ASA Popular Music Panels

by justindburton on September 22, 2011

The American Studies Association is hosting its annual conference in Baltimore, MD from October 20-23. Below is a list of the scheduled panels that feature popular music, as well as a pdf attachment for each panel in case you’d like to print and take it with you. For those of you planning to attend ASA, we welcome volunteers to attend these sessions and send in a summary of the papers to the blog ( Let us know ahead of time (via email or the comments) which panels you plan to attend so that we can get the fullest possible coverage.

Scheduled Time: Sun, Oct 23 – 10:00am – 11:45am
Building/Room: Hilton Baltimore, Key Ballroom 07
Session Participants:
Chair: Candace Moore (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (MI))
“Cold War Talent: Ethnic Performers, Music, and Variety Shows in 50s America
Benjamin Min Han (New York University (NY))
Colortown: NBC’s Investment in Color, 1950-1959.
Susan Murray (New York University (NY))
From the Bronx to I Love Lucy: Lived and Televised Latinidad at the Tropicana Club in the 1950s
Christina Abreu (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (MI))
Soul Machine: Agency and the Art of the Gimmick on Chicago R&B Radio, 1955-1963
Patrick Roberts (National-Louis University (IL))
Comment: Joel Dinerstein (Tulane University (LA))

American Quarterly Theme Session I: Sound in American Studies
Scheduled Time: Sat, Oct 22 – 8:00am – 9:45am
Building/Room: Hilton Baltimore, Holiday Ballroom 5
Session Participants:
Chair: Josh Kun (University of Southern California (CA))
Panelist: Kara Keeling (University of Southern California (CA))
Panelist: Asma Naeem (University of Maryland, College Park (MD))
Panelist: Dustin Tahmahkera (Southwestern University (TX))
Panelist: Roshanak Khesti (University of California, San Diego (CA))
Abstract: The field of American studies has long been a familiar home to scholars interested in the social and cultural worlds of sound. Yet visual culture has often been foregrounded in American Studies discussions and on the pages of American Quarterly, while sound has been heard in sporadic bursts, forceful whispers, and sudden critical noises. This roundtable is based on a forthcoming special issue on Sound in American Quarterly that highlights the key role of sound in the formation of central themes and areas of inquiry within contemporary American studies. While the study of sound has gained momentum in the last three decades across a variety of disciplines, much remains to be gleaned from a rigorously interdisciplinary focus on sound in its cultural, political, technological, economic, socio-historical, spatial, temporal, affective, and formal contexts. The rise of new technologies for the production and circulation of sound has coincided with exciting historical investigations into the ways sound has functioned as a cultural force through various media. Provocative investigations into the sonic valences of subjectivity and the socio-cultural politics of listening have nuanced our understanding of the ways that sound functions to both disturb and recalibrate processes of identity and identification, and to form and de form notions of nationalism, transnationalism, and post-nationalism. Scholars whose work has been gathered into the emerging field of sound studies have played a vital role in thinking through sound as a critical space, thinking through listening as a critical and cultural act, and thinking through sonic media as key technological sites of investigation. New developments in network technologies, digital audio, and mobile media have not only shaken up the financial models of conventional media structures, but have radically altered the workings of the everyday sensorium and the way we re-visit sound’s role in media histories—old and new, localized and transnationalized—across the Americas. How are new sound technologies and sonic media practices impacting “American” identities in the age of globalization? What role have hearing and listening played in “American” formations of race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, community, and class, and how has the birth of recorded sound in the late 19th century informed those formations? What are the political economies of sound? How do we begin to theorize the sound of American studies?

Automation or Imagination? Aesthetics and Politics in the History of Electrical Communication
Scheduled Time: Sat, Oct 22 – 8:00am – 9:45am
Building/Room: Hilton Baltimore, Holiday Ballroom 4
Session Participants:
Chair: Patricia Ticineto Clough (City University of New York, Queens College (NY))
“The Politics of Reading Machines, 1912-1971,” Mara Mills (New York University (NY))
“What Is a Digital Sound Object?” Drew Daniel (Johns Hopkins University (MD))
“The Liveliness of Synthesized Sound: From Helmholtz and Darwin to the Cybernetic Imagination,” Tara Rodgers (University of Maryland, College Park (MD))
“The Autonomous Eye: Cybernetics, Perception, and Bio-politics,” Orit Halpern (New School University (NY))
Comment: Patricia Ticineto Clough (City University of New York, Queens College (NY))
Abstract: Against the forward pull of new media, this session is broadly concerned with historicizing the aesthetics and politics of contemporary digital media. The papers in this session take media to be technologies of communication through which social relations are imagined. Media are machines of social differentiation, condensations of social worlds, and maps of knowledge and power. Taken as a whole, this session traces the genealogy of electrical communication to the late nineteenth century, attaching present day media to matters that are generally neglected within theories of “the digital”: disability, objecthood, sexuality, race, nationality. The contributing scholars have interdisciplinary groundings in media and communication studies, history of science, women’s studies, American studies and literature, as well as sound and media art practice. They understand the history of electronic media in the United States to inseparably link automation and imagination, normalizing reparation and genuine transformation.

