“Hearing is the first of our senses to be switched on, four-and-a-half months after we are conceived. And for the rest of our time in the womb—another four-and-a-half months—we are pickled in a rich brine of sound that permeates and nourishes our developing consciousness: the intimate and varied pulses of our mother’s heart and breath; her song and voice; the low rumbling and sudden flights of herintestinal trumpeting; the sudden, mysterious, alluring or frightening fragments of the outside world—all of these swirl ceaselessly around the womb- bound child, with no competition from dormant Sight, Smell, Taste or Touch” (Walter Murch, “Womb Tone”).
Sound, like the digital humanities, is deep, diverse, and complex. Digital (and analogue) applications of sound afford opportunities to engage scholars, researchers, and students alike with innovative ways to understand the relationship between sound, text, and new media. In the way that digital humanities have been used to archive and provide new understandings of texts, effective utilization of programs like Scalar allow us to explore connections between text and media and rearrange them for enhanced interpretation. Through the development of new interdisciplinary research at VIU, building on the burgeoning projects in Cowichan’s Innovation Lab, we can effectively engage students in interdisciplinary learning that involves multiple senses. For me, my institutional knowledge and recent involvement with Digital Humanities coalesces around my own interest in DJ culture and music. My project asks: How might the ubiquity of sound, text, and improvisation in DJ performances help us understand technologically based learning, and provide critical tools for pedagogues both within and outside the walls of academia?
Despite the debates around the cultural importance placed on DJs who rework musical archives, no scholar (to my knowledge) has evaluated how this process is similar to how literary archives are constantly reworked. I will immerse myself within the DJ medium by looking at how the practices of various sound artists (particularly Flying Lotus, DJ Spooky, and Kid Koala) provide a provocative DJ poetics within which to engage pressing critical issues in literary, cultural, media, and improvisation studies, contributing a socio- sonic mix to ongoing debates around the importance of cultural production in an ever increasing digital age. My methodology is modeled on the practice of DJing: DJs mix multiple records by using various constituent elements of rhythm, timbre, texture, and overall sonic experience. DJ methodology and the large repertoire it provides help to facilitate the theoretical linkage I intend between diverse musical practices, technology, intermediality, globality, and transcultural interaction, ultimately proposing that an improvised mix can break away from old associations and provide new pedagogical models for learning in a diversity of settings from classrooms to workshops with youth at risk. The issue of the accessibility of material, overcoming grand master narratives and codified systemizations of knowledge, is at the forefront of this investigation. At every step I must pause, and ask: How are listeners, readers, students, and educators able to participate in the mix?
Theoretically, the project has a double significance: it deals with how DJs improvisationally rework archival material that is often dormant, or that has not been critically evaluated, while simultaneously modeling a pedagogical framework that provides new directions for literary, musical, and cultural studies research. Finally, the project aims to contribute to a broader understanding of improvisation as an integral part of how we learn, collaborate, understand shifting technologies, and engage in assimilative cultural practices. In conjunction with my summer release section at VIU, it is my hope that this project will be co-sponsored by the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI), a new-partnered MCRI-SSHRC supported research institute (56 scholars from 19 institutions); in addition, this collaboration might allow me to fund (through IICSI) a VIU undergrad student for project support and collaboration. Ideally, this research project, true to the DJ methodology, would intertwine with other innolab projects (I have the oral stories project in mind) and provide pedagogical tools and workshop materials that could be brought into a variety of classroom settings. Most directly, it will provide a remix essay (through a Scalar visual and audio mix) that models this type of research and reworks frames of dominant material production. The summer portion of this work will continue to imagine the project through a framing essay and will further develop through the sound course I am attending at this year’s Digital Humanities Summer Institute.
Project Lead: Professor Paul Watkins