Upcoming Presentation: ‘From Sound Objects to Song Objects: Rethinking Sonic Materiality and Metaphor’

RethingkingSoundI’ll be presenting my current research at the Rethinking Sound conference in Seoul later this week. My current project explores the materiality of song and the relationship between songs and objects. As this is a sound studies conference, I’m using this paper to think about how my project intersects wtih the theories of Pierre Schaeffer and those influenced by his work on acousmatic listening, sound objects and the ‘thingness of sound‘.

The second half of the paper is taken up by a discussion of Björk and the ways her music gets connected to objects of various kinds: natural, technologcal, human, nonhuman, viral, meteorological. I’d already been planning to include references to the work of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Jlin, so I was delighted to learn last week about the new remix that Jlin has made of Björk’s ‘Arisen My Senses’. I love the way she makes it almost unrecognisable (as a Björk song, that is: it’s very recognisable as a Jlin song) while still retaining important aspects of the original vocal timbre. Jlin’s remix is the second on the Spotify playlist below; the original can be heard on last year’s Utopia.

 

My absract for the conference:

Recent years have witnessed an intense interest in the roles played by objects in the world, with many approaches recognising the vital interdependence of human and non-human actors. My current research aims to establish the importance of music (and sound more broadly) in this new terrain of scholarship by analysing how songs represent objects, how songs themselves become meaningful objects and how songs rely on a wide range of ever-changing objects to assure their survival. Using the connecting thread of materiality, I propose an approach to musical analysis that both connects with recent object-centred scholarship and overcomes existing musicological distinctions between music as thing and music as process.

This paper presents an analysis of the ‘song object’, a concept crucial to my research and which has connections to earlier theories of lyric substance as well as to Pierre Schaeffer’s objet sonore (sound object). What constitutes the song object? What kind of object is it? How do songs themselves comment on their construction, their parts, their physicality? I argue that songs are a particular kind of technology for ordering information and that they deploy particular technologies of object orientation in ways distinct from, but comparable to, those of paintings, sculptures, poems and books. Part of my analysis therefore consists of exploring material descriptors and metaphors connected to song, incorporating the artificial (hooks, bridges, etc.) and the natural (cells, viruses, weather systems). I’m interested in what these terms – and their application to song objects – can tell us about the materiality of sound.

 

Upcoming presentation: Be-bop-sh-boom-a-langa-langa-doo-wop: Pop’s Love of Nonsense

I will be presenting my current research at the University of York on Wednesday 27 January as part of the Music Department’s research seminar series. My talk is entitled ‘Be-bop-sh-boom-a-langa-langa-doo-wop: Pop’s Love of Nonsense’ and it relates to my current research project ‘The Sound of Nonsense’. Abstract below.

In this paper I explore popular music’s obsession with nonsense, focussing on the relationship between words, voice, sounds and sense. I discuss scat singing, vocalese, doo wop, early rock n roll, yodelling, sampling, hip hop, ‘arty’ popular singer-songwriters (Bob Dylan, Robert Wyatt, David Byrne), and artists such as Magma and Sigur Rós who have created their own languages in which to sing. Pop’s fondness for self-reflexivity, parody and wordplay is considered via the work of ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, in particular his song ‘Bob’, which offers a parody of Bob Dylan’s already nonsensical ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ consisting entirely of palindromes. This presentation draws upon research undertaken for my current research project ‘The Sound of Nonsense’ and I will explain how this specifically pop-focussed element connects to the broader exploration of nonsense literature, experimental writing, sound poetry, comedy and music.