Musical Lives and Imaginaries in B’more and the Chocolate City
Scheduled Time: Sat, Oct 22 – 10:00am – 11:45am
Building/Room: Hilton Baltimore, Carroll B
Session Participants:
Chair: Lester Kenyatta Spence (Johns Hopkins University (MD))
“Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City,” Natalie Hopkinson (Independent Scholar)
“Tough Breaks: The Story of Baltimore Club Music,” Al Shipley (Independent Scholar)
“The Ecology of Go-Go’s Informal Markets,” Gavin Mueller (George Mason University (VA))
Comment: Lester Kenyatta Spence (Johns Hopkins University (MD))

Musical Migrations, Political Transformations: Reassembling Caribbean Musics in the Post-War United States
Scheduled Time: Fri, Oct 21 – 12:00pm – 1:45pm
Building/Room: Hilton Baltimore, Johnson B
Session Participants:
Chair: Brent Hayes Edwards (Columbia University (NY))
“Listening in the Cold War Years,” Alexandra Vazquez (Princeton University (NJ))
“From a Broken Bottle, Traces: Haunt and the Poetics of Diasporic Repair,” Nadia Ellis (University of California, Berkeley (CA))
“Madam Zajj and U.S. Steel: Duke Ellington’s Calypso Theatre,” Shane Vogel (Indiana University-Bloomington (IN))
Comment: Brent Hayes Edwards (Columbia University (NY))
Abstract: The musical migrations of the Caribbean are a key practice of the formation of diasporic imaginations and transformations. This session puts a number of musical performances in conversation with each other to explore how artists have responded to conditions of exodus, containment, and loss in order to imagine new modes of belonging. In particular, we look to how Cuban, Jamaican, and Trinidadian sounds travel to diasporic communities in the United States and are reassembled—by writers, performers, and listeners—in new locales. By foregrounding transnational performances of music and musical performances of transnationalism, we aim to show not only how theories of diasporic performance inform past musical enunciations, but also how these sounds help to inform, inflect, and influence contemporary theories of the present. Each of the papers on the panel examines the circuitous routes of Caribbean music as it moves over seas, across populations, and within various forms and genres. In “Listening in the Cold War Years,” Alexandra Vazquez reflects on the kinds of listening that the US embargo on Cuba has required for those suspended between nations during the Cold War and after. Specifically, she examines the recording Our Man In Havana (1960), which documents the return to his native Cuba of the virtuoso percussionist Mongo Santamaria after years spent playing in New York, and X Alfonso’s performance of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” at the “Paz Sin Fronteras” concert held in Havana in 2009. Each of these performances demonstrates the continuities that exist despite the rupture of embargo and the creativity set forth when certain acts of shared creation are deemed illegal. Nadia Ellis’s “From a Broken Bottle, Traces: Haunt and the Poetics of Diasporic Repair” takes up questions of history and haunt in Jamaican reggae artist Burning Spear’s landmark album Marcus Garvey (1975) and writer Nathaniel Mackey’s contemporary engagement with Spear and his techniques. The final paper, Shane Vogel’s “Madam Zajj and US Steel: Duke Ellington’s Calypso Theatre,” argues that the Ellington/Strayhorn musical collaboration A Drum Is a Woman (1957) develops a theory of black musical performance and provides a counterhistoriography for the development of jazz, one that contests the “cultural diplomacy” of the US State Department. Together the papers put cultural practice center stage in questions of history; reflect on aesthetic transformation; and argue for the role of haunt in social repair. Collectively, we model the possibilities of an American Studies attuned to the vibrations and beats of diasporic performance.

