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

kstedman:

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!

Originally posted on 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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CCCC 2015: A Story through Tweets

I woke up sweating in Tampa; I flew home to the Midwest; I went to bed shivering.

Using a few of my tweets as a guide, I want to share some of the things I sweated about while attending CCCC 2015; what made me fly; what made me shiver.

(I won’t try to be comprehensive–how could I?)

***

I’m thinking about the velocity of scholarly conversations, and all the agents that affect how and when our conversations get to our audiences.

Example: at CCCC 2014 I co-led a workshop on intellectual property in the classroom. The takeaway was a link to a Google Doc that we would keep up to date with resources for teachers wondering about copyright and fair use, especially when they’re teaching multimodal composition. We made a draft of the doc. We kept saying we would fix it up, make it better. And if I’m remembering correctly, we never really did get it to the level that we wanted. It sat on Google Drive, shareable but unshared. A lonely kitten named Potential.

But at the IP Caucus this year, someone mentioned that they wanted resources for teaching this stuff. Suddenly, that old draft of a document seemed pretty good–what was so lacking about it a year ago, I wondered?–so I shared it with my action table, tweeted a link to it. Suddenly, it seemed more ready than it did before.

What slowed me down? Not the technology; not the pace of scholarly publishing houses and journals–just me.

So in other contexts, how else do our ideas speed up, slow down, get stuck in alleys?–even alleys with fences so low that we could jump them easily, come on, just put your foot there, just hop a little bit, you’re even wearing the right shoes.

***

1. I’m thinking about how nice it is to be told things clearly and directly sometimes instead of having to figure them out. (Spoiler: this contradicts what I say later on in this very same post, so look out, please.)

2. I’m thinking about how different we are in this field, how many sub-groups there are.

A colleague, after returning from CCCC: “This is the first time I’ve really felt that I was missing out of something by not being on Twitter.” My thought: that’s how I felt in like 2010.

But that’s a reminder of my silo: at CCCC, I find myself in rooms with Computers and Writing people, especially sound-loving C&W people, over and over. Oh, hi, Jody/Jen/Wendi/Steven/Steven–what a surprise that we’re in the same room. It’s not a surprise, they say, and here are other fences you could step over Kyle, into all the other sub-parts of our field, if you would just reach out and learn more and more and more–they’re all here–so step into my interlaced fingers if you’re not afraid or busy, is that it are you afraid or busy?

*shivers*

***

I’m thinking about speed again.

Adam Banks’s chair’s address was the best that’s ever been. Just watch it, and be sure to shout at the right time, clap along, right there, I can see you, you don’t think I can but I can. I can fly.

And Banks can fly, too. That’s how Joyce Locke Carter introduced him: as personifying a mixture of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, flying up there in their Enterprise. So, fingers flying, I opened Photoshop (“I can do that!“) and made it happen. My most retweeted tweet ever.

But here’s what I was thinking, sweating there in my chair: “I didn’t remove the background from his head. I didn’t line the words up well enough. I could have made this more professional. Maybe I should wait a year until I get it perfect, and send it out then?”

***

My dissertation was probably influenced more than anything else by Steven B. Katz’s The Epistemic Music of Rhetoric: Toward the Temporal Dimension of Affect in Reader Response and Writing. Here’s a quote to make you shiver:

Perhaps time, and all it stands for, is the basis of the experience of language as sound, emotion a lump of time caught in the throat. Perhaps it is through time that we can know the affective experience of language as an indeterminate flux and flow. Perhaps it is in time that the essential unity, the oneness that oral cultures experienced in sound, exists. Perhaps we have not lost it. Perhaps it is still in the music of language.

So when I walked into A.31, there he was, Steve Katz himself, playing guitar and wearing a hat. I don’t have words.

And then: there was punkrock and crunchy beats and I swear this is true an entire presentation presented through rap:

Did I understand it all? I couldn’t. But did I make meanings that were both scholarly and non-scholarly (whatever that means)? I couldn’t help it.

***

This point, from early in Hammer’s D.23 presentation, is still ringing in my ears: what comes after? And after? And after?

