MF351 Black Studies, Sound, and Technology

Seminar Tues/Thurs 11-12:30 in Lib 213

Screenings (most) Wednesdays Mon 6-9 in Lib 127

Shortcuts: Assignments          Course Calendar

Professor: Adam Tinkle (adamtinkle@gmail.com OR atinkle@skidmore.edu)

Office Hours (Harder 130, down the Institutional Research hallway near where Harder becomes Dana, and rather hard to find) : Tues 2:15-3:30

It’s best to try and schedule a time to meet me via adamtinkle.youcanbook.me Please feel free to reach out over email about anything related to the course or to your studies at large.

Required Texts: 

Are all linked through the digital version of this syllabus (which you can get to through both adamtinkle.com and learn.skidmore.edu), and include readings, videos, and audio. You are responsible for studying all of this material before the class period that it is listed next to.

There are several live events that I consider “required texts” as well--please put the evenings of Thurs 4/13, 4/14, and 4/28 into your calendars

Course Summary

This course examines Black artistic and theoretical expressions in the context of a world in which Black cultural production is central, yet in which Black lives are under threat. Our particular approach to the examination of this core paradox of modernity will focus on the sonic cultures of the Black Atlantic. We will examine sound as it appears in history, literature, music, media, art, and philosophy, and seek to understand the myriad connections between race and sound, as well as between sonic cultures that we would ordinarily think of as distinct, such as film soundtracks, performed poetry, and religious oratory. Thus, we will interrogate and seek to complicate the “ocularcentrism” of much racial discourse, introducing ourselves along the way to the tools and methods of the emerging interdiscipline of Sound Studies. Following Fred Moten’s insight that the slave embodies Marx’s thought experiment of “the commodity that speaks,” the course looks at a range of ways in which sonic expression and aural experience may trouble or even suggest a seed of hope against the persistence of racialized objectification, stereotype and violence. From Frederick Douglass to the 1960s Black Arts movement up through early Hip-Hop, we listen to artists who both break sound barriers and who use sound to break social barriers.  By giving special attention to the development of Black radical movements and to the deployment of radical sonic technologies, the course suggests how sound itself is a form of social and political technique.

Learning goals

  1. “Read” non-verbal texts: listening to sounds drawn from a variety of contexts, sources and artistic media, and learning how to hear meanings and effects within those sounds
  2. Interpret non-verbal texts: analyzing and making arguments about these sounds with boldness, imagination, and humility, using traditionally academic and non-traditional writing styles.
  3. Develop strategies for reading complex texts. Attain comfort with indeterminacy and multiplicity of meaning.
  4. Hear the cross-talk between soundmaking cultures. Communicate about the connections between them, across medium and context.
  5. Integrate historical research, theoretical ideas, and analysis in academic writing.
  6. Develop facility with the analytic strategies, core problems, and ethical debates in the interdisciplines of Black Studies and Sound Studies.

How the class works: seminar, screenings, assessments

        Most of the time, during our Tues/Thurs meetings, this course will function as a seminar. That means that everyone in the class will be expected to make meaningful contributions to the conversation arise from your careful reading/listening/watching of assigned texts and media. It is absolutely essential to your success in this class not only that you do all readings, but that you come to class with notes on those readings that documents (and reminds you) what you understood and didn’t understand.

Participation in class discussions forms a major part of your grade, but successful participation means more than just talking. I expect you to interrogate course texts, not just consume them. This means: don’t rely on me lecture on what the texts mean--I expect you to have come to class having made an honest effort to figure out what they mean. If you hold up your end of the bargain, we can then use seminar time to discuss and debate what they mean, where they are and aren’t convincing, what the implications of these ideas are, and how we might apply them to understanding and analyzing other texts.

The best place to start, in learning to read and debate in this manner, is to come to class with (at least) your questions about the texts. If necessary--that is, if I’m not satisfied with how seminar discussions are going--I will begin to collect your reading notes and questions, but, in a class as small as this, I’d much prefer you to show me that you are engaging deeply with these texts simply through your active, vocal class participation.

On most -- but not all -- Wednesdays (see calendar), we will meet at 6:00 for screenings of films or audio. Attendance at screenings is absolutely mandatory, and constitutes the 4th credit hour for this course. Missing one counts as an absence.

