Archive for April, 2011

The Future, As It Happened

April 19, 2011


Here, by way of further undermining my academic credentials, I present my typed up notes from the conference I was at/sort of helped with on April 11th. I’m not exactly sure why I am presenting them here, except I did last year and I wanted to prove I am not just some bile filled face of fun. The topic under discussion was ‘The Future of Sociology’, and for the most part the talks and panels were very interesting, more so than the people I rubbished possibly unnecessarily last year…no…wait…they were awful. Justified. I didn’t take notes for everyone largely because, as a drunk man called Jack pointed out in the pub afterwards, I kept wandering off. My notes or lack of notes for certain speakers in no way reflects interest/disinterest; everything was subjective…if I felt like writing I would. Sometimes I didn’t, but found the content no less interesting. Any way. I’ll add my own reflections on typing this mess up in this style of parenthesis – [ ]. If anyone who wasn’t there fancies a punt at working out what the talks were about using my piss poor descriptions you’ll win a shiny penny (don’t do this).

Interview with Barry Sandywell. Questions by Dave Beer.
So softly spoken the blinds at the window win out, rattling, producing some interesting sounds. Seems slightly dream like. Perhaps I am hungover. Face warm, ears warm, head fuggy. His book stemmed from a personal glossary and became nodal terms for visual phenomena. UPDATE MY GLOSSARY. Problematizing methods of seeing. Destabilize. Engage in polemics. Trolley outside scraped across the pavement. ‘History as an imagined past’ – hauntological link [I’m always on the look out]. Now a lorry reversing. The significance of occlusion. The future is the past [This is the overall theme of the day I think; the future of sociology is the past, just presented better].

John Poulter from Leeds
At the Shankill Road memorial to 5 protesters killed by ‘a Republican murder gang’, there is a reflection in the shiny stone of a man, possibly Poulter, staring at the engraving. ‘Fuck you’ is inserted in to the talk, via the medium of war memorial graffiti.

Nuala Morse from Durham
Missed. Occasionally I have blood sugar issues. This was one of those times. I left and bought a Lion bar. The vending machine was overwhelmingly Nestle, which is to be expected in York, and although I haven’t eaten anything made by the babykillers for about 10 years, I had little option [this is a lie…there was a Cadbury’s snack bar but I didn’t notice it until I’d punched the numbers in]. I ate it outside on a bench, whilst a goose looked at me, possibly disapproving.

Tom from York itself.
Time/space dioramas for displaying geospatial data. I’m meant to ask a question but I forget what we agreed on. Dan asks a questions, as does Dave. Absolved of responsibility.

Keynote Speech by George Steinmetz of the University of Michigan
C Wright Mills to open, followed by justifiable complaints about the narrow focus of sociological enquiry. Links between positive imperialism and the discipline in French and German anthropology. Discussion of American empire building in terms of overseas military bases and the use of ‘powerless people’ e.g. experts undermined by reliance on state funding (similar to Nelkin’s critique). Anthropolgy as the ‘handmaiden of colonialism’. The word ‘Polandian’ is used; Polish surely? Bourdieu’s rules of art comes up. The sound of dumper trucks outside. I am flagging. His future for the discipline again looks at the past, reconfiguring our understanding of empire and the relationship between colonialism and the untranslated work of anthropologists of the time. Additionally, he’s much better than Thornton last year – he came out with us for food and booze the night before. Kudos.
C Wright Mills Reclines

Dave Hill from York no less [These notes don’t especially reflect what Dave was talking about, but rather what I was thinking about in relation to what he was talking about.]
The performative aspect of facebook. ‘Stalking as browsing’. Presentation of self via photos and comments. Expression is defined by the limitations of the technology or the way in which your input is guided. Can facebook be used to create an effective alternative ‘self’ – a site of truth that is make believe and consumed and assumed ‘real’ by the ‘stalker’. How long can the make believe be maintained – does it become real eventually? [More importantly, why bother doing this…what the hell was I on about?]. Bauman, the stranger and the stalker [Sounds like a recipe for a great kids story]. Brian Loader suggests older social spaces, the pub for example – is it a glorified past facebook is being compared with? Wasn’t the old set up equally problematic? The future again relies on the past. Is it possible to perpetuate the strange via the medium.

Danny Singh from York
I am more curious about his way of speaking; he ends a lot of sentences with ‘Ok?’ He wanders round a lot too, whilst pointing at his own hand. He is quite commanding, like a miniature giant if that makes sense. He obviously knows his stuff, but the use of lists in terms of who he has been in contact with in Afghanistan, combined with my state of mind/bad attitude, means I am not paying attention.
[missed middle whilst pissing…I left the conference room for this obviously]
Not sure how this fits in to the future of social science, aside from Afghanistan gradually moving towards not being fucked. And Sam is shouting unnecessarily.

Alexandra Sherlock from Sheffield
A fully funded PhD looking at identity in relation to footwear choices? I didn’t get funding for mine. Where is my money? Maybe I need to learn how to fill forms in properly. Objects have social lives – by following the trajectory of a thing you can understand its value. This project seems quite fun [following plastic bats with cartoon faces as they are passed about and people picture the bats in various situations] though I am unconvinced by its usefulness. The anthropomorphosis on display is more through design than ascribed meaning…they’re cartoon bats. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to follow something like a featureless cube, something without explicit characteristics or functionality? No…someone will probably just draw a face on the cube. There are similarities with the Trobriand Islands thing Malinowski did in the 20s…again, the future in the past, though not moving anything forwards, simply noticing the similarity. Did rebuff Dave Hill either, despite suggesting it would. Again, it was fun.

Keith McIntosh from York as I live and breath
The future’s predisposition towards certain aesthetic conventions. Hauntology falls in to this I think, with the importance placed on assumed conventions and implicit understanding of objects and their relationships with the boundaries of the movement. Good presentation, linking the natural imagery of advertising and Windows XP with the urban aesthetic and credibility of new technologies…why this emphasis on the natural?

I gave up writing notes at this stage, though Rowland said something interesting in his closing remarks where he complained that sociologists should be doing things as relevant as the Wire. Why are we not the social commentators when that is our raison d’être? I wonder how I can better incorporate film and visual elements in to my research, possibly collaborating with my talented compadres in other fields.

WDT/VSTM April Update

April 15, 2011


WDT005: The Fucking Fulfords – Live at The Firs

For the April update, we have the first of two Fulford’s releases. More information on this release can be found on the archive page. The May release will be WDT006: The Fucking Fulfords – Live at Whitethorn, which featured new personel, and a slightly improved sound. It was the final Fulfords release, as the live Neighbours sound track sadly never happened.

I Have Already Forgotten The Title

April 8, 2011

Perhaps a bizarre assertion to make so early on (by which I mean I was part time in year one, so I’m technically only a year and a bit through) but I have already forgotten the exact wording of my PhD title. This, I think, is because it is going to change again, so as to better represent what it is I am doing. Stokes was up at the weekend, and he said that he honestly had little idea what I was researching, aside from the fact it involved sociology and music, which in itself is an improvement on the thought offered by some that I was a) at Leeds University and b) looking at interregional migration in the P.R.C*. As a word of warning then, this entire post will deal with my PhD so far, so if you have no interest in the overarching topic and the occasional drift towards the minutiae of the subject and the construction of a thesis, then click away now. To help you along, here is a link to a video of a gorilla playing his nuts.

So I figured it was about time to explain where I am and what exactly I am doing. At this stage, I guess beginning my second year – my official finish date is March 2013 because of the part time/full time shift….my academic year running March through March in my head…which buggers up remembering which ‘week’ I’m officially in – I have completed 3 chapters and have notes on 2 others. The total I have planned for is 8 (Introduction, Literature Review, Methodology, 4 Empirical Chapters, Conclusion). In my official supervision sessions I am considered to be making ‘very good’ progress. I have known some PhD students who at the end of the first year have a scrap of paper with ‘Ideas’ as a title. For some people this is fine, but I want to get things down and in some kind of shape so I have already produced a large amount of work.

An aside – Timeline: I spent my time from Oct 2009 – April 2010 reading everything I could get my hands on, May 2010 – Sept 2010 writing the first two chapters (Intro and Lit Review), Oct 2010 – Jan 2011 revising the first two chapters and writing a sketchy methodology and from Feb until present (or April 25th to be more precise) revising the first chapter again, along with constructing a 6 month field work plan and extensive bibliography to support my May 4th TAP meeting**.

I decided to stick to the old work ethic from my Masters degree (a degree which I recommend to anyone who wants to spend money on a qualification that will in no way help exclude you from the hottest, noisiest jobs going) and write a small amount every day. My bottom limit is 500 words, so about a third to half a page. I write Mon-Fri, for roughly 30 weeks of the year, which doesn’t seem like a lot but it means I clear 75000 words a year if my low quality maths is correct – with the thesis being 80,000 to 100,000 words, this has been a largely effective way of working, though I do discard a huge amount of work. If I want to do more, I do more, but never less than 500 words (if say by Wednesday I’ve already done 2500 words, then Thurs/Fri are days to work on something else).

