I attended the Conference on College Composition and Communication. Now I’m back. Here are 25 things about it. (Well, sort of.)

1. The final panel I attended was N.36, Never Mind Geoffery Sirc: A Tribute Panel. It was beautifully weird; I didn’t take many notes. But I did write this, which I think is an exact quote from Jenny Rice: “I know nothing. Absolutely nothing. But I know this: non-knowledge communicates ecstasy.” And during Jeff Rice’s presentation, I wrote this single line, which he might have said or it might be what he made me think of: “Juxtapositions are relationships.”

2. In G.28, “How I Got Open”: Africana rhetorics, literacy, and visions for Contemporary Rhetorical Education, I tweeted this:

3. Featured speakers for E session were DJ Lynnee Denise and Sommer Regan McCoy of the Mixtape Museum. At the end of the session, I grabbed one of DJ Lynnee’s mix CDs, a single long track of African rhythms mixed with funk and house music. It’s impossible to listen to it without hearing an argument: the unspoken claim that there are important similarities between these musical heritages. I can’t help but wonder if I would have heard the argument if I hadn’t heard her speak. (This was a highlight panel for me.)

4. Twice, I ate at Loughmiller’s Pub. I usually try not to do that at conferences. But you know, it was close to the conference hotel. It looks like this:

5. Twice on the first day, I found myself leading sessions related to intellectual property: a morning workshop on IP and fair use in the classroom, and an afternoon caucus meeting (open to everyone, if you’re wondering!) for everyone interested in IP as it relates to scholarship and teaching. It was the 20th anniversary, so I picked up this cake:

6. I don’t think I ate any other cake at the entire conference, except for that cake.

7. In the opening session, chair Adam Banks mentioned time travel:

8. About a month earlier, chair Adam Banks retweeted me when I mentioned time travel:

9. In a paper on Afrofuturism (the panel I mentioned above in #2, but in a talk by Earl Brooks, who was filling in for a speaker who couldn’t be there), we watched the video for Janelle Monáe’s “Tightrope.” The song was in my head just about nonstop after that moment. It’s that good. Then today, I saw her whole ArchAndroid album for $3.99 on Amazon. I bought it.

10. I’m watching Star Wars, kind of, while I type this. Luke just said, “I’m going to finish cleaning those droids,” and then there’s the suns and the music and your heart.

11. The first two times I went to C’s (2007 & 2009), I felt a little awkward, a little out of place. By my third time (2010), I realized I was making friends. This time (my 7th) was friend-tastic: I got to reconnect with a friend from undergrad, friends and professors from graduate school, lots of folks whose work I love, and even a friend who went to my graduate school the year after I left. As an introvert, I kept expecting to get sick of all the friend time and need more recharging time. And yeah, I got exhausted some. But mostly, I ate up the friend-time; it was the highlight of the trip. Like cake that’s so good you drive for five hours just to eat it.

12. Michelle Comstock (in M.21) proved herself to be a sonic boom of a teacher, with her soundscape documentary and sonic memoir projects. I want to take her classes and teach her classes and live a while in her classes.

13. Polysyndeton: “Employing many conjunctions between clauses, often slowing the tempo or rhythm” (via). (“Polly sinned a ton”?)

14. I had a good time playing C’s the Day, the augmented reality game at the conference. Since I won (in 2011, maybe?), I always tell myself I won’t play. But then I can’t help completing a few quests, getting a few stamps, collecting a few cards. There’s something satisfying about the sound of the stamp, that subtle almost-squish of a thump as the ink soaks into the booklet.

15. In D.09, Sounding New Media, Kati Fargo Ahern asked the audience to stand up, make sounds, and then change the sounds in response to her instructions. The room was packed, but we stuffed our bags under our chairs, rubbed shoulders, and played along anyway, loving every second. (It took me a sec, but I pulled up the Moon theme from the NES DuckTales game as my sound.)

16. In the same panel, Amy Riordan’s equally powerful presentation was threatened by dysfunctional speakers. Luckily, sound scholar Jon Stone had some in his backpack.

17. Oh no: Luke just found Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s burnt bodies. I never noticed the skeletons as a child, somehow.

18. Alliteration: “Repetition of the same letter or sound within nearby words. Most often, repeated initial consonants” (via).

19. In notes from CCCC in 2012, I wrote this during Geoffrey Sirc’s talk: “Our field has embraced an ethos of perfection, like music’s dual-side toward perfection or lo-fi, like Elliott Smith.”  He might have said or it might be what he made me think of.

20. I was getting over a cold that kind of lingered the whole time I was in Indianapolis. That meant that as a day went on, my voice would get froggier and froggier, to the extent that I even skipped karaoke:

21. The funny thing about Mariah Carey is that I can’t tell how much I love her because of her music and how much I love her because of my memories of loving her music.

