On embeddedness; or, I wrote a thing

I wrote a thing. I called it “Embedded Together: Artists and Audiences and YouTube.”

It’s one of many responses to a bigger question on the thick, rich site MediaCommons: “What is the role of the digital humanities in transforming and responding to the arts?” (Was the word humanities always there? If so, I wasn’t thinking of it in my answer; I was just thinking of intersections between DIGITAL and ARTS. Oh well.)

You can read it if you want; I like it. But what I’m thinking about here is the effect of time on how we view revision. Because that piece went through a lot of revising. The original draft was probably twice as long as it was supposed to be, and then I worked really hard to get it down to a place where it was only 2/3 too long, and then I cut out my entire heart to finally get it down to where it is now. (I thought about counting the number of comments I went through with smart editor Alex Nielsen, but it’s too many to count. He’s a good editor; I’m perhaps too insistent on my rambly style. Good job, Alex.)


There was a lot of this.

So reading it this morning after weeks of actually forgetting it even exists (and prompting this post), I was wondering this basic question: does it feel empty, short, sad, in its final form?

Mostly, no. It holds together, even though it feels very different from the genre of the other answers to the question (which I’m fine with). I’m proud of it. Here, in this blog post, I’ll tell you all about it, look at me, not ashamed.

But the one thing that feels off: I’m not giving a lot of time/space here to my friend Ian Scarfe, who spend so much time on smart, long emails to me about these questions. He got cut a lot; in editing the piece, I edited him. And even with the distance of time, it’s hard for me to get a sense of if he sounds the way I want him to. Is he more of a soundbite, a quotable, a few links, then let’s move on to the other stuff? Or are there hints of the real human that speak up under my edit, the sounds of his piano drifting through the screen?

Of course, I ask because of other projects: I’m editing a longer piece (the introduction to an edited collection), which currently means editing out a lot of the voices that I’ve collected. Where do those voices go after I hit delete? Where do their ideas go after I’ve stopped listening?


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Oh, Soundcloud. Again?

Hoo boy. A few years back, I successfully disputed a file I legally uploaded to Soundcloud as part of my dissertation. And now, a file I uploaded around the same time is suddenly under investigation as well.

Here’s the short version: for the diss, I was reading a lot of David Burrows, my favorite music philosopher, and I wanted to explore a quote of his in a brief audio experiment. He writes, “Seeing is like touching, hearing like being touched” (Sound, Speech, and Music 21). So (according to my memory, which is a little awkward because I can’t actually listen to the file I’m describing, and I haven’t for a few years) I recorded myself reading Burrows over and over, with various effects and musical elements added and removed to enact the ideas I was writing about those days: the ways music and sound’s meanings are embodied in the complete context of their delivery and in the experience of the listener. It was a way to put into practice my scholarship. It’s nothing fancy, just a playful file–but of course, when you’re doing scholarship on sound, it’s not just play; it’s play toward a critical end.

But now, Soundcloud’s auto-search algorithms say I don’t have the right to use one of the short clips (“short” = less than 10 seconds, if my memory is right) I used: a piece from Bela Fleck’s collaboration with Luo Cultural Association, an African group he recorded and toured with. (I bought the CD at a concert in Orlando, had them sign it and everything.)

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that Soundcloud has no problem with my use of the written Burrows quote, because the way we talk about and police short clips of writing is completely different from the way we talk about and police short clips of music. Sigh.

So I disputed the copyright claim, after being annoyed at how little respect their system seems to give fair use:

After I clicked “some other reason,” Soundcloud gave a big list of things that it warned me wouldn’t be good enough answers–things like “I only used a small amount” or “I own the CD” (those aren’t actual quotes; I don’t have the page open anymore). The thing is, a lot of the things on its list are things that actually could help a fair use case, even if you acknowledge that they’re not sufficient defenses on their own.

Here’s where Soundcloud and I agree: people really misunderstand the nature of fair use. I mean, that list could be useful for people who really think that having a single factor in their favor is good enough. But here’s where we differ: I think that walking people through real-world cases (say, when their upload is contested) is a way to teach them the way fair use actually works. I think that list could/should be given in the context of a fair use checklist, or links to successful fair use defenses people have used in the past, or even a short video on this stuff.

Soundcloud disagrees / doesn’t have time / isn’t interested / whatever.

So I disputed claim. Here’s what I wrote, for the record:

I believe my use of this clip falls under fair use. I’ll walk through the 4 factors using the checklist at the Columbia Universities Libraries (https://copyright.columbia.edu/basics/fair-use/fair-use-checklist.html#Fair Use Checklist), after providing a short background.

