On Phantom Power, Mack Hagood explores the world of sound in the arts, music, and culture. Deep but accessible, each episode features the sounds and ideas of a contemporary artist, musician, or sound scholar. Detailed production makes these more than just interviews--they're movies for your mind.
Ep. 31: Animal Control (Mandy-Suzanne Wong, Robbie Judkins, Colleen Plumb) [Re-Cast]
In this re-cast, we examine the sounds humans make in order to monitor, repel, and control beasts. Author Mandy-Suzanne Wong’s Listen, We All Bleed is a creative nonfiction book that explores the human-animal relationship through animal-centered sound art. When we first released this episode in 2019, Listen was a collection of short essays in search of a publisher, but today we are thrilled to announce its official release by New Rivers Press--we're spreading the word by re-airing this powerful Phantom Power episode.
You'll hear Mandy-Suzanne reading her unflinchingly reflective prose, mixed with the sound art she illuminates in these essays: works by Robbie Judkins, Claude Matthews, and Colleen Plumb. By turns beautiful and harrowing, these sounds and words reposition us, kindling empathy as we listen through non-human ears. Mack Hagood is joined by former co-host cris cheek for a four-legged listening session.
Links to works by the artists heard in this episode:
Mandy Suzanne-Wong’s Listen, We All Bleed.
Robbie Judkins: Homo Tyrannicus, "Pest" (video), live in London, 2017
Claude Matthews: “DogPoundFoundSound (Bad Radio Dog Massacre)”
Colleen Plumb: "Thirty Times a Minute" (homepage), indoor installation (video)
Ep. 30 | R. Murray Schafer Pt. 2: Critiques & Contradictions
How to think about the contradictory figure of R. Murray Schafer? A renegade scholar who used sound technology to create an entirely new field of study, even as he devalued the very tools of its trade. A gifted composer who claimed a sincere appreciation for indigenous cultures, yet one who, perhaps, could only love them on his own terms, only as they fit into his sweeping vision for Canadian music. An erudite reader with a deep knowledge of world cultures, who nevertheless dismissed Canada’s most multicultural areas as less than truly Canadian. And a man, who despite a bomb-throwing persona on the page, is described by those who knew him as a kind and generous person.
Today we speak to Jonathan Sterne, Mitchell Akiyama, and Hildegard Westerkamp to learn the critiques and contradictions of Schafer. Perhaps the greatest testament to his lasting legacy is the fact that we aren’t done arguing with him.
Works discussed in this episode:
Jonathan Sterne’s first book, The Audible Past, includes critiques of Schafer’s work, especially his concept of schizophonia. His chapter “Soundscape, Landscape, Escape” (PDF, in the edited volume Soundscapes of the Urban Past) traces the intellectual and audiophile histories of Schafer’s term soundscape.
Listen, a short film on Schafer directed by David New, includes Shafer’s claim that recorded sounds are not “real sound.”
Hildegard Westerkamp’s Kits Beach Sound Walk presents a subtler way of thinking about “schizophonic” sounds. Her chapter "The Disruptive Nature of Listening: Today, Yesterday, Tomorrow" (in the edited volume Sound Media Ecology) reexamines the World Soundscape Project through the political lenses of the 1970s and today.
An episode of the CBC radio program “Soundscapes of Canada” is available at the Canadian Music Centre’s music library.
Rafael de Oliveira, Patrícia Lima, and Alexsander Duarte‘s interview with Schafer in Corfu, Greece is available on YouTube.
Mitchell Akiyama’s critique of the World Soundscape Project appears in “Unsettling the World Soundscape Project: Soundscapes of Canada and the Politics of Self-Recognition” (on the sound studies blog Sounding Out) and in his chapter “Nothing Connects Us but Imagined Sound” (in the edited volume Sound, Music, Ecology).
The program notes (PDF) to Schafer’s North/White contain his dismis...