22. Cagle and I visited the Rhythm! Discovery Center, an interactive percussion museum. It’s delightful to hit things and hear them. I kept pausing to take pictures and record sounds, but part of me is thinking that it would have been even more fun if I had left my device at the door. Sounds are time-based, something you feel in the moment; isn’t there something odd to try to pause them, to capture them?

23. But I mean really, why does Leia kind of sound British in this movie? And is it glib to say that her use of the accent here reminds me of this point from Keith Gilyard?:

24. In notes from CCCC in 2011, I wrote that Geoffrey Sirc said the only textbook he needs when teaching writing is Richard Lanham’s Handlist of Rhetorical TermsHe said it as if it were obvious, as if everyone already knew that the definition of “good writing” is writing that is powerful, dynamic, full of rhetorical figures, as delightful as cake.

25. Others have blogged about the conference too. The ones I’ve seen so far: Chelsea A. Lonsdale, Steven D. Krause, Cruz Medina, Caitlin Martin, Christina M. LaVecchia, Crystal VanKooten.

Tomorrow, I’ll be visiting (via Google Hangout) a workshop at Old Dominion University hosted by the inimitable Dan Richards and Sarah Spangler. The session is called “Public and ‘Private’ Social Media: Curating Your Academic/Professional Identity(ies) on Facebook and Twitter,” and my role is to talk about using Twitter at conferences.

So I’ve been wondering: how do I use Twitter at conferences?

To find out, I thought I’d focus on how I used Twitter at the 2013 meeting of Computers and Writing. I searched Twitter for all occurrences of @kstedman and #cwcon, which should assumably give me 1) tweets I’ve made that include the #cwcon hashtag + 2) tweets others made that mention me, including a few during my presentation. (This search method is why so many awesome tweets by others are left out; I’m mostly just analyzing myself here, not how we use Twitter in general at conferences.)

(Note: Twitter’s search engine for old things like this has been notoriously unreliable in the past, which is why so many smart people archive all the tweets and later analyze them. For my purposes here, though, I’m just going with what the Twitter search results bring up–seems easier right now.)

If I start at the beginning of the conference, then, and move chronologically through the conference, here are some things I discovered about myself:

Marketing my Session:

Marketing may or may not be the right word, but the spirit is right: I wanted people to know, in advance, about the cool experience I was planning for them in my session. A conference program only goes so far, and it’s skimmed so quickly. Online, people see pictures and hear sounds they couldn’t otherwise get.

Connecting with Friends Who Weren’t There:

There’s always someone at home watching the conference hashtag. When possible, I like inviting them explicitly into the events and ideas of the conference–and it always feels good to know when you got a shout-out.

Plain Old Note-Taking:

The back-channel is fueled by folks just plain noting what they’re hearing, which benefits 1) folks in other sessions who kind of wonder what’s going on in the session you’re in, 2) the presenter, who gets to read later on exactly what people took away, and 3) other folks in the same session, who may subtly disagree with or praise/appreciate your interpretations or summaries. Live, real-time conversations = my favorite.

Of course, “note-taking” is an overly simply way to put it. My tweet above is both taking notes and applying the topic of the panel (accessibility) to my own interests (sound). Other possibilities abound. The “fun-and-games” note-taking method:

The “this presenter needs to know how much I’m being personally affected by this awesomeness” note:

The “I’m seeing a new kind of presentation and I like it” note:

And, you know, whatever else comes to mind.

Sharing Links Related to the Sessions You’re Hearing

This topic bleeds into the one above and below it, but it’s important enough that it deserves it’s own heading. I love when I realize that I can help people get a deeper understanding of a topic by doing a quick Google search and sharing the link in real time. And I love it when people do it during my own presentations, similarly enriching what I’m up to:

There are all kinds of other opportunities for real-time sharing of stuff. During a session on job-searching, I knew some people would want to read a post on the job market I had written, so I tweeted about it:

Whatever comes to mind: share it!

Alerting People to Accessibility-Related Resources

For accessibility purposes, it seems kind and ethical to provide a transcript for the hearing impaired–plus, it gives others the chance to catch what you said later on, meditate on it, and perhaps strike up a conversation (or a citation!) later on. But people might not know you went to the trouble to provide one unless they came to the session–or if you tweet about it.

Asking for Advice

As a table co-leader at the Graduate Research Network (where I met some new ODU friends!) I knew there was some degree of expectation that I, um, know things. But I don’t know all the things. So I asked for help. And people on Twitter want to answer you.

Being Fun and Clever and Real (Because You’re Fun and Clever and Real Already, But Not Everyone Knows That Yet)

Because it’s fun. And being fun is how you make friends. And, if I can add a cynical/practical angle: making friends at conferences is how you collaborate on future publications and make professional connections. You know that, though.

Following Up

When you go home, you’ll feel sad. But Twitter helps. You can continuing patting each other on the back, sharing resources, thanking each other, and being a genuinely good and nice person. Because you are. Right?