I’m a scholar of rhetoric and writing who studies remix, copyright, and music. (I’m happy to provide citations, if you’d like to see them.) The upload in question came from a time when I was reading music philosopher David Burrows’ work and writing about the ways music and sound affect humans in different ways depending on the context. But because of the nature of my work, it was important for my listeners to actually *hear* the effects I was discussing, not just read about them. That purpose leads directly to the first of the four factors:

My use of the copyrighted clip was to help me and others explore this scholarly, critical concept (the question of how music is or isn’t “like being touched,” in Burrows’ words, especially when the background music and vocal delivery changes). I therefore believe my use of the copyrighted work counts as transformative under U.S. copyright law: I took music that was designed for entertainment purposes and digitally altered part of it, transforming it for a scholarly, critical purpose. This factor weighs in my favor.

It’s true that the copyrighted work I used to help make my point was “highly creative work” (in the words of the fair use checklist I’m using). This factor weighs against me.

Despite Soundcloud’s point that using a small amount of a copyrighted work doesn’t make the use more likely to be fair, “amount” is in fact one of the four fair use factors. (Yes, I know that people have been found liable for using very short amounts of music–but it’s still one of the four factors.) In this case, I used a very small amount of the copyrighted song. I don’t have a copy of my uploaded file on this computer, but I believe I used fewer than ten seconds of the song in question–not that ten seconds is a magic bullet, but that it’s a very small percentage of the overall song. This factor weighs in my favor.

Following the fair use checklist, I see aspects of this factor that fall on both sides. On one hand, I did make this (very short) clip (with talking over much of it) available publicly on Soundcloud, which seems to hurt my case. But on the other hand, I’m using a clip that I legally own on CD (bought at a concert, actually)in a way that could not possibly have a negative effect on sales of this album. My belief is that this factor leans more in my favor than against it–after all, who could claim that someone would hear this clip and then be less likely to buy a copy? It seems more likely that the opposite would happen: the listener would think, “Ooh, that tiny bit was cool! I want to hear the whole thing whenever I want!”

Though the four factors aren’t always weighed completely equally by judges, it’s common for fair use cases that actually go to court to decide in favor of the side that has the majority of the four factors in their favor. (See the cases listed by the federal government at http://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/fair-index.html for examples of many music cases.) Therefore, since three of the four factors weigh in my favor, I believe I have a genuine fair use to use this work in my piece.

(And if you don’t mind my saying so, I believe that any human would agree with my judgment. This casts some doubt on the ability of Soundcloud’s auto-search algorithm to adequately understand the complexities of fair use. And that, in my mind, will lead to a chilling effect on thousands of today’s creative minds, who will opt to compose safely instead of learning about the reality of fair use law. It’s disappointing to me that a platform as revolutionary as Soundcloud would participate in that cultural silencing.)

UPDATE (5/26/16): They agreed. That’s nice!



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What I Remember from Meeting Mary Karr 15 Years Ago

Of her actual talk, not much. I remember liking her, and how her eyes thinned when she smiled. Worse yet, she couldn’t have spoken in the room I’m remembering (which is in Virginia, and I heard her speak at Rollins College, in Florida), and I don’t know who invited her or what she said.

I mean, let’s be honest: what I really remember is me: my question. “How . . . how accurate would you say your dialogue is? In The Liar’s Club?” I asked after her reading. “It, I mean you were just a child when those events happened.”

(Let’s note that I’m using dialogue here, too, now.)

She laughed. “It’s not like I had a tape recorder.”

That’s all I remember from the event. That and a manila envelope she handed me at the end. In it: a short story I had typed and printed, her comments handwritten on it.

I was a college student, taking a creative writing class that I suspected I didn’t much like, writing fiction I also suspected I didn’t much like. (I was probably a sophomore, which makes this a year after my class on the personal essay, a class where I was amazed to like everything I wrote, all of it, every opportunity for weekly essays a chance to say more about me, me, always me, and always beautiful and powerful and my favorite. Why was I even taking fiction?)

But however uncertain I felt about this fiction class, the professor said I would be the one student whose writing would go to visiting author Mary Karr in advance, for her to read and comment on and deliver lovingly at the end of her reading, like a present. I had read The Liar’s Club and liked it (even though I definitely threw it across my dorm room at one point, but it was a sympathetic sort of throwing, a horror at what she went through, you have to believe me here), so I was pleased at being chosen, but I think I was also kind of confused and didn’t really get it. That is, it was a bigger deal to be chosen than I really realized at the time, but I was too wrapped up in how my stories weren’t very good to notice.

When I looked through what I had to send her, I assumed I had to pick something I had written in this fiction class. (Is that true? Did the teacher insist on it?) So instead of giving her one of the essays I loved and wanted to work on forever, I chose a story–but, tellingly, one of those stories that was essentially 90% memoir with 10% fiction. That must be why I liked it: it was about me. (Shh!)