Not just remix–what comes after knowing-what-I-know-and-telling-what-I-know-as-if-telling-was-the-same-as-teaching? (Don’t make me say post-pedagogy.)

What comes after waking up in the Florida heat, sweating? Isn’t it always flight? Isn’t it always shivers?

***

Now is when I will take one sentence to tell you (not teach you) that there are times when pre-panel marketing on Twitter is my favorite and times when it bugs me yet I can’t seem to tell when is which, but whatever here I am using sound to draw people to my very own panel (F.19), as if I were playing a flute to lure you into the room, yes you, or rattling a chain-link fence to get your attention. So there.

Here was my experience drafting my part of our 4-part, sound-filled presentation: I couldn’t make myself fall into the telling mode, the this-is-what-I-know thing. So, as a draft, as an invention device, I started writing in the voice of the twentieth century composers I was using to personify the main conflict I was exploring.

(Short version: Milton Babbitt stood in for folks who compose for specialized audiences, the few in his academic world who will understand his academic/musical moves; Elliott Carter stood in for folks who compose for a more general audience, those who keep in mind how difficult it is for non-specialists to understand complex musical moves.)

So instead of saying, “Milton Babbitt claims…” I just said, “I’m Milton Babbitt. I want you to realize that….” And I wasn’t at first going to stick with that first-person style the whole time, for the whole presentation, you have to believe me on this, but then I couldn’t get away from it, those voices were so compelling.

And when it was time to clarify, to sum up, to say to the audience, “You might not have understood everything I just threw at you, so let me make some sense out of it,” I realized 1) that I had dropped in so so many clues that they ought to have known already by then, and 2) that who was I to say what my own presentation meant?

***

Katz writes a lot about Cicero:

The central thesis of this book is that affect in reading and writing could perhaps be better (though not completely) described and understood by a phonocentric rather than a logocentric theory of response–one based on aural, temporal modes of experiencing and reasoning that we perhaps find in the theory of the ancient sophists and Cicero rather than the visual, spatial ones that currently dominate our scientific culture.

***

Copyright, IP policies, fair use–they seem so static, so certain, so arhetorical. (I mean, I don’t think so, and neither does G.44. But I hear you. I know they seem that way.)

But consider the way fair use really works: it’s fundamentally, purposefully fuzzy as a concept. Until a judge says so, no one can 100% say whether a use is fair or not. Not even you, or you. Or I.

***

In J.18, they made stuff: a dataset and its interpretation, and a visual/aural conversation with a murderer (that’s right), and a dataset and its interpretation, and a calming-yet-wild screencast which is another way of saying that it was Dan Anderson.

And why did all this making feel so, so good? I think it goes back, partly to the telling vs. showing thing. Yes, they told, but they showed. And I made meanings, and even experienced a lot of the good stuff on my own there in my own browser, what, did you think I’m always typing notes or tweeting or something no I’m also looking things up, even you, I looked up you, nice profile pic.

But eventually, I stopped typing and shut up for a bit:

***

I know you’re looking for another cue about the theme of this post so HERE IT IS, right in L.27 (where else?). Also here:

Yes, pleasure is the right word, the pleasure that makes you fly, that makes you shiver. And again, it came through making, not telling. Or, well, some of both. A brownie mix of making and telling. Which brings pleasure, ding! will you get that out of the oven for me?

You’ve guessed it by now, that I don’t follow for too long when there’s theorizing without making, and you don’t agree and that’s fine, it’s fine, and it’s my fault for not reading widely enough or understanding things I should understand, I really get that, but guys. Theory can be part of the making. The big words can help us move toward funk, and flight, and freedom. But we have to go there: we have to take the flight, make the things, work the big ideas into the creations, the art.