I’m going to describe a TV show that aired when I was in college. I won’t say the name of the show, but you should know that this post has MASSIVE SPOILERS for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Alias (up through the first few episodes of all of Season 3, which is as far as I’ve gotten). Hint hint and such.

Photo of a doll of Buffy

“This is obviously about me.”

In this show, Female Lead is an attractive young woman who can kick anyone’s butt. She’s adept at using any weapon that comes her way, but she’s especially impressive at hand-to-hand combat, using lots of kicks and flips. She’s the subject of a prophecy, and sometimes has nightmares involving religious iconography and blood. Perhaps the hardest thing about her life is the hidden nature of it: some of the closest people to her don’t know anything about the butt-kicking, evil-fighting part of her life. She dies at one point, yet when she returns she has a sort of shadow around her, a new sort of dark seriousness and fierceness that wasn’t there quite as much before. She would gladly sacrifice herself to save the people she loves. (While I won’t tell you her name, it has two syllables, emphasis on the first, ending with an -ee sound.)

Female Lead has two best friends. Female Best Friend is usually whimsical and fun, except for that time that her boyfriend ran away from her, which crushed her. And there was also that time that she turned evil and tried to fight Female Lead–long story. Male Best Friend often gets the show’s best humorous lines, but he senses that he’s often seen as merely the jokester: he feels left out of all the awesome evil-fighting that Female Lead does, wondering what he can offer. At the beginning of the show, he has a secret crush on Female Lead, but that kind of evaporates. At one point, Female Best Friend and Male Best Friend even get together for a while. (It ends badly.)

Female Lead’s fight against evil is helped tremendously by a father figure, a fellow who has a lot more experience in this kind of fight than she does. Sometimes he seems cold and distant, but deep down he really loves her and trusts her abilities.

Photo of Sydney Bristow from Alias

“Who is that other girl up there? Is she trying to take my story or something?”

Female Lead’s main Romantic Interest is a man who hangs out in all those secret places in Los Angeles that most people don’t know about. He looks great in a trench coat and gets beat up a lot. Once, for the greater good, Female Lead even stabs him, despite her love for him–but it’s okay, he doesn’t die. And even though he has flings with other women (most notoriously a blonde woman with a nasty side), we all kind of know that Romantic Interest and Female Lead are destined to be together.

Female Lead puts up with some flirting from Young, Blonde, British Bad Guy (YBBBG), a man who has led a successful life of crime over the years. Even though he fights with Female Lead a lot, he still proposes they work together at one point. He’s a fan favorite, a cool guy with a soft spot for a certain red liquid. (His British accent is faked for the show.)

Gina Torres doesn’t enter this fictional universe often, but when she does, bad things happen.

One trademark of the show is its heavy use of pop music–especially moody, female singers singing sad songs, often heard toward the end of an episode over a montage of events. Besides that, the orchestrated music accompanying other action and emotional scenes is notably good.

The man who created this series wasn’t nearly as popular and well known when it began as he is now. He’s gone on to direct major stars in big-budget action flicks, but some of his directing roles have shown that he still has a nostalgic memory for older styles of filmmaking. He’s pretty much required to be at Comic-Con from now until he dies.

(What have I missed? There must be more parallels.)

UPDATE

Two more for you, and they’re good:

  • Lindsay Crouse guest stars on this show as someone who investigates secrets that the general public doesn’t know about.
  • In the second half of this show, Female Lead discovers that she has a sister (and in a way has kind of had a sister all along, but it’s complicated). This sister’s name is short, with three prominent sounds: the consonants and and the vowel-sound AH.

Images: quichisinsane, “Sydney Bristow” and Scorpions and Centaurs, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Tape in a window

What if a mixtape just grew from the dirt, unauthored?

So I’ve been playing a game lately when I’m driving long distances alone:

  1. Before leaving, fill mp3 player with only the tracks I’ve given 4 or 5 stars in Winamp. (Yes, Winamp.)
  2. In the car, listen to everything on shuffle.
  3. Pretend I’m listening to a carefully curated 10-song mixtape, 5 songs on each imaginary side, listening for subtle connections between tracks and an interesting difference between Sides A & B.
  4. Drop my jaw in amazement at the subtle connections that surface, on their own, born of the crafty agency of the machinery.

This isn’t totally my idea; Rob Sheffield’s Love is a Mix Tape gave me the idea long ago (“I can load up my iPod with weeks’ worth of music and set it on shuffle to play a different mix every time”), but I bet thousands of people have played the game, pretending there was a an author behind an authorless shuffle.

It’s an attractive idea in part because it’s the opposite of my recent obsession with the different ways we can create meaning by purposefully curating tracks. This takes the curator out of the mix.

