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Title: Sonic bodies : the skills and performance techniques of the reggae sound system crew
Author: Henriques, Julian F.
Awarding Body: Goldsmiths, University of London
Current Institution: Goldsmiths College (University of London)
Date of Award: 2008
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This research project describes the performance techniques of the reggae sound system crew in the dancehall session. These are held until dawn every night of the week on the streets of inner city Kingston, Jamaica. The research question asked is: how does a sound system work? The methodology is one of participant observation - what the crew do, with what, and with whom - as well as participant listening. This attunes the research to the auditory qualities of the sounds that the crew describe in recorded interviews, as well as the nuances of the idiomatic expressions they use and their tone of voice. Taking Jamaica's longest running and best-established sound system, Stone Love Movement as a case study, the research concentrates on the roles of three crewmembers in particular. These "sonic bodies" are: the audio engineers who design, build, finetune and maintain the hugely powerful sound system "sets" of equipment; the selectors responsible for the choice of recorded music played to the "crowd" (audience) in the session; and MCs (or DJs) who introduce the music and "build the vibes. " The crew's skilled performance techniques are investigated in relation to the phonographic instrument of the "set" of equipment for making sound, together with the media of sound, music and voice for diffusion of the vibrations to the crowd. These occur at three vibrating frequencies: the material waveband of the mechanics of auditory propagation and hearing itself; the corporeal waveband of the embodied kinetic rhythms of the crowd's dancing and crew's performance; and the ethereal waveband of the "vibes" or social and cultural meaning of the dancehall session and entire scene. Rather than the conventional technological, cultural and social "factors, " it is suggested that the crew's skills and techniques "make sense" of all these frequencies with expert evaluations, as the basis of their connoisseurship (Polanyi) or their logic of practice (Bourdieu). The engineer "just knows" when their fine-tuning is complete; the selector has a "gut feeling" when to repeat a track; and the MC "judges" the exact timing of the punch line. It is concluded that the crew's techniques are best understood as embodying a kind of rationality that pivots on ratio, analogia and proportion, rather than concepts of disembodied logic, representation or calculation. Thus the crew's evaluative techniques provide evidence for understanding the workings of the sound system as an apparatus for the propagation of vibrations.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available