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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Posts tagged with borders and non-borders
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.
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:
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 Abebooks.com)
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.” 
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.)
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.
October 7, 2009
I recorded something last week. I don’t know what. First order of business: do you?
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.
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.
Thai language teacher and first-year students practice vocabulary. August, 2009.
Thai is a tonal language and English is not. Thai has five tones, and every syllable in every word in the language has one. Disconcertingly, often comically, there are many groups of words that have exactly the same phonemic sounds, and yet because of different tones express very different meanings. For example, call a man “laaw” (low tone) and you’ve told him he’s handsome. Call him “laaw” (rising tone – pronounced like a cartoonish imitation of an Italian chef saying “Come-a on-a in-a!) and you’ve insinuated that he has no teeth.
You can hear this difference in action in the sound clip at the top of the post. From the first word, the teacher gives deliberately exaggerated inflection to every syllable, to make the tone as clear as possible. The students, who in their native language speak flatly and inflect only for emphasis (rather than meaning), imitate her fledglingly.
The teacher, by turn, inflects English in ways that have no meaning – except, as it turns out, to mark her speech as that of a native Thai speaker. Tone is excessive once she switches to English and yet, out of habit, her speech is still full of it. Notice how, at :18, she pronounces “selLER” with a high tone on the second syllable. Thais tend to do this with borrowed words, for reasons I can’t explain. Around 1:48, she does it again with “buyER” and then once more with “how ‘BOUT.” I think that accent is not only an impediment to clarity, but also a way of continuing to “speak” one’s native language while speaking another language. The patterns of nonsensical excess produced by speaking in an accent immediately take on new meaning beyond the parameters of the languages themselves, since they mark their speaker in totally relative terms.
The valences of accent, however, work differently depending on which direction you’re traveling, i.e. an American in Thailand is not the same kind of foreigner as a Thai is in the United States. Thais are used to foreigners being inept with tone, and will often laugh at them openly. The monotone of the foreigner (say it to yourself: for-ay-NERRR) is partially confusing, but also an unmistakeable marker of alienness, probably at least as potent as skin tone.