But that’s not what I’m here to think about. I’m really here because of Step 5 of the game: 

5. Imagine that the 11th track in the random mix is a bonus track on the mixtape, explicitly labeled as such by the imaginary tape-maker.

While playing the game, this somehow never fails to work. The 11th track somehow feels, well, bonus-y. There’s something quirky or unusual or off-putting about it that seems to say, “Dude, you had to hear this, but it just didn’t fit with the rest of the tape. You understand why, right?”

Well, yes. I understand. But do I?

*

A moment of clarification: I’m not sure what the difference is between a bonus track and a hidden track in my mind. (If I already knew what I wanted to say, why would I write about it?)

I know my first hidden track: that lovely, meandering instrumental groove at the end of Pearl Jam’s Ten

I might be remembering this wrong, but I don’t think this was included on the cassette release. And my first copy of Ten was dubbed from a friend’s tape, so I didn’t hear this extended hidden track until I bought the CD from a friend’s older brother a few years later.

Then there was “I’m going crazy” stuff at the end of the Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish:

Eventually, looking for a hidden track was one of the first things I would do when getting a new CD in middle school and high school: I’d listen to the first 10 seconds or so of every track and then check the length of the final track, looking for signs that something was hidden in there, like a digital cavern, its walls darkly painted with ones and zeros that no one else knew about.

And there’s something in a hidden track that’s akin to what I’m thinking about here. The Pearl Jam example seems to say, “We had this sweet sound we played around with in the studio, but we didn’t quite know how to get it to you except on some B-side that no one would hear, so we put it at the end of the album instead.” And the Smashing Pumpkins example says, “Hey, we don’t always take ourselves so seriously. You know that, right? I mean, this is a serious album, as you can tell, but here at the end we want you to put your feet up for a spell.”

So what if both of these tracks had been numbered, included on the list of official tracks, but explicitly called “bonus tracks”? It would afford the tracks a visibility, a legitimacy that the bands want them to dodge when they hide them, either because it’s not their best work or because it’s more fun to hide.

Either way, hiding it or bonus-ing it, it’s a rhetorical move. That is to say that it’s a decision made by a composer who wants its explicit placement in that way to communicate something, to be given a sort of metadata about how it’s to be heard, understood, considered.

Which is to say that it’s a move I can make when I’m composing in some other medium, too.

Which is to say that it’s fun.

*

When I search for the word bonus in Spotify and sort the results by popularity, I see bonus tracks from Mumford & Sons, Justin Bieber, Kendrick Lamar & Dr. Dre, Skrillex, Mac Miller, City and Colour, Flo Rida, SOJA, Blake Shelton, Christina Perri feat. Jason Mraz, and of course, tons more. 

I’m not familiar with a lot of those artists, but I can’t help but wonder: if you know some of those artists’ albums and I mention bonus tracks, does the bonus track come immediately to mind? Is it part of your experience of the album? Is it marked as unalterably bonus-y in your mind? 

And is it different if you listen to the album on CD, mp3, vinyl, tape, whatever?

*

As I write this, I’m listening for the second time to Balance and Ruin, a four-disc album of music from the OverClocked ReMix community inspired by Final Fantasy VI, the Super Nintendo game that kept everyone my age from wanting to do any extra-curricular activities at all because it was that stinking good, and because its music melted our ears with awesomeness.

Wait, did I say four-disc? I mean five-disc. Even though the official cover art for this remix album only lists four discs, walking listeners through sweet new versions of the tracks from the original game with no repeats, there’s a fifth disc that feels very bonus-y to me. It offers arrangements of some tracks that were already featured in discs one to four, and it starts with a hard-to-describe, four-movement, forty-minute, guitar-shredding odyssey through only two tracks from the game. So it’s different. But it’s included. It’s a bonus.

In a Reddit discussion, album director Andrew “Zircon” Aversa defends the music on disc five as important, integral, and hella-good:

To be clear, the tracks on disc 5 definitely made our cut. We had multiple takes for a variety of reasons. In some cases, someone started a remix and said they couldn’t finish, so we found another musician to fill their spot. Then, the original arranger finished their track after all. We also ran two contests which produced tons of great material, in some cases multiple takes on the same tune. In any case, anything on ANY disc of the album is absolutely stamped with our seal of quality. Deciding which take to put on which disc was just a matter of subjective preference for which version fit the main track flow the best.

Aversa is onto something here in my thinking about bonus vs. hidden here. A hidden track might not be said by a band/musician/album director to be “absolutely stamped with our seal of quality.” (Five Iron Frenzy’s hidden track “Kingdom of the Dinosaurs” even includes apologies to people still listening to the weird sounds they’re making.)

But a bonus can still be good. Really good. It just feels different. 

But what I can’t get over is this: does it feel different because I was told to think it was different? Is it the label, the context that makes it feel bonus-y? Or is it inherent in the music itself? After all, any track that comes up as track 11 during my imaginary mixtape game could come up as track 1 on my next drive. But when it’s track 11, I convince myself that it’s different.