Jeff Rice (remember? I’m talking about L.27? Still? Still.) wove Jameson’s cognitive mapping into his narratives of fatherhood, travel, and scholarly authenticity. Jameson was a node in a network of ideas. It wasn’t, “AND NOW JAMESON JAMESON I WILL EXPLAIN TO YOU INSTEAD OF GIVING YOU TIME TO READ IT YOURSELF HERE’S MORE BIG NAMES I’VE GOT DOZENS, HA HA!” (And some presentations were like that. Not in L.27, though. Which we’re still discussing.) Instead, Jameson achieved an equality with beer flights, with pictures of children, with Stuart Hall’s coding/decoding, with William Least Heat Moon and Wendell Berry. It all spoke to each other.

As if you’ll believe me just because I told you so.

***

Two Ways to Confuse Your Audience, A Guide, by Kyle D. Stedman, PhD:

  1. Use big-theory words over and over without tying them to anything that we can see or touch.
  2. Carefully compose a pastiche of sources, meanings, and ideas, leaving it somewhat up to the audience to put the pieces together, resulting in a lot of meanings that are all in the same key, even if no one self-composed exactly the same mental song.
    • Corollary to 2: This may result in not so much confusion as pleasure.

***

My 2nd-most-popular tweet from the conference, I think. But I’m not sure it means what I think it might look like it means. (Which is ok. Which is part of my big point. You know that, right?) I’m not even sure what it means myself.

But as with all the best things, I figured out what it sort-of-means-to-me through conversation. On Saturday night, as people were rewteeting, I got into a delightful conversation with a few folks. Look: I can prove it:

(This is the conversation I was in before, during, and after I stopped at Bo’s for a peanut butter shake. Like, picture me sucking on a shake in a dark car, typing on my phone, in the midst of this conversation, trying to get it all in before I get in the car and respond at a stoplight, only at stoplights, I’m not one of those people. And a Bo’s peanut butter shake is both theory and art, let me tell you.)

You know how sometimes a tweet seems to be coyly making a statement through its rhetorical wondering? But sometimes it’s actually someone wondering, unable to land on an answer. In this 2nd-most-popular tweet, this was actually me wondering all the things that it says I’m wondering, not telling-by-pretending-to-wonder. That is: What kinds of changes do I want? When does the artfulness of making instead of explaining affect audiences in such a way that they are moved–emotionally, in time, in real, actual ways–to enact change in the world? And when is that not enough–when do our theories and terminologies and our tellings help cut through the confusedness and polyvocality of art, leading to even more and better action?

And here, dear reader, is me continuing to wo/ander. Hold my hand.

See you next year?

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Don’t Read the Comments: Teaching Fallacies

Yesterday I pulled one of those last-minute changes to teaching plans, and I think I need to think it through a bit here to figure out what I think.

My students in Rhetoric 102 (an argument/research course) are reading Lunsford and Ruszkiewicz’s Everything’s an Argument, and we’re scheduled to talk about fallacies this morning (in half an hour, in fact). Now, I’ve never liked teaching fallacies–it always smacks too much of memorizing terms that aren’t very useful (despite the usefulness of being able to spot fallacies in practice). In previous semesters, I’ve skipped this chapter, using a different textbook. But this is my first time with this book, so I thought I’d dig in.

Unsure of exactly what I would do, I tossed onto my schedule long ago that on individual computers in the lab, we would find fallacies on Daily Kos (liberal) and Instapundit (conservative), sites that the book recommended as places to find things to analyze. But when I actually sat down yesterday and spent time browsing the sites, I got distracted.

Specifically, by this: “Racists Respond to Article about Racism” on Daily Kos. Author UberGoober is responding to a couple of other articles discussing the use of the word nude as a default word meaning “the color of nude skin if you’re white.” Here’s how he links to the first article and responds to it:

Replacing the Fashion Industry’s Definition of “Nude”

At first, I found myself chuckling over the premise of the article. Of course the author wasn’t wrong, but… Really? Is that such a big problem? Silly college kids…  But finally the author got to her real point:

We aren’t trying to condemn the entire fashion industry or all manufacturers of commercial goods as intentionally racist. What we are saying is there are subtle instances of racism ingrained into our daily lives; instances so commonplace they often go unnoticed.

Wow. Bingo! The author is absolutely right.