ASA Committee on Ethnic Studies I: Sounding Race
Scheduled Time: Fri, Oct 21 – 10:00am – 11:45am
Building/Room: Hilton Baltimore, Peale B
Session Participants:
Chair: Herman S. Gray (tentative) (University of California, Santa Cruz (CA))
Panelist: Deborah R. Vargas (University of California, Irvine (CA))
Panelist: Kirstie A. Dorr (University of California, San Diego (CA))
Panelist: Kevin Fellezs (Columbia University (NY))
Panelist: Dolores Inés Casillas (University of California, Santa Barbara (CA))
Panelist: Herman S. Gray (tentative) (University of California, Santa Cruz (CA))
Abstract: Throughout the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries, the study of sound—the fluidity of its definitions, its meanings and its uses—has engaged an increasingly disparate range of academic fields, including but not limited to film studies, communications, digital media studies, popular music studies, art history, and cognitive science.
On the other hand, the underlying current in dominant approaches to studying race is the premise that race is primarily visual. One of the key contributions of analyses of race, in particular with the institutionalization of interdisciplinary ethnic studies, is that race cannot be analyzed without attention to the impact of relations of power, including social class, citizenship, color, sexuality, language, and gender. Critical ethnic studies theoretical frameworks such as intersectionality, internal colonialism, orientalism, tropicalization, and difference, have provided new ways to investigate, interrogate and explicate instances of, for example, inequality, masculinity, segregation, representation, violence, citizenship, and empowerment. But, arguably, the dominant methodologies in studies of race—ethnography, textual analysis, semiotics, and somatic inquiry—have leaned toward an ocular scope.
“Sounding Race” seeks to place sound—broadly conceived, ranging from music, media, to surveillance technologies—at the center of analyses of race and racial formation. The roundtable will be composed of four brief presentations, each organized within a key sonic mode: radio, spatiality, musical instrumentation, and language. The brief presentations will lead to a fuller discussion of analytic themes/topics centered on sound including the racial politics of music genres, the use of sound in imagining spatiality, and the significance of Spanish language to notions of citizenship. Central questions that anchor the roundtable include: How does sound racialize? What are the methodological constraints of disciplines and interdisciplinary fields like ethnic studies in the study of sound as a racializing medium? Can we define queer feminist methodologies pertaining to how sound racializes?

Folk, Pop, and Indie Rock: Race and Ethnicity in American Music
Scheduled Time: Thu, Oct 20 – 4:00pm – 5:45pm
Building/Room: Hilton Baltimore, Carroll B
Session Participants:
Chair: Ulrich Adelt (University of Wyoming (WY))
“Ambiguous Anthems: Narratives of the Immigrant Subject and Popular Music,” Lorena Alvarado (University of California, Los Angeles (CA))
“Raza Rockabilly: Reclaimed Space, History, and Identity in Contemporary Los Angeles,” Nicholas Francisco Centino (University of California, Santa Barbara (CA))
“The Unseen Power of the Picket Fence: How Black Nationalism Created Indie Rock,” Matthew Mace Barbee (Siena Heights University (MI))
“Voice of Revolution: Re-Imagining the Folk Revival and U.S. Politics through the Music of Odetta,” Tamara Roberts (University of California, Berkeley (CA))
Comment: Michelle Habell-Pallán (tentative) (University of Washington, Seattle (WA))

Imagining Latinidad and Citizenship in Popular Cultures
Scheduled Time: Fri, Oct 21 – 4:00pm – 5:45pm
Building/Room: Hilton Baltimore, Brent
Session Participants:
Chair: Mary Pat Brady (Cornell University (NY))
“From Mambo to Hip Hop: (Re)Imagining “Nuyorican” with Héctor LaVoe and La Bruja,” Marisol Negron (University of Massachusetts, Boston (MA))
“Chicas, Divas, and Dirty Girls: Tranforming Latinidad in the Chica Lit Works of Sofia Quiñtero,Mary Castillo, and Michelle Serros,” Erin Hurt (West Chester University of Pennsylvania (PA))
“Conviviendo en el Son: Transnational Dialogues and Exchanges,” Russell C Rodríguez (San Jose City College (CA))
“A Colorful Aesthetics of Poverty: ‘Culture of Poverty’ Writing, Colorful Digressions, and a Sociological Understanding of Latina/os,” Johana Londoño (New York University (NY))
Comment: Frances Aparicio (Northwestern University (IL))

The Musical Imaginary: Race, Class, and Authenticity
Scheduled Time: Fri, Oct 21 – 2:00pm – 3:45pm
Building/Room: Hilton Baltimore, Paca A
Session Participants:
Chair: Aldon Lynn Nielsen (Pennsylvania State University, University Park Main Campus (PA))
“Re-inventing Authenticity: Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills as HaightAshbury Counterculture Statement,” William Fulton (City University of New York, Graduate School (NY))
“Muddy the Waters: Other Stories of Love and Theft in the Making of the Delta Blues,” Sonnet Retman (University of Washington, Seattle (WA))
“‘Find[ing] myself a city to live in’: Middle Class American Imagination and Phish Scene Identity,” Elizabeth Yeager (University of Kansas (KS))
“Being Good Isn’t Always Easy: Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield and Janis Joplin in the 1960s,” Jack Hamilton (Harvard University (MA))
Comment: The Audience (Multiple institutions)

Sounds of Response in the Age of Communicative Capitalism
Scheduled Time: Sat, Oct 22 – 8:00am – 9:45am
Building/Room: Hilton Baltimore, Key Ballroom 07
Session Participants:
Chair: Travis Jackson (tentative) (University of Chicago (IL))
“Sonic Architectures of Memory: Digital Re-mixes and Structured Mournings at the Virtual WTC,” Ruby Tapia (Ohio State University, Columbus (OH))
“Imagination and Transformation in Alarm Will Sound’s 1969,” Barry Shank (Ohio State University, Columbus (OH))
“Manifold Music: On Markets and the Limits of Racial Exchange,” Shana Redmond (University of Southern California (CA))
Comment: Travis Jackson (tentative) (University of Chicago (IL))
Abstract: In this age of communicative capitalism (Jodi Dean’s term), rational discourse no longer functions to bring together the desires of common people with a government charged with the common good. Music and the spoken word therefore, take on a greater responsibility and greater pressure to forge affective ties and to articulate the complex, conflicting and contradictory longings and frustrations felt by the diverse range of American subjects. In the process, however, this reliance on the affective power of aural culture reinforces the tendency towards emotive hyperbole and away from communicative reason. This panel acknowledges the power and significance of musicalized response to the crises of our time, even as it turns a critical ear to the proliferation of the machineries of production and distribution that accelerate the circulation of those responses. Shana Redmond calls our attention to the constellation of factors that shape the distribution of songs produced by US based artists who respond to moments of crisis in the African diaspora. The development of transnational networks of communication does not simply smooth the response to these disasters but, instead, introduces new striations that emerge from the drive for capital formation. Barry Shank examines the work of imagination and transformation enacted through Alarm Will Sound’s concertlength performance piece, “1969.” By looking backwards to the year after 1968, this piece enacts a critical performative interrogation of the conditions for and potential consequences of politically engaged music. Ruby Tapia compares a set of responses to September 11, 2001 produced by individual musicians with a contrasting set of sonic texts, the Sonic Memorial Project produced by NPR. This comparison of an aural memorial, fixed and authorized, with the circulating sounds of popular music enables a more focused understanding of the specificities of musical response. These papers will be responded to, in turn, by Travis Jackson, an ethnomusicologist whose work focuses on the cultural and political work of jazz.

Voicing a Riff: The Village Voice Music Section and Its Critical Legacy
Scheduled Time: Thu, Oct 20 – 4:00pm – 5:45pm
Building/Room: Hilton Baltimore, Johnson B
Session Participants:
Chair: Eric Weisbard (University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa (AL))
Panelist: Joshua Clover (University of California, Davis (CA))
Panelist: Ann Powers (Independent Scholar)
Panelist: Greg Tate (tentative) (Independent Scholar)
Panelist: Eric Weisbard (University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa (AL))
Abstract: The intent of this panel is to honor and interrogate the “Riffs” portion of the Village Voice music section, as it developed under the editorship of Robert Christgau and subsequent music editors (including two members of this panel). Between the 1970s and early 2000s, when ownership of the paper passed to a group, New Times, hostile to such criticism, the weekly Voice music section offered a diverse set of contributors the opportunity to respond in the moment to popular music as it unfolded, in a manner that combined seeming opposites: erudition and off-the-cuff commentary; highly edited prose crafted into a distinct (and to some impenetrable) jargon; aesthetic appreciations presented with the tone of political statements. Each essay was called a “riff”– a perfect term, derived from jazz and pop, where an at first improvised pattern of sound can prove itself indelible. The Voice music section, as we knew it, is no more, but it fits this conference’s themes of reparations, imagination, and transformation to resurrect something of its unique cultural engagement at the American Studies Association annual meeting. Four veterans of the section will present interlocking riffs on common themes, topics to be chosen as the conference draws near, since ruminating on absolutely contemporaneous matters is a central aspect of the form. (Had the conference happened this year, arguably, themes might have included Katy Perry and the concept of the post-teen, discussed by Joshua Clover in a recent blog post for, or Kanye West’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as part of a year of notably unrepentant assholes, as discussed by Ann Powers in the Los Angeles Times.) We propose this structure: three topics, each of which will receive a riff written by three of the panelists and a commentary presented by a fourth. In sum, nine short riffs of about 6 minutes apiece and three comments of about 3 minutes apiece, the remainder of the panel time to be used for discussion between panelists and with the audience of the value of Voice type riffage in cultural analysis. How did this approach to writing, evolving as it did from the semi-academic confines of rock criticism, transform the popular? What areas of music, or debates within music, did its hornblowers most vividly imagine? And what reparations are due in both directions: overdue props for what the Voice covered when nobody else cared the same way and a billing statement from history on what never received newsprint?

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: