Category Archives: Mass media

Smithsonian Collections Object: The Sony TPS-L2 “Walkman” Cassette Player, National Museum of American History

For it [the Walkman] permits the possibility…of imposing your soundscape on the surrounding aural environment and thereby domesticating the external world: for a moment, it can all be brought under the STOP/START, FAST FOWARD, PAUSE and REWIND buttons–Iain Chambers, “The Aural Walk”

When first launched by Sony on July 1, 1979, you would have called it something different depending on where you lived. In the United States, it was the Sound-About; in Sweden, the Freestyle; in the United Kingdom, the Stowaway. Such diversity reflected concerns that, while acceptable in Asia, Latin American, and the Middle East, the name Walkman was just too grammatically awkward, too “Japanese-made” to be marketable in the Anglophone world. However, like much of the music it mediated, its catchiness could not be denied. The Walkman would become the standard not only for a specific stereo cassette player made by Sony, but for all personal cassette players throughout the world. There was a time when, just as you might reach for a Kleenex instead of a tissue, or a Xerox instead of a photocopy, your portable listening device was the Walkman, even if it was not one proper.

As urban populations continue to swell, and portable, “smart” personal devices rapidly accumulate functionalities, the Sony Walkman seems like a relic and a premonition: an icon of the last two decades of the 20th century that helped construct the idea of the modern “urban nomad.”

First introduced in the United States in June of 1980, the TPS-L2 Walkman (featured above) was clad in sleek blue and silver, weighed 14 ounces, and came with a carrying case and headphones. This original model featured two headphone jack sockets and a hotline feature that allowed you to talk to your companion without having to lower the volume or remove your headphones. Early commercials for the product present it as a device that could unite different cultures and ages, a meeting ground for the traditional and modern:

Two commercials, aired in Japan in 1979, promoting the Sony Walkman

Another commercial—this one featuring the TPS-L2’s direct offspring, the “classic” Walkman II (WM-2)—shows us how the stereo cassette player and radio can provide an enhanced version of the everyday work day.

People of all ages, but especially young, energetic, modern urbanites, are illuminated, in color, by the (“hi-fi”) sounds offered by the Walkman. The scene features enclosed, autonomous characters listening to their personal devices in a social context. The commercial’s negotiation of the ambiguous boundary between diegetic sounds (i.e., music is a part of the narrative; we assume the characters on screen can hear it) and non-diegetic sounds (i.e., disconnected from the narrative; music that remains unheard by characters) drives the point home: when the jingle fades in, only after the protagonist “sees the light” (that shines on the Walkman side of the street of course), some people—couples and shopkeepers—clearly dance to the same music we hear. But perhaps others—the roller skater, the juggler, the skateboarder—are left “to their own devices” (quite literally, as Sony would release different versions of their Walkman to suit specific youth tastes). This polyphony of movement streams suggests a freedom and escape from the silent, black-and-white “dark” that enshrouds the toiling city-dwellers who, alone without the Walkman, fail to take part in a shared experience.

Over and above these media texts’ “datedness” and function (to sell you the product), they point to an issue that is just as provocative now as it was when sociologists and media/cultural studies researchers approached the Walkman in the early 1980s: the social consequences of the potential for personal, portable devices to blur the boundaries between the domestic and public spheres in an urban environment. By roughly 1983, the hotline feature was removed, and two headphone jacks brought down to one. Contrary to Sony head Akio Morita’s conviction that it would be rude for one person to listen to music alone, he discovered shortly after the device’s release that “buyers began to see their little portable stereo sets as very personal.” More than sharing music, people were more interested in curating their own unique “theatrical” experiences—with themselves as protagonist—as they traversed urban environments. The Walkman became a part of an urban strategy, an autonomous and perhaps solitary (but not isolating!) means through which to negotiate the urban soundscape.

