News for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Segregating Sound: Isolating folk, isolating songs

My favorite chapter in the book is the third chapter entitled “Isolating Folk, Isolating Songs”. This is probably due to this chapter being largely about the process of the movement that started much of what is discussed in the rest of the book, and my own love of learning about folk lore.

While watching the minstrel show videos and pictures in class, and from research I did on my own, I felt such a uneasy, disturbed, and utterly dumbfounded. I’m pretty sure that is similar to most people’s reaction, which is probably due to the diverse and integrated, and also more racially educated and accepting world we now live in.  Just seeing and reading about how popular minstrel shows were tells how comfortable people were with this cartoonish dehumanizing depiction of black people. Even worse and more confusing was seeing black people participate and in certain cases, like that of Billy McClain, who produced and directed their own minstrel shows. I am so stupified by all the pseudoscience of the day and how that factored into the “legitimization” of the minstrel show as some kind of vehicle of celebrating black culture, while also using the same african american folk traditions as the body of proof necessitating white cultural and racial superiority which would lead to the Jim Crow laws.  

The approach of studying southern and appalachian folk groups and culture was so contradictory.  These researchers and professors made up their rules, definitions, and theories about what folklore was outside of its actual practice and implementation of the “folk”.  They had in their mind a definition and specific picture of what they wanted and thought folk culture was, but in the course of research and meeting the “folk”, found that their theories did not follow suit.  Instead of restructuring their theories or making new more accurate ones, they omitted and overlooked aspects that did not fit into their own narrative they were trying to put forth with their research. It only makes sense to get a inaccurate fucked up thing like Jim Crow and other messed up beliefs about black southerners when the people dispatching their culture to the “civilized” world didn’t even get it right. They were trying to fit it into a frame with their own fragile, undeveloped, and preconceived notions and theories about race which were heavily influenced by popular culture.

Posted: March 6th, 2018
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Birth of Genre

The divisiveness of racism ran so deep that even music and art was segregated. Why? Was this because every element of society was needed to be separate no matter how arbitrary, in order to keep racial social lines clearly divided? Or were black musicians seen as so subpar (as musicians or humans) that their music needed to be dealt with in a completely separate sphere than white music was? I wonder what black and white musicians back then thought about this separation. Was it separate but equal? I’m sure it wasn’t. This “birth of genre” was a way to subcategorize black music away from mainstream aka white culture and society; the same way schools, neighborhoods and water fountains were. Because what is “other” and “them” is against “us” and therefore bad.

The separation really just existed on paper though, not in practice. The labeling of the music did not sway the vast majority of either race of people from listening to it; although this probably varied greatly from north to south.  But even though mainstream white culture enjoyed what black culture had produced, they still did not want the makers of that music to be treated the same way as white artists. I am reminded of stories of two of my favorite jazz singers; Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.  Both of these women were considered as some of the greatest popular artists in their time, leading ladies of jazz.  Despite their talent and commercial success, these women were treated as second class.  

There is a famous and true story about how Ella Fitzgerald was told by the owner of the famous jazz club, Mocambo, that she was not “glamorous” enough to pull in a crowd.  When one of Ella’s biggest fans heard of this, Marilyn Monroe, she called the owner and told him if he booked Ella, then she would book a table in the front row every night Ella performs.  The owner immediately agreed, knowing the scores of photographers and people who flocked Marilyn wherever she went.  Marilyn kept her word and came everynight and the club sold out.  Ella later stated that she owed Monroe a “real debt” and that “after that, I never had to play a small jazz club again.”  

One of my favorite stories is about Billie Holiday, I saw this on the internet and I am unable to validify it but it is in line with other things I have read about Lady Day and her toughness.

“Billie Holiday was performing in a Manhattan club in 1943, and between sets she took a seat at a table and ordered her usual Top and Bottom (a mixture of gin and port wine). Two white sailors from the South, on leave in the Big Apple, approached her, wanting to know where a “darkie” got off wearing a mink coat. When Lady told them to get lost they snuffed out their cigarettes in her mink. Without pause, Holiday told them to meet her outside, if they had any balls. At which point Holiday proceeded to beat them both unconscious with her fists. It was a bad idea to mess with Lady Day.”

— Rich English on the toughness of Billie Holiday

Posted: February 28th, 2018
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Telephony Tricks

There is some things, no matter how well they are taught or explained to me, I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand. Let me explain. Like how grass isn’t really green just the lights reflected back into our eyes are in the wave length that our eyes see as green or how blackholes work and how cartographers in the age before air travel and satellites made such accurate maps without ever leaving the ground. If you were to test me on these systems, I could tell you the process and the definitions associated with it; but I just can’t fully wrap my mind around and truly understand how its able to work.  Its still kinda magical to me.  I know its not magic, but it feels like it.  I could just accept how its been explained to me but I just think too much and I am honest in how I’m in awe of science. Like I get it, but I don’t get it. And even things I do understand very well and am not so mystified by like photosynthesis and evolution, I still think I am kinda in awe of its majesty and perfection, even if it is science, there is a divine and magical aspect to these things.  Just cause something is explained, doesn’t make it less amazing and awesome. Case and Point: Telephones. Im not talking about the digital phones today, I’m talking about the old school OG telephones and telegrams.  How the fuck did the sound waves from one persons voice travel along through a wire over such great distances so quick and accurately?! Like yeah I know how sound waves and electricity works but still omg I can’t conceive that it would actually work!Like I couldn’t imagine being a person in the 18-whenevers when phones were invented and not thinking that was some witchcraft.

