21 episodes

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.

Phantom Power Mack Hagood

    • Society & Culture
    • 4.9 • 31 Ratings

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.

    A Life Based on an Experiment (Siavash Amini)

    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.  

    • 47 min
    Ep. 20: What is Radio Art (Colin Black)

    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

    Duration: 00:25:10

    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.

    • 40 min
    Ep. 19: Under Construction

    Ep. 19: Under Construction

    It's been a minute, so in this short episode, we update you on what's happening with Phantom Power and what's coming in 2020.

    The big (and sad) news is that co-host cris cheek is departing. After two years of lending his unique voice, ideas, and turns of phrase to the show--not to mention producing fantastic episodes like his interview with This Heat's Charles Hayward--cris has decided to refocus on his many other creative endeavors. 

    We will miss cris, but the show will go on. And he's been kind enough to let us continue using his golden intro! Check out the pod to hear about some of our upcoming 2020 episodes, with guests including Colin Black, Harriet Ottenheimer, Jonathan Sterne, and Siavash Amini.   

    • 7 min
    Ep. 18: Screwed and Chopped (Re-cast)

    Ep. 18: Screwed and Chopped (Re-cast)

    Slab trunks feature sound systems and visual displays.

    Today we re-cast one of our favorite episodes, an interview with folklorist and Houston native Langston Collin Wilkins, who studies "slab" culture and the "screwed and chopped" hip hop that rattles the slabs and serves as the culture's soundtrack.

    Since the 1990s, many of Houston’s African American residents have customized cars and customized the sound of hip hop. Cars called “slabs” swerve a slow path through the city streets, banging out a distinctive local music that paid tribute to those very same streets and neighborhoods.

    Wilkins shows us how sonic creativity turns a space—a collection of buildings and streets—into a place that is known, respected, and loved.

    In this show we hear the slow, muddy, psychedelic sounds of DJ Screw and The Screwed Up Click, including rappers such as Lil Keke, Fat Pat, Big Hawk, and UGK--as well as songs by Geto Boys, Willie Dee, Swishahouse, Point Blank, Biggie Smalls, and MC T Tucker & DJ Irv.

    Photos by Langston Collin Wilkins.


    [low humming and static playing]


    This…is…Phantom Power.

    [Tamborine beat blends in]

    Episode 7: Screwed and Chopped.

    [Hip hop music with vocals cuts in]

    Parental discretion is advised. Welcome to Phantom Power. I’m cris cheek. Today on the seventh and final episode of our first season, my co-host Mack Hagood converses with Langston Collin Wilkins. Langston is a folklorist an ethnomusicologist active in both academia and the public sector. Working as a traditional art specialist at the Tennessee Arts Commission. Mack spoke with Langston recently about his research into Houston’s unique slab, car culture. The city’s relationship to hip hop and hip hop’s to community. Enjoy.

    [Different hip hop music plays]


    So before we get into the research of Langston Collin Wilkins, maybe we should get one question out of the way. Why would a folklorist be studying hip hop? Don’t they study things like folk tales or traditional music or quilting? Well, in fact the folklorist I know study things like bodybuilding and fashion and internet memes. Folklorists study everyday creativity. One contemporary definition of folklore is “artistic communication in small groups.” As Langston shows, it’s the way a town like Houston gets a look and a sound all its own, but folklore didn’t lead Langston to hip hop. In fact, it was quite the other way around.

    [Hip hop music cuts out]


    Back when I was a kid, around 12 years old, I received my first hip hop record, which was the “Ghetto Boys Resurrection Album”  in 1996.

    [A song from the album plays]

    Born and raised in Houston, Texas, the south side, where Scarface is from that same area. The Ghetto Boys in my hometown heroes as they are for ever...

    • 35 min
    Ep. 17: The Sounds of Silents

    Ep. 17: The Sounds of Silents

    What did going to the movies sound like back in the “silent film” era? The answer takes us on a strange journey through Vaudeville, roaming Chautauqua lectures, penny arcades, nickelodeons, and grand movie palaces. As our guest In today’s episode, pioneering scholar of film sound, Rick Altman, tells us, the silent era has a lot to teach us about why sound works the way it does at the movies today. And as our other guest, sound and film historian Eric Dienstfrey tells us, “What we think of today as standard practice is far from inevitable.” In fact, some of the practices we’ll hear about are downright wacky. 

    Audiences today give little thought to the relationship between sound and images at the movies. When we hear a character's footsteps or inner thoughts or hear a rousing orchestral score that the character can’t hear, it all seems natural. Yet these are all conventions that had to be developed by filmmakers and accepted by audiences. And as Altman and Dienstfrey show us, the use of sound at the movies could have developed very differently.

    Film sound scholar Rick Altman and Mack after their interview at the University of Iowa.

    Dr. Rick Altman is Professor Emeritus of Cinema and Comparative Literature in the Department of Cinema and Comparative Literature, University of Iowa. Altman is known for his work on genre theory, the musical, media sound, and video pedagogy. He is the author of Silent Film Sound (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), Film/Genre (Bloomsbury, 1999), and A Theory of Narrative (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).

