Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Sound Souvenirs | Some (kind of) Thoughts...

Sound Souvenirs: Audio Technologies, Memory and Cultural Practices | Karin Bijsterveld & José van Dijck

Bijsterveld, Karin and Van Dijck, José, Sound Souvenirs: Audio Technologies, Memory and Cultural Practices (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009)

This collection of articles focuses on the act of recalling certain sounds/ music in the efforts to elicit memory and the connection with the technological devices that facilitate in doing so (so much so that they have perhaps lost their own presence). The importance attached to accessing sounds from the past (which are experienced in the present through digital media devices (from cassette to the iPod)) encourages questioning the narratives of past and present social and cultural contexts. The importance and dominance of the personal music device in present day constructs raises some interesting questions in relation to cultural practices, like how we receive music (or sound) and what is done with it (documentation, archive, curate, preserve, listen/ experience). The authors investigate the changing role of culture and how digital media has enabled this manifestation. This transformation has enabled digital devices to become the default mode of experiencing sound and the main means of artistic expression, interaction (forming individual and communal relationships and senses of identity). I was initially reluctant to see how some of the ideas raised in this collection could be applied to my research (the reconfiguration of presence and the mediatization of opera and reception), but some key theories proposed have helped open up my awareness of the audience (collective and individual); expressing the importance to explore the cultural context that will shape their experience of live and mediatized performances.  I have come to realize that contemporaneous society is saturated with media and audio technologies- to a far greater extent than I had really accepted prior to my reading of the text. In the introduction Karin outlines a key thought to motivate the undertaking of this work and something to keep in mind while reading the text: ‘The cultural practices in which people make use of audio technologies to elicit, reconstruct, celebrate, and manage their memories, or even a past in which they did not participate’[1]: there is an obvious demand for people to gain access to music from the past and preserve it for their own personal archive; something to manage and curate for themselves (which arguably could be seen as documenting one’s perceptions of self-hood/ or connecting with their sense of identity. This desire to preserve certain sounds/ music raises some interesting questions about an individual’s desired means of attaining access to culture and how this defines their perceptions of how they should access works (everything should be attainable and willing to be manipulated to put on device). This confirms that the default mode of receiving and experiencing sound is through mediation. The device is integral to the experience and facilitates in cataloging music. Audio technologies permit the sounds to be accessed on cue. This also points to the requirement for a digital mediator to convey, remind and re-live certain experiences. These devices facilitate with actively engaging and mediating soundscapes, further forming sonic associations; which then confirms the primacy of digital mediators. This is the primary means of engaging with music and performances; experiencing sound is controlled by the author (the owner of the device). Contemporary society dominated by mass media- a plethora of communicative devices facilitate in experiencing cultural practices; we use these for personal reference to resurrect, re-live and connect with the past- for whatever reasons (admittedly this text focuses largely on nostalgia and sentimentality, therefore substantiating the importance of re-calling and re-living the past). We can also consider how this places an impact on the human experience; individual and collective memory and communal experiences have been reconfigured with momentum gained from the continually advancing technologies. With the growing dependence on digital devices as mediators- attitudes have shifted with regards to experiencing culture. The desire to preserve, document and archive must have consequences on the ideals of performance- the social and cultural psyche and the performative environment.
                                                                The first chapter largely focuses on the process in which new technologies gradually acquire a familiar embedding and function in everyday life[2]: this investigates how seamless certain technologies have applied themselves to domestic life- becoming part of the norms and basic requirements in household narratives. The formula of translation in which objects gain entry into the domestic fabric is through:
  • Appropriation: the process of buying object
  • Objectification:  the way that the household express their norms, and desired display of social status (socio-economic)
  •  Incorporation: what happens when the object is incorporated into everyday practices
  •  Conversion: the role of the device in the relationship between its owners and persons outside the house.

