The history of the black diaspora is full with examples of the ways music has enabled various black cultural communities to cope with racial oppression. This article explains how sound-producing technology, in the form of vinyl records and turntables, functions within communities that endow these devices with cultural value. Hip-hop is used to center the discussion on ways in which turntables and vinyl records are attributed a racial authenticity not seen in other music communities where DJs exist. It begins with the premise that the hip-hop culture, similar to other music cultures, is a deeply technological way of life. Furthermore, it explores hip-hop and the emergence of digital vinyl systems and discusses hip-hop and race in the digital age. Finally, it suggests that the intersections of hip-hop, technology, and sound could help understand the ways the materiality of sound is embedded and circulated within society.
From Listening to Distribution: Nonofficial Music Practices in Hungary and Czechoslovakia from the 1960s to the 1980s
Trever Hagen and Tia DeNora
This article presents an empirical case study of the wide variety of nonofficial settings and reinventions of music listening, recording, and distribution technology in Hungary and Czechoslovakia from the 1960s to the 1980s. Apart from comparing the two settings, it uses the data to discover how individuals used sounds and to consider the question of what those sounds, coupled with their uses, enabled these individuals to do. It also makes an attempt to conceptualize more abstractly about sound and music as a resource for collective agency and action. It considers the two communist regimes in Hungary and Czechoslovakia in regard to control over music, youth policy, technology, and culture. Both “creative constriction” and “dipping into” are present in each country but take different forms, which are revealed in the article.
Eefje Cleophas and Karin Bijsterveld
Since the late 1990s, leading automobile manufacturers have advertised the sonic qualities and interior tranquility of their vehicles with increasing zeal. This article focuses on the rise of a new tradition of testing car sound in the European automotive industry in the 1990s. It explores three issues: the way in which defining the “reality” of sound perception and differences between expert and lay listeners affects the dynamics of testing in car manufacturing, the reason that extensive testing of car sound does not automatically result in the design of new target sounds, and where this increasing significance of sound design in the consumer industry comes from. It clarifies how new sense-oriented ways of marketing and designing cars have prompted new ways of testing. Finally, the article shows that a mismatch can occur between testing and design of consumer products, providing insight into the consequences of this sonic sensitivity for traditions of testability.
Musical instrument design and aesthetic desiderata for a shimmering bronze sound determine the tuning, timbre, and range of orchestral possibilities in the Balinese gamelan gong kebyar. This chapter considers the gamelan, paradoxically, as both a timbrally unified “single” instrument modularly constructed for performance by two dozen players, and as a collection of separate instruments with varied musical roles. The gamelan is timbrally unified because the sound spectrum of the full ensemble is an amplification of individual instruments’ spectra, and simultaneously it is timbrally diverse due to differing instrument ranges, mallet hardnesses, and varying thickness or shape of bronze keys and gongs. Starting from a general description of the instruments, the chapter explains the design features and musical practices step-by-step, pairing this with transcriptions and pedagogical recordings making the polyphony comprehensible and audible.
Theodore Levin and Valentina Süzükei
This chapter explores timbre-centered listening as an enculturated practice among Tuvan pastoralists, whose perceptual focus on timbral qualities of sound correlates with exceptional acuity to ambient soundscape. Tuvan pastoralists’ prioritization of timbre as a locus of interest extends to human-made sound and music and is reflected in the timbre of two-stringed fiddles strung with horsehair strings, metal jaw harps, and the widespread vocal practice of xöömei, whose performers selectively reinforce harmonics naturally present in the voice. Enculturated listeners can describe the timbral qualities of sound with great precision using an ideophonic vocabulary consisting of onomatopoeia and other forms of sound symbolism, cross-modal sensory associations (e.g., the depiction of sound in visual and haptic terms), and affective words, which comprise a rich lexical resource. The central role of timbre in Tuvan music and its depiction in discourse about sound and music suggest a culturally specific and pervasive form of timbre-centered listening.