baraka, and later, the Black Panthers, MC5 manager John Sinclair tried to graft the politics of black power across the borderline to the white counterculture of SE Michigan. Today’s show starts by exploring some of Sinclair’s jazz favorites before getting into the MC5’s efforts to put his revolutionary politics into practice. “The MC5 is a whole thing,” Sinclair wrote. “There is no way to get at the music without taking in the whole context of the music too - there is no separation.” 

If rock music was to be revolutionary, too, revolutionaries needed to control the means of cultural dissemination, especially after Elektra began censoring the MC5. ”Radio should be done as a conscious educational tool, a weapon of cultural revolution, to turn people on and charge them with energy and information so they can change their world. Don’t settle for a hip 24-hour-a-day jukebox like so many stations try to be. Every program should be an educational experience for all listeners, and if they aren’t giving you that then you give them some hell until they start meeting their responsibilities to the community.” 

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It feels fitting (and somewhat humbling) to do this show from the studio at WCBN FM in Ann Arbor, where Sinclair did a jazz radio show in the 1970s, where Wayne Kramer and Ron Asheton signed the desk, and where there’s still a radio show called Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa. There’s something jarring about seeing footage of live outdoor shows at West Park and Gallup Park (jump to 54:00 or so), and knowing that this Ann Arbor is long gone. But it’s also important to recognize the ways that Sinclair and the MC5 left their mark here.

After going into more of Ann Arbor’s musical history, including some tracks related to Sinclair’s imprisonment on marijuana charges, the show finishes with the MC5’s attempt to return to rock roots (listen for the loop of Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti…) and the aftermath of the band’s breakup. Sonic’s Rendezvous Band performs at the Second Chance in 1978 Ann Arbor and Sinclair ends things off with a recent recording that tells us that it’s all good.

Readings:

  • LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Blues People: Negro Music in White America (New York: Harper Collins, 1999 [1963]), final pages, 230-236.
  • John Sinclair, Guitar Army: Rock & Revolution With MC5 and the White Panther Party (Los Angeles: Process, 2007), selections: “White Panthers on the Move” (1968), “Rock & Roll Is a Weapon of Cultural Revolution” (1968), and “Community Radio,” (1969) (93-101, 109-113)

Playlist Part 1
Playlist Part 2

Sounding Out America - Week 11 pt 1 by Exquisitecorpse on Mixcloud

Sounding Out America - Week 11 pt 2 by Exquisitecorpse on Mixcloud

From the Roots of Rock to the Exotic Sounds of Hi-Fi Culture

A long show today, starting with the shift from hillbilly and r&b records to rockabilly and rock’n’roll. Independent labels from Memphis to Chicago to Los Angeles brought working-class sounds of the city to kids around the country. Many dads, though, filled their heads with hi-fi gadgets and fantasies of an exotic bachelor lifestyle…

Playlist Pt 1
Playlist Pt 2

Reading:

  • George Lipsitz, “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens: The Class Origins of Rock and Roll,” from Rainbow at Midnight: Labor and Culture in the 1940s, (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994): 303-333.
  • Keir Keightley, “’Turn It Down!’ She Shrieked: Gender, Domestic Space, and High Fidelity, 1948-59,” Popular Music Vol. 15 No. 2 (May 1996): 149-177

Sounding Out America - Week 10 pt 1 by Exquisitecorpse on Mixcloud

Sounding Out America - Week 10 pt 2 by Exquisitecorpse on Mixcloud

"The personification of Clean Young American Manhood"

Martha Gellhorn thought Rudy Vallée’s “a respectable voice, and it is a relief to have a man sing like a human being and not like an hydraulic drill” in 1929. We continue our exploration of electrical recording styles with styles of singing more appropriate for the microphone and the intimacy of radio, instead of the recording horn. Here’s the Vagabond Lover himself.

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The Floyd Gibbons School of Broadcasting pointed out that just because the singer’s volume could be lower “does not mean that everybody can do it.” The singer needed to control breath and voice equally. William Cardinal O’Connell, though, didn’t appreciate the crooners’ style, calling them “whiners and bleaters defiling the air” with songs featuring “the basest appeal to the sex emotions in the young.” Just what was at stake in these attacks on crooning? A struggle against the emergence of a new national mass culture? A defense of rugged masculinity against the soothing sounds of the electrified age? 

