Posts tagged with borders and non-borders

The fourth installment of the ongoing podcast series, Bangkok is Ringing, is up now at Triple Canopy.

Or listen to it right here:
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The third installment of the ongoing podcast series, Bangkok is Ringing, is up now at Triple Canopy.

Or listen to it right here:
Read the rest of this entry »

Isaan is the rural northeast area of Thailand, and is a major source of migrant labor for Bangkok. Transplanted Isaan natives are so numerous in the capital that there are several radio stations dedicated to their music. And more than a few of the songs on those stations are precisely about the difficulties of migration.

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Everything Changing Real Soon

After March 28th of this year, Weird Vibrations migrates to Bangkok, Thailand. This trip is what the blog was created for, and what all the content so far has led up to. I’ll be there for one year, writing in this space as often as possible. Whether you came to WV through another sound site, or by accident, or because you know me, I hope you’ll keep checking in.

I can promise, at least, the following in return: erudite anthropological analysis, high-fidelity stereo sound recordings and concerned photographic documentation, political insight, what I’m pretty sure are actual dragons, danger-zone maps, nicknames like “Pizza” and “Dream,” sweat, rain, noise, the nexus of Buddhism and Bohemianism, and a brand of earnestness that can only be described as avant-garde.

Here is the deal:

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One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World
by Gordon Hempton
Free Press, 2009
368 pps., $26 ($4.20 used on

Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear
by Steve Goodman
The MIT Press, 2009
240 pps., $35 ($25.20 on Amazon)

“As for cost-benefit analysis,” Gordon Hempton begins a climactic soliloquy to an audience of frowning Federal Aviation Administration agents, “we have three million visitors to Olympic Park each year. We’ve had two timber mills close. I have seen the poverty in the town of Port Angeles. I live there at the park. To be designated the world’s first quiet place and to develop quiet tourism in that area – let me tell you, I do a lot of traveling and it is so noisy. There is a tourist need for this quiet place. It would be a tremendous benefit.” [1]

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The annual Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) conference starts Wednesday; look for live updates here, and via the #sem09 tag on Twitter. This material will comprise the rest of the week’s posts. Expect some combination of panel reactions, SEM celebrity gossip, and sound snippets from around Mexico City. For today, please enjoy browsing a late draft of the paper I will be presenting at the conference on Thursday. Comments and discussion are most welcome.

Apologies, incidentally, for the lack of updates over the past six days. (I got hitched.)
Wedding! Wedding!

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Sounding New Media: Immersion and Embodiment in the Arts and Culture
by Frances Dyson
University of California Press, 2009
262 pps., $24.95

There are, today, somewhere on the order of 1.67 billion internet users in the world. Staggeringly, about 1.65 billion of these are new since the mid-90s. Today nearly a quarter of the world’s population has a degree of internet access. Just over a decade ago, that figure was a fraction of a percent.

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I recorded something last week. I don’t know what. First order of business: do you?

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Me and S visited Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin last month for her birthday. It’s about three hours’ drive from Madison. We reserved a room in a bed & breakfast fifteen miles from the bay itself. When we called to make the reservation, we were really impressed by the owner’s thick upper Midwestern accent.

Conversation between Door County bed & breakfast hosts and guests, July, 2009

During our stay, we ended up talking to her and her husband for quite a long time. (In the recording, they talk about their next-door neighbor, a musician who’s planning to lift a piano to the top of his grain silo to play when he retires.) His family immigrated from Belgium and hers from Ireland, both in the mid 19th century. Both families have been in and around Door County ever since. The b&b house itself is about that old as well. It’s built on a farm where the couple used to raise cattle, and where they now grow corn, hay, and soy beans, They run their b&b, I think, mainly for company.

In the previous post, I took for granted that “Thai” and “American” ears were absolutely distinct, but our experience in Door County should cast at least some doubt on the assumption that national citizenship can be uncritically mobilized as an anthropological category. While we obviously spoke the same language, the couple’s accents were for us a pretty profound marker of difference. As soon as we first heard the hostess’ voice on the phone, we had the sense that our trip would take us pretty far out of our normal environment. And when we sat down and talked, our differences were a primary subject of conversation. America, like Thailand, and probably like any nation in the world, is a place of significant internal difference rather than homogeneity. It is also a place whose contours have been shaped by patterns of migration and exchange. Spend a couple hours in Bangkok, and you’ll hear embodied residues of the same sorts of migratory histories – Chinese immigrants, farang (foreign) ex-pats, migrant laborers from Isaan, etc.

In language classes, we might well notice that native Thais tend to speak English with particular intonations, or that Americans tend to do the same with Thai. But at least in anthropology, these surface-level observations can’t substitute for an awareness of the ways that nations – all nations – are internally fragmented. Accent can be a useful clue to this fragmentation, as it was for us when we made our reservations.

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