About Tyler

Geographer who likes comedy and records and probably you.

I’m Wand’ring Round in Boston Town #AAG2017

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It’s that time again… AAG 2017! Italian food in the North End, strolling through the Common, record shopping in Cambridge, comedy in Allston, and more crammed around the whirlwind of academia, mapping, and GIS happening over five fun-filled days at the Hynes Convention Center.

For anyone who wants to come see me give my paper, I’ll be presenting in Session 3566: QUALITATIVE METHODS IN HUMAN GEOGRAPHY, SESSION A on Friday 4/7 at 3:20pm in Columbus 1, Marriott, First Floor. I’ll be presenting along with Beyhan Farhadi (University of Toronto), Rae Rosenberg, Heather Maguire (Brock University), and Jeff Rose (University of Utah), none of whom I’ve met before.

I was also invited by my colleagues Joseph Palis, Severin Guillard, and Ola Johanssen to be discussant for a paper session about Spatializing Music Performance. Regretfully, the AAG algorithms-at-large scheduled these two sessions concurrently, so I won’t be able to attend or make my debut as a discussant, both of which I had been seriously looking forward to.

This will actually be my second conference in Boston; I went up in early 2015 to attend the Harvard ‘Hearing Landscape Critically’ conference and do some research about Frank Hatch, which I’ve chronicled on here before. I learned a lot about what sound semioticians (for lack of a better term, though I’m sure there are dozens) from all over the world have been doing then. This time, I’ll be grateful to be back in the city of my birth alongside at least nine thousand fellow geographers and well-wishers.

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Downtown crossing at sunset. Photo by Tyler.

Per usual, I’m looking forward to a bunch of great panels, speakers, and delivering my dissertation chapter about oral histories in underground music. It’s going to be a great time. Outside the conference, I’m going to attempt to follow up on some of the Hatch research, do some postcard re-photography, and I may even find another excuse to tweet at Damon Krukowski. (While I’m on the subject, I guess he’s got a new book coming out that looks really cool. If being in Galaxie 500 and rooming with Conan O’Brien at Harvard doesn’t give you all the cred in the world, I don’t know what would).

Can’t wait to see you again, Boston. You’re ridiculously expensive, cold, unfriendly, and absolutely the greatest. Don’t ever change, especially before I get there tomorrow night. By the way, if you can’t make it by the conference and want to say hello, get in touch with me. I’m around until Saturday and don’t plan on sleeping that much.


A note on “You Can Easily Find Your Way in Boston”: My great-grandfather sent this postcard to my great-grandmother and family in Brooklyn late on September 26, 1935: “Dearest – Will be here all week and maybe next week also. Will send you money Sat. Love you dearly & how. Hope you’re O.K. & my daughter the dear. Regards to all. Irv.” For anyone interested in his story, I’ll post my Pecha Kucha talk soon. 

Sh__ from an Old Notebook: Naketa Beach Walk (Mukilteo, WA)

In preparation for AAG next week, I’ve been combing through some old notes from old conferences in Evernote (which technically still counts as a notebook), and I found this gem of a note from July, 2013:

6026 88th St SW, Mukilteo, WA 98275
http://goo.gl/maps/VyidT

The train just passed between this area and a row of houses on the beach that had no apparent way to access them. Look up in greater detail on Earth when you can.
See, I was on the Amtrak Cascades line north of Seattle en route to Vancouver, and I did a double-take as the train zipped by this weird outpost of houses lined up on the beach that seemed to be separated from any discernible roadway by the train tracks. I quickly took my coordinates (or something close to them) and pasted them into a note, and I guess “when you can” became “in almost four years.” Either way, I just looked up those coordinates on Google Earth, and I found that little row of houses by the Puget Sound. The addresses are in the 8000 block of something called Naketa Beach Walk.

Go ahead and zoom in. I would imagine that it wouldn’t be called a “Walk” if cars were allowed on it or close to it. But my big question is still how people gain access to those houses; is there a tunnel I’m not finding? The aerial imaging gets somewhat dicey the closer you zoom in and around the site, as the trees are digitally altered above the tracks. Also, the shadows over most of the track don’t help the investigation, either. It appears that the closest place anyone can park a car is on the other side of the tracks there, where Naketa Beach Walk meets Naketa Beach Rd and Naketo Branch.

I just found this video that a Youtube user named Justin Donnelson uploaded of a panorama he shot from the beach by those houses. It doesn’t shed much light on how someone gets to that beach, but my “tunnel” theory hasn’t been proven wrong… yet.

