¡Un Saludo! Voice, Memory, and Migration in Cumbia Sonidera, A Conversation & Listening

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If you’re in New York, join me for a conversation and listening with Jace Clayton (DJ /rupture) and Alejandro Aviles (Sonido Kumbala) at Union Docs, a non-profit Center for Documentary Art in Brooklyn on December 16th.

Cumbia sonidera is Mexico’s bass-heavy, sound-system reinterpretation of Afro-Colombian folk music. During performances, the sonideros (DJs) mix songs and get on the mic to recite fans’ dedications to people and places. These shout-outs (called saludos) trace an auditory archive of memory, migration, and longing across the US-Mexico border. Hosted by Jace Clayton, who features a chapter on NYC cumbia and Sonido Kumbala in his book Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture, this evening will use tracks from NYC- and LA-cumbia sonidera compilations by Sonido Kumbala and Alexandra Lippman (Xandão) to spark discussion on the roles of the sonidero, immigrant media systems, and translation.

Afterwards, stick around for the Annual UNDO Holiday Party – DJ sets from Kumbala, Xandão , and DJ /rupture!

For more information and tickets, go to the event page at UnionDocs.

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The Art of Money

Re-posted from “Considering Money Stuff” on Socializing Finance.

Money is the most commonly circulating art form. At the same time, payment objects are unstable and excessive, frequently transforming their status from money to trash to art (and back again). Argentinian artist, Máximo González—who I write about—weaves out-of-print Mexican pesos and discarded scraps of currency into fabrics like The World’s Garbage (2012) and creates collages from out-of-circulation currency into Landscapes with Landfill (2003, 2005) transforming the trash of cash into art (potentially convertible to cash).

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Máximo González “Basural sin paisaje # 8,” 2015

Through our repeated handling, however, the art of money stuff becomes unremarkable. U.S. dollars—through their uniform color and dimensions—appear particularly adept at fading into the background. By curating payment objects in Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff, Bill Maurer and Lana Swartz take these things out of circulation. Each of the chapters sets a particular type of “money stuff” aside and asks the reader to take a moment with it. The chapters reveal the personal stories, history, memories, and beauty bundled up in diverse objects of payment. We, the readers, must pause to consider the complex ways in which we keep track, tally, make jokes, create art, and remember through objects of payment.

Money stuff also inspires art. While Square may have killed the signature—how can we take our finger-painted “signatures” seriously?—it also gave birth to electronic signature art. When asked for their e-signature, artists, as Bill Maurer relays, instead draw scenes such as “the sun setting a house on fire and people running away and one guy on fire.” Not only are these “signatures” accepted by merchants, but also collected in ‘zines devoted to this new art form. More than 250 years prior, Benjamin Franklin pressed foliage—raspberry leaves, fern fronds—into the printing press to prevent the counterfeiting of bills. Printing from nature—as beautiful and seemingly whimsical as it is hard to replicate——Whitney Trettien suggests, “authenticated the strange materiality of money” (2017:163).

Inspired by Maurer’s and Swartz’ remarkable work editing Paid as if curating an imaginary exhibition of money stuff, I ask what the possibilities for curation are within scholarship. To mark the publication of Paid, I have experimented as a collaborative scholar-selector by curating an unofficial soundtrack to the book. I asked chapter writers to send their favorite songs about money to mix with my own. The playlist explores some of the ways in which payment is represented and debated in different genres, time periods, and places. From Horace Andy’s dubby repetition of “Money, money, money is the root of all evil,” to Wu-Tang Clan’s “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” money stuff inspires music. Not only that, but money—as the sampled clink of coins or whir of bills being counted—becomes music.