Ep. 29: R. Murray Schafer (1933-2021) Pt.1
R. Murray Schafer recently passed away on August 14th 2021. If you’re someone who works with sound or enjoys sound art or experimental music--or you’ve just thrown around the word "soundscape"--you’ve probably engaged with his intellectual legacy. Schafer was one of Canada’s most influential avant-garde composers. He was also the creator of acoustic ecology, the founder of the World Soundscape Project, and the author of the classic book The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. He brought a musician’s ear to the field of ecology and he brought an ecological perspective to music. And he bequeathed us a generative vocabulary for talking about and thinking about sound.
This is the first of a two-part series on R. Murray Schafer. Next month, we speak with two of Schafer's critics--Mitchell Akiyama and Jonathan Sterne. But today, we speak with three of Schafer's associates to understand the person, his creative works, and his lasting impact on the study of sound:
* Ellen Waterman, ethnomusicologist, flutist, and Schafer expert* Hildegard Westerkamp, soundscape composer and member of the World Soundscape Project* Eric Leonardson, sound artist and President of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology
Creative works heard on today's show:
* Listen, a short film on Schafer, directed by David New.* Snowforms, R. Murray Schafer* The Greatest Show, R. Murray Schafer* The Crown Of Ariadne, R. Murray Schafer* Wolf Music V: Nocturne, R. Murray Schafer* Le Testament, Ezra Pound* Loving, R. Murray Schafer* Beneath the Forest Floor, Hildegard Westerkamp* Miniwanka, R. Murray Schafer
Special thanks to Elisabeth Hodges for translation assistance, Alex Blue V for our outtro music, and Craig Eley for his dramatic turn as R. Murray Schafer.
Today's show was produced and edited by Mack Hagood with additional editing by Ravi Krishnaswami.
Ep. 28: “On Listening In” ft. Lawrence English (Re-cast)
Today, in honor of World Listening Day, we rebroadcast our story on renowned Australian sound composer, media artist and curator Lawrence English.
This episode of gets deep into English’s own listening practices as an artist, specifically a technique he calls Relational Listening. In fact, as you’ll hear, he describes himself not as a sound maker but as a professional listener—that’s how central the act of listening is to his artistic practice.
In particular he talks about his reworking of an important work in the fields of musique concrète and field recording, Presque Rien by Luc Ferrari, and the recent premiere of Wave Fields, his own 12-hour durational sound installation for sleepers at Burleigh Heads in Queensland as part of the Bleach* Festival.
Lawrence is interested in the nature of listening and the capability of sound to occupy a body. Working across an eclectic array of aesthetic investigations, English’s work prompts questions of field, perception and memory. He investigates the politics of relation listening and perception, through live performance, field recordings and installation.
The show includes extracts from the following tracks:
Album: Cruel Optimism: "Hammering a Screw."
Album: Wilderness of Mirrors: "Wilderness of Mirrors," "Wrapped in Skin."
Album: Songs of the Living: "Trigona Carbonaria Hive Invasion, Brisbane Australia," "Cormorants Flocking At Dusk Amazon Brazil," "Various Chiroptera Samford Australia."
Album: Ghost Towns: "Ghost Towns."
Album: Kiri No Oto: "Soft Fuse."
Luc Ferrari: Presque Rien.
[♪ ethereal music playing ♪]
This… is… Phantom Power.
On Listening In.
[buzzing sounds fade in, and fade out as Cris begins to speak]
The hive of the sugarbag bee, endemic to northeastern Australia.
[loud music starts abruptly]
The first notes of a piece called…
[more loud notes]
Hammering the Screw.
[scratching noises and metallic noises begin]
Found objects – a 44 gallon drum, a ghost town in far northern Australia.
Just some small extracts from recordings made by today’s guest.
It’s Phantom Power, sounds about sound. That’s Cris Cheek, and I’m Mack Hagood.
[LAWRENCE ENGLISH, pre-recorded]
I’m Lawrence English, and I have been described as a professional listener.
[bullfrog sounds fade in]
Which does make me sound like a very second-rate therapist.
But, it is the kind of thing that I spend a lot of time do...