And if I played you a disc-5 rearrangement of Terra’s Theme from the FFVI rearrangement album, would you know it from the disc-2 version? Could you tell that it was a bonus?

*

Lucky me: there’s a Wikipedia page called “Bonus track.” (It’s headed by a warning from August 2007 that it doesn’t cite any sources, and it still doesn’t. By now, is that warning kind of like a textual bonus track to be experienced separately from the main article?)

It’s an interesting stub, with some points about the relationship of bonus tracks to major labels’ distribution deals with Japan and some thoughts on the relationship of purchasing habits on iTunes to the bonus track. But my favorite part is this paragraph:

A song by MC Lars featuring Ashley Jade entitled “The Bonus Track for Japan” pokes fun at the Japan-specific instance of this phenomenon, with Lars singing a series of facts about Japan. It was actually used as the “Japanese bonus track” for Lars’ album The Graduate. It has, more recently, been remixed and put on the MC Lars album 21 Concepts (But a Hit Ain’t One).

It’s the last sentence that intrigues me the most: a remix of a bonus seems to give a new legitimacy to the bonus track that it couldn’t originally have had. (Imagine a remix of the Pearl Jam or Pumpkins tracks above. Doesn’t feel worth it.)

The talk page extends the conversation in two more delicious ways: 

  1. A list of 163 albums with bonus tracks was deleted from the page but copied onto the talk page because “Unwieldy, useless lists do not aid understanding.”
  2. A few clever folks are discussing the possibility of adding some points about the history of the bonus track, but they don’t have any references, just their own memories. (“So the first bonnus track is a real mystery. But it would be good to find out.”) 
    • Corollary: This suggests that memory itself is a bonus track to our lived experiences.

*

That talk page also includes this line, under the heading “mistaken identity”:

i have this twin thet i have never met befor and i whant to kowe who she or he is if i can find them she has been wandiring if —Preceding unsigned comment added by 208.181.90.67 (talk) 21:45, 9 February 2008 (UTC)

It’s not part of the topic of the page or related to any other conversation on the talk page. It’s just a bonus.

*

Image: Personal remix of linda yvonne, “Once upon a time…..” and Nils Geylen, “365-164 MAR 31

Conference wrap-up posts are getting harder for me to write. I open my notes in Evernote, I open the Twitter feed in Tweetdeck, I open the conference website, and I sit there, looking for a theme, wondering what I’ll remember about this conference in five or fifteen years.

I think I’m going to follow the style of my presentation, then: bounce from here to there as memories come, expecting my audience to fill meaning into the gaps. Because, you know, that’s what audiences do anyway.

*

The week before the conference, a few of participated in an “online conference,” a series of daily discussions on the conference site and Twitter about the issue of the day.

Wednesday, May 29′s topic was “Collaboration/Community/Pedagogy,” hosted by the inestimable Shelley Rodrigo and Christie Daniels. At first, we seemed to be talking mostly about collaboration and pedagogy, so I asked,

This led to an interesting conversation with Shelley and Merideth Garcia, giving me a lot to think about for the rest of the week:

An image of a twitter conversation

Smart people, right?

So I entered the conference itself wondering what community was and what it wasn’t, and when I “felt” like I was in community and how that applied to my teaching and scholarship.

*

At dinner on Saturday night, Merideth and I talked about Star Trek films along with the other folks at our table. It didn’t take long to realize that we had a shared vocabulary, a sort of lingering underbelly of fannish community that we could rely on. It was nice.

*

One of my favorite sessions was E2, “Resonance, Refinements, and Rip-offs.” A strangely large auditorium held 40+ people (my random guess) to hear Mary Hocks and Jody Shipka talk about sound and memory and everything in between. (Bump Halbritter couldn’t be there, but it obviously would have been even two notches cooler with him around.)

Partly, it was a favorite because of the content and delivery: Mary’s work on “sonic literacy” is in perfect harmony with my own work, and Jody’s video on “stealing sounds” was beautiful and enigmatic in just the way I like conference presentations/performances to be.

But it was also a favorite when I looked around and saw the community of people who were there–all my favorite people, gathered to hear and discuss my favorite ideas, right there in that room, our bodies connected by the noises that erupted from our mouths and resonated into the cavernous space (swirling quickly and nearly silently through the cavity of the piano in the corner as if someone had tossed a bouncy ball into it).

I mean, we’re a community, and we’re more of a community all the time. It’s fluid, in that it doesn’t have clear edges, and you can get in or out whenever you want. But we people who like sound and genre-bending presentations–we can look around and smile sly smiles, knowing that we fit together.

*

At Karaoke on Friday night, the group coalesced the most, I think, when Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on. The strobe lights flashed, and I was suddenly in the community of my middle school dance, letting my 13-year-old awkwardness drift away as I head-banged and jumped around with the music, and I was also there at the Wild Things bar with my Computers and Writing community.