But here’s where it gets nasty: when a conservative site later cites the OU story to make fun of it, UberGoober read the comments . . . and he says that every single comment was nasty. Here’s how he ends:

For some reason, I was surprised by this. I know not all conservatives are racist.  But it is so commonplace now that it goes unrebutted. Not a single person pointing out the inappropriate responses or suggesting the author may just have a point. Not one.

I’m disgusted. I used to respect the differences between liberals and conservatives (for the record, I used to  be a conservative). There’s nothing to respect here. They aren’t driven by viable alternative political views. They are driven by willful ignorance, bigotry and hatred. And they like it that way.

Ugh, I thought. Here’s an author who tried to dig into fallacious reasoning and just got disgusted by what he found. And I was feeling the same thing. So how was I supposed to deal with this in class–was there a way to work this into a lesson on fallacies? I don’t know. But here’s what I decided:

This morning (in 20 minutes, now), we’ll go to the computer lab. I’ll tell the story of my poking around and finding those articles. Then we’ll open a shared Google Doc that says this:

Practice Identifying Fallacies

I find that people are especially likely to use fallacies when discussing “isms”: qualities like racism or sexism that stir up passionate debate on both sides.

To explore the ways fallacies work in practice, follow these steps:

  1. Skim the list of “isms” from this page, run by the Social Justice Center at Washington University in St. Louis. Focus especially on ones you aren’t as familiar with.
  2. Pick one of the isms and search for it in Google News’s blog search, which is more likely to give you an opinionated point of view than a factual news story. (You may search for a related word if you like–so you can search ableism or ableist.) Here’s how to search:
    • Head to Google News at https://news.google.com/.
    • Search for your word. The results will include news sources and blogs.
    • Underneath the search bar, you can now click “Search tools.” That will make a new bar appear; on it, click “All news” and select “Blogs” instead.

screenshot of Google News

Now your results are all from blogs!

  1. Skim through the search results until you find an opinionated piece that interests you. It might be an article you agree with, disagree with, or aren’t sure about.
  2. Read the article in search of fallacies. Don’t forget to skim the comments! Use EAA ch. 5 for examples of things to look for. If you’re not finding anything, ask yourself, “Is there a part of this argument that I don’t agree with, or that I can imagine someone else not agreeing with?
  3. If you find some fallacies, report them below, under the horizontal line, following my example. If you can use the term from the book, that’s awesome–but if you can’t quite put your finger on how to name the fallacy, that’s okay too. Just describe it so the rest of us (who haven’t read your article) will know what you found. 

Copy the following template, paste it at the bottom of this document, and then fill it in with what you found.

Your name:
Link to webpage you read: [if you hit the space bar right after pasting, it will turn into a link]
Author and title of the webpage: [put the title of the page in quotation marks and capitalize all the big words]
Fallacies you found: [in your own words]

Your name: Dr. Stedman
Link to webpage you read: http://www.oudaily.com/opinion/editorials/replacing-the-fashion-industry-s-definition-of-nude/article_b1280ffc-376b-11e4-9332-0017a43b2370.html
Author and title of the webpage: By The Editorial Board (no author named), “Replacing the Fashion Industry’s Definition of ‘Nude’”
Fallacies you found:  The first commenter compares the article author to ISIS, essentially saying that these “rigid ideas about women’s clothing” are similar to conservative Islam’s requirements that women dress in a certain way. It seems like a fallacious comparison to me–criticizing the word “nude” in fashion is very different than actually regulating what people wear. If I turn to the book, it’s closest to the “faulty analogy,” I think (87-88).

[End of document, with space where they’ll fill in their findings]

Here’s language that I included at first but took out to make the document easier to use:

Side note: Why are fallacies more common on these topics?

My guess is that this is often because of a fundamental disagreement about how to define the “ism.”

An example: some people see racism as relating to a particular moral failure in a particular moment, kind of like saying that a statement was “hateful.” They might say, “A racist statement is one that was purposefully designed to hurt someone of a different race.”

