The City is an Open Score (Crafting a Sonic Urbanism, Paris 2019)

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Hey, I’m back. I also gave no real indication that I was gone, since finals made that fairly difficult. I’ve also been working on my end-of-decade music lists, which I’ll post here next Monday. A lyric in one of my top 10 records of the decade says, “the city is an empty glass,” but this week’s retrospective says that “the city is an open score.”

Last week, I was privileged to join Theatrum Mundi for their annual Crafting a Sonic Urbanism conference at EHESS (Campus Condorcet) in Aubervilliers (Paris) on Friday. It was exactly what one would want out of a conference: laid-back, collegial, thoughtful, and concluded with a mind-melting talk by Saskia Sassen.

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Saskia Sassen at EHESS (Aubervilliers, France 13.Dec.2019)

At the beginning of my talk, I cited a portion of my 2016 interview with Ian MacKaye where he reflected on Fugazi’s success in France. He said (to paraphrase) that he felt like the French and some other European punks had a certain appreciation for what artists were doing outside of the capitalist paradigm of production, and that finding that appreciation for your efforts was simply a universal human desire. For similar reasons, I appreciated the opportunity to present my research across the pond.

Theatrum Mundi have no qualms about pushing various envelopes, drawing heavily on abstract thought and experimental art to propose new ideas or ways of thinking about landscape. Even if some of it went over my head (especially as a ostensible non-musician), everyone there was eager to learn from one another. I was grateful to be able to join some of the conference family on Thursday for a “Scoring the City” workshop:

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Scoring the City workshop, Porte de la Chapelle (12.Dec.2019)

The main colloquium on Friday ran from 9.30 until 17.00, with Dr. Sassen’s presentation ending the evening at 20.00 (I’m still somewhat on the 24-hour clock). I was introduced to several musical experiments, thought exercises, and moments in sonic political history, among the most notable being Lin Chi-Wei’s Tape Music (Jonathan Packham) and Ella Finer’s discussion of the use of vocal noise at the 1982 Greenham Common protests. It was also my first bilingual conference, including a handful of talks and presentations in French. I wish my French comprehension were better, but it forced me to practice, at least.

While I was in town, I also had the chance to catch up with a pair of my top Capitals of Punk informants (though of course I won’t play favorites). With new things coming for the book and the greater surrounding project in 2020, it was rewarding to hear more stories and approach future collaborations that may actually bring me back to Paris before too long.

I’ve also been fortunate to experience Paris in moments of political upheaval: one was an isolated incident (anti-austerity, Greek solidarity protests in July 2015) and the other was a protracted mass-scale industrial action this past month. Due to the strikes, almost all of the Metro lines were closed or profoundly compromised, and the (limited) buses were rolling sardine cans:

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Still, save for a handful of participants who had difficulty making it into Paris from elsewhere in France (the SNCF was on strike as part of the greater grève), the Sonic Urbanism conference went off without a hitch and I was able to get around the city and Ile-de-France with little incident. I joked with one friend that being an American used to relying on public transit in a variety of cities back home had prepared me for bad public transit. Even on Paris’ worst day, it was still not that bad, comparatively. I did not come across any protests around Les Halles, but I did not spend too much time down around there. The footage from cities like Bordeaux on the news every night was pretty harrowing, though, and it was a welcome change to see protesters presented in a marginally positive (or at least objective) light on a National platform, which is more than can be said for most any 24-hour American news outlet.

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Paris, December 2019

All that being said, and despite how lovely France was in the Holiday Season, I’m grateful to be back in the States. 2019 was an amazing year for me. Cumulatively, I spent over a month of it overseas, and coupled with an affiliation switch and big move, suffice it to say I’m still exhausted as I write this. It’s a good exhausted, however, and I’m eager to relax over the Holidays and return to Central Michigan in 2020 with a head full of steam.

Thank you for reading and thank you for your support through this past year! To you and yours, I wish you:

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Mantes-la–Jolie, Île-de-France (December 2019)

 

Geography Department Talk TOMORROW: Geography and Popular Culture (DOW 270)

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For anybody who is either around the Dow Science Complex on the Central Michigan campus tomorrow (Friday 11/1) or enjoys eating gratis lunch, I’ll be giving a talk at Noon! Join me and my colleagues in DOW 270 to learn about my research, the overlap between Geography and Pop Culture, and see me break down what I mean by Symbolic Gentrification. I look forward to seeing you.