How devices seek entry and apply their function is subject to targeting the consumer and developing a strategy to entice the designated audience (contextualize use). The narrative of the sale tactics, expresses certain motivations and will communicate so but that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s how ‘it’ll go down’ within the public sphere. This is worth considering in relation to what stage simulcasts are at and how they are being sold to opera/ cinema consumers. What are the simulcast characteristics being propagated and what is the narrative behind the marketing (wider audience, mainstreaming, modernizing)?
Chapter two exposes us to how something (like mix-taping) can make its mark on cultural narratives and gain such popularity and momentum, therefore becoming a widespread activity (designing and curating one’s own musical collection/ archive). This mainstream practice is also noteworthy because it essentially went against the manufactures intentions- the proposed function of the devices  (in relation to recording) was recreated by the public- they adapted it to suit their needs; becoming a product of the people and a cultural phenomenon. This leads me to question mediatized opera; this matter of adapting and asserting new meanings that then become interwoven into the norms of reception and cultural practices.
Sterne’s chapter explores the current framework of music- concerning the fluctuation of the commercial and historical value placed on the mass-production of music; stating that value diminishes over time the more common and available the form is. Rareness holds commercial value for demand of preservation- simulcast productions may be considered here. The Met avoid over indulging their audience; each performance corresponds with one global live event (The Met: Live in HD). If by some magic they appear on YouTube a few days subsequent to the performance then they aren’t in the virtual performance sphere for long- savvy spies submit complaints promptly and the performance is lost (except to those quick enough to preserve it…). Sterne draws on Mike Featherstone’s theory of: ‘an expanding consumer culture and the genesis of world cities that leads to the globalization of culture and the increase in the volume of cultural production and reproduction beyond our capacity to recover the various cultural objects, images, and fragments into a framework through which we can makes sense of’[3]: this quote refers to the present situation of contemporary cultural contexts- noting the importance placed on mass-production and consumption and the limited desire for selectivity.
Weber’s article reflects on the tangibility of portable devices, from their initial advertisements and publicized use, to how this has shaped the reliance on mediators, and further notes that unforeseen meanings and practices have stemmed from the initial suggested use. Weber notes how heavily we rely on digital devices as a means of personally creating and controlling perceptions and experience. The mass production and consumption digital audio devices has developed a set of meanings and functions and has become part of the urban soundscape for a more diverse use that can be experienced in isolation or communally. As these devices are portable and the audio can be shared publicly then the act of sharing/ playing music in a communal setting provides individuals with the opportunity to express control of spaces; transforming their personal space in communal settings. Issues of authority, personal selection and private auditory sphere are important as it is the dominant way in which to experience music and sound- in isolation with control of how the music works- volume, skipping, replay, rewind, Fast forward, etc. This is the primary means of experiencing music and sound (which with headphones is all-consuming, surround sound); how do we apply this manner of reception with other cultural ventures? i.e how does this shape our list of requirements for music and sound. With DVD and TV we gain control of our experience and reception of audio; sound and visuals and can be manipulated to our desired reception conditions. If, as Auslander proposes, TV is the cultural context- then are we adapting these practices to our ideologies of reception?
In the fifth chapter, Bull discusses the sense of ownership and self (to communicate) that the iPod has enabled. He addresses the cataloging of music and sound and how people: increasingly use communication technologies to control and manage their daily experiences; this designated function indicates the move towards the consumer’s omnipotence[4]: immediacy, access and complete control of what they are subjected to (audio). He emphasizes the role of nostalgia and how consumers reach to the past to almost transcend the present- through recalling memories[5] this can be used to re-call events- individual (personal from their memory) or collective (greater societal cultural contribution). This prompts certain questions: What is the (cultural and social) background of an audience? What makes an audience member? Their role needs to be contextualized, as they are a product of cultural construction. What we are exposed to and what we expect and accept from engaging and experiencing cultural material are formed by the norms and defaults established by our cultural environment (connected with sociological constructs). As a certain set of values, practices, conventions and rituals become embedded in our culture, this alters the means in which we engage with forms of media and performance- they either adhere or deny the set of ‘rules’ or ‘norms’ that we have been exposed to and accepted as cultural context.