 

Posted: February 12th, 2018
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From WW2 to WWW.

I love history. It is my favorite subject. I recently met someone who told me that they didn’t think studying or learning history was useful at all and that it was a waste of time and unimportant.  I couldn’t believe him! I tried explaining to him how to understand, appreciate and make sense the present world of today, and predict the world of tomorrow, we need to study the patterns and events in history that led us here.

Which makes me think of how the invention of computing and the internet was based largely on war, security, and fighting communism; despite how unlikely that sounds.  History is like a choose your own adventure book or long trail, like you may choose to go left instead of right and you don’t realize the consequences of that action now, but its ripple effect will be felt a century later. It also makes me think of all the people that worked on different prototypes, equations, and theories that were a small (but integral) step towards the computers and internet we know today, but who died before its heyday and never got to see the fruits of their labor, or even know what exactly it was they were apart of. It reminds me of the line from Hamilton, “What is a legacy? Planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”

What all the genius minds working for the military industrial complex never maybe fully realized is how computing and the internet would virtually transform a litany of facets in modern life, way beyond security and warfare.  This makes me think a lot about fate and just what makes a person themselves. Why they were born in the time if history they were, with the skills and interests, and the right place and time for their talents to intersect with the pendulum of history at precisely the right nano second that they are able to transform in one way or another the course of human history. Like the sentimental part of me likes to think it was some sort of fate or near supernatural circumstance, but even if it was 100% totally random, chaotic, meaningless reasons why they were who they were and just happened to be at the right place and time due to a whim, isn’t that kinda just as special and fascinating?  That despite the universe’s cold indifference to any individual, these people like Montgomery Meigs, Max Weber, Vannevar Bush, and Claude Shannon carved out their niche and that because of it human lives will forever be impacted by them.

I am not a believer in what one of my favorite podcasters, Dan Carlin, calls “One man history”, also called “Great man theory. That is that when studying history, you tend to find eras and events focused around one individual, Napoleon or Julius Caesar for example. But that isn’t intellectually honest, although as practical and simple it may make studying history; it’s simply not true. There would be no leaders, movements, wars, revolutions, etc, if it was not for the nameless masses of people who supported, followed, and influenced them.  So while there has been many great men and women who have moved history, and in this case technological developments forward, it would be foolish and inaccurate to forget about the lab assistants, parents, teachers, etc whose names are now forgotten to history that were instrumental in forging ICT revolution.

Posted: February 7th, 2018
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Annihilation of Space and Time

Even though in the scope of human history, a century ago or so is like a blink of the eye on the calendar; the mindset and perception of space and time, and just all around human experience is vastly different. Someone living in 1400 compared to 1500, probably lived in a very similar manner, with a few exceptions. The same can not be said for those living now compared to the late 19th century-early 20th century.  While there were important inventions during the time period mentioned like public banking, psychiatric hospitals, Gutenberg’s printing press and the discovery of America; these things really did not change the course of everyday life for the masses. You still were probably a peasant or laborer, who unless you were wealthy, made your own clothes, grew your own food, etc.  The landscape and institutions of your village and country may have changed hands to new rulers or may be under rule of a new empire, but they were largely the same in how they looked and felt; i.e. you still got your water from the same fountain or stream all your ancestors had and got your horseshoes from the local blacksmith who’d been taught that trade from his father and his father’s father and so on. The whole world to you was the town or village you were born, lived, and died in. Nearly all the people you knew, products your consumed, and news you heard all were from inside that village. But the time around 1880-1920 saw more technological change in history. In less than a century, the whole world and how you related to it had changed dramatically for the masses. By the 19th century most people living in US cities and Europe the enjoyed a standard of living higher than the kings of the middle ages.

The change is mindset and perception during this time is largely due to inventions like the telegram, telephone, rail roads, photography, and the electric light.  These things completely altered the human experience from how it had functioned since the beginning of human history, about 200,000 years ago. For 200,000 if you wanted to tell someone something who lived 100 miles away from you it took days. With the invention of the telegram, you could now send a message to someone living across the Atlantic ocean, in just a few minutes. Or with the telephone, you could now actually talk into a device in Chicago and your mom in San Francisco could hear you as if you were right there in the room. These devices enabled humans to connect and share ideas at rapid rates that had never been available before. Space and time were no longer a boundary for communication. Railroads which ran across the country connected the rural to the urban. The trains that ran on them had the ability to efficiently deliver goods from across the nation.  This changed a lot things for a lot of people, as before this, your main job in life was to grow enough food to feed your family, and this was a painstaking and time consuming job which left little time for much else.  The improved transport of goods enabled you to eat food from beyond your own borders.  It may be winter in New York and you were stuck eating canned vegetables and potatoes, but it was sunny and 85+ degrees in California where oranges and grapes were growing, and could now be shipped to you. Often times the food and products people were starting to consume had traveled further distances in a week than they had their whole lives. This phenomena essentially disconnected you from the land that you lived on and had depended on to sustain you.

 

Posted: January 29th, 2018
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