Those details again:

Friday, November 1,  12pm – 1pm
Central Michigan University 
Dow Science Complex Room 270

There will be lunch. And cookies, probably.

 

Material Culture in Detroit Tomorrow (plus new Instagram Account)

Hi, everyone. Yesterday contained one of those “life comes at you fast” mornings for me (in a genuinely positive way). I found out that I won a grant to attend a meeting in France this December, and I just pried open my wallet to register for the AAG meeting in Denver next April. This week, though, I’m excited to head down to a conference taking place a short drive from me: the meeting of the International Society for Landscape, Place, and Material Culture (ISLPMC) in Detroit.

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(via CitiesofDesignNetwork)

This will (finally) be my first time in Detroit proper. I’m looking forward to doing some exploring, eating pierogies, and paying a long-overdue visit to Hello Records. I’m also looking forward to reuniting with some old friends and colleagues at the conference, especially RJ Rowley (an erstwhile collaborator from Illinois State), Ethan Bottone (an old nemesis from Tennessee), and Steven Donnelly (a punkademia collaborator all the way from Belfast).

If you’re at the conference or in the Detroit area, I’ll be presenting some brand new research on “Antique Postcards and Urban Privatization” on Friday at 2:40pm in the Fort Gratiot Room at the Double Tree Hotel downtown. Full Schedule.


NEW INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT

To coincide with this presentation and ostensible research trip, I’m also going to start up a brand new Instagram account dedicated to the Ben Irving Postcard Project! If you’re interested, give it a follow at https://www.instagram.com/postcardsfromirving/. Let’s see where this goes.

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Thanks for reading.

Vinyl Excursions: Scarce Sounds in Canberra

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Australia National University, June 2019

Happy Saturday! I’m sorry to never have completed my entries on my trip down under, especially considering how fantastic Hobart and IAG were in general. I still hope to post about some highlights. In the meantime, I’m finally enjoying an hour or so of downtime out of my box-filled house, so I thought I would finish this post on one of the highlights of my first week in Australia – a meeting with author and archivist Ross Laird, known to the internet community as Scarce Sounds.

I’d been in touch with Ross off and on since I first began the Ben Irving project in earnest roughly five years ago. He came up in internet searches as an expert on the Okeh records catalog, so I emailed him to ask if he had any record of the Ben Irving Orchestra (or any proof that Ben recorded and released any music). He got back to me quickly and thoroughly, running through expansive evidence that there was no record of anyone by that name in Okeh’s catalog.

I got back in touch with him earlier this summer in the weeks leading up to my trip down under. It turned out that as a longtime employee of the Australian National Film and Sound Archive, he was based in Canberra and would be in town when I was there for the IASPM meeting. We met up in his old haunt on the Australia National Uni campus to chat a bit more about where our respective projects had brought us.

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Ross Laird and a bottle of Mount Majura 2009. Canberra, 6/28/19.

In an unanticipated bit of hospitality, he and his wife invited me to their home in the suburbs, where I’d be able to see one of the most unique and expansive record collections in the world. At least, I saw part of it. He mentioned that he had a shed full of shellac records (not so nimble and as prone to weathering as vinyl) and an additional office/storage room other than the one I saw. Here are some photos.

Thousands of records from his archive (including very rare ones) are for sale on his Discogs page, Scarce Sounds. As he explained to me, Ross doesn’t view himself as a collector as much an a curator. Pursuant to the name, most of his records are rare and don’t really exist within the public archive. He aims to change that for many great overlooked artists from the Global South, then sending the recordings afield to other music lovers. It’s a worthwhile pursuit and a point I hope I can reach one day.

 

He sampled a bunch of 78s and 45s for me, most of which were still shrouded in mystery (most, if any information that exists about them on the internet, he put there), but my single favorite song I heard all night was a bubblegum pop song by Rita Chao and Sakura, entitled “Bala Bala.” The song has a driving baritone sax lead, fantastic female duo vocals, about 4 different words in the whole song, and I loved it to death. Some good Samaritan put a piece of “Bala Bala” on a supercut they uploaded to YouTube about ten years ago.

Transmissions from Down Under: Week Two (Wellington Talk Friday)

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Morning in Cairns, looking south on Grimshaw St. June 30, 2019.

Happy Thursday, everyone! I’ve got (abridged) stories to tell.