So, have any of you ever been to this town or to this site? I’m genuinely curious. The more I toggle around Mukilteo, WA on that embedded map, the cooler the town looks! Hey, Mukilteo, WA, are you looking to hire a Geographer? …. and don’t take my inability to sort Naketa Beach Walk using remote sensing as any reflection of my qualifications.

Also, for anyone interested in train travel, take a ride on the Cascades line from Portland to Vancouver; it makes all other trains in the US just look silly.

The Wooltown Jazz Band (Netherlands) and New Orleans

It’s been almost six weeks since I’ve posted anything here, which I can fairly blame on dissertation revisions and my teaching schedule. Also, to be fair, I have been accumulating posts in my drafts folder that I haven’t had any time to complete. This is/was one of them, which in the interest of getting some new material out there, I’ll post in it’s relatively raw form.

photoEveryone has their favorite mechanism of procrastination, and here’s mine. My colleague’s husband, who happens to be a prominent local techno DJ and producer, clued me in to a phone app that helps catalog your record collection. How I hadn’t foraged for an app like that already after over a decade of accumulating records is beyond me. So, in between stretches of writing, editing, and self-doubting, I’ve taken to updating my collection on Discogs. In the process I’ve rediscovered a few great pieces that I’d either forgotten I had or just hadn’t listened to in a while.

One such 7″ was a single called ‘New Orleans (USA)‘ by the Wool Town Jazz Band (site in Dutch/auto-plays music).  I think I may have actually bought the record in New Orleans in a dollar bin somewhere. It looked interesting. The band pictured on the back were clearly not from New Orleans (or, for that matter, the United States), but they obviously wanted to give the impression that their sound and style were authentic. I found this odd, since New Orleans is the city classically associated with jazz, but traditional jazz has somewhat gotten away from the city. In the century-plus since the genre’s big bang, jazz has quantum-leaped to other urban bases like Chicago and Paris (1920’s), Tokyo and Jakarta (1950’s) and over the past few decades, the farthest reaches of Scandinavia and more.

When I rediscovered this record, I decided to do some light research to see if they were still around. Impressively, they still are! They originated in Tilburg, the 6th largest city in the Netherlands and named after the city’s historic claim to fame, wool (hence the nickname Wooltown). I found their website (linked above), and sent an email to their general contact inquiring about the band’s status and if they remember how the ‘New Orleans (USA)’ record got made. It bounced back. Undeterred, I quickly found an email listed for Annet Verkuil, their vocalist. She forwarded my message along to Frans van de Camp, the band’s original drummer (who recently rejoined after a decades-long absence!). Frans wrote me back with a fairly extensive state-of-the-union on the Wool Town Jazz Band, which I thought I would share here. His message is slightly edited.

uitsnede-wooltown-jazz-band-2010

Thanks for your interest in our band and music.

I received your email through our singer Annet. I was part of the Wooltown Jazz Band in earlier times, from 1971 till 1976 and rejoined The Wooltown Jazz Band 2 years ago, I play the drums.

The Wooltown Jazz Band celebrated its 60 years jubilee a year ago. The band has a strong local following but the number of gigs has decreased, and, unfortunately, so has the interest of the public in jazz in general. In the Netherlands the focus of the public has shifted towards more popular music such as pop music. Apart from modern jazz, which is also only played by very few bands but has its own niche in the market, New Orleans Jazz is no longer in the limelight to the extend that it used to which is regrettable.

There are still many old style jazz bands in our country but they all have only very few gigs a year. Moreover the average age of the players gets higher every year and the youth associates jazz with old people, which doesn’t do much to raise interest in this music as well. There are very few younger players that take an interest in jazz, although jazz is taught at the music schools and conservatories. Unfortunately jazz isn’t hot anymore.

the-wooltown-jazz-band-wat-zegt-orgajan-dr-van-artone-special-productsThe great European Jazz Bands have a hard time to get by. Mister Acker Bilk’s jazz band has stopped after his death, the famous band of Kenny Ball continues with his son, but they don’t play in the big concert halls anymore. There are only very few really famous jazz bands in Europe still around, one of them is the British Big Chris Barber Band. I’ve been a keen follower of this band since the early 70’s and attended nearly 100 concerts. Chris has been a great example to me and with the great musicians in his band he shows how this music was meant to be played. It sounds awesome but Chris Barber will turn 87 next april so how long will he continue? There is no follow-up. In our country we still have the Dutch Swing Collage Band which started in the last year of the second world war. I think it might be the oldest jazz band in the world still playing. Of course the personnel has changed during the years but this band, too, consists mostly of elderly players. They play very well of course, but they don’t appeal to the younger generation as they used to and, unfortunately, our band is in the same boat.