Taylor’s contribution explores the dynamic and idealistic perspectives imposed on the realm of culture and furthermore, how material is created and (later) contextualized. He notes that the framing of meaning is: ‘[from the] saturation of media and advertising: visceral pleasure of the music, nostalgia seems to be the main reason for the fans’ attraction to the music, the reason they attend live concerts’[6]: the primary reason they generate so much interest is through mediation from digital media- they have established a list of expectations and associations that have become embedded into their perception of the performance. Attending live concerts enables this sense of co-presence, but… ‘everything about the performers is ramped up compared to the original recordings, as though the musicians have to out-perform their recorded forebears’[7]: although Taylor’s assertions can be applied a wider contemporary cultural context (rather than just focusing on ‘oldies and popular music): the ramifications of the dominance of mediatization and digital mediators are re-defining certain aspects of performances, as audience members have been exposed to more examples and are able to attain a greater amount of information for points of reference. Therefore they have a list of expectations and requirements (acoustically and aesthetically)- search engines, blogs, social media like Google and Twitter archive responses and counter-examples.
Dijck’s work addresses the conscious responses and appreciation of music stemming from the notion that technologies and objects of recorded music are an intrinsic part of reminiscing- providing a means to access and store memories. He places emphasis on collective memory and how certain songs reconnect with the past- highlighting the commitment to consciously create meaning. Dijck notes that devices may be considered symbolic resources in the construction of identity and community- contributing to a sense of collective memory and communal cultural heritage[8]. He also discusses mediated memories stating that they: ‘are shaped precisely at the intersections of personal and collective memory’[9]: the collaborative foundation of opinions (and cultivating reactions) rely on both individually and collective dynamics and perceptional context. The dominance of multimedia  (radio, tv, websites, social media, etc.)[10] has encouraged the development up of perceptions of the current cultural sphere- from sharing and re-constructing collective experiences.
Ficker’s work looks into the: ‘the interplay between, sometimes overlapping, contexts of memorial practices and various official or unofficial ‘‘carriers’’ of memory in a society at a specific time’ and further questions ‘what is the analytical potential or relevance of this theoretical differentiation between communicative and cultural memory between communicative and cultural memory’[11] (124): Although the cultural meaning of the transistor radio and the performance of popular music frames his arguments; the article raises interest from a historical perspective- reflecting on the co-construction and re-construction of cultural meaning. Further exploring the context, practice and routines of listening; the transfer or adaptation of experiencing entertainment evolves to be re-appropriated to the demands of society. The characteristics of devices are subject to change (like the desire for the transistor to be mobile) with social and cultural conditioning in a constantly evolving media dominated society.
Braun’s contributions lead me to consider how renewed interest and the reclaiming objects (instruments like the Theremin) from the past can be re-situated and brought into mainstream culture (perhaps not to the masses, but certainly increasing its cultural value). This revival really captured the desire to breath new life into old mediums- and therefore encouraging new engagement. Another thought that may be of use to my research is that: ‘the auditory realm is experienced as a liminal space, a space of constant transformation’ (this thought is implied throughout the collection of essays) and how the Internet functions as a stage[12] it may be worth checking out some sociological theories behind this statement… ?
Pinch and Reinecke’s discussion on ‘Technonostalgia’: the idea that the movement toward both new sounds and new interactions (aural, social, physical) is concretized through combinations of the past and present. The re-appropriation of the past (devices or instruments) in contemporary framework (vice versa) pinpoints the need for omnipotence and the simultaneous combing of past and present conventions. The reaching to the past to sentimentalize and provide new sounds and aesthetics is made feasible from the flexibility of contemporary framework (the improvement and accessibility of digital mediators).
The 11th chapter encourages the consideration of the conscious awareness of constructing sound, saying that: ‘experience is equally constructed by discourses as it is by social practices, and thus to pay attention to the production of sensory perception’[13]: this prompts questions such as: what and how we attach certain values to sound through social and cultural propagation, and further brings to focus the role of shaping attitudes about audio and perception. The response produced by surroundings and the group dynamic (social practices, rituals)- the claiming of past conventions in contemporary digital infrastructure.
Benschops’ chapter looks into audience awareness, the performance time and context, whilst also looking at acknowledging the past within contemporary cultural contexts- in the effort of eliciting participation and connection. He states that: ‘technology’s ability to bring sounds to places where they do not normally occur (graveyard), may be the very quality listeners need to experience a historical sensation’[14]: to connect with the past the spectator steps outside their known- they mediate with the past and present (acoustically) to prompt engagement.
Although the essays don’t address simulcasts directly there were points of interest and value into looking at the contextualization of the spectator (what they are exposed to and what shapes their reactions).

[1] Karin Bijsterveld, and José Van Dijck, Sound Souvenirs: Audio Technologies, Memory and Cultural Practices (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009), 11.

[2] Bijsterveld, Sound Souvenirs, 26.
[3] Bijsterveld, Sound Souvenirs, 61.
[4] Bijsterveld, Sound Souvenirs, 91.
[5] Bijsterveld, Sound Souvenirs, 92.
[6] Bijsterveld, Sound Souvenirs, 99.
[7] Bijsterveld, Sound Souvenirs, 103.
[8] Bijsterveld, Sound Souvenirs, 116.
[9] Bijsterveld, Sound Souvenirs, 116.
[10] Bijsterveld, Sound Souvenirs, 117.
[11] Bijsterveld, Sound Souvenirs, 124.
[12] Bijsterveld, Sound Souvenirs, 147.
[13] Bijsterveld, Sound Souvenirs, 171.
[14] Bijsterveld, Sound Souvenirs, 187.

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