Sound Recording Technology and American Literature: From the Phonograph to the Remix

PDF Sound Recording Technology and American Literature: From the Phonograph to the Remix May 20, 2021

41D4hhwLFzS SX312 BO1204203200

Phonographs, tapes, stereo LPs, digital remix - how did these remarkable technologies impact American writing? This book explores how twentieth-century writers shaped the ways we listen in our multimedia present. Uncovering a rich new archive of materials, this book offers a resonant reading of how writers across several genres, such as John Dos Passos, Langston Hughes, William S. Burroughs, and others, navigated the intermedial spaces between texts and recordings. Numerous scholars have taken up remix - a term co-opted from DJs and sound engineers - as the defining aesthetic of twenty-first century art and literature. Others have examined modernism's debt to the phonograph. But in the gap between these moments, one finds that the reciprocal relationship between the literary arts and sonic technologies continued to evolve over the twentieth century. A mix of American literary history, sound studies, and media archaeology, this interdisciplinary study will appeal to scholars, students, and audiophiles.


To record oneself – one’s voice – and then to listen back to it is always a bit disorienting. My own voice sounds too high. It lacks the resonant quality of hearing it from within my own body. It is familiar and yet all wrong. Writing a book can also feel this way, at times. The ideas in one’s head can feel thin and brittle when finally committed to the page, but I have been fortunate to have many interlocutors over the years who have echoed my voice back to me with kindness and encouragement. This work is dedicated to them.

In the dissertation phase of this project at Columbia University, I was privileged to have a team of brilliant, thoughtful advisors whose contributions to this book cannot be overstated. Brent Edwards was a guiding force throughout my graduate studies, and I am so grateful for his generosity of time and intellect. His willingness to think alongside me and to ask the hard questions helped me develop intellectual autonomy. Robert O’Meally has been a booster of this project since the beginning, and he introduced me to intellectual communities inside and outside academe. Our conversations over the years always felt more like jam sessions and gave fuel to the fire whenever I was in need of inspiration. In Michael Golston, I found the kind of careful reader and critic who pushed me to work harder and made me a better writer. I could not ask for better mentors. This project also benefited greatly from my participation in the Jazz Study Group at the Center for Jazz Studies, where so many scholars so graciously shared their work and debated the discipline. While at Columbia, I was also lucky to receive guidance and feedback from a number of other faculty and affiliates, including Katherine Biers, Sarah Cole, Krin Gabbard, Austin Graham, Ross Posnock, Martin Puchner, and John Szwed. Equally important are the many friends among my cohort who read drafts, walked and talked in the park, debated over drinks, and commiserated over coffee. Cheers to the members of the 20/21 Colloquium, the Americanist Colloquium, and SynDissCo. It would be impossible to name them all, but special thanks are due to Deborah Aschkenes, Jean-Christophe Cloutier, Tim Donohue, Emily Hayman, Jang Wook Huh, Alastair Morrison, Imani Owens, Hiie Saumaa, and Adam Spry, who read early drafts of this work.

I am particularly grateful for the support I have received from my home institution, UNLV. Since my arrival in Las Vegas, I have found myself surrounded by the best kind of colleagues the kind who become valued friends as well as intellectual collaborators. At UNLV, our interdisciplinary Americanist Colloquium and reading group has been absolutely central to my ongoing work – special thanks are due to Julia Lee, Brandon Manning, and Vincent Perez for helping to get this group off the ground. I am particularly indebted to those who have been willing to read and offer feedback on my manuscript at various stages or who assisted with research questions, including Gary Totten, Anne Stevens, Emily Setina, Susanna Newbury, Heather Lusty, Eryn Green, and Hanna Andrews. I am also appreciative of my mentor, Kelly Mays, for the encouragement to stay the course. Gratitude is also due to Deans Jennifer Keene and Chris Heavey, the UNLV College of Liberal Arts, and the English Department for institutional support that has made my research possible, including financial support for research trips and two incredible research assistants, RC Wonderly and Anthony Farris. Beyond the walls of my home university, I am thankful for the friendships and connections I’ve made at various conferences. Shout-outs are due to Jennifer Lynn Stoever, Julie Beth Napolin, and Lisa Hollenbach, who organized special sessions on sound studies that helped me clarify my own relationship to the field.

For a project that is as archivally driven as mine has been, it would be impossible to overstate the value of institutional support and fellowships. Columbia’s Marjorie Hope Nicolson Fellowship and a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship gave me the time and space I needed to get this project off the ground. A Lillian Gary Taylor Fellowship in American Literature at the University of Virginia Libraries allowed me to extend my work on John Dos Passos and significantly revise portions of the manuscript. Additional thanks are due to the various archives that made their collections available to me: Tulane University’s Hogan Jazz Archive (and the helpful Bruce Raeburn), Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Berg Collection of English and American Literature and the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive at the New York Public Library, and the Audiovisual Department at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris (with special thanks to Anne Legrand).

Long before I started researching literature and sound recording technology in a more formal way, I benefited from the intellectual and musical camaraderie of family, friends, and teachers who introduced to me to new writers, new art, and new music. My parents fostered a love of music and theatre in me from a very early age, and I was the beneficiary of my dad’s and my Uncle Mike’s audiophile tendencies. My high school music teacher, Anne-Marie Katemopolous, deserves much credit for teaching me how to listen to and write about music, and my crate-digging friends, Brandon Mitchell, Barbara Jwanouskos, and Jason Sklar, helped open my ears at a formative moment.

Last, but certainly not least, this book would not exist without my partner in literature and in life, John Hay. He continues to be my first and my last reader, my sounding board, and my most important collaborator. He encouraged me to keep working on this project at the moments when I most needed it and has shown an enthusiasm for the subject that probably no one but myself could muster. Our son, Leo, came into this world just as this book was entering its final stages, and it has been a joy to write these very different chapters together with you, John.

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