Money—or often the idea of if—is also sonified. On YouTube, a two hour-long track of water bubbling, rain, and whirring, “Sleep Programming for Prosperity-‘Millionaire Mindset’ -Attract Abundance & Wealth While You Sleep!” boasts 2 million hits. Hundreds of other (very popular) tracks promise to attract money to the listener through subliminal binaural beats, hypnosis, or spoken affirmations in various languages. In a very different vein, artist and writer, Jace Clayton, is planning a project to sonify the data of financial markets. Gbadu And The Moirai Index, which will take place on Wall Street, by using an algorithm to translate the financial market’s movements into a musical piece for four voices. Each singer plays a mythological character — the Moirai are Greek goddesses of fate and Gbadu is a Dahomey fate deity, and the performance will reflect on the history and architecture of Lower Manhattan.

Through curating writing and music on money stuff, we insist on how money does not flatten relations nor create frictionless universal equivalence. Instead, we draw attention to how we continue to mark, transform, particularize, and aestheticize money and payments at every turn.

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Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff

Hot off the press! Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff just came out on MIT Press. I have a piece on dirty dollars as art and trash included in the volume, edited by Bill Maurer and Lana Swartz, alongside essays by David Graeber, Keith Hart, Taylor Nelms, Jane Guyer, Bruce Sterling, and others. As Lana said, “It’s the book on khipu, dogecoin, Diner’s Club, dongles, airtime, signatures, ATMs that you didn’t know you needed.” Get yours here!!

With such a wealth of songs about “money stuff,” I also decided to create an unofficial mixtape for the book. I asked Paid‘s authors and editors for their favorite songs about money and payment to add to the mix. If you know any songs about khipu, e-signatures, or airtime gifts, send them my way!

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Movements, Or What Sound Does the Earth Make?

This evening at USC Visions and Voices is hosting an interdisciplinary event on seismic  waves, Autotune, and Earthquake Quartets. I heard a version of Jace Clayton‘s discussion of the surprising connection between earthquake science and the pitch correction software at The Golden State Record.

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend attending!!

Here is their description of the event:

The earth hums along to its own soundtrack. If only we could listen to it.

When the ground beneath us shifts, as it is prone to do in Los Angeles, it unleashes enormous quantities of energy as seismic waves. Packing a destructive punch, these waves race through the earth like sound waves through air. In fact, seismic waves bear many remarkable similarities to sound waves. But though we feel them as earthquakes, we can’t hear them; their frequencies are simply too low for the human ear to detect. What if we transposed earthquake waves to an audible frequency? This fascinating event will bring these normally inaudible sounds to life through a panel discussion, scientific demonstrations of how seismic waves affect our built environment, experimental sonification of seismic data, and creative musical interpretations.

Participants include seismologist Lucy Jones, known to many Angelenos as the longtime public face of earthquake science for the U.S. Geological Survey; composer and USGS geophysicist Andrew Michael (Earthquake Quartet #1); USC Dornsife College earthquake geologist James Dolan; USGS physicist Stephanie Ross; and sound artist DJ /rupture. The discussion will be moderated by Josh Kun of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

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David Novak on “The Dubbing of a New Era: Audiocassettes, Open Access and the Dissonances of Digital Democracy”

 

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Brian Dettmer, Skull 11 (80’s metal), 2007

I am excited for Dave Novak‘s upcoming talk May 26th at UC Davis. I will serve as the discussant for his talk, which is co-sponsored by Science and Technology StudiesInnovating Communication in Scholarship and Center for Science and Innovation Studies. If you can attend, please RSVP.Novak_2016-05-26-a

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Sonic Sensations of Industry and Fandom at VidCon 2015

As a sociologist of work, my main research focuses on workplace experiences and labor/management relations in media industries. This includes service workers and engineers in the music industry as well as YouTube content creators and routine, “analytic” media workers. In an effort to gain a better understanding of how the digital media industry talks about itself, I took a drive down to Anaheim for the annual VidCon in July 2015. For those of you who don’t follow digital media, VidCon is a cross between an industry conference and a fan convention for digital video platforms (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.) and various corporations that have sprung up around said platforms (e.g., Maker, Machinima, FullScreen, Studio 71, MiTú, Stylehaul, Roosterteeth, etc.)

