The Sorry Bus

by Jonathan Sterne on November 28, 2010

I’ve been on the road for the last 8 days, and both stops were returns of a sort.

The first stop was Vancouver. I keynoted a conference called Listen Again at the Surrey Art Gallery. And I’ll get to that in a moment. But first, at the risk of sounding like a smug Canadian wannabe, it was good to be back in Canada. And nothing says “you’re in English Canada” more poignantly than a bus with a big bright “sorry” sign on it. I saw a few of those, although this is not my picture. The picture is apparently a bus from Edmonton, which is reassuring since it means it’s not Vancouver-specific. I’ve now spent a few days shy of three months living back in the US, and I haven’t been faithful in cataloging my experiences here, at least not yet. But I can say that six years away from the US changes one’s perspective on it, even if I’m under an hour away. I probably mentioned it last summer but we have now lived in Montreal longer than anywhere else as adults. I don’t know if we’re really “of” the place given the intensity of locals’ attachments to the culture, but we’re more of the place than anywhere else at this point, or at least as “of a place” as rootless cosmopolitan academics can be. So, “distinct society” debates aside, it was good to be back in our adopted country.

The conference was great for a number of reasons. About 100 people made the god-awful-long drive to Surrey to hear the talks, which is impressive in and of itself. The panelists were a mix of academics, artists and musicians. I didn’t clock it until the day of the conference, but my keynote was the only truly academic talk of any of them. Still, it seemed to go over well with the crowd. It was my first attempt at a “what is sound studies?” talk. Although I do some field defining as a practical matter in my graduate seminar, I don’t normally give “future of the field” talks. Honestly, I would rather people surprise me with awesome and astounding work that I couldn’t possibly imagine myself than for them to do whatever I think up to tell them to do. But that’s what the organizers wanted and I figured the thought would be useful for the Sound Studies Reader anyway. And I like to satisfy, though I did make a point of spending the first 10-15 minutes on the domestication of noise in dentistry and architectural acoustics (partly developed in the mp3 book but probably also a spinoff essay). Brady Cranfield, the convener, mentioned getting recordings of the talk up on the site, so it is possible you will be able to hear it at some point.

For me, the content of the talk was less of a challenge than the form. It is still a physical challenge for me to speak for 40 minutes straight. The organizers actually put up a proper monitor by the podium, so I could hear my voice loudly as I talked. That worked well and in future talks I may try and rig something up for myself if the tech people are not as accommodating. I also wrote it out mostly word for word, which is not my normal practice, but may have to become it so that I can focus on breath and delivery and think less about what I say than how I say it. I practiced the talk on Saturday for Carrie and it went really well. I kept my throat relaxed and delivered in a conversational voice rather than the grand theatrical delivery that I use in big fora. So far so good. But in the actual talk itself the adrenaline kicked in and I found myself straining. I probably need more vocal coaching for public speaking, as I can see this is going to be an issue. I need to learn to relax and let the technology do the heavy lifting, at least on the amplification front, and find other ways to be expressive.

Also, my iPad is a little too touch sensitive in keynote (the software, not the activity). I had a couple glitches switching slides when I wasn’t supposed to and had one musical gaffe as well, though since they were both funny, they enhanced the talk rather than detracted from it.

The whole weekend was great. We saw musical performances by Barry Truax and Tim Hecker in the same evening (with the help of a taxi) on Friday and serendipitously landed at a dinner party Saturday with still other people, some of whom we knew and some of whom we didn’t (including Hans-Joachim Braun — yet another sound studies character — who I didn’t expect to see so many time zones away from Germany). I’ll say more about Monday and my visit to Simon Fraser in a separate post.

Tuesday we flew to Oregon to visit our friends Carol, Mrak and Tony for US thanksgiving. We’ve had something like 14 thanksgivings with them now. It was, as usual, great and Oregon is gorgeous. It’s so green there.

TSA-related postscript: Carrie got the pat-down on the way to Vancouver, I got the weird scanner thing. I was too worried about my pants falling off without my belt in to be properly outraged. My mom asked if Carrie was sexually molested. Her tactful reply was “the woman was very clear about what she was going to do and when.”

I do not feel any safer from terrorism because of it.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: