Conférence – « Porous Instruments. Synthesizers and the Circulation of Cultural Value » – 20 mars 2024

Conférence de prestige OICRM « Porous Instruments. Synthesizers and the Circulation of Cultural Value », Université de Montréal, 20 mars 2024.

« Synthesized sound pervades our experience: A futuristic sci-fi thriller opens with electronic whirrs, clicks, and hums. Top-40 radio resuscitates the sounds of the analog Moog and the digital Yamaha DX-7 synths. Teenagers gather at clubs to lose themselves in the trance-inducing loops of DJ-produced electronic dance music. Hip hop producers create sick beats from samples, layered over the mechanical thumps of drum machines like the TR-808. How did synthesized sound become so ubiquitous? Culturally speaking, why does synthesized sound matter?

Porous Instruments investigates the production, flow, and meaning of synthesized sound. I argue that electronic music technologies—synthesizers, studios, turntables—fuel the emergence of raced, gendered, and classed sounds, as well as the circulation of social capital. Synthesizers might appear to be black boxes, but they are in fact porous tools for self-fashioning: users constantly intervene with new design affordances, hacks, and off-label (mis)uses. As listeners encounter new synthesized sounds, they navigate a continuum from novelty to ubiquity, ever-inventing new meanings for the electronic sounds that swirl around them. This talk works through several examples, from TPain to Janelle Monae, from Wendy Carlos to J Dilla, and from Deniece Williams to John Chowning, showing how cultural value accrues to synthesized sound. I attend to the outward-moving processes of mobility and circulation, as well as the inward-moving processes of subcultural definition, as I analyze how synthesized sounds flow through several different instruments. Porous instruments mediate the social synthesis of identity, prestige, and cultural value. »

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ISSN : 2368-7061
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