Setting goals for the summer

Summer is like New Year’s for academics: a time of reflection and goal-setting, both in work and in personal life.

2016–2017 was rewarding—I finished my dissertation and landed a tenure-track job—but intensely difficult. Neither of the New Year’s resolutions I made really worked out long-term.

I lost sight of writing 5 days a week while I was in the depths of interviewing and landing a job, although I got better about it when it came time to pushing to the finish line.

I meditated pretty consistently for a month or two, until interviewing and getting a job became extremely difficult and intense for me. This is when you need to meditate the most, or so the wisdom goes, but the last thing I wanted to do was sit around with my thoughts. Meditation is harder than it sounds.

Forgiveness being crucial, I want to try again, and set out some new Big Changes for myself before I get lost in the hubbub of the 2017–2018 schoolyear. Really committing to all of these would be impossible, so this is more of a brainstorming session. I will feel accomplished if I manage just one or two of these big changes.

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New Years Resolutions for 2017

I’ll echo what everyone else is saying, that 2016 was a trying year for many reasons, including personal ones. Tied up with all that difficulty though is a lot of personal growth. Even though a lot of bad stuff happened in the past year, I have learned from every part of it.

photo-oct-03-16-50-21
Amsterdam, October 3, 2016

I’m going to continue this lemons-into-lemonade kind of approach into 2017. To that end I’ve come up with a few resolutions for myself.

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Listening

It’s a cliché to say this now, but the election results were a complete and utter shock to me. Maybe that makes me blind. I was in disbelief as the numbers climbed on the TV, dismissive of Florida when it went red (“typical Florida”), betrayed by my home state of Ohio when it followed suit, and bowled over as more and more Midwestern states voted for a reality TV star rather than the most qualified politician to ever run for president. I kept watching til 2AM waiting for things to change, before my friends and I began the slow process of coming to terms with our new reality. I slept for about five hours before waking up and scouring the internet for strategies Hillary might use to still eke out a win—something about recounts or the Supreme Court or something?—but of course there was no such path. This is really happening.

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I Want It That Way

This [lack of scholarship on drum machines] says much about the general ambivalence, if not outright animosity, that “rhythm units” have engendered through the years. Most famously, in the early 2000s, a 50-something pianist from Los Angeles, John Wood, began to sell a $1 bumper sticker that read “Drum Machines Have No Soul,” and quickly drew to him a fan base of similarly minded sulkers (Chamberlin). It is not always clear if Wood and other critics saw the drum machine as a cause or a symptom of the (perceived) displacement of studio musicians by electronic production, but like the equally maligned auto-tuning vocal software, beat boxes make for easy targets given their unmistakable sonic signatures.


That major pop artists and songs would rely on a built-in rhythm may seem like a creative shortcut but such criticism misses the point: what most of these artists valued was not just a particular pattern but the specific sound of it. Phil Collins, after all, was a drummer himself but he embraced the CR-78 to the point of demo-ing it for journalists (Rsdave). His use of the CR-78 suggested that Collins, like Sly Stone and disco producers before him, saw it as an instrument for aiding a larger musical vision.

 I found myself emphatically agreeing with a lot of this and applying it to a lot of other things beyond drum machines and autotune—synthesizers, samplers, lo-fi… hmmm.

How Things Sound

“Any accurate analysis of rock music must therefore ultimately account for its timbre and studio production at least as much as on the traditionally analyzed parameters of tonality, harmony, and meter; in other words, how the song sounds is as important—if not more so—than what is sounding.”

 

Kevin Holm-Hudson, “The Future Is Now … and Then: Sonic Historiography in Post-1960s Rock”

Trying out a new post format today—posting a quote from a recent reading and reflecting on it a teensy weensy bit.

Holm-Hudson’s idea of sonic historiography, tracing the history of rock music through the sound of that music, is integral to my approach and my (still under construction) thesis statement for my dissertation. Part of what I want to do is define the “’80s sound” through its technology, analyze the timbres of those technologies, and finally raise issues of aesthetics and reception and how they relate to those timbres/technologies.