Monday, December 10, 2007

Groove Music: Technology, Race, and the Cultural Politics of Turntablism

This new project by Rayvon Fouche looks fascinating.

David Nye introduced Rayvon Fouche's work to me via a great article, "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud." His concept of "Black Vernacular Technological Creativity" and his analysis of "Black Technological Agency" as; "redeployment, reconception, and re-creation" provides an interesting framework for any analysis of social constructions of technology. Granted, Fouche explores the unique cultural productions within African American communities. Fouche suggested, for example, that had Blacks invented the typewriter it would have been far more percussionist in design, reflecting African drum culture. I look forward to Fouche's analysis of turntablism as "Black Vernacular Technological Creativity" which he only briefly develops in the above mentioned article. I see further possibilities for exploring turntablism as postmodern cultural production. Technological agency aside, "mixing, scratching and re-mixing" are distinctly postmodern modes of mentally filtering data. Early Hip-Hop culture was well ahead of what would later become mainstream modes of comprehending music and information with the advent of personal computing and the internet.


The phonograph was never intended to be a musical instrument. Yet this technology is now at the center of a thriving, global performance art known as turntablism. This proposal requests funding to support research examining the cultural and technological transformation of the phonograph into a vehicle for musical expression within hip hop culture. This transformation, which began in New York City's African American community in the late 1970s, is unique since a marginalized community reappropriated and redefined an existing and popular technology according to its own distinctive cultural aesthetics. This project will document how turntables as technological artifacts of hip hop have produced musical genres with loyal devotees, mediated multiple cultural relationships, and contributed to the global dissemination of black cultural aesthetics. Given the transformation of the turntable, this project will examine: how national, cultural, ethnic, and racial politics of identity influence technological design, choice, and use. The PIs will seek to understand how ideas of race, ethnicity, and culture have influenced the technological design of turntables and associated turntablist equipment, and to understand the influence of developing turntablist technology on musical originality. It will entail comparative work examining how turntablist communities in the United States and Japan contribute to the production of a hybrid global technological movement by defining, appropriating, and reconstituting the racial, cultural, and technological aesthetics of turntablism. It will produce a study that will move beyond turntables and provide insights into technological transitions from analog to digital affect a variety of cultural communities. Intellectual Merit: This project will contribute to work on music in STS and on technology within musicology, and produce new ways to think about the race in relation to technology. This comparative study will augment the understanding of race and technology. The study will also consider the effects that the larger transition from analog to digital technologies will have on our society. Broader Impacts: This research will show the connections between music, race, and technology. It will show that music can be an important avenue for marginalized peoples to engage technology in a proactive way. This project will facilitate the coalescing of faculty members and students interested in investigating how music, race, and technology interact.