Jason Palmeri put it best:

*

The following things happened in C8, “Performing Rhetoric: Embodying Rhetoric Through Screens and Space”:

  • Emi Bunner showed me that sound can sometimes look like this:
A photo from Emi's presentation, with a visualization of sound behind her

Sound is beautiful

  • Phil Sandick showed an evocative video of people practicing–of practicing practice, really.
  • Alex Funt showed an evocative video of images of teachers in movies.
  • Jason Loan sat behind a screen where we couldn’t see him, as we stared, spellbound, at a seizure-inducing repeating image that I swear changed or maybe I just imagined it. He kept repeating:
  • Oh, and I almost forgot, Dan Anderson also JUMPED ON A TABLE and RIPPED ALPHABETIC SCHOLARSHIP OFF OF A SCREEN and SANG “RISKY SCHOLAR” to the tune of the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” and HIT ALL THE HIGH NOTES and was LOUD and it was AWESOME. You know, just your everyday happening. Right there at C&W. And we freaking loved it:

Apparently, you could even hear it in the other rooms, which makes me happy even though I know that sort of thing can feel like an infringement of community (even though sharing sounds is also a way to establish community, right?):

*

During that same session, a number of us got simultaneous spam on Twitter:

I’m not sure, but it was also around then that Quinn Warnick reported that our #cwcon hashtag was trending on Twitter, making me wonder if the trending and the spam were related, if the textual output of our community was so big that it was leaking into the outside world in a material way with such force that even the spammers couldn’t ignore us any more.

May we be so effectual in all our endeavors. Amen.

*

A photo of the outside of May's restaurant.

3 out of 4 of us got the crab cakes. We were glad we did.

Kevin Brooks offered to give me a ride from BWI to Frostburg, giving me a chance to get to know him and two other scholars at North Dakota State University better (Matt Warner and Jessica Jorgenson).

At Kevin’s suggestion, we stopped to eat in Frederick, MD, where we found a lovely hole in the wall called May’s.

The people eating there were obsessed with crab, sitting around tables together and cracking it open, making a general mess, and loving the community that the space brought them, that their shared love of messy crab brought them, that I bet even came in part from the material necessities of eating crab: the bibs and hammers and tongs, all somewhat sinister and dangerous and fun. (Maybe the bibs aren’t really “dangerous.” But you know what I mean.)

*

A different spin on community: I increasingly feel no guilt at choosing sessions that match my research and teaching interests over sessions where friends are presenting. I didn’t get to hear my good friend and collaborator from graduate school Quentin Vieregge because he was up against a panel on the rhetoric of sound, my main research area. I didn’t go hear my best conference buddy Jen Michaels because I’ve been wanting to learn more about accessibility issues and she was up against panel A9.

And yet, when the panel I presented in with Tekla Hawkins and Bill Wolff and Amanda Wall (On the Digital Rhetorics of Fans and Fan Communities) was about to begin, there at the very end of the day on Sunday, I was definitely feeling all glowy at seeing the faces of friends and admired scholars fill in the space. All my favorites, there in a room, one last time. We had a good crowd, and that changes things, right?

So community is built in spaces, both physical and digital. Except when it’s not.

*

On the first day of the conference, I rode the crazy one-person “mountain coaster” at the Wisp Resort, careening through raindrops that exploded against my glasses like bugs, or like sounds.

Each individual rides solo and is separated from the people ahead and behind by a good amount of space. That’s why, I suppose, I didn’t hear Jen yelling something at me, in the next car back, which she told me about afterward. It was probably something funny, but I missed it. I was alone, climbing the mountain, strapped into my odd little rail car. I was looking at the trees, the grass. Listening to the clanks of the coaster. It’s an inherently lonely experience, but in a good way.

But of course, it’s not a lonely experience. Upon disembarking, everyone standing in the wet line wanted to know how it was, what happened, how to speed up and slow down. We gathered together immediately, naturally.

So we gathered, making a circle of wet, smiling heads, anticipating the future and describing the past, nervously clutching our bags and smushing ourselves under too few umbrellas.

Clear Moon album cover

Grabbed from the Pitchfork review page

In a review of Mount Eerie’s Clear Moon album for Pitchfork, Jayson Greene writes this delightful line:

The album’s sound, meanwhile has the misty-but-tactile feeling of a sense memory.

I keep thinking about that line.

A sense memory. The memory of how something felt, smelled, tasted, heard, or looked after the stimulus was gone.

Misty-but-tactile. Sharing qualities of certainty and uncertainty. Unmistakable, but unable to be brought to mind exactly. Sense memories are always augmented by all the similar memories we’ve ever had in the same vein. The thought “I remember how it felt when she put her arm around me” really means “I have memories of all the times she has ever put her arm around me, and I summon all those memories into a single, joined moment when I remember that single time.”

