Ethnography, Sound Studies and the Black Atlantic

Veal, Michael; Slaten, Whitney Jesse

The following discussion between Michael Veal and Whitney Slaten emerged amidst Veal’s presentations for Columbia’s Center for Jazz Studies in the 2015-2016 academic year. Drawing from the current research of Veal and Slaten, as well as the recent work in sound studies, this discussion explores the status of the human in black popular music studies. It begins by tracing the significance of how Veal situates his subjects locally, yet also in dialogue with important centers of black popular music throughout the Atlantic. In the wake of oppressive histories that have associated black musical expression to the permanent objectifications of slavery, the discourse about Fred Moten’s important analysis of Aunt Hester’s scream as the supposed object’s resistance, and sound studies’ new turn to decenter social categories in favor of foregrounding sounds and sonic phenomena as objects, the second section asks the following question: how does posthumanism juxtapose with scholarship on black music? Considering the complexities associated with human and post-human approaches, the final section considers how blackness and labor figure in Slaten’s ethnographic research on professional live sound engineering in New York City.


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October 22, 2018