Before I go any further, I should probably be explicit about the topic. It started out, as you can see from the ‘About’ page of this site, looking at a rather broad topic involving the philosophical background of the term ‘hauntology’ (Derridan), which for a period of time (roughly 2005 onwards) was used to describe a number of differing musics and seems to be increasingly falling out of favour as a term. Now initially I was concerned about this vanishing of the term in favour of ‘drag’ and ‘witch house’ because the musicians I had come in to contact with, both physically and virtually, during my time working on WDT/VSTM, were part of my appeal to the University…I had access and contacts…and if the ‘genre’ or whatever you want to call it was disappearing so would my study. But then you just factor that in to the research, making sure you refer to any ebbing away and what it might mean, and everything is ok again. It becomes historical – how apt. I have ditched much of the philosophical stuff, as it was only vaguely developed by those I would term ‘hauntological aestheticians’ any way and it also appeared to bog down the more interesting aspects of the research. The focus now is on the sociology of what is essentially an avant-garde music movement. There are numerous aspects to this, and many complicated questions, not least of which involves whether or not it even is/was a movement – what constitutes one, what is a genre, where do the boundaries lie? The areas I am focusing on presently are one which are separated in to four empirical chapters; identity, cartographies/networks, technologies and resistance rituals. These four areas are distinct, but also interlinked, which makes a joined up thesis possible. Above all though, the point of a PhD is to contribute something original (my approach and topic achieve this I hope) to the field, something that is beneficial, something which has some use. Now I will not digress at this point to complain again about the conference I helped organise last year and how a PhD on 40 year old Duran Duran fans is of wider relevance to the future well-being of mankind, but my disappointment in much of it spurred me on to make my thesis as relevant as possible. I see it like this: we are in a time of rapid technological change, where the old boundaries of what is considered a subculture are potentially eroding (I would say changing but I’ll save my rubbishing of post-subcultural theory for the thesis, and in the process save you from reading it). From this, in the mid-2000s, a movement emerges, and I choose movement over genre because hauntology is not confined to one genre…as well as the theoretical issues with the terminology…, that challenges the socio-political ramblings of us post-millennial people with a confused and confusing blend of pop mixed with dubstep mixed with sound art mixed with radiophonic and/or library music mixed with failed utopian dreams of an unrealised future. Essentially I want to know why and how it works, even if it works; how does an avant-garde music movement (it certainly isn’t mainstream, even if bits of it filter down to more populist retro stylings) operate in the 21st century?

The empirical chapters deal with this overarching question by posing a series of additional questions that feed in to it. Here is a brief précis of what each chapter deals with:

The chapter on identity, simply put, looks at how the movement identifies itself. This involves the policing of borders/boundaries, a duty undertaken by musicians and aestheticians/critics¹, the maintenance of a definable categorisable aesthetic, and the historical development of hauntology in a wider narrative of avant-garde music (despite some professing otherwise, it is definitely not ahistorical) which involves an interesting dichotomy between the constructed history of rhetoric and the more objective history within several avant-garde traditions.

The chapter on cartographies and networks looks firstly at the spread of the movement, and the locations it uses/abuses before moving on to see how these places are linked and, if so, which networks have developed to perpetuate this. How do these networks operate and what spaces do they occupy? It will also look at the historical development of networks in relation to other music movements.

The chapter on technologies refers back to the chapter on networks to an extent, but further develops arguments about the relationship between technology and socio-cultural concerns, discussing the use of specific technologies with musicians as well as charting the historical connections with specific technologies of avant-garde movments (minimalism, Musique Concrete etc.)

The final chapter, on resistance rituals, looks at the relationship between the avant-garde and more populist cultural concerns in a more general sense, with reference both to specific instances collected in the field work stage, but also the ways in which the two perpetuate difference and/or attempt to bridge gaps from time to time. As the more astute of you may have noticed from the paragraph size, identity and cartography are more fully formed, because they are the sections I am presently working on.

The methodology is difficult. I am a qualitative researcher and I have no interest in providing statistics to back up my research, largely because I feel there are fundamental methodological problems with the construction and interpretation of quantitative studies. Fair play to those who use numbers and tables (and there are a sizeable number in the department) but it doesn’t fit this study. I am producing what could be termed a classical ethnographic study. I am going to places and recording my experiences. I am taking notes, I am interviewing, I am recording, I am creating a treasure trove of all the various media associated with the movement, and from this, along with the theoretical tools I am deploying, I hope to answer the questions I have set myself as well as the wider concerns within the discipline, which is what gives the research its relevance; why is the avant-garde still important in the 21st century and why is it underrepresented in sociology? However, writing a methodology prior to going to the field to find out what works and what doesn’t seems a little pointless…yet it is required. It’s sort of a cyclical situation, whereby I need to decide on methods prior to going in to the field but do not know which ones are effective yet because I haven’t tried them out in the field. So test runs are where it’s at.