But others see racism as a broad element that is built into a culture at the deepest levels. These people might say, “A racist statement is one that relies on the deep history of inequality that shapes our ideas and relationships and language.” Therefore, a racist statement might not be a purposefully hateful statement, from this point of view–it might be evidence of a deeper cultural problem.

So consider people with these two very different perspectives arguing about if something is or is not racist. How could they ever agree with each other? In that frustration, I think many turn to fallacious arguments.

So why am I telling you all this? I’m not sure. But it’s bugging me more than usual, our inability to have civil discourse, the disturbing nastiness that is lingering under so many of our facades. I mean, I’m a Presbyterian–I shouldn’t be surprised by disturbing nastiness lingering under facades; it’s part of my worldview. But when you see it come out in the comments, it’s a different thing somehow.

And yes, I know what you’re going to say: Kyle, don’t read the comments. Never read the comments.

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Contribute to a new podcast on pedagogy

Greetings! I’ve recently agreed to host and produce a new monthly podcast on pedagogy. Fun, right?

Though the podcast will focus on pedagogy, it will probably especially also cover the other things I’m interested in: digital technology, multimodal assignments, rhetorics of sound and music, intellectual property, fan studies, and kind of everything else, as long as it connects to teaching in some way.

What I Need

For my firstest episode ever, I need your help. I’d like to collect short audio clips from amazing post-secondary teachers around the country (world?) answering the following prompt:

What do you do online to prepare for your classes each semester? What digital tools do you use? What spaces do you set up for yourself and for your students?

Do you have something that you could share in a one-minute audio file (max)? (I bet you do. You think you don’t, but you do. You’re amazing.)

If you want to share, I’d love to get an audio file from you by Wednesday, August 6. Details below on how. But no matter how you choose to share, be sure that I know your name (both spelling and pronunciation) and your institution. If you submit something, I’ll assume I have your permission to include your words and voice–which may be edited for quality and concision–in a freely distributed podcast online; if you’re not okay with that, don’t submit.

Questions? I’m @kstedman.

How to Share

Option 1: You already know how to record a one-minute audio file. 
Excellent! Then all you need to do is email it to me at KyleDStedman [at] gmail. (Don’t miss my middle initial, D, in the email address. Kind of stupid of me to put it there, I know.) I prefer an mp3 at 192 kbps or higher quality, but I’ll really take whatever I can get.

Another way to share is through SoundCloud (an audio storing and streaming site, kind of like the audio equivalent of YouTube). My account there is kstedman. If you upload a track to your (free) SoundCloud account, you can then share it with me easily: go to my profile page, click the little message icon under my picture on the left, and in the message, click “add track”; you’ll be able to choose any file you’ve uploaded. There are also easy ways to share an uploaded file with people via social media and email; just click around (or ask me if you’re not sure).

Option 2: You need some suggestions for recording and editing audio files.
Hey, that’s fine. We all begin somewhere. Recording is easy; it all depends on how fancy you want to get. For instance:

  • You can record straight to SoundCloud if your computer has a built-in mic or if you have a microphone you can plug in (which sounds better, if you’ve got one). Plug your mic in, go to SoundCloud, and click “upload” in the upper right. There will be an option there to record your audio straight to the web, and when you’re done you’ll be able to share it with me (see instructions under Option 1 above) or email it to anyone you want.
  • You can also record straight to SoundCloud on their app (iOS; Android), which actually includes a bit of simple editing as well (so you can edit out false starts and coughs–though I can do that for you too).
  • If you want to get fancier (and who doesn’t?), there’s always Audacity, the powerful free audio editing software. I won’t bulk up this post with instructions, but you can read their Getting Started page. Essentially, you would install Audacity, use it to record yourself speaking, edit anything you want to edit, export to an mp3, and then send that mp3 to me through email or SoundCloud.

Option 3: This is complicated and I’m freaking out and will never help for that reason.
Thanks for your honesty! Take a deep breath, and then consider this possibility: leave me a voicemail with your contribution. I’ve used Google Voice to set up a voicemailbox at area code 815 and then 201 and then 2815. (Trying to avoid spam by writing it funny.) Leave a message there and I’ll be notified!

