SOUND MEMOIR SCRIPT – daily commute/weekday
Setting one: waking up, commuting to school
Setting two: sounds of campus, commuting home
Setting three: sounds of being at a restaurant with friends
Recording: The sound of my alarm going off, getting ready for school, the sound of my dog/walking my dog, sounds of traffic on 100 and 95 on the way to campus, sound of music on the car stereo
Narration: “I wake up at 8:30AM to the sound of my iPhone alarm. I get up groggily, take a shower, and eat breakfast. I take my dog for a walk in the woods. I come home and drive to the gas station. I take 95 to campus and spend 30 minutes in traffic”.
Recording: The sound of driving around campus looking for parking/the sounds of walking to class. Snippets of classes, sounds from the dining hall, Chik-fil-a, Commons, etc. Sounds of traffic on 95 on the way home.
Narration: “I arrive on campus at 10:30AM. Campus is crowded, so I spend 15 minutes looking for parking. I park my car and walk to campus. I get to my first class at 11AM. I get lunch after, go to my next classes, and walk back to my car. I drive home on 95”.
Recording: The sound of driving to a restaurant. Sounds of people talking and eat dinner. Sounds of the restaurant employees: waiters bringing food, yells from the kitchen, noises from the bar. Snippets of conversations with friends, laughing, clinking of glasses and silverware. Sounds of saying goodbye, sounds of driving home.
Narration: “Once I get home, I go to meet my friends at a restaurant in Baltimore. We go to a noisy, dimly lit restaurant in Canton. There is a basketball game playing loudly from the television. People yell animatedly at the game from the bar. We order food and chat about our days. When we leave at 10PM, the restaurant is nearly empty, and employees start to clean up.
In Chapter 4 of The Sonic Color Line, Jennifer Lynn Stoever discusses the racial politics involved in the popularity and rise of the black musician, Lead Belly. In order to appeal to the white mainstream audience, Lead Belly was packaged in a way that displayed him as the typical “black” stereotype. This was primarily created through his producer, John Lomax, whose “visual commodification also relied upon and helped construct the sonic color line; Lomax hoped that the sight of Lead Belly would affirm the sound of his racialized performance, and the sound of his racialized performance would confirm his visual display of race, gender, and regional identities” (Stoever, 194).
In Chapter 7, the author of The Auditory Culture Reader discusses how race is generally visual, with the “preference for ‘seeing’ race is as much a social construction as ‘race’ itself” (Gilroy, 100). This quote highlights the social construction of racism and race itself. Thus, the stereotypes associated with specific races display inherent bias perpetuated through our society. The chapter also discusses the role of the senses in detecting race and promoting racism. The sensory depiction of racism extends past solely visual cues. The author claims how, “white southerners believed they did not need their eyes alone to authenticate racial identity, presumed inferiority, and in this instance, criminality… whites’ noses and ears, their senses generally, could be used to detect blackness – or so they claimed” (99).
In Chapter 1 of The Sonic Color Line, Stoever brings up common associations of sonic description with “blackness”. These “racialized sonic descriptors” (29) stereotypically categorized black individuals based on their physical traits. For instance, Stoever claims that “sonic qualities such as a ‘fine voice’ were, for mid-nineteenth century whites, becoming as material and identifiable an element of blackness, as the already culturally embedded ‘black complexion’, ‘large mouth’, and ‘thick lips’” (29). Additionally, these stereotypical descriptors perpetuated “the gendered binary of race for black men as hypermasculine/feminized” (29). Finally, the chapter discusses racialized vocal timbre (30). Differences in white and black vocal timbres allowed white individuals to strengthen the divide between what is considered “white and “black”, and perpetuate the association of “blackness” with inferiority.
This concept of institutional racism and sensory racism relates to the “racially appropriate” persona Lead Belly was forced to create. Lomax relied on black stereotypes to construct Lead Belly for white audiences – Lead Belly was portrayed as dangerous and sexual enough to represent the stereotype of “blackness”, but tame enough to attract and enthrall white audiences. Stoever states how, “Lomax’s relentless marketing of Leadbetter as a “to-be-lynched” body pressured the sonic color line’s dynamics toward characterizing black male voices as dangerous and hypersexual to ‘match’ the visual framing of their bodies as inherently criminal, sexual, and strong” (195).
In Chapter 3, Stoever discusses another example of sonic racism through the Jubilee Singers and Charles Chesnutt. In 1871, the Jubilee singers were asked to perform their songs while standing behind a curtain. This “blind-listening” (132) allowed the audience to perceive the music void of racial implications. While this, in theory, is a good thing – audiences should judge music without considering the race of the performers. However, this action emphasized the inferiority associated with “blackness”, and displayed shocking actions necessary to separate racial bias from sonic perception. Since the Jubilee singers had a mix of African American and European influence, the curtain allowed their music to split into “two separable voices: one bearing the sonics of white supremacy and the other a “charming” blackness still circumscribed by white desire temporality” (133). Thus, the “blackness” of the Jubilee singers was amended in a way that satisfied white audiences. Their music had to be changed and their blackness hidden to appeal to white audiences.
Overall, racial politics had a large influence in how musicians were received. Lead Belly had to create a stereotypical persona in order to satisfy white audiences, and thus was forced to hide aspects of his “blackness” that were intolerable to white audiences. Thus, Lead Belly was judged and displayed in a way that highlighted his race above all, regardless of his musical talent or skill.
- Do you believe racial politics still play a part in how musicians are received? Are there specific genres that are more racialized than others? If so, why?
- How was Lead Belly constructed to appeal to white audiences? What historical or social context was involved Lomax’s construction of this persona?
- Are there any situations or genres in which white individuals are excluded or hindered by their race?
For my sound memoir, I will trace the sounds of an average weekday. This will include sounds from my commute to UMBC, sounds of being on campus, sounds at home and other activities after going to class. This could include playing guitar, going to a restaurant, etc depending on the day.