        We will repeatedly encounter difficult subjects in this course, and so it is more than usually essential that we create a climate of utmost respect that must pervade the classroom in all its dimensions. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to ethical, sensitive treatment of one another and of the subject matter--I hope we will work together, teach one another, and have open, unstifled dialogue to discover how, within the white-supremacist institution of the academy, we can possibly represent, analyze, discuss, and argue over matters of black life and black expression, without doing further harm.

        The assessments for this class are a mix of standard and unusual. We will build skills in analytic and argumentative writing through 6 very short response papers (1 page single spaced), expand one of those papers into a synthetic short (3-4 page) paper that makes a comparative argument, and, at the end of the semester, each student will select a topic and conduct secondary source research to craft a research paper that includes an analysis of a primary source. This, along with seminar discussion, is the “normal” humanities class stuff. I am very excited to be doing some unusual things with this class as well, first and foremost of which is that, during the week of April 10-14, I am curating--with your help-- an art exhibition and program of live events at the Tang Museum, which is closely linked to the themes of this class: radical Black sonic arts as well of visual art which is connected to themes of music, sound, and speech.  You will write exhibition text and possibly participate in the selection of works, or other dimensions of curatorial work. Then, a few weeks later, you will appear as part of a radio performance in the museuringtonem, presenting either reflections on the exhibition or research and sonic sources that you will use in your final paper.

Assignments

The following evaluations and scale will be used to determine course grades:

1-page (single spaced) responses (7x) - 5% each

Curatorial text for Tang exhibition 15%

Research paper assignment (including multimedia presentation in class 7% and on radio 7% + 16% for paper itself) 30%

Participation 20%

Grading Scale

A+ 98-100             B+ 88-89         C+ 78-79         D+ 68-69         

A 93-97         B 83-87        C 73-77         D 61-67                

A- 90-92        B- 80-82         C- 70-72         F 0-60

Late Assignments

Assignments will be marked down by 1/3 of a letter grade for each day late.

Absences and Lateness

Everyone is allowed 3 unexcused absences. Each additional absence beyond the 3 will result in a reduction of your final grade by 1/3 letter (e.g., a B+ would turn into a B). Habitual (i.e. more than 3x) or severe (i.e. more than 10 mins) lateness will similarly result in final course grade reductions.

Inclusive Classroom

I strive to create an inclusive classroom and value your input -- in private or in an email -- in my effort to make all students, regardless of any dimension of identity or background, feel welcome and free of all discrimination and other unreasonable discomfort.

Academic Integrity:

Please, don’t cheat or plagiarize. If you have any questions about what this means, consult the Academic Handbook. If at any point, you have a question about whether your work is giving due credit to sources, see Skidmore’s policies on documentation and plagiarism. Plagiarism on any assignment constitutes a violation of the Honor Code, and all violations of the Honor Code must be reported to the Dean.

Misconduct:

Skidmore College seeks to provide an environment that is free of bias, discrimination, and harassment. If you have been the victim of sexual harassment, misconduct, or assault, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, age, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, I encourage you to report it. If you tell any faculty or staff member about such an incident, he or she is required to notify Skidmore's Deputy Title IX Coordinator about the basic facts of the incident: Mariel Martin, Case Center 2nd floor, ext. 8212, mariel@skidmore.edu.

Accommodations:

Students requiring accommodations should formally request accommodation from the Office of Student Academic Services.  Meg Hegener is our Coordinator of Students with Disabilities. She can be found in Starbuck Center, or called at x8150.

A disability or accommodation should be discussed with the coordinator so we can work together to ensure students’ needs are met. Students who wish to have an accommodation for disability are responsible for contacting me as soon as possible. The coordinator for students with disabilities verifies the need for accommodations and assists in the development of accommodation strategies.

