Black Magic: Shaping Audience Conceptions of Recording Practice
Alan Williams, UMass Lowell
Recording practices were once closely guarded secrets – rarely remarked upon, barely acknowledged. But as public curiosity developed about the ever evolving sounds embodied in recordings, explanations and representations emerged that simultaneously served to reveal and obscure the processes that shaped the music that caught the ear of the listener. This presentation examines the formation of three distinct mythologies – technology as magical wizardry; technology as musical sham; and technology as marker of nostalgic value. In the first thread, audio technology is harnessed by creative geniuses, working in a realm far removed from the normative listener and/ or musician. In the second thread, audio technology is seen as bestowing talent where none exists, manufacturing inherently inauthentic product, and implanting the uncomfortable notion that all musical performance is potentially a sham. The third thread exhibits a selective memory that praises some forms of technology, while rejecting others, often posited as past versus present.
Building upon the work of Barthes, Théberge, Taylor, Keightley, and others, I will analyze media representations of recording practice from literature, film, television, and Internet memes to illustrate how each mythology is constructed and disseminated, and in turn how these mythologies inform the listener’s experience of recorded audio, and musical creation in general.
Alan’s first slide covers mythology and marketing, and he outlines the technological literacies he intends to discuss by playing Jerry Lewis meets the Theremin from The Delinquent Detective (1956):
He speculates that the scary/sci-fi 1950s context of the theremin was possibly a cultural allusion to the scary nature of Elvis, whom Lewis impersonates in the Theremin scene.