Now What?

After I get all your awesome contributions (by Wednesday, August 6), I’ll choose a few of the best and most varied, collect them into a podcast with some additional comments from me, and distribute it to my publishing team by the middle of August. When the final product is available, I’ll contact everyone who submitted anything so you’ll know how to access the finished podcast.

(And by the way, if you compose music or know someone who does, consider writing snappy intro/outro music for me!)

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Second Guessing

The drums on R.E.M.’s first album Murmur and its follow-up Reckoning sound completely different. I’ve listened to these albums on and off for twenty years, and I hadn’t paid attention to the drums until recently.

Here’s how it happened: I read J. Niimi’s book about Murmur, a delightful exploration of its recording, lyrics, and meanings. Then I sat and listened to the whole album through headphones. Just sat and listened. Then I read Greg Milner’s Perfecting Sound Forever, a book that, among other things, has reminded me how much I haven’t been hearing in the recordings I have. Then I decided to read a bit about how Reckoning was recorded. Then I sat and listened to the whole album through headphones. Just sat and listened.

And there’s a real difference: Murmur’s drums, recorded in a booth dedicated just to drums, are clean, distinct, a bit tinny–“disco,” according to one source I can’t find any more–and, to my ears, not really worth saying much about. But Reckoning‘s drums are rock-and-roll, strong, and intense. It sounds obvious to me now. I can’t unhear.

But here’s the thing: for years, I’ve always thought of those two records as having the same sound, more than any other R.E.M. records. They were twinsies, with what I’ve always thought of as similar, simple liner notes; similar, simple songs; similar, simple meanings.

How much of that judgment, though, came from my personal history with those two records–my first R.E.M. albums bought on CD, bought at the same time, shelved next to each other, and paired by me (not by them or by the sounds of their drums) as a sort of disc one and two of a double album?

Really, though, it’s more like this: there is indeed a double album effect going on here, but each album is a disc one and me, my body, and my memories are an always-present disc two.

***

Here’s Thomas Rickert: “ambience puts place, language, and body into coadaptive, vital, and buoyant interaction” (via).

Buoyant: it floats. I float. And I float because I’m enmeshed in something else that is denser than I am.

The spine of Reckoning: “File under water.”

***

I didn’t like R.E.M.’s first two albums all that much, at first. I wasn’t really their intended audience, either: I first heard them ten years after they were released, in 1992, when “Drive” from Automatic for the People (album #8) was on the radio stations I was starting to listen to. This was sixth grade, which I musically associate with Automatic, Pearl Jam’s Ten, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, and Arrested Development’s Three Years. . . . 

Autumn Lockwood told me that R.E.M.’s old stuff was better; she made me a tape of Document (album #5, still something that sounds little like Murmur and Reckoning) plus her favorite two songs from Lifes Rich Pageant (“Superman” and “Swan Swan H”).

I liked it. I slowly decided I should methodically own the whole back-catalog, so I joined and re-joined and re-joined Columbia House and BMG until I had most of their albums on tape and CD.

I remember so much about the look and feel of how that music was packaged: Autumn’s yellow tape sleeve with hand-written song titles; my white Automatic tape; Michael Stipe’s changing face: airbrushed inside Eponymous, wrinkled and wise inside Automatic; my tape of Green so faded from leaving it in cars.

In the context of my rediscovery of this band that everyone else had known for a decade, I always lumped Murmur and Reckoning together as kind of weird sounding, with something distasteful that I couldn’t place. Lifes Rich Pageant somehow sounded right to me, like the R.E.M. I knew singing songs I hadn’t had the privilege to know yet. The first two albums sounded like a different band; they were part of a context I didn’t know anything about (early 80s college rock); they were a swimming pool I had been too young to play in.

But here’s what I wonder: Murmur and Reckoning were my first R.E.M. albums on CD. Was this a band that, for me, was fundamentally tied to the medium of the cassette? Was it wrong, or impossible, for me to enjoy them any other way? And what does it mean that I chose to get their oldest records on the newest recording technologies, like watching a John Wayne movie on Blu-Ray, or watching recordings of old musicals on YouTube, or listening to digital versions of old cylinder recordings?