***This course calendar as printed is NOT complete. I reserve the right to make changes to this calendar at any time, up until the week before the readings are due. Thus, you must continue to check the digital version of the syllabus each week, (as well as click through the hyperlinked digital version to access course content)

Course Calendar

Day

Wk

Date

Topic

Readings Due

Listenings Due

Assignments Due

T

1

1/24

Intro

W

1

1/25

Screening: Race/Power of an Illusion + 13th

R

1

1/26

Coates (1-8), Hartman (1-18)

Sun 1/29: 1 page reflection

T

2

1/31

Studying (with) the senses

Smith - reading 1, reading 2, Stoever - Sonic Color Line (intro)

W

2

2/1

Audio Screening: Nueva York ( Schwartz) + Good Kid M.a.a.d. City (Lamar)

Stoever-Ackerman

SLIDES Wks 1-2

R

2

2/2

NO CLASS

Sun 2/5: Sonic Ethnography 1 page

T

3

2/7

Slavery's Soundworlds

Baraka (17-31), White (ix-xv, 1-19),

W

3

2/8

Screening: The Land Where the Blues Began

R

3

2/9

The Politics of Slave Sounding

Brown (1-3), Douglass, Stoever-Ackerman, 

In class: 1 page response

T

4

2/14

Church sounds

White 97-118, Baraka (32-49)

Holt - "I Love to Praise His Name" (blog post: read AND watch media)

R

4

2/16

Oratory and Preaching

White 128-137, Scherman article on CL Franklin,

CL Franklin sermon, Aretha Franklin tracks 4-5.

In class: 1 page response

R

4

2/16

Performance (extra credit)

Words without Songs without Words

Tang Museum 7pm

T

5

2/21

Soul Sounds

Kevin Young- Grey Album, Nelson George - Death of R&B

Listen to Going Black: the Legacy of Philly Soul Radio (59’),

W

5

2/22

Audio Screening: R&B and the “New Thing”

SLIDES

PLAYLIST

R

5

2/23

Freedom Sounds

Saul - "Freedom is”

By Fri: 1 page response

T

6

2/28

Writing Sound: Prose

Dumas "Will the Circle Be Unbroken", Mackey  - Bedouin Hornbook excerpt

Read abt and listen to Mackey’s Mix

W

6

3/1

Screening: Ornette: Made in America

R

6

3/2

Writing Sound: Poetry

Nathaniel Mackey: intro to and poems from Splay Anthem

Mackey- "Strick" (Trks 1,3,6)

In class: 1 page response

T

7

3/7

Afrofuturist sounds: Sun Ra

Youngquist - A Pure Solar World, Ra - Poems from Immeasurable Equation

W

7

3/8

Screening

Space is the Place

R

7

3/9

Theorizing Afrofuturism

Eshun - More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction

In class: 1 page response

T

3/14

Spring break

R

3/16

T

8

3/21

Reckoning with Ra

Szwed (111-147)

SLIDES Wk 7-8

W

3/22

Screening: Joyful Noise

R

8

3/23

Meet in Tang Museum to see artworks

Romaine - Making History (on KOS), Terry Adkins -The Precious Few A.D. 

Flumen Orationis video

T

9

3/28

Sight and Sound I

No reading: review last week’s readings viewings if needed

Sun: First draft of curatorial text

W

9

3/29

Screening: The World According to Sound

(Extra credit)

R

9

3/30

Sight and Sound II

Kun - Basquiat and Kirk

T

10

4/4

Sound Systems

Morris - Cars with the Boom

Sun: Final draft of curatorial text

W

10

4/5

NO SCREENING

R

10

4/6

Jamaican dub as technoculture

Bradley - Bass Culture,

T

11

4/11

Tang Museum exhibition workshop

Veal - Dub/Starship Africa

Listen while you read: Tubby, Perry

R

11

4/13

Tang museum performance 7pm

Roberts: Coin Coin Part 3

F

11

4/14

Tang museum performance 7pm

T

12

4/18

Hip-Hop

Chang -Can’t Stop Won’t Stop (Ch 4), Rose - Black Noise (62-84)

12

4/19

NO SCREENING

R

12

4/20

Hip-Hop

Rose - Black Noise (85-97), Eshun  - More Brilliant than the Sun (ch 2-3)

SLIDES include final project requirements

T

13

4/25

Final project reports

W

13

4/26

NO SCREENING

R

13

4/27

Final Project reports

F

13

4/28

TangWaves: Live radio broadcast

Hold 3-9 for your time slot

T

14

5/2

Wrap-Up class

Tu

F

5/9

Final research papers due