 

Equipped with a beat-up Sony MP3 recorder and a notebook, I went there to take it all in. A much-too-tan man told a crowd that he would provide us with some “real anthropology.” Another, older gentleman told industry crowds about “limbic resonance” – claiming that media must make affective, neurological connections in order to keep audiences anchored to their screens. A number of people spoke of something called “disruption” in something called “the space” – a curiously Bourdieuian metaphor for what we might simply call “industry.” A global banker played a video of himself as Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World” that ended with the banker urging media companies to “Keep Merging My Friends!” A venture capitalist told industry crowds that American-made content “travels well” and so I thought, “Hey, I’m American! Why be an academic when I could ‘disrupt’ the limbic regions of millions with snackable digital content?!” Really, it was all quite fascinating and just a bit frightening.

As much as that might rattle the cage of your inner Frankfurt school theorist, I found the differences in sonic sensation between the fan floor (Floor 1) and the industry floor (Floor 3) equally interesting. Both were quite loud, but for different reasons that you’ll hear in the sound assemblage above.

Forgive the poor sound quality. Think of it as an artifact of sound technology (a now vintage 2009 MP3 recorder) used to document a very contemporary mass public.

0:00 – 2:02
The recording begins on Floor One – the cheapest to enter ($55 fan pass). Mostly young women in attendance down there in Anaheim. The cheapest floor has the brightest lights and the loudest sounds.


2:03 – 3:01
Ascend to Floor Three for industry talks and complimentary food (if you’re there on time and have purchased a $500 industry pass). In this recording fragment, you cannot hear the light EDM and hip-hop played in between speaker sessions inside the auditorium. What you do hear is the roaring chatter of digital video industry executives, employees, and a few straggler academics like myself. Just before a break for drinks, an executive from YouTube lets us all know that we can spend an unlimited amount of time inside a cardboard box with Google written on its side[1] for “free” so long as we make sure to pick it up.

[1] Google Cardboard

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Sounding Board– A Collective Exhibition

If you happen to be in Austin, make sure to visit the exciting–and first ever–Sounding Board collective installation curated by Leonardo Cardoso. The exhibition is the first of its kind for the Society for Ethnomusicology’s annual meeting and features many excellent scholar-artists producing sound-based research.

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Thursday-Sunday, December 3-6
3:00 – 8:00 PM

The Companion Gallery
908 E. 5th St., #106

Here is the invitation and exhibition notes:

…a structure behind or over a pulpit, rostrum, or platform to give distinctness and sonority to sound

 a device or agency that helps propagate opinions or utterances

 a person or group on whom one tries out an idea or opinion as a means of evaluating it…

This collective sound exhibit showcases the creative work of scholars attentive to the spatial, acoustemological, and ethnographic potential of sound. This SEM SOUNDING BOARD aims at operating in the interstices between sound-as-episteme and sound-as-performance, sound-as-symbol and sound-as-affect, sound-as-ethnography and sound-as-art.

The exhibit is an opportunity for sound-minded scholars to:

  • explore other avenues to circulate advanced or incipient research projects
  • deploy the sound installation as an acoustemological tool to understand unattended research horizons
  • reflect on ethnography as a process, for instance by making use of audiovisual material collected during fieldwork
  • collaborate with other sound-minded people, such as ethnographic collaborators and scholars working on similar topics or places
  • stimulate dialogue between ethnomusicology and other academic fields such as sound studies, sound art, ecomusicology, anthropology, and media studies
  • establish a point of contact between SEM and the local community during the annual meeting

The first edition of SEM SOUNDING BOARD displays nine sound works that probe into sonic in-placements (water and wind), sonic displacements (the telephone, the radio, and the microphone), sonic emplacements (the acoustic territories of urban Taiwan, the Brazilian hinterlands, and West Texas), and sonic mix-placements (in Mexico City and Havana).

This is a grassroots initiative built on the genuine interest and voluntary work of scholars and the local community. I appreciate your support and hope to see you at the next SEM SOUNDING BOARD.

Leonardo Cardoso
1st SEM SOUNDING BOARD Curator and Co-chair, Sound Studies Special Interest Group, Society for Ethnomusicology

Cardoso Sounding Board

 

 

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