    Dr. Eric Dienstfrey is Postdoctoral Fellow in American Music at the University of Texas at Austin. Eric is a historian of sound, cinema, and media technology. His paper "The Myth of the Speakers: A Critical Reexamination of Dolby History” won the Society of Cinema and Media Studies’ Katherine Singer Kovács Essay Award for best article of the year in 2016.


    [ominous music plays]


    This…is…Phantom Power.


    Episode 17…

    [low horn instruments play]


    The Sounds of Silents


    We think of going to movies as going to the movies but for a lot of audiences, they were going to hear a live concert that was accompanied by motion pictures. And there’s this great anecdote that Anna Windisch uncovered in their scholarship in Viennese practices from the turn of the century. And they found a series of films, I believe, where you had the motion picture printed on film, but you also had a visual recording of the conductor, conducting a score that was meant to go along with that film. So I believe it was sort of like a superimposed image. So when you screen the film, you’ll see the conductor on screen conducting. And then the orchestra that was live in the theater playing would take its cues from the conductor that was on screen.

    [conductor taps baton, and orchestra plays]


    It’s Phantom Power. I’m Mack Hagood.


    And I’m cris cheek. So what are we listening to here, Mack?


    This is Eric Deinstfry. He’s a historian of sound technology and sound media working at the University of Texas, Austin. And he knows a lot about the history of sound in motion pictures.


    So what’s he talking about?


    It’s this crazy story told me about the silent film era in Vienna. You know, back in the early days of film, people had to figure out how to combine music and film.

    • 43 min
    Ep. 16: Soar and Chill (Robin James)

    Ep. 16: Soar and Chill (Robin James)

    Why do certain musical sounds move us while others leave us cold? Are musical trends simply that—or do they contain insights into the culture at large? Our guest is a musicologist who studies pop and electronic dance music. She’s fascinated by the way EDM privileges timbral and rhythmic complexity over the chord changes and harmonic complexities of the blues-based rock and pop music of yore. However, Robin James is also a philosopher and she connects these musical structures to social and economic structures, not to mention structural racism and sexism. 

    Robin James

    In this episode, cris and Mack have a lengthy, freeform interview and listening session with Robin in which she breaks down the sounds of EDM, pop, hip hop, “chill” playlists, and industrial techno, conceiving them as varied responses to neoliberalism’s intensification of capitalism. Her analysis includes lyrical content, but her main focus is the soars, stutters, breaks, and drops that mimic the socio-economic environment of the 21st century. It's an environment that demands resilience from all of us—and especially from women and people of color.


    Robin James’s books include:

     Resilience & Melancholy: pop music, feminism, neoliberalism (Zer0 Books, 2015).

    The Sonic Episteme: acoustic resonance & biopolitics (Duke, 2019).

    The Conjectural Body: Gender, Race, & the Philosophy of Music (Lexington Books, 2010).


    [ominous music plays]


    This…is…Phantom Power.

    [techno music fades in]


    Episode 16.


    Soul and chill.


    Hey, I’m Mack Hagood, and yes, you are hearing Calvin Harris on Phantom Power, the podcast on the sonic arts and humanities. Why you might ask? Well, our guest today spends a lot of time listening to Calvin Harris and David Guetta. She calls them the Coke and Pepsi of pop, electronic dance music or EDM. As a musicologist, she’s fascinated by how EDM pushes beyond tonality. That is the harmonies and chord progressions that are the focus of blues based rock and pop music. EDM cares more about Tambor, and rhythmic complexity, ear catching sounds and intense Sonic experiences. moments when the vocal stutters for the beat drops moments like this one, where the entire song begins to soar.

    [music continues]

    But Robin James isn’t just a musicologist. She’s also a philosopher. She really wants to know what these songs can tell us about society. And while many cultural analyses of pop songs focus on song lyrics, with a few vague gestures towards sound, Robin James brings her musical logical experience to bear connecting musical structures to economic structures, not to mention structural racism and sexism. To my mind, the strength of her work is that she makes admirably bold and clear claims about why certain kinds of popular music are popular in a given moment. And whether or not you decide you agree with those claims by the end of the show, you may never hear an EDM sore quite the same way again. In today’s episode, my co host cris cheek and I have a lengthy freeform conversation and listening session with Robin, in which she breaks down EDM pop songs featured in her book “ Resilience and Melancholy: Pop Music, Feminism Neoliberalism.” We also get into a bit of hip hop, as well as songs from her current research into chill music in the streaming era. Robin James is Associate Professor of Philosophy at UNC Charlotte...

    • 1 hr

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
31 Ratings

31 Ratings

111wong111 ,

Phantom Power

Wow! Fantastic! Makes the weird scholarly world of sound totally accessible!

Daboomdestroyer ,


This is a smart, funny and delightful podcast. With its singular focus on listening to sounds, and the joyful way with which it is produced, Phantom Power provides an important contribution to the ongoing project of intellectual history. I’m looking forward to future seasons.

Duty cat ,

Sound creativity

Great podcast about how people create a culture around different sounds and music. I loved the storytelling, questions, and music. Thanks to all who produced this super educational podcast.

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