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. 25: For Some Odd Reason (Kate Carr)
Today’s guest, Kate Carr, is an accomplished sound artist and field recordist whose recent work grapples with issues of communication and longing—themes we can all relate to in the Covid era.
In part one of the show, we mark Phantom Power’s three-year anniversary and 25th episode. Mack does a little thinking out loud about the different kinds of audio work that we've featured over the past three years. The terminology and practices for audio work always seem to be in flux—and people can have completely different terms for similar kinds of work. Mack imagines a spectrum of sound work, from more materialist genres like musique concrete to more conceptual or idealist genres like the audiobook, which emphasize meaning over form. In the end, the spectrum eats its own tail—the material is always conceptual and the conceptual is always material. Sound is always both resonance and meaning and the two can never be completely teased apart. Signal and noise are one.
Ep. 20: What is Radio Art (Colin Black)
Ep. 12: A Book Unbound (Jacob Smith)
Ep. 15: Goth Diss (Anna M. Williams)
In part two, we meet Kate Carr, an artist the critic Matthew Blackwell describes as a “sound essayist.” Since she began it in 2010, Kate Carr’s work as a musician and field recordist has taken her around the world, from her native Australia to a doctoral program at University of the Arts London. She’s been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wire, and Pitchfork. She also runs the field recording label Flaming Pines.
Since slightly before the pandemic, the theme of communication at a distance—always implicit in field recording—has taken center stage in her work. We examine three such pieces by Kate Carr. Each one explores how sound helps us communicate at a distance and how it comforts us in moments of loneliness:
“Contact”—a meditation on sonic connection through radio, morse code, and digital technology.
“Where to Begin”—a study of love letter writing, which Carr says has profound similarities with field recording.
“For Some Odd Reason”—an exploration of the kinds of noise we came to miss during social distancing and the mediated ways we've tried to add it back.
Together, these three pieces—one from before the pandemic, one from its beginning, and one from its interminable middle—explore how earnestly we try to connect across distance—and how heightened these attempts have become over the past year.
Huge thanks to our co-producer on this episode, Matthew Blackwell. He is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at the University of Iowa and a freelance music writer. He writes and edits Tusk Is Better Than Rumours, a newsletter that covers the discographies of experimental musicians. He is also a contributor to Tone Glow, a newsletter featuring interviews with experimental musici...
Ep. 24: Voice of Yoko (Amy Skjerseth on Yoko Ono)
Phantom Power's Amy Skjerseth brings us the story of perhaps the most famous vocal performance artist and avant-garde musician whose actual work doesn’t get the attention it deserves: Yoko Ono. Collaborator with the Fluxus group in the early 60s, creator of performances such as Cut Piece and her Bed In with John Lennon in the late 1960s, director of experimental films such as 1970’s Fly, and recording artist of experimental pop albums such as that Fly’s soundtrack... Despite this large body of work, her most famous role was that of wife to that guy in that band—a performance that made her the target of misogynous and racist criticism that persists to this day.
As Amy points out, much of this criticism centered on the sound of Yoko Ono’s voice. Of course, as we’ve explored on this show before, listening to the other with a racist or sexist ear is nothing new. But in Ono’s case, this prejudicial listening is compounded by the fact that, years before the emergence of punk rock, she was pushing the boundaries of what was considered acceptable vocal expression for anyone, let alone a woman—moaning, wailing, chortling, and screaming.
The vast majority of listeners immediately dismissed these sounds as a punchline. On today’s show, we’re going to actually listen. What is the purpose and meaning and effect of Ono’s vocal artistry? We’re exploring it in her recorded work, in her feminist and pacifist political agenda, and most of all, in her film Fly, in which she uses her voice to destroy boundaries between sound and touch, human and animal, self and other.
This episode includes elements from an audio essay Amy published at [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film & Moving Image Studies.
Music by Yoko Ono, John Lennon, John Cage, Tanya Tagaq, and Graeme Gibson, as well as “Crickets, Birds, Summer Ambient” by Nikodemus Christian.
You can hear most of the music again on this Phantom Power Spotify Playlist.
Yoko Ono's film Fly is available on MUBI. The soundtrack has been reissued by Secretly Canadian.
You can hear Yoko Ono's Twitter response to Trump (November 11, 2016) here.
Ep. 23: Forest Listening Rooms (Brian Harnetty)
What would happen if you took red state rural voters on a walk into the woods with left-wing environmental activists and experimental music fans? Our guest this episode knows the answer.
BRIAN HARNETTY is a composer and an interdisciplinary artist using sound and listening to foster social change.
While Brian studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music, London, one of his teachers, Michael Finnissy, suggested he look for musical inspiration in his home state of Ohio. Brian took that advice and the result has been eight internationally acclaimed albums. Brian's music combines archival recordings of interviews and singing—often from the Berea College Appalachian Sound Archives—with his original compositions.