And perhaps most surprising: The album’s sound. An album, never heard before, works on us like sense memories, according to Greene. So the sense of its sounds on our ears is like the sense of other things we’ve heard before. That’s not to say it’s derivative or boring or predictably generic, necessarily. It’s to say that there’s a comfort, as if all the times I’ve ever heard sounds like these are brought together in my emotions when I hear this sound.

But wait. When are sounds not like that?

***

Half an hour ago, debating whether or not I would write this post this morning, Iron & Wine’s “Upward Over the Mountain” came on my music shuffle. Instantly, I felt.

It’s not that I have a long history of listening to this song. I finally bought this I&W album just a few months ago when it was $2.99 to download on Amazon. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album, but it’s not like I associate it with years of heartbreak and longing and relationships and late-night drives across the country or anything.

But when those chords started, I felt like I did.

There’s nothing fancy about the chords: Em, C, G, D. It’s one of the most common progressions in all of guitardom. I associate it with Ben Gibbard singing about Jack Kerouac and Smashing Pumpkins singing about whatever they were singing about in “Disarm.”

If I can get musicky for a moment: the chords fall into a i > VI > III > VII pattern, at first glance. But really, it doesn’t feel that way; not many affective lights go off in our brains for III chords, usually. Really, we’re hearing vi > IV > I > V.

So what? It means that even though the emphasis is on the Em, since it begins and ends the song–that lonely chord, the first chord every guitarist learns, the easiest and the darkest, with the low E string ringing for so-so long–we hear the song as if it were in G, the relative major, even though G is in the less in-your-face position of the third chord in the progression. It wouldn’t sound wrong if the song ended on a G chord, but it would change everything. Everything.

So I can’t help but wonder what it is I’m responding to emotionally when I hear “Upward Over the Mountain” begin. Does it have something to do with every other song I’ve loved with that progression? Or is something built into the progression, that gut-wrenching recognition that we’re in a happy major key but simultaneously pushing ourselves over and over back into the minor key surrounding it?

***

“Do you think we’ll ever get past the circle of fifths?” I asked my brother-in-law Matt. We were at a restaurant, and my wife/his sister was in the bathroom.

“What do you mean?” he replied.

“You know,” I said. I was struggling to figure it out myself. “So much music relies on the same chord progressions. And so often it follows the circle of fifths: we go from C to G to D and so on.”

Matt is a musician and occasionally a composer. He knows music theory better than anyone I know. I wondered if he thought the standard progressions were boring, hackneyed, old-school, overdone.

“No,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll ever get past that in popular music.”

“I know! Like, I hear Lady Gaga on the radio and think, Okay, this is seriously catchy stuff. What makes it so catchy? And it’s the flipping chord progressions! The same ones as ever, and yet somehow I don’t get sick of them!”

“Yeah,” he said. “People will never get sick of them. They’ll totally stick around forever.”

He didn’t really say if he thought that was a good thing or not.

***

Marc Hirsh at the Boston Globe calls the Iron & Wine progression the “sensitive female chord progression.” Some worthwhile quotes:

Let’s call this the Sensitive Female Chord Progression, so named because . . . well, because when I first noticed it in 1998 (when I became keenly aware that Sarah McLachlan’s “Building a Mystery” sounded an awful lot like Joan Osborne’s “One of Us”), it seemed to be the exclusive province of Lilith Fair types baring their souls for all to see. Think Jewel’s “Hands.” Melissa Etheridge’s “Angels Would Fall.” Nina Gordon’s “Tonight and the Rest of My Life.” . . .

Hooters guitarist Eric Bazilian, the songwriter behind “One Of Us,” has a particular interest in it. “I think it’s a comforting chord progression,” he says. “It was iconic with Heart. It became more iconic with Joan [Osborne]. It became even more iconic with Sarah McLachlan. There’s not a lot of testosterone in it, even though ['One of Us'] was written by a man. But it was written by a man to impress a girl. Think about that.” . . .

. . . when Beyoncé wanted to tug at the heartstrings, she knew exactly which tool to use.

***

This post is clearly getting away from me. There’s more to misty-but-tactile sense memories to talk about that I haven’t touched on: muscle memory (and the Beatles, according to NPR), Roland Barthes on gesture and musical “grain” and memory (as explored in Michael David Szekely’s “Gesture, Pulsion, Grain: Barthes’ Musical Semiology,” which I haven’t read yet), and worlds and worlds of thoughts about touch and taste in addition to sound.

And yet, there’s something familiar about that feeling too: the familiar memory of being so into a piece of writing that it wandered away from where I thought it would go into somewhere else. We come to writing (the most “misty-but-tactile” craft I can imagine) in the same way we come to sounds and chord progressions: connecting the new with the familiar, recursively adding to our memories, reliving our lives.