I feel at this point, I’ve said what I wanted to say, and will save more for another time. Writing this post has been a cathartic experience. It came out in one, and I haven’t felt the urge to rewritte it, which sort of confirms that I have a fairly good grip on what it is I am doing – and I know some former PhD students who were part way in to Year 3 with still only the faintest idea of what it was they were doing and why – which is heartening. Additionally, having an accurate record of what I thought at any given time is useful in terms of viewing my progression in future².

Between now and October, which is I believe the rough time of my upgrade³ I am going to be starting my fieldwork – beginning with Netaudio in May and then various visits around London, Brighton, Leeds etc. throughout the summer – in an effort to complete my first empirical chapter to support my upgrade. The chapter will be on cartographies rather than identities (don’t ask why it’s not in order), and will be accompanied by some maps I have made (so again with the combining-elements-of-my-real-life-with-my-academic-one…though at this stage the two have blurred in to one all-encompassing blob [I realised whilst rambling on to Stokes that my experiences teaching undergrads may only be of interest to me, and that contextualized ‘funny stories’ are not the same as ‘funny stories’…I should make more of an effort to separate these things before I become even more of a bore]) as well as discussions on how physical and virtual networks function, their relationship with music movements, an so on. I’ve mentioned that already though. I like pictures with a key at the side, covered in initially incomprehensible lines. I’m going to stop now. I’ve said enough.

Shopping Mall

* I was, in 2007, but that was a long time ago now, and I will maintain the position that throwing a considerable amount of funding away in favour of pursuing something I genuinely love was the right thing to do.
** TAP stands for Thesis Advisory Panel…whereby I present my work thus far in a semi-formal way to my supervisors and another departmental academic unfamiliar with my work and justify what I’ve done and why I should continue.
¹ For those who are interested, this term is adopted from Howard Becker’s Art Worlds which I am using as a touchstone.
² My youthful questioning in the ‘About’ section is now ditched in favour of actually finding out some answers that don’t end in nothing, besides presenting a series of more obscure questions.
³ Again, for those who are interested, you start out studying for an MPhil, and then around about 18 months to 2 years in, when your project has some balls – or not – you either upgrade to a full PhD/DPhil, or you accept an MPhil and complete the project at a lower level. However, the MPhil is seen, as far as I’m aware, as a badge of failure…ultimately you didn’t make the grade for a PhD. My mum said how it would be nice to add the letters to my name after I upgrade (I have no intention of not making the grade, hence the huge amount of work I am putting in), and I explained that although it is another qualification, it’s not one I want to advertise.

Last FM Top Eight – Week Ending Apr 1st

April 5, 2011

Last FM
This/last weeks top listens…starting with a nice picture of the number 1 (who wins largely because the album is 22 tracks of not more than 3 mins in length).

1. Roj – The Transactional Dharma of Roj

2. John Zorn – Naked City

3. Actress – Splazsh

4. Arve Henriksen – Strjon

5. Vessels – Helioscope

6. Emanuele Errante – Time Elapsing Handheld

7. Yume Bitsu – Self Titled

8. Murcof – Martes

Hadn’t listened to Zorn in an age, so much so that I’d forgotten almost completely what Naked City sounded like, so it was surprising all over again which was a welcome addition to the week. Roj was very Ghost Box (I’m currently submitting some writing on Ghost Box, hence the prevalence for Advisory Circle and The Focus Group these past few weeks), or more precisely he was very The Focus Group, but that is the joy of having to maintain an aesthetic. I wonder how many demos they receive as a label, and how long it takes for rejigged library music to get on your tits? (Personally, I love it and I’m not sure why…perhaps because I like books). Yume Bitsu, whose self titled 1999 album – along with Murcof’s Martes – was a return to my old listening habits, was chosen because it was the sort of thing I used to write fiction to, and I decided in light of the possibly large – though I may refine – post I’m writing on my own fiction for this blog, I should see if I can recapture the magic. It reminds me specifically of my third year at University, when I was finishing off Sunshine and Power Lines in my shitty little room on Lincoln Street in Norwich. If only I’d beaten Laura in coming back from the summer holiday I could have had the huge room. Oh well. Considering my penchant for ambient soundscape type composers, I’m surprised I hadn’t found Emanuele Errante until now – Time Elapsing Handheld is a cracking release that combines acoustic instrumentation and computer jiggery buggery to great effect. Vessel’s Helioscope was also enjoyable in its raffish post-rock-for-a-new-decade type stylings…interesting things done within the well established trope of build and wane.

Hopefully a biggish post on my own approach to fiction coming next. I’m at a conference on the 11th, looking at the future of sociology, so I will report back on it in a way that is perhaps more polite than the way I rubbished the subcultures one last year. And an update on the archive shortly, and on the PhD. I need to be held to account – I promise these things but I forget/put off so easily. I used versions of ‘jig’ twice in this post.

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