But we try to keep this old style jazz music alive as much as we can and still have a lot of fun playing it.

I know the Wooltown Jazz Band played in New Orleans some years ago. How has New Orleans recovered since this terrible storm Katrina and has the city been able to revive its musical tradition? We saw the heart braking images of the devastating effects of the catastrophe on TV. In Europe New Orleans has long been considered the place to be if you are a jazz musician but since Katrina you don’t hear that a lot. I think that’s because New Orleans has been associated with old style jazz.

I know Chris Barber played there and devoted an LP to it which sounds nice. He also toured with Wendell Brunius, a famous trumpeter from New Orleans.

I’m sorry I can’t give you any more positive news but that’s how it is at the moment.

I think the Wooltown Jazz Band would like to play in New Orleans but it would take some organizing as many of the band’s players play in other bands as well.

It was not as enthusiastic as I’d been expecting (if I’d been expecting a reply at all; I had no idea if the email addresses I’d found were up-to-date). That being said, from my own conversations with music fans in Paris and elsewhere abroad, it doesn’t seem that jazz is really going anywhere. It may be true that traditional/dixieland-style jazz is in a lull right now in the Low Countries, though. It’s always sad when talented musicians need to slow down, but it’s a welcome change when somebody like Frans is able to pick his sticks back up after so many years away from the group. Even if they need to retire the band soon, they’ll be able to look back on their incredibly long run with quite a sense of accomplishment.

Also, on a more personal note, seeing Wendell Brunious’ name brought back some great memories from around the first time I visited New Orleans in 1998. An old friend of mine, who went all-state with trumpet, got to meet and perform with Brunious. From what I remember, he had a private meeting/lesson with him on a Youth Jazz trip, but my memory could be faulty there. It was how I first discovered Wendell, who is still based in New Orleans and still the real deal.

Thanks again to Frans and the rest of the Wool Town Jazz Band, and congrats on still being around after 62 (62!!) years. For anyone who understands Dutch (or has a lot of patience and is decent with translation bots), here is a comprehensive-looking history.

Okay, back to the grindstone; talk to you all soon.

My Hometown and McMansion Hell

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Not my town, but it could easily have been.

I grew up in a small town that, over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, became a “small town.” If you grew up in one of these towns during that era, you probably know exactly what I mean. If not, allow me to explain.

My father grew up in this town when, nestled between the WWII and Vietnam eras, it was the quintessential New England community. People knew you based on your family name, you graduated with maybe 100 other kids, and you entertained yourself by going to the movies, hanging out at the nearest diner, or setting off fireworks inside an old TV in a local meadow (actually, that last part may have been drawn more from my adolescence…). Anyway, it retained a good deal of that character through the Vietnam era when my dad went to college and eventually met my mom. They were living in Boston when I was born, and then when my sister came along, we moved back to said small town where he had grown up and my grandparents still lived.

The year was 1986, and we moved into a house bigger than what we had lived in for the first few years of my life. It was by no means a mansion (it was completely modest compared to other houses in my town), but the street it sat on had not existed when my dad was a kid. The town had certainly grown, but the population (as of the 1990 census) was well under 10,000. Over the following decade, though, the population would balloon from roughly 8,500 to well over 18,000. It was no longer a genuine small town in the Mellencamp sense; it was transforming into a “small town”: a community that capitalized on widespread skepticism of all (or at least, most) things urban and clung to relevance as a bucolic simulacrum of its former self.

Even as a small child, I noticed various indicators of those gradually-forming quotation marks. No indicator shone more brightly than the new developments of these big, ugly, uniform houses that were popping up in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I don’t remember when I first learned the term “McMansion;” it may have been from a friend later in high school. Either way, it made me laugh.

None of this is meant to disparage the experience I had growing up where I did; a lot of the reasons it grew so quickly during the Bush I and Clinton eras were what made living there nice for most of us. The public schools were really good, it wasn’t hard to get (or commute) to New York or Boston, and the crime rate was so low that (1) most anything violent that did happen was an isolated incident and (2) the highest-profile petty crime was often committed by the cops.