The 90%: someone who was essentially me was talking to someone who was essentially a friend from high school in a fake cafe on a real road by a real marsh. We talked about why our mutual attraction never quite turned into anything beyond friendship and how her later relationships complicated it. The 10%: the cafe didn’t really exist, and neither did the conversation (at least not all at one time, with those words). I called the story “Marsh Land” at the last minute and hoped that its lack of meaningful action or change (one long conversation in one marshy cafe) would make it feel modern or something, like overlong dialogue from a Quentin Tarantino movie.

What I remember from Karr’s feedback: only one thing: the moment, 3/4 of the way through the story, where I accidentally used “I” instead of “he” on a dialogue tag. She caught it, writing something like “A telling mistake?” in the margin. Mortified, I stuffed the manuscript back in the envelope. I never revised the story.

Next fall, I’m teaching creative nonfiction for the third time, and we’re reading Karr–The Liar’s Club, of course, paired with her new The Art of Memoir. While I eat lunch in my office these days, so much like the office of my essay and fiction professors, I’m reading Lit, her third memoir, chapter by chapter, each little chunk now associated with the salad or sandwich I brought that day.

So she’s on my mind a lot these days. And every time she shares something, here in her books, it has that feeling of a person honoring someone else with the truest meaning they have at their disposal, and I smile and nod in thanks, realizing that all I gave her was a cover-up, a not-quite-really-myself character who I couldn’t even bury as far as I thought I could, and I never even took her advice about how to make him work better.

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Blog-o-Versary 6.0 : Keep on Pushing (Our 400th Post!!!)

Honored to get a shout-out in this inspiring yelp of resistance–and glad they chose to include the Sabrepulse piece I suggested in the playlist.

Sounding Out!

Keep on Pushin5 Click here for Sounding Out!‘s Blog-O-Versary “Keep on Pushing” mix 6.0 with track listing

Happy 6th Blog-o-Versary Team SO!

This year was tough, y’all. We know it. You know it. 2014-2015 was a year of rolling up sleeves, raging against the machine, typing furiously into the night, blocking the trolls, crying tears of frustration and anger, organizing heated meetings, fitting shoulders uncomfortably to various wheels while questioning exactly why and for whom, hugging our folks closer while unfriending Facebook “friends” like mofos, facing the millionth revision—or worse, the next police shooting, and the next and the next.

side eye emojiAll of us have reeled at one time or another at what sometimes seemed like a Niagara Falls of quicksand: mounting challenges, unexpected setbacks, pay and budget cuts (if you had a budget to begin with), hashtag memorials, calculated attacks, haters far more malevolent than your basic Taylor Swift variety, general piling on…

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August 5, 2015 · 10:26 am

Things I’ve started writing but haven’t published

  1. A blog post about the anniversary of R.E.M.’s Green, because somehow this blog has become obsessed with R.E.M.
  2. A blog post in anticipation of my workshop on podcasting at the 2015 Computers and Writing conference–a workshop and conference that has now ended, with the post sitting there unfinished, unposted
  3. A scholarly webtext on the materiality of sound, vinyl records, and the crazy ways that these things can inspire composition pedagogy (few of which I’ve actually tried in the classroom yet), a text that I drafted last summer over 3 weeks of using 750words.com every day
  4. It depends what we mean here by writing, but maybe when I talk to a friend in the car about writing routines and relationships and kindness, maybe that’s a kind of writing and maybe saying good things out loud together is a kind of publishing
  5. A chapter from my dissertation on historical attitudes toward the rhetoric of music and how we can do better
  6. A chapter from my dissertation reporting on interviews with student music composers
  7. A piece of music, which I admit hasn’t even been started or considered until now, but a piece of music that tries to capture what it’s like to write but not quite doing so, sitting there, dodging it all by organizing your mp3s and reading good scholarship and tweeting good tweets–which are writing too, we can all agree on that, it’s the 21st century–and if you don’t know why a piece of music would be good for that, why are you even reading this list
  8. An bizarre, juxtaposition-filled audio essay that jams together the sounds of my favorite movies/TVshows/videogames with the words of scholars on the phenomenology of sound
  9. That one above actually exists, even though you’re starting to wonder if any of these things actually exist, and I don’t blame you, how could anyone have this much that they haven’t finished, how could anyone be so much like cookies that just went into the oven?
  10. This one doesn’t exist, but I wish it did: a blog post on Pearl Jam and aggressiveness, chronicling how intimidated I was by their first album and how I forced myself to like it anyway and then how they slowly came to just seem like nice guys playing rock music but when did that happen I mean don’t you remember “IT’S . . . MY . . . BLOOOOOOOD!!!!” and all that from the second album?
  11. A personal essay about the time in 4th grade when I stayed the night at Andy’s house and jammed a thumbtack through the face of a kid I didn’t like on his copy of our class photo, followed by the time in 5th grade when I pulled the fire alarm at school but before it started so that’s not as bad I think
  12. A personal essay about my youngest brother and our weird mutual aggression over our lives, if you can call it that, and I’m not sure you can, but don’t you think I should use the word aggression to echo #10 above?
  13. A personal essay about chaperoning a bunch of college student singers on a trip to Florida
  14. Episode nine of my podcast which is on teaching with podcasts kind of self-referential isn’t it podcast podcast podcast kind of a weird word when you say it too often
  15. Self-referential blog posts that–and you won’t believe me here–that actually help move these texts toward a public, which is really where they ought to go, so let’s get to it, folks

