At the outset of this issue we’d like to consider the risk of clinging too tightly to sounds, the risk of allowing oneself to be dazzled by a recording such that we lose track of the time and space the recording exists in. This risk is ever-present but we find it of particular weight regarding the work herein. The writing that Soap Ear publishes is not premised on identical relations to phenomena of sound or the technologies that make appraisal of those phenomena possible. We do not seek to always reproduce complementary ontologies. We want you to see as many disjointed approaches to writing about and through Los Angeles’ sonorities as possible. This is also in part why we don’t always write about Los Angeles.
Allow us to note, then, what this issue does not do. Each article in this issue acknowledges sound’s passage on multiple simultaneous time scales, but still avoids gripping too tightly to the passing sounds and contexts along the way (a loving embrace becoming a headlock). To fetishize sound, it seems, is to misunderstand it and likely misrepresent it. Recording technology allows us to put songs, and even clips, on repeat, to hold them better. Sometimes the technology can even drive the musical innovation. But as writer Max Carpenter so adroitly observes in his piece on experimental music and live performance, this algorithmic understanding is usually only the beginning of an account of where the music will end up. Composer Sepand Shahab created “Sounds over the Internet,” the mixtape for this issue, with precisely the diffuseness of the internet in mind. From its conception, the piece was set against the background of the digital datascape and prepared for the transpositions of different online contexts.
When dissecting a piece of music, one wonders how important it is to distinguish form and context (not form and content. Here we’re discussing the outside pouring into a work without quite subsuming it.) When editor Ben Levinson set out to write about the earliest development of punk and hardcore music in L.A., he could have simply approached it formally as an experimental innovation, but this would have overlooked the sociological contexts that offer such an important part of any segment of the punk story (Ben’s second installation of this particular history is forthcoming in Issue 7). This is not to bely the experimentality of punk music, but rather to put it in context.
Illustrating a similar theme, in our last article, composer and writer Erin Demastes decided to test the formal constraints of readers/audience’s understanding of text with a series of reading and listening exercises. Each instance of reading has its own context and Demastes has us note how distracting or informative we find different angles on similar texts. We continue wondering when our distraction or musings become part of the work. What work exactly?
- An Account of the Punk Experiment in L.A. 1976-1984
- The Disconcerting State of the Concert
- Composing with Words: Form, Performance, and Meaning
- Mixtape: Sepand Shahab’s “Sounds over the Internet”
Cover Image: Jeanie Lee, An Earful, hand cast soap on board (2019).