If Walkman users were protagonists, some spectators (non-Walkman users) were not entertained or enthused. “Cultural moralists,” as Umberto Eco has called them, had serious reservations about the mixture of the two spheres, public and private, just as Morita did. Included in the primer, Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman, which takes the Walkman as a case study through which to examine key concepts in sociology and media studies, we find a reprint of a brief article that details the experiences of one Walkman user in London. In his short piece, “Menace II Society,” Vincent Jackson writes,

You pull out your Walkman, You stick in your tape […] You press the play button. BAM! The Eyes. Ice glares tell it all. In the short time it takes for the other passengers to look you up and down with utter contempt, you have already had a huge label slapped across your forehead. You are a scumbag, a low-life, a loser. For some strange reason, the Walkman has become the scourge of the modern day traveler, the leper’s bell, symbolic of the endemic rebellion in today’s youth culture. Wear a Walkman and you’re travelling strapped. A Menace to Society.

Despite the hyperbolic tone of this account, it is undeniable that, particularly in the direct wake of its release, the Walkman’s ability to facilitate isolation in a public setting, where it “doesn’t belong,” was disquieting to many an onlooker. Never mind that testimony from Walkman users themselves revealed that many found the device not only useful as a way to shut out unwanted aspects of the city, but also to sculpt the city’s sounds and images in such a way as to commune with it. To many, Walkman users were flaunting a secret—what are they listening to?!—in plain sight. Perhaps the silence of this secret was louder (and more offensive) than the cacophony of all the city’s ambulances, police cars, fire engines, construction, and subways combined.

Whatever one’s perspective, it is undeniable that the Walkman opened a door to practices—both intimate and social at once—that have endured. For this reason and many others, it is of extraordinary value, not only as a cultural object, but also as just one example of human beings’ desire to use music as a vehicle through which to situate themselves among others.

This post was produced through a partnership between Smithsonian Year of Music and RILM with its blog Bibliolore.

Written and compiled by Michael Lupo, Assistant Editor, Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM).

Bibliography

Bull, Michael. “Investigating the culture of mobile listening: From Walkman to iPod”, Consuming music together: Social and collaborative aspects of music consumption technologies, ed. by Kenton O’Hara and Barry Brown. Computer supported cooperative work 35 (Dordrecht: Springer, 2006) 131–149. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2006-26623]

_____. Sounding out the city: Personal stereos and the management of everyday life. Materializing culture (Oxford: Berg, 2000). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2000-57258]

Examines the auditory experience of self and place by exploring the reasons why and the ways in which people tune into their personal stereos (e.g., Walkmans, etc.) and tune out city sounds. Urban, cultural, and anthropological studies have been dominated by explanations of experiences drawing upon notions of visuality. But culture always has an auditory component that shapes attitudes and behavior—perhaps nowhere more so than in the city, where sound is intensified. Strictly visual approaches to culture are challenged here by proposing an auditory understanding of behavior through an ethnographic analysis of personal stereo use. Our understanding of how people, through the senses, negotiate central experiences of the urban—such as space, place, time, and the management of everyday experience—are reformulated, and the critical role played by technology is examined. (publisher)

Chambers, Iain. “A miniature history of the Walkman”, New formations: A journal of culture/theory/politics 11 (summer 1990) 1–4. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 1990-40156]

_____. “The aural walk”, Audio culture: Readings in modern music, ed. by Christopher Cox and Daniel Warner. (2nd ed.; New York: Bloomsbury, 2013) 98–101. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2013-15440]

_____. Urban rhythms: Pop music and popular culture (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 1986-4279]

Chow, Rey. “Listening otherwise, music miniaturized: A different type of question about revolution”, The cultural studies reader, ed. by Simon During (2nd ed.; London: Routledge, 1999) 462–478. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 1999-62371]

Du Gay, Paul and Stuart Hall, et. al. Doing cultural studies: The story of the Sony Walkman (2nd ed.; Los Angeles: Sage, 2013). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2013-46759]