Ep. 27: Emotional Rescue (Mack Hagood)
What can sound technologies tell us about our relationship to media as a whole? This is one of the central questions in the research of Phantom Power's host, Mack Hagood. To find its answer, he studies devices that get little attention from media scholars: noise-cancelling headphones, white noise machines, apps that make nature sounds, tinnitus maskers--even musical pillows. The story these media tell is rather different from the standard narrative, in which media are conveyors of information and entertainment. In his book Hush: Media and Sonic Self-Control, Mack argues that media are the way we control how--and how much--we let the world affect us.
On Phantom Power, Mack has always focused on presenting the ideas of other scholars and sound artists. However, during our summer break we thought we'd share a piece by Mack that appeared in another podcast, the audio edition of Real Life, a razor-sharp magazine on digital culture. "Emotional Rescue" begins with the odd example of pillow-based audio technology to make the point that media are really about something more intimate than information:
The cozy conflation of content and comfort... is not a recent digital development. Nor is it, I would argue, a quirky edge case of media use. In fact, this is what media are: tools for altering how the body feels and what it perceives, controlling our relationship to others and the world, enveloping ourselves, and even disappearing ourselves.
Misunderstanding the true nature of our media use isn't merely of academic concern--it has had disastrous effects on our politics and social cohesion.
The article was written for the Real Life website, then subsequently dropped in podcast form. Writing for the eye is quite different from writing for the ear, but podcast producer and narrator Britney Gil is amazing at elucidating written prose for the listener. If you listen to nonfiction audiobooks and/or want to hear a great narrator reading insightful takes on digital life, be sure to subscribe to Real Life: Audio Edition.
"Emotional Rescue" by Mack Hagood:
Ep. 26: Lightning Birds (Jacob Smith)
Today we present the first episode of Jacob Smith’s new eco-critical audiobook, Lightning Birds: An Aeroecology of the Airwaves. In this audio-only book, Smith uses expert production to craft a wildly original argument about the relations between radio and bird migration. The rest of the book is available, free of charge, from The University of Michigan Press, but this introduction is a great standalone experience that we think Phantom Power listeners will delight in. It tells a truly unique cultural history of radio, describes important scientific discoveries about bird migration through interviews with key researchers, and continues exploring Smith's singular mode of ecocriticism, combining text-based scholarship with sound art, music, and audio storytelling.
Professor Jacob Smith is Director of the Masters in Sound Arts and Industries Program at Northwestern University and author of numerous books. He is a cultural historian focused on media and sound who never fails to come at his subject matter from an oblique and completely original angle. His first three books focused on the relationship between the media technologies that developed over the course of the twentieth century—the phonograph, radio, film, and TV—and the kinds of performance styles we have come to expect from performers. For example, his 2008 book Vocal Tracks tackles questions such as how radio changed acting and why fake laugh tracks developed on television—and why we feel so weird about canned laughter.
In recent years, Jacob Smith’s work has changed in a couple of ways. Thematically, he took a hard turn towards environmental criticism. His 2015 book Eco-Sonic Media lays out an agenda for studying the negative environmental effects of media culture while also telling a strange alternate history of “green” sound technologies: hand-cranked gramophones with eco-friendly shellac records and needles sourced from cacti instead of diamonds. His next book maintained this eco-critical perspective while revolutionizing the format of the scholarly book. 2019’s ESC: Sonic Adventure in the Anthropocene was a 10-part audiobook that mined golden age radio shows and sound art to explore the dawn of the Anthropocene era, in which humans emerged as the primary force affecting earth systems. In episode 12 of this podcast, we played an excerpt of that book and interviewed Jake about the process of crafting a book-length scholarly argument in sound by sampling sounds from other eras. Lightning Birds continues this Smith's work in this innovative vein.
As a full time academic who also produces a podcast to disseminate ideas to a much broader audience, I applaud the possibility that Universities start integrating podcasts as integral part of academic scholarship! Way to go Phantom Power! CR
Blending some of the more creative aspects of radio with scholarship, this podcast always has a unique voice and each episode is its own world. Love it.
Exploring the world of sound
This is a very professionally produced podcast with great editing, research and interviews. Most importantly, the interviewer has an open and inquisitive mind. Recommended listening for anyone interested in exploring the world of sound.