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1- The Slow Violence of Music: An Infrastructural History of Sound Reproduction - Kyle Devine, University of Oslo

1:30 PM, Friday 24 May 2019 (2 hours)
Coffee break   03:30 PM to 04:00 PM (30 minutes)
Infrastructuralism is becoming a new keyword in contemporary cultural studies. Following a general introduction to this term that outlines its relevance for music research and which provides a framework for the panel, I offer a brief infrastructural history of sound reproduction.Common sense suggests that the history of the recording industry—moving from shellac 78s (1900–1950) to plastic LPs and cassettes and CDs (1950–2000) to data-based digital audio files (2000–now)—should be a story of dematerialization, maybe even increasing eco-friendliness. It isn’t. I make this point by underlining the conditions of those laborers who have harvested and processed the raw materials required to make recordings and listening devices, and by comparing the greenhouse gas emissions of the US recording industry across four core samples: the height of the LP in 1977, the height of the cassette in 1988, the height the CD in 2000, and the proliferation of streaming around 2015. Despite what rhetorics of digital dematerialization tell us, the labor conditions in the digital electronics and IT industries are as inhumane as ever, while the amount of greenhouse gases released by the US recording industry could actually be higher today than during any previous format. Looking at music’s media infrastructures therefore challenges assumptions about the beauty and subversive potentials of music. For an infrastructural history shows that, just as music may be used as a sensational and abrupt means of violence (e.g. as torture), the everyday realities of recorded music’s material infrastructures have contributed to a variety of long-term and distributed cruelties that resonate with what Rob Nixon calls slow violence. Regardless of which formats or genres or musicians we happen to cherish, these are the conditions of music. What, then, are we to make of popular music’s unavoidably technological futures?
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