IASPM day 4: Annoying tunes: mobile ways of listening. Amparo Lasén #iaspm2013

Annoying tunes: mobile ways of listening. Amparo Lasén (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain)
Chair: Hector Fouce

Annoying tunes: mobile ways of listening. Amparo Lasén (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain) 2013

Mobile phones used as portable sound technologies entail a contemporary urban way of listening to music, which remediates previous ways of listening: youngsters and young adults who carry their phones in their hands, playing tunes loud, when being on their own or in group, using public transport, strolling in a Mall, walking on the streets, or sitting in a park or a square. This is understood as a way of sharing and signing the listening, which elicits controversies and generates online and offline debate. It is characterised by aspects common to other mobile phones uses: personal comfort when being in the move; the multi- sensuous relationship with the device, with the relevance of touch; personalisation as a form of mutual stylisation between people and devices; the creation of a personal space in public places; and the mobile as part of the public performance of how to be and act as a stranger. Some of these aspects related to territoriality, such as personal comfort and personalisation, are also characteristic of music listening and consumption, and both converge in this particular practice of digitally mediated lo-fi music listening.

Amparo started, appropriately enough, with a tinny playback of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance on her phone, which leaked into the microphone, briefly obscuring her voice. If this was unintentional it was apposite; if not, it was a brilliant piece of theatre! She then played back a video excerpt from Star Trek: The Voyage Home (1986) where Spock uses his Vulcan powers to silence an obnoxious 20thC individual travelling on a bus with a loud ‘ghetto blaster’ – and is applauded by the fellow travellers.

She then discusses some of the issues regarding music as pollution, citing Facebook groups and local govt anti-noise policies as evidence. The ‘unwanted-ness’ of music is of course subjective but it is partly objective – fidelity is often reduced (by MP3 encoding or simply by being rendered through small speakers such as a laptop, mobile or [heavily band-pass-filtered] by external access to headphones) She cites Wayne Marshall’s musicology blog which takes the view that music has long been mobile, which states “the case of the transistor radio shows that people have long been willing to sacrifice fidelity to portability”, implying that noise is only coded subjectively by listeners.

Amparo’s position is that there is ‘shared agency between people and mobile phones in the shaping of contemporary urban public spaces’ – that the mobile phone is part of the public performance of hwo to be and act as a stranger. The fact of its ability to play (unasked for) music to others has changed norms and expectations about public behaviour. It also ‘facilitates personal comfort when being on the move’, creating a personal [impenetrable?] space between the primary listener and those in their immediate physical vicinity.

This, she contends, creates different types and degrees of listening attention (between those who choose to listen to the music and those who do not) and begets a heterogeneity of positions, of views, of ways of listening, of tastes, of moods perceived.

The work is sited in a theoretical framework; she cites ‘remediation’ (Bolter and Grusin), ‘sharing and signing our listening’ (Szendy) and ‘furniture music & the interior design of time’ (Eisenberg). This is related to the idea of ‘disruptive ambient music’ and ‘increased sound presence’ [in public places].

Put another way, people find mobile phones annoying on buses. Live Long and Prosper.

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