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SO! Reads: Daniela Cascella’s F.M.R.L. (Finding Materials for Remembering and Listening)

It’s not too often that you’re asked to review a book that entirely connects to the things you’ve been thinking about already lately, but that’s what happened here. Enjoy!

Sounding Out!

SO! Reads3


Before I read F.M.R.L., I didn’t know Daniela Cascella or her work. I hadn’t read her first book or her blog or her Tweets; I hadn’t seen any exhibits she had curated or attended a reading. Instead, the words in her book introduced us.

Here’s how she was introduced, here in this exploration of how sound and writing intertwine:

  • A wanderer, traveling the globe to meet friends, attend conferences, read books (and more books, and more books)
  • An archivist, saving physical and digital boxes of sounds and words and quotes, all blended with her own notes and ideas
  • A listener, noticing the sounds of words as much as their meanings
  • A cave-explorer, digging ever deeper through layers of earth to find echoes of what has been buried—which is another way to say a wanderer, an archivist, a listener

How odd to meet someone through words alone…

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In Which I Write One Sentence about Each Song on R.E.M.’s Up Album

The other day, I had a delightfully lengthy conversation on Twitter about R.E.M. It all started with this:

I’ve written about R.E.M. on here before, but in that post, there was a bit of an edge of “here I am, blending my musical and scholarly interests, because I’m a scholar who writes about music.” This time, inspired by that tweetversation, I’d rather just drop any scholarly pretense. (What is this blog, anyway, these days? I have no idea.)

So: one sentence about every song on Up (1998), released in the fall of my senior year of high school. Just because.

  1. Airportman: It’s like listening to Brian Eno in a construction zone, with that mechanical, robotic bass crunch cutting through the rest of the beautiful production–which I suppose Eno would probably find interesting.
  2. Lotus: I promise I would like this song without the faux-scream vocal doubling.
  3. Suspicion: A good example of why this album is better with headphones and the spaces they create, as you hear these little door slams from the building next door, the quiet strings in the basement, and the band crooning in a posh hotel ballroom.
  4. Hope: If these lyrics were published in a book of poetry I’d take a picture and post them on Facebook.
  5. At My Most Beautiful: I totally forgot about those “Eleanor Rigby”-style cellos crunching into the silence toward the end, and while I like the piano alright, I’d like to hear an all-cello version.
  6. The Apologist: I counted Michael singing “I’m sorry” or “so sorry” at least 23 times, and that doesn’t count the quiet echoed versions that just about double it; I think that’s a bit much.
  7. Sad Professor: Prettier and sadder than I remember it; in high school I always tried to decide if the really good part of this album started at this song or the next one, but I usually decided it was after this.
  8. You’re in the Air: I put this on far too many mixtapes in 12th grade, mostly because most of my R.E.M. was on tape and I wanted CD quality on my mixes because a mix is serious business and this is the most obvious contender on the album for a mix oh I like it so much I mean listen to all that moody ambience (does this still count as one sentence?).
  9. Walk Unafraid: This is a song I’d like to hear on Song Exploder: what elements, exactly, add up to that that enveloping, escalating clump of sounds in the chorus?
  10. Why Not Smile: I don’t think it’s a real harpsichord, but is it a keyboard synthesizing a harpsichord sound or a guitar effect–and by asking this technical question am I ignoring the beauty of this song?
  11. Daysleeper: How did I never hear this as a carousing drinking song until today, or realize how much it sounds like it could have been on Automatic?
  12. Diminished: For an album called Up, there’s a lot of uncertainty and hopeless hope in the lyrics throughout–one example from this song: “I’ll consult the i-ching / I’ll consult the TV / Ouija, oblique strategies / I’ll consult the law books for precedents / Can I charm the jury?”
    1. I’m Not Over You: I have no memory of this little acoustic ditty living at the end of the “Diminished” track, which is weird given the number of times I listened to this CD in 1998.
  13. Parakeet: I always knew that the R.E.M.’s lyrics were a step above the rest, but this listen is reminding me how lovely and fresh they are on this album, and this track is a delightful example (if we ignore that “so sorry” business above).
  14. Falls to Climb: In a weird backward twist of history, this song would sound nice as an 80s synthpop remix–maybe Chvrches can cover it?

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