No, those parallels aren’t right. It was more like taking a river–the entire experience of standing with your feet in a rushing, cold, fresh-smelling river–and shoving the whole thing into a 1-liter Nalgene bottle, and then sipping from the bottle, and then saying that the river isn’t your favorite river of all the rivers.

***

Milner’s book describes a visit he had with Dr. John Diamond, a man convinced that listening to digital audio is physiologically hurting us:

He encouraged all of his patients, no matter what issues they were working through, to make music a regular part of their lives–listening to it, and, if possible, playing it themselves. But recently he had noticed that music did not seem to be doing some of them any good. In fact, it appeared to make their ailments worse. . . .

It didn’t take him long to figure out that many of his patients were listening to records manufactured from digital masters. Could that be the problem? When he could find them, Diamond substituted analog versions of the same songs or pieces–sometimes even by the same performer–and the music once again proved therapeutic.

(via)

***

I know I want to write about R.E.M. and how my memories affect how I’ve heard their music throughout the years.

So naturally, I go to the section on the canon of memory in my dissertation. The first sentence of that section makes me physically jump back a second, because I think it coincidentally mentions R.E.M., but it turns out I’m just seeing it wrong. The sentence actually reads, “When I hear the word memory, I think of computer memory, in terms of hard drive space and RAM.”

This makes me pause. I wasn’t thinking about a computer’s “memory” when I started this post. But as I write, I’m streaming a 1985 R.E.M. concert from Germany in another browser window, a concert I learned about when I tweeted a quote from an online article about the band:

These days, R.E.M. is wrapped into my digital memory just as much as they were ever wrapped into my body’s memory.

***

20th-century composer John Adams once told an interviewer this:

There is a ten-year-old boy (not a student) who comes over to my house every week or so and plays his music for me. He has a MIDI sequencer at home, and his pieces are all polished and notated with his print software. I don’t discourage him for doing that, but I also point out that there’s no substitute for having plain, awesome musical chops: having a great ear, being able to perform well on an instrument, and having a huge, encyclopedic knowledge of music. Composers should know everything.

(via)

***

For a couple weeks now, I’ve been listening to the early R.E.M. albums over and over, checking out the special editions from the library, streaming various shows, reading the lyrics on various websites.

And in a digital, analog, distant, embodied sort of way, I’ve taught myself to love these records. Really, really love them. Eventually, I know I’ll move on to the next records, paying attention to them all in this new way, with headphones and lyric sheets in front of me. But I’m not ready yet. I want more early R.E.M.

(And in the back of my mind: can you manufacture love? Can you manufacture a river?)

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What I Saw and Heard at Computers and Writing 2014

After Computers and Writing 2014, I’m thinking a lot about how composers sometimes purposefully leave it up to their audience to make meanings–something that was especially driven home when I saw Dan Anderson perform this piece live. In that spirit, I’m going to focus on the things I saw and heard at the conference and leave it at that.

Saw: new rules for the C’s the Day card game.

Heard: Oh, are you waiting for the Pullman shuttle too?

Saw the Palouse:

the Palouse. #washingtonstate #palouse #kamiakbutte #computersandwriting

A photo posted by Material Lives (@materiallives) on

Heard: When we first moved here, my husband wanted to run through the grass. He thought it would be all soft.
Was it?
Oh, no. Not at all.

Saw: a room full of amazing friends in an old post office:

https://twitter.com/ride2cw/status/474386759057305600

Saw: a secret mineral museum, which at least felt like a secret to me, since I randomly walked into a tall building hoping to look out of a tall window and found dinosaurs and black lights and everything old:

Lesson: exploring is worth it. #rockmuseum #dinosaurbones #cwcon

A photo posted by Kyle Stedman (@basementwall) on

Heard: a delightful collection of advice and mentoring and friendship at the annual Graduate Research Network. (Whether a student or not, I think this meeting is reason enough to attend the conference.)

