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Vocal Tracks

Vocal Tracks: Performance and Sound Media

Jacob Smith
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Vocal Tracks
    Book Description:

    This entertaining and innovative book focuses on vocal performance styles that developed in tandem with the sound technologies of the phonograph, radio, and sound film. Writing in a clear and lively style, Jacob Smith looks at these media technologies and industries through the lens of performance, bringing to light a fascinating nexus of performer, technology, and audience. Combining theories of film sound, cultural histories of sound technologies and industries, and theories of performance, Smith convincingly connects disparate and largely neglected performance niches to explore the development of a modern vocal performance.Vocal Tracks: Performance and Sound Mediademonstrates the voice to be a vehicle of performance, identity, and culture and illustrates both the interconnection of all these categories and their relation to the media technologies of the past century.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94284-4
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Imagine that you are the audience for a phonograph record in the first decade of the twentieth century. You might be listening through ear tubes at a public phonograph parlor in an urban shopping area, or at home with your ear cocked to a large amplifying horn. The first sound you hear is a voice, which speaks the following words in a stentorian tone: “The Laughing Spectator, by Steve Porter, Edison Records.” After a short orchestral prelude, a male voice asks, “Say, Mac, where’s your partner?” “Why, he’s not here,” another man answers. “But say, Professor, after I get through...

  5. PART ONE: Flooding Out

    • CHAPTER 1 Recorded Laughter and the Performance of Authenticity
      (pp. 15-49)

      In Steven Spielberg’sA.I.: Artificial Intelligence(2001), the android David (Haley Joel Osment) tries desperately to appear human and so win the love of his adoptive mother, Monica (Frances O’Connor). In one of the film’s most affecting scenes, David and his “parents” laugh at the way Monica eats her spaghetti. At first, David’s laughter appears remarkably human, making us momentarily forget that he is a robot (figure 1). But gradually this laughter takes on an eerie and uncanny quality that makes him seem less human than ever. Jonathan Rosenbaum writes that the scene asks us to consider the line between...

    • CHAPTER 2 Erotic Performance on Record
      (pp. 50-78)

      In Edward Bellamy’s 1898 short story “With the Eyes Shut,” a traveler falls asleep on a train and dreams about a world of the future where the technology of sound recording is put to a variety of uses. The dream begins on a train, where the man encounters “phonographed” books, magazines, guidebooks, and train announcers. At the end of his journey, the man stops in a hotel. In the middle of the night he finds himself sitting up in bed “with half a dozen extraordinary sensations contending for right of way” along his backbone: “What had startled me was the...

  6. PART TWO: A Finer Grain of the Voice

    • CHAPTER 3 The Nearness of You; or, The Voice of Melodrama
      (pp. 81-114)

      In David Lynch’s 2001 filmMulholland Dr.,we are shown the same lines of dialogue performed twice. The first time, Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) rehearses lines for a film audition with the amnesiac Rita (Laura Elena Harring), who has mysteriously appeared in her apartment. Betty speaks the lines loudly, with furious emotion. We are signaled that this is to be taken as a hack job, since she herself cracks up in self-deprecating laughter, joking about how she must say the lines “I hate you, I hate us both” with “big emotion.” Later, at the actual audition, Betty gives a much...

    • CHAPTER 4 Rough Mix
      (pp. 115-162)

      In his bookThe Recording Angel,Evan Eisenberg identifies Louis Armstrong and Enrico Caruso as “icons of phonography.” For Eisenberg, this term refers to a person “with a personality so powerful,” and who is “so in command of his art” that he can turn the disadvantages of a new medium into advantages, and so reveal its expressive potential (1987, 147). Eisenberg argues that if Chaplin was the “great icon of film,” it was Caruso and Armstrong who demonstrated that the phonograph was not a “toy” and so became iconic figures for early recorded sound. “It is no accident,” Eisenberg writes,...

  7. PART THREE: Bugging the Backstage

    • CHAPTER 5 The Act of Being Yourself
      (pp. 165-199)

      Allen Funt’sCandid Microphonemade its network radio debut in 1947, establishing a model of broadcast entertainment that has been on the air in various forms ever since.Candid Microphoneinvolved the secret recording of a victim who was provoked to respond to an absurd or irritating situation. To use a phrase coined by Erving Goffman, this format involves “bugging the backstage”: “We expect that some places will exist where privacy is ensured, where only a known number of persons will be present, and where such persons will be only those of a given category.

      Here, presumably, the individual can...

    • CHAPTER 6 Phony Performances
      (pp. 200-242)

      In the early 1990s a team of unknown amateur entertainers from Queens, New York, released two comedy albums that sold nearly one million copies each. Their second release entered theBillboardchart at number 12, the highest debut ever for a comedy record, and was nominated for a Grammy Award as best comedy album of 1995 (Ehrlich 1995, H28). The success of these recordings led to a feature film, also released in 1995. John Brennan and Kamal Ahmed, known professionally as the Jerky Boys, attained this degree of media success not through years of stand-up appearances in comedy clubs or...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 243-250)

    Over the course of the diverse case studies in this book, the voice has proven to be a rich topic for the consideration of the ways in which performance has developed in an era of sound media technologies. I have suggested that three aspects of modern vocal performance—flooding out, the grain of the voice, and secret recording—have important implications for the study of performance in the media more generally. The analysis of flooding out can be useful for the consideration of a range of genres, from pornography to reality television to the outtake reel—increasingly a standard DVD...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 251-270)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 271-286)
  11. Index
    (pp. 287-294)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-295)