“What you’re looking for,” he said, “are words to theorize that moment when sound slams into you.”

We were at my dissertation defense, the committee and I sitting around a table situated to ignore the rows of onlookers. One of my committee members was rephrasing what he saw as the core of my theoretical project.

I thought of the sounds in the room at that moment: the shifting in seats, the typing on all the laptops, the echoes of the “Fratelli Chase” theme from The Goonies that had recently played as people entered the room. And I thought of the silences: my wife’s silent, smiling face in the crowd, the committee member’s silent waiting for a confirmation of his summary, and my silent pause before answering.

“Yes,” I said. “That’s exactly it. The subjective, emotion-tinged, situated experience of hearing sound. And on the other end, the craft that goes into designing sound that will be subjectively experienced in such an uncontrolled way.”

(Of course, I don’t really remember what I said, or what was said next, or when in the defense this conversation happened. But in my memory-as-constructed-the-way-it-ought-to-be, my committee member waves away my big words and says:)

“Right, but it’s all about the slam. That slam of sound.”

***

We know sound affects our emotions in an uncontrollable, knee-jerk way. It’s almost not worth mentioning, it’s so obvious.

In Blade Runner, Deckard finds out who is a replicant and who isn’t by reading aloud scenarios that would lead humans to have an involuntary reaction in their eyes. The sounds of the spoken words lead to immediate emotion. Deckard doesn’t give the suspects a print-out of the questions; he says them out loud. That matters.

Here’s 19th-century music theorist Eduard Hanslick on the effect:

Even if we have to grant to all the arts, without exception, the power to produce effects upon the feelings, yet we do not deny that there is something specific, peculiar only to it, in the way music exercises that power. Music works more rapidly and intensely upon the mind than any other art.
Two things: I would extend his point about music’s “specific, peculiar” power to sound in general. Also, I can’t help but notice how he descends so swiftly, so gently from “the feelings” in the first sentence to “the mind” in the second.
It’s almost as if the slam of sound into our bodies (slam!) works on us in more ways than simply the emotional. It’s as if the very way we make meaning from sounds in our minds is tied to the way we feel about them.
***

Henry Jenkins (following Bourdieu): “Academics come to distrust their own affective responses, to speak of them apologetically or to deny them outright” (170).

I am thoroughly not disinterested in the music and sounds of Tecmo Super Bowl, an NES game from 1991. Let some of its music play while I tell you why I care.

Tecmo Super Bowl has a cheat built into it (though cheat is clearly the wrong word for such an aesthetically interesting, non-gameplay-related trick): on the intro screen, if you hold B and press left, you’re brought to an interface allowing you to cycle through all the sounds in the game.

I used to play around with this all the time, cycling methodically (frighteningly methodically?) through the sound and music samples, playing some of them over and over. There’s something satisfyingly physical about hearing, say, 5 different electronic sounds meant to reproduce players’ armored bodies slamming into each other. (Slam!) The sounds would grow more meaningful to me recursively, as I would recognize a sound I knew from the game, and then when playing identify a sound I had heard from the sound screen, and then return to the sound screen to listen again with fresh ears, and then later hear something new in the game. . . . (I’m embarrassed to say that I never noticed that Sound 32 isn’t in the game, though.)

I built emotion and meaning into those sounds, and echoes of those meanings are still with me, as corny as it sounds to write. They live in a part of me that I can’t access unless a similar sound draws it out of me, and when it’s drawn out it journeys through my whole gut and throat and head so it’s all my body hears.

***

Virginia Kuhn: “[A]nyone who has ever edited video clips would likely attest to the fact that one must have passion for the footage; editing demands extensive playing and replaying of clips. Whether this passion issues from a fannish impulse or is born of righteous indignation (or both) matters little. To argue, one must take a stand, not be disinterested” (3.11).

***

I can’t help but wonder what would evoke emotion and meaning from you. Yes, you: whoever is reading this. If I pulled some of the most commonly heard sounds from sources like Audioboo, SoundCloud, or Freesound.org, sounds like cars crashing or popular song clips or mothers’ heartbeats or ominous footsteps, would you feel something new when the sound slams (slam!) into you?

Or would I have to choose unusual sounds, hoping to catch you off guard and draw up a new emotion you hadn’t expected or remembered, perhaps since you last heard that sound years, or even decades ago? What would my success rate have to be to make that worth it? What does “success” even mean here?

And finally, where does, to use Kuhn’s phrase, “fannish impulse” fit in? Would sounds from Star Trek or Lost or Tecmo Super Bowl “work” on you in ways that the everyday wouldn’t? How would those sounds work on different fans in different and similar ways?

Obviously, the answer to all of those is a simple “I don’t know.” But let me add a: yet. I think I want to make you hear some sounds, and I want you to feel and think because of them.

Slam.

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