First, I began this entry in Cairns, a very cool little city in Tropical North Queensland. I swam with the most stunning variety of fishes I’ve ever seen on the Great Barrier Reef, and I took zero pictures. I did get my Certificate of Recognition from the Divers’ Den (which they clarify, in my favorite part of the certificate, is NOT a Scuba Certification). Considering how uncomfortable I am (1) underwater and (2) cycle-breathing, Scuba seemed like a terrible undertaking. That is mostly because it was. As I write this, my ears are still ringing from when my head nearly caved in on itself, and I’m still wincing at how I looked when I first saw myself in the mirror after returning to the boat. I managed to pop a blood vessel in my nose in attempts to expel water from my mask and equalize the pressure. I think “not looking like Tom Savini designed your face” after removing one’s goggles is a skill that some of the finer divers develop. Also, considering how far self-contained underwater breathing apparatuses have come technologically, I couldn’t stop thinking about how terrifying those early dives must have been for Jacques Cousteau and his antecedents.

All that being said, it was 100% worth it. Granted, the snorkeling session in the afternoon was almost as majestic from up on the surface, but we were parked by an atoll with relatively high towers of coral. I’m clearly no ichthyologist, but every single fish I saw felt like a revelation, considering how massive and rainbow-toned many of them were. The guides emphasized to apply sunscreen at least a half-hour before diving and to avoid contact with coral or fish at all costs. I didn’t see any sharks or lethal jellyfish, so you’ll all be happy to know I’m alive and well unless one of the species applied some kind of slow-burn poison on my skin thaa;fwoij;oi4j……………Just kidding. I’ll post if anything changes. Maybe I’ll get lucky and have a run-in with a particularly vicious Koala. [Update: I did not].

 

Second, back to the tape. Before I get to my IASPM experience in Canberra, I’ll extend my gratitude to Maartje Roelofsen and Macquarie University’s GeoPlan Seminar for hosting me last Tuesday. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer setting and better group for my first international colloquium talk. Their seminar room featured a 19th century court room gate rescued from somewhere indeterminate in rural New South Wales, which most seminar rooms should have. Also, I saw my first Lorakeets. I probably confused Maartje with my overreaction, never having seen birds that beautiful outside of captivity before.

I’m looking forward to seeing several members of that faculty and student body again in Hobart next week. I would have enjoyed hanging out for a bit and seeing more of the campus, but I had to get back to Sydney to catch my coach to Canberra. IASPM was already well underway, and I’d missed a good handful of fascinating sounding papers.

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Aboriginal musicians’ panel kicks off the IASPM Wednesday proceedings at the Llewellyn Recital Hall at Australia National University’s School of Music (June 26, 2019).

IASPM was every bit as fun and insightful as a global conference of the world’s top popular music scholars (and me) would be, and Canberra was wonderful. I got to see a few old friends and meet some new ones, learn a nearly overwhelming amount about great new research in pop music studies, and watch Franco Fabbri bring down the house with “Space Oddity” at closing-night karaoke at the coolest bar in Canberra. Scotty Regan (Queensland Uni of Technology) DJ’d the set and closed with “New York, New York,” but replacing “New York” with “Canberra.” Feel free to dig into his Twitter for more details, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Fakhran al Ramadhan presents his paper on the the Jakarta skinhead movement at IASPM at ANU (Canberra) on June 27, 2019.

I was honored to be on the Punk session with Paula Guerra, the co-founder of KISMIF, a Porto conference I’ve been dying to go to since I discovered it a couple years ago, and Fakhran al Ramadhan, who splits his time between the Cultural Studies program at the University of Indonesia and his band No Slide (whose t-shirt I’m wearing as I type this). It was one of the best-attended paper sessions I’ve been on, and as on many conferences outside of my field, the way my ideas resonated with the attendees was highly encouraging. It’s a shame I might never be able to experience IASPM in Canberra again, but I count on returning to both the meeting and the city at different times in the future.

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Paula Guerra, Fakhran al Ramadhan, and I express our thoughts after our punk paper session closes (ANU Canberra, June 27 2019).

While in Canberra, I also had the opportunity to meet and talk archivism and records with Ross Laird, one of the top collectors/curators in Australia, if not the world. In the interest of time (and making another quick announcement about a talk I have in Wellington, where I’m actually finishing up this entry), I’ll move my meeting with Ross to its own future entry.