I never disrespected people for working hard for years to buy those big conforming houses and put roofs over their families’ heads, but even as a teenager, I failed to understand why anyone would consider these clunky and gaudy fake mansions a signpost of success. I suppose that real estate developers at the time had some pretty good PR campaigns, and the baby boomers really devoured what they were selling: Gaze upon my really, really big house! Look at how successful I am! Are you not jealous of my amazing riches!?

Though I’m sure Syracuse had its share of these kind of developments, my exposure to them was somewhat limited as a University student. When I moved to Washington after college, my roommate at the time was playing in a band slated to open for Rusted Root (yep) at the 9:30 Club. He asked if I wanted to help him out as a guitar tech, and I jumped at the chance. The day of the gig, we drove out to one of the planned communities on the city’s periphery for a rehearsal with a drummer the band had hired for that gig. The drummer was an incredibly good dude and, unlike the vast majority of people who lived in these McMansions, actually worked in this town (rather than contributing to the choking of the DC-area roadways). His wife had their first baby on the way, so I understood the need for space, but at least three of the rooms in this house were empty, save for maybe a piece of furniture or two. The ceilings rose a couple stories off the ground, which I can only imagine made the heating bills astronomical six months out of the year.

The other moment that really stuck with me, however, was how long it took us to find the correct house. We had the address. The houses were almost completely indistinguishable from one another, and the addresses were all about 5-digits long for some reason (there weren’t 10,000 houses on the road that circled through there, so it’s still a mystery to me). I remembered the old wives tale of the London drunk who kept wandering into the wrong house during the London fog, since he could not tell his own house apart from all the others the working class had been shuffled into during the age of industry.

This was yet another contradiction of McMansions: why would one still feel special in a giant house if everyone around them has the exact same house or at least something very, very close to it? Thankfully, building codes prevented people from building cheap, inflated houses in neighborhoods nestled together with more modest homes, as seen in Kate Wagner’s TEDx talk, embedded below.

Kate Wagner began McMansion Hell as a blog last year as a way to make fun of these quintessentially American excesses. What she probably did not expect was to generate an articulation of this frustration that so many of us have been feeling for decades. Last year, an acquaintance of mine posted on social media that “if you buy a record solely because you think it will go up in value, you deserve to die cold, alone, and penniless.” Buying houses, at least to me, is a similar venture when you are not wealthy. Buy a house because you look forward to being able to come home to it for decades. Buy a house because you want to leave your mark and imbue it with character, “turning space into place,” as the saying goes. Don’t buy a house just because you want to show it off and then flip it for a marginal profit, especially one that wastes resources and looks stupid. Every day, my deep respect grows for architects, graphic designers, and other people with professional grades of  taken-for-granted knowledge, and this is a quintessential example of why more geographers, sociologists, and economists should listen to them.

 

A Quick Signal Boost: EmoGeo 2017 at CSU-Long Beach

Well, this looks interesting, doesn’t it? The international emotional geographies conference finally comes to the US, and it’s happening at my alma mater. Of course, it’s not that big of a surprise; it’s being co-produced by my friend and former adviser Deborah Thien along with her fellow human geography star Stuart Aitken (SDSU). I’m copying and pasting the information from the EmoGeo (easily a contender with DOPE for best conference shorthand in North America) page on the CSULB website, which from what I can tell also uses WordPress based on how cleanly it copied. Hope you find this interesting and feel free to pass it along! – Tyler

CONFERENCE INFORMATION

The 6th International Emotional Geographies conference will be held in the USA for the first time.

Co-hosted by Dr. Deborah Thien, CSULB, and Dr. Stuart Aitken, SDSU, with support from Emotion, Space and Society. We look forward to a wealth of interdisciplinary presentations, presenters and attendees, in Long Beach, California, June 14-16, 2017.

We encourage sessions, papers, panels and posters that investigate the emotional intersections between people and places including examinations of feelings and affect in various spatial and social contexts, environments and landscapes. Questions of emotion are relevant to several different disciplines – we seek considerations of the multiplicity of spaces and places that produce and are produced by emotional and affective life, representing an inclusive range of theoretical and methodological engagements with emotion as a social, cultural and spatial phenomenon.


KEYNOTE SPEAKERS

Dr. Liz Bondi

LIZ BONDI

University of Edinburgh, UK

Dr. Lynda Johnston

LYNDA JOHNSTON

University of Waikato, NZ


JOIN US!