For the past decade, Brian has focused on the myth, history, ecology, and economy of Shawnee, a small Appalachian town in Ohio. His 2019 album Shawnee, Ohio was praised by the BBC, the Wire, and named 2019 Underground Album of the Year by MOJO. The album engages with the social and environmental impacts felt by the town and nearby Wayne National Forest in their long history with extractive industries from timber to coal mining to fracking.
But Brian doesn’t just document Shawnee’s narrative—he intervenes in it. He’s an environmental activist of a gentle kind, one who gets area residents of different political stripes to walk in the woods together to listen—to one another and to the forest. All in service of protecting and healing the land. In this episode, we are thrilled to present an audio documentary that Brian Harnetty has produced for Phantom Power about this quietly radical experiment, called Forest Listening Rooms. And afterwards I’ll speak to Brian about his project.
Visit Brian Harnetty's studio in Ohio.
Check out his Bandcamp page.
Visit his website.
Ep. 22: HEY, ROBOT! (Frank Lantz)
The Hey Robot board game
Today, we’re playing with voice assistants and thinking about the role of voices in gaming with our guest, game designer and NYU professor Frank Lantz.
Over the past nightmare year of the coronavirus, many of us have been hunkered down, trying to figure out how to pass the time with our families. Board game sales on Amazon were up 4,000% percent in March, when Americans began sheltering in place. And, of course, we’ve also spent way more time interacting with digital technology. These two things have come together in a weird and delightful way in Lantz’s game Hey Robot.
Created by Lantz’s family-owned company Everybody House Games, Hey Robot is a guessing game you play with a group of friends—including your voice assistant or smart speaker. The premise is simple: Make Google Home or Alexa utter the words written in a deck of cards. The questions it raises are complex: What are these digital entities that many of us interact with daily? How have web searches and voice-based computing changed the way we talk? And what does this reveal about language itself?
Hey Robot is available in a free online Quarantine Edition that you can play remotely with your friends. The board game edition is available on Amazon.
Today’s show was written and edited by Mack Hagood.
Fake Cumbia music by Mack Hagood.
Ambient music clip taken from Hiroshi Yoshimura’s album Green.
A Life Based on an Experiment (Siavash Amini)
Episode 21 presents a portrait of Iranian experimental composer Siavash Amini. His music, which moves seamlessly between contemplative ambience, menacing dissonance, and spacious melodicism, has been released on experimental imprints such as Umor Rex and Room40. His latest, A Mimesis of Nothingness, just came out on the Swiss label Hallow Ground.
Siavash tells host Mack Hagood that his entire life is based on an experiment and he doesn't yet know what its outcome will be. This episode traces the contours of that story, from his boyhood as a metalhead in a small Iranian port town to his role in the development of Tehran's lauded experimental music scene. Along the way, we drill down on the international and internal politics that add danger and difficulty to the life of this outspoken leftest composer.
Amini is forced to navigate not only the authoritarianism of Iranian government censorship, but also the authoritarianism of western tastemakers, who sometimes want him to make the "Middle Eastern music" they hear in their own heads. Steadfast in his individuality, Siavash makes sounds that resist these authorities--the defiant anthems of an imaginary land, population: one.
Most of the music in this episode is by Siavash Amini--listen to it again in this Spotify playlist and check out this great introduction to his music on Bandcamp.
This episode was edited by Mack Hagood.
Ep. 20: What is Radio Art (Colin Black)
What is radio art? It’s a rather unfamiliar term in the United States, but in other countries, it’s a something of an artistic tradition. Today’s guest, Dr. Colin Black is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning radio artist and composer. He speaks to us about his practice as a radio artist and the influence the Australian radio program The Listening Room had on Australia’s sonic avant garde. We then listen to his piece Out Of Thin Air: Radio Art Essay #1, which both explores and exemplifies the possibilities of radio art. It’s both informative and a total treat for the ears!
The piece was originally commissioned by the Dreamlands commissions for Radio Arts, funded by the Arts Council England and Kent County Council.
Out Of Thin Air: Radio Art Essay #1 is a meta-referencing poetic reflection and meditation on radio art underpinned by an artistic treatment of dislocation, transmission, reception and place as a thematic underscore. The work is in the form of an abstract song cycle that chiefly oscillates between “songs” originating from High Frequency (HR) radio static/broadcasts between 3 and 30 MHz and those from interviewees replying to questions relating to radio art. Location recordings, sound effect and musical composition weave this originating material together to form a sonic confluence and juxtaposition of elements to stimulate the listener’s imagination while offering an insight into the work’s subject matter.
Interviewees (in order of appearance): Armeno Alberts, Tom Roe, Jean-Philippe Renoult, Gregory Whitehead, Götz Naleppa, Andrew McLennan, Elisabeth Zimmermann, Heidi Grundmann, Andreas Hagelüken, Teri Rueb and Kaye Mortley
Producer and Composer: Colin Black
High Frequency (HR) radio receiver operator: Dimitri Papagianakis
Music for this episode is by Blue the Fifth. We also hear a brief excerpt of Things Change,Things Stay the Same by Rik Rue.
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.
Wow! Fantastic! Makes the weird scholarly world of sound totally accessible!