For now, I’m pleased to announce here that I’ve added a talk to my excursion to Aotearoa/New Zealand! The kind and enthusiastic people at Victoria University of Wellington (Social Theory & Spatial Praxis Research Group) have invited me in tomorrow at noon to talk about Capitals of Punk and some more recent research directions that have emerged from it. I’ve pasted their flyer below in case you know anybody in Wellington and would like to pass word along. From what I understand, it’s free and open to the public.

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Thanks again for reading, and sorry I didn’t have enough time to go into further detail about IASPM. I can’t remember the last time I’ve taken that many notes at a conference. Not that I’m going to hold the IAG or AAG to this, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt if all academic conferences concluded with the organizer(s) singing karaoke with all of the participants.

I’ll do my best to get a Week 3 entry up from Hobart at this time next week! I hope you’re all doing well, wherever you are.

 

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It’s never too late to make new friends in your travels.

Transmissions from Down Under (Week One)

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Sydney at night is something to behold.

Greetings from Australia! I survived my first 15-hour flight with minimal sleep deprivation. A colleague warned me that I’m not in the clear yet, though, so I’ll be cautious. I’m taking advantage of a cold, miserable Sunday night in Ultimo to work on my presentations for this week, which will be taking place on Tuesday at Macquarie University in Sydney’s northern suburbs and on Thursday at Australia National University in Canberra.

Let’s go to the tape:

Announcement Seminar Tyler Sonnichsen


The Official IASPM Program is available now! My session is Thursday at 2pm (see p.56).

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More updates as I have time and reasonable access to WiFi. I’m the meantime, I’ll be trawling some of Sydney’s finest record shops and enjoying its nearly overwhelming amount of delicious Asian street food (in fully licensed restaurants, as they foreground in their ads). Here is a photo I took yesterday afternoon in the moment it hit me that I was, indeed, in Australia:

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The Birds (1963; dir. Alfred Hitchcock) remake nobody wanted. To be fair, that describes most remakes.

 

 

Down Under Summer 2019: Macquarie University (Sydney), IASPM (Canberra), IAG (Hobart), and More

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Rand McNally is really off the mark in the Simpsons Universe (see Borneo). I guess we shouldn’t expect much from a place where hamburgers eat people.

For the first time since 2016, I’ll be heading out of the country on academic business. This time, as I mentioned previously, I’m heading to the opposite side of the globe (ostensibly). I can’t wait to see the wonderful cities, meet the wonderful people, swim the wonderful waters, browse the wonderful record shops, and pet a wonderful koala. If you’re in any of these places when I am (see below), please get in touch.

As of now, I have three presentations scheduled.  I’m also planning stops in Cairns, Brisbane, and Melbourne, though I haven’t confirmed any talks or meetings yet. I will do my best to update this post, or post something new, should any details change.


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TUESDAY, JUNE 25 – SYDNEY, NSW
Macquarie University
“Music Video, Sense of Place, and the Symbolic Gentrification of Memory”
GeoPlan Seminar Series, W3A 501 Macquarie University
12pm – 1pm

Thank you to Drs. Claudio Minca and Maartje Roelofsen for inviting me to present some of my new research directions at their fine institution, and thank you to Dr. Chris Gibson for connecting me with them. This will be my first colloquium talk outside of the United States. PROGRAM HERE: Announcement Seminar Tyler Sonnichsen


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THURSDAY, JUNE 27 – CANBERRA, ACT
International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) Annual Meeting
4:30pm: “Violence, Memory, and Qualitative Research in Punk History”
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This will be my first time attending an IASPM meeting, and I look forward to discussing some of my findings from the research that culminated in Capitals of Punk. I’m also grateful to be presenting at the same conference with my friend and UTK colleague Nathan Fleshner. Naturally, we’re scheduled at the same time. This was the first conference I was accepted to in Oz, and it got the wheels moving for this entire trip.


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THURSDAY, JULY 11 – HOBART, TAS
Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) Annual Meeting 
12:40pm: “Music Videos, Emotional Geography, and Pedagogy”
New & Emerging Research in Cultural Geography II (Tasman A)

Once again, I need to thank Joshua Pitt from Palgrave for calling my attention to this meeting, as well as the helpful and supportive IAG staff who encouraged me to apply (insisting that, yes, they do welcome geographers from all over the globe, especially North America). It’s a special treat to be able to present my newer research on Tasmania! Everyone who knows both me and Australia has told me I’ll really appreciate Hobart, which makes me even more excited.


I will have periodic access to WiFi, but I will do my best to keep in touch with those who reach out. See you all on the other side.