Tex Avery also took on the politics of crooning, adapting Al Jolson’s Jazz Singer for this playful animation. Come for Jack Bunny hosting the G-O-N-G amateur radio hour, stay for Owl Jolson leading his family in dance…

Playlist

Reading:

  • Allison McCracken, “’God’s Gift to Us Girls:’ Crooning, Gender, and the Re-Creation of American Popular Song,” American Music 17:4 (Winter 1999): 365-395.

Sounding Out America - Week 8 by Exquisitecorpse on Mixcloud

TECHNOLOGICAL UNEMPLOYMENT HITS SHOE INDUSTRY IN THE YEAR OF 18 AND 4

Harry Smith’s compendium of commercial folk recordings, originally released on Folkways Records in 1952, continues to compel and confound. Just what was he after? “The old weird America” of Greil Marcus’ naming? The celestial monochord?

Smithsonian Folkways has made the entirety of their 1997 liner notes to the Anthology of American Folk Music, including Smith’s original notes, available online. I especially like Smith’s condensed song descriptions for the Ballads set. Pithy newspaper headlines? Avant la lettre tweets?

  • THEFT OF STETSON HAT CAUSES DEADLY DISPUTE, VICTIM IDENTIFIES SELF AS FAMILY MAN)
  • McKINLEY SWEARS, MOURNS, DIES. ROOSEVELT GETS WHITE HOUSE AND SILVER CUP
  • ALBERT DIES PREFERRING ALICE FRY, BUT JUDGE FINDS FRANKIE CHARMING AT LATTER’S TRIAL
  • ZOOLOGIC MISCEGENY ACHIEVED IN MOUSE FROG NUPTUALS, RELATIVES APPROVE

After exploring the original three volumes of the Anthology, we pick a few later recordings which bear the mark of Smith’s influence.

Playlist

Reading:

  • Greil Marcus, “That Old Weird America,” (5-25), Neil Rosenberg, “Notes on Harry Smith’s Anthology,” (35-37) and Harry Smith, “Foreword,” liner notes to Anthology of American Music reissue (1997)
  • Richard Carlin, Worlds of Sound: The Story of Smithsonian Folkways (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2008), chapter six, “Striking Lightlin’: Folkways and the Blues Revival,” (111-134).

Sounding Out America - Week 7 by Exquisitecorpse on Mixcloud

 

Empty Bed, Killin’ Floor, and Jim Crow Blues

Today’s show brings some early urban blues recordings, Delta blues, and a few from Huddie Ledbetter. 

Playlist

Course Reading and viewing:

  • Marybeth Hamilton, In Search of the Blues (New York: Basic Books, 2008), introduction and chapter four, “Sound Photographs of Negro Songs,” (1-23, 91-156) 
  • Excerpt from 1935 March of Time newsreel on Leadbelly [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QxykqBmUCwk]

Further reading:

  • John Szwed, Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World (New York: Viking, 2010), chapter three, “The Saga of Lead Belly,” (59-76)
  • Marybeth Hamilton, “Sexuality, Authenticity, and the Making of the Blues Tradition,” Past and Present 169 (2000): 132-160

Sounding Out America - Week 6 by Exquisitecorpse on Mixcloud

And the Stars Were Shining

This week’s show begins with some 78 rpm records from Harry Lauder and John McCormack before moving on to Caruso. Whether playing Rhadames at the Met or on a Red Seal record, Victor claimed that Caruso’s voice “brings you not only his art, but his personality.” His “was never just a voice,” explains historian David Suisman, “it was a voice mediated by its technological reproduction,” and a voice amplified by the Victor Talking Machine Company’s advertising prowess. “You couldn’t ask more of the human voice. And then he’d be beyond that,” wrote the poet John Ciardi. ”We have to hear those best voices.” 

Would Sousa agree?

Playlist

Reading:

Sounding Out America - Week 5 by Exquisitecorpse on Mixcloud

Coming Home from Coney Isle

On this week’s show, we begin to explore the transition from home recorded cylinders to the stars who straddled the boundary between early coin-operated phonograph parlors and the home. Broad ethnic humor, segmented marketing, and tunes about telephones and automobiles. Our little Ford ambles right along.

Playlist

Further listening:

Further reading:

  • William Kenney, Recorded Music in American Life: The Phonograph and Popular Memory, 1890-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999)

From Music, Sound, and Technology reader:

  • “How We Gave a Phonograph Party,” (1899) (48-51)
  • “Men, Women, and Phonographs” section (70-77)

Sounding Out America - Week 4 by Exquisitecorpse on Mixcloud