Conference registration fees and deadlines:

Registration & Abstracts

  • Earlybird : $150, register between February 11th, 2017 and April 13th, 2017
  • Regular: $175, register between April 14th, 2017 and May 11th, 2017
  • Late: $200, register on or after May 12th, 2017
  • Day Rate: $70
  • Student Conference Rates: $50 (Earlybird), $60 (Regular), $70 (Late)
  • Abstracts will be accepted during Earlybird and Regular registration periods

Join our contact list to be updated with news about the conference.

Interested in childcare options? Please write to emogeo@csulb.edu.

Recommended Reading on Music Streaming and Data Mining (Robert Prey)

‘Musica Analytica: The Datafication of Listening’
by Robert Prey

If you know me, you probably find it as no surprise that Knoxville has made me prouder in the last 72 hours than it has in the three years I’ve lived here. I would expect some form of solidarity in uncertain times, but I never imagined it would be quite like this. Not to minimize the efforts of the millions who marched around the country and world today, but I know you didn’t come to this site to read my thoughts on those issues (not directly, anyway… plus, if you are anywhere near a device capable of accessing the internet, you’re probably fairly caught up by this point). I just wanted to include that preface to acknowledge the gravity of the times before changing tracks to sharing a great recent chapter on… [ready?] streaming music.

On one of many great tracks from his latest album, Jeff Rosenstock (ex-Bomb the Music Industry!) sings

Born as a data mine for targeted marketing,
and no one will listen up
until you become a hashtag or a meme
but hate’s not a fad that dies with its virality.
They want you to be a ghost
when they rob you of your hope,
but you’ve got power when they’re not expecting anything.

Rosenstock is (finally) well-known (enough) for his iconoclastic approach to making, marketing and selling music, so him singing about frustration over the squandered potential of social media is nothing surprising. But that first line is particularly biting, especially since few people in the developed world exist outside of that matrix, and the ones who were too old to embrace social media have been dying out. Tell me the idea of being a “data mine” from birth doesn’t make you shiver at least a little bit. But, here we are.

Anyway, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and others have undergone heady analysis from social scientists and independent marketing firms. This chapter by Richard Prey in the new book Networked Music Cultures (link up above, citation down below) presents a new window into the data mining that’s become inextricable from streaming music listening. I’m not too familiar with Prey’s work, but he begins the chapter with an anecdote about Theodor Adorno, whose name you cannot have a single philosophical discussion about music, film, or television without mentioning at some point.

He goes onto pick apart how Spotify and Pandora manicure their profiles on users, which includes both individual listeners and businesses. So many shops, doctors’ offices, and eateries have actually dumped commercial radio in favor of Spotify and Pandora that it’s strange that Clearchannel and other corporate interests that have ruined consolidated radio haven’t mounted a more visible campaign against them (then again, I could be overlooking something).

If I had more time to flesh out my thoughts, I would provide a more comprehensive list of everything I dislike about streaming music. Aside from their tacit devaluing of music, their abject disregard for audio quality, and an even more insidious brainwashing of consumers into guilt-tripping other consumers for actually spending money on music (that sociological “Apple effect” is the worst one for me, honestly), Prey’s chapter provides a great overview of how Spotify, Pandora, and similar services integrate something as enjoyable as listening to (and discovering, on occasion) music into the data mining superstructure. How prescient Adorno’s rantings about “the culture industry” were. Enjoy the chapter and feel free to pass it along when someone looks at you funny and asks you why you don’t use Spotify.

Also, I’m aware of the irony of me posting this on various formats of social media in order to decry it, so don’t bother pointing that out.

Prey, R. (2016). Musica Analytica: The Datafication of Listening.In Nowak, R., & Whelan, A. (Eds.) Networked Music Cultures (pp. 31-48).Palgrave Macmillan UK.

 

New Review in ‘Gender, Place, and Culture’

9781479817863_fullJust checking in to you let you all know that I just had a new review published in the Feminist Geography journal Gender, Place, and Culture. I had the opportunity to write about Roshanak Kheshti’s challenging and very interesting book Modernity’s Ear: Listening to Race and Gender in World Music. 

You can read my review here, where you can also find information about where to order the book.

Citation:

Tyler Sonnichsen (2017): Modernity’s ear: listening to race and gender in world music, Gender, Place & Culture, DOI:10.1080/0966369X.2016.1275112.