Saw: a bowl made of words. The next day, it was still there:

M|seum of |rt #wordbowl #cwcon

A photo posted by Kyle Stedman (@basementwall) on

Heard: Matt Gomes‘s smooth mix–smooth like whiskey, like Jodeci:

B•) by Matt Gomes on Mixcloud

Heard: Abigal Lambke‘s strong argument in A10 for attention to monomodal composition, like sonic essays that exist only in sound and no other modality. Bonus: she’s a killer teacher; I want to use some of her assignments.

Saw: more of the C’s the Day card game:

Testing the #cstheday card game. #cwcon #d8

A photo posted by Kyle Stedman (@basementwall) on

Heard: more conversations about 90s music than I’d heard for years. I still don’t know how much I was making these conversations happen, or if they just happened to circulate around me, like a sonic tornado. But surely it’s not just a coincidence that on one night, Tim Lockridge tries to remind me how amazing STP’s Purple is, and then the next day Wendi Sierra puts on her grunge station on Pandora, which manages to play like every song from the album. Sigh . . . 90s music.

Heard: some karaoke for the ages, including Iron Maiden, Lisa Loeb, Phil Collins, Bon Jovi, Kris Kross, Goo Goo Dolls, and Boyz II Men. Best backup singers ever.

Saw and Heard: the Pittsburgh power team’s presentation Archiving the Future: Three Material In(ter)ventions (F4), one of the best of the conference. Kerry Banazek discussed HDR photography, bringing up the question of to what extent material recordings replicate reality. Erin Anderson tricked us into believing we were hearing a conversation between a couple and their therapist, only to discover that neither person had ever met–Erin had digitally manipulated the conversation. (It’s the “age of the splice,” she said, quoting Stanyek and Piekut.) Trisha Campbell shared her murder archive with us, fully disclosing the possible ethical problems, “tricking” the voices into speaking in this space, and “tricking” us into listening, and thus becoming complicit in our own way. Wow.

Saw and Heard: session H1 with powerhouses Dan Anderson (video linked above in 1st paragraph), Jason Loan, and Justin Hodgson. My only notes were “Too good to take notes….” I’ll just say this: there were trains, Bon Iver, juxtaposition, lasers, Die Hard, and all kinds of things in Justin’s video:

#riskyscholar #ftw

Thought: What would it look like to have a #riskyscholar performance/presentation during each session time at future Computers and Writing conferences? Ones where the presenters are sharing/speaking/making/meaning but not necessarily in ways that are interpreted the same way by everyone in the room. Verging on art. And if we’re not making art–I at least at this moment want to say, even if I don’t know if I mean it all the time–if we’re not making art, why are we making at all?

Saw: all kinds of prep for the session I was honored to be on (I1) with pals Steven Hammer, Harley Ferris, and Jon Stone:

Setting up for #i1. #cwcon

A photo posted by Kyle Stedman (@basementwall) on

Heard: so many sounds during our panel that I can barely list them, but they include: the wavery sounds of a welcoming record on an uneven turntable; the pops and clicks when a record has run out but no one has removed the stylus yet; the sounds that the Lomaxes recorded when traveling through the South and recording in prisons in the 1930s and such; a Bach organ piece paired with 80s electronic war sounds; a Bow Wow record played simultaneously with the record player’s stylus and a homemade needle/microphone apparatus; a microphone dropped into Coke; a room invited to make chaotic sounds at the same time; a room joining together to feel the feels that come when “Stand by Me” is joined by images from the Civil Rights era; conversations about what sounds we have the right to co-0pt and which we don’t; conversations about spaces that allow and disallow sonic disruptions (punctuated by a perfectly planned phone ring). (Happily, the group singing was recorded once and twice.)

I’m serious. In 75 minutes, I heard those sounds.

The last 49 minutes of those were caught here:

Heard: lots of goodbyes from new and old friends, whom I never know if I should hug or not.

Heard: this delightful 1991 performance from R.E.M. on an old tape while writing this, which must must must have affected the things I wrote but the thing is you don’t know what or how you don’t know you don’t know:

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