What does the Walkman have to do with the 21st century? The long-awaited second edition of this classic textbook takes students on a journey between past and present, giving them the skills do to cultural analysis along the way. Through the notion of the circuit of culture, this book teaches students to critically examine what culture means, and how and why it is enmeshed with the media texts and objects in their lives. Students will gain practical experience with the historical comparative method, learn to think about some of the cultural conundrums of the present and their relation to the past, unpack the key concepts of contemporary culture, such as mobility and materiality, look with fresh eyes at today’s media world and the cultural practices it gives rise to, and practice their critical skills with up-to-date exercises and activities. This book remains the perfect how-to for cultural studies. It is an essential classic, reworked for today’s students in cultural studies, media studies, and sociology. (publisher)

Hosokawa, Shūhei. “The Walkman effect”, The sound studies reader, ed. by Jonathan Sterne (New York: Routledge, 2012): 104–116. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2012-11796]

The 1980 Sony invention has been paramount in the creation of “musica mobilis”, a music whose source follows “the corporal transportation of the source owner”. The internal effects of listening, the internal-external relationship between inner hearing and outside (urban) sounds, and the external theatricality of “wearing” a Walkman are all examined. It is argued that to think about the Walkman is to reflect on the urban itself.

_____. “Walkman as urban strategy”, OneTwoThreeFour: A rock ‘n’ roll quarterly 6 (summer 1988): 40–45. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1988-26630]

Schönhammer, Rainer. “The Walkman and the primary world of the sense”, Phenomenology + pedagogy 7 (1989) 127–144. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 1989-14178]

Williams, Andrew Paul. The functions of Walkman music (Ph.D. diss., The University of Adelaide, 2004). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2004-26911]

Since its release in 1979, the Walkman has engendered new modes of musical experience for millions of listeners. Its portability and the apparent isolation offered by its headphones enable Walkman users to listen to music in situations where it would otherwise be impossible. They can also use Walkman music to achieve outcomes for which other forms of music may not be suited. Eleven functions of Walkman music, ten adapted from Michael Bull’s (2000) strategies of Walkman use and one derived from this study’s fieldwork results, are examined here. Following Timothy Rice’s (1987) model for ethnomusicological study, the functions’ origins in historical musical practice are investigated, as well as their maintenance in social interaction and listeners’ individual experience of them. This study demonstrates Walkman listeners are focused entirely on their Walkman music in only two functions, either enjoying it or trying to learn it. Four functions involve Walkman listeners’ interactions with their surroundings—namely, listeners use Walkman music to control their environments’ soundscapes, to ease their negotiation of places they consider unpleasant, to control personal interactions and, in combination with their surroundings, Walkman music gives listeners the impression they are viewing or acting in a film for which their music is the soundtrack. Listeners use Walkman music for its effects on themselves in five functions. They choose rhythmic music for motivation during exercise or music which will influence their mood. Listeners also use Walkman music to simulate the presence of a companion or because they consider it a more enjoyable or productive use of time they would otherwise consider wasted. Finally, Walkman music can prompt listeners’ memories of past events. While similar observations have been made in previous studies and particularly by Bull, music’s role has not been appropriately acknowledged. This study’s examination of Walkman music in terms of the functions it fulfills for listeners corrects this imbalance. Observations in the literature relating to Walkman use are tested for their resonance with Walkman listeners in ethnographic interviews conducted in Adelaide, Australia. Conclusions are drawn regarding the degree of isolation listeners actually achieve from their surroundings and also regarding the relative novelty or otherwise of the uses to which listeners put their Walkman music. (author)

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The Smithsonian Institution’s Object of the Day, September 8, 2019: Patsy Cline’s Performance Outfit

Hilda Hensley (maker), Patsy Cline’s Costume, ca 1958, National Museum of American History.

Patsy Cline: Icon and Iconoclast

Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts producer Janette Davis made herself clear: for the show on January 21, 1957, “Walkin’ After Midnight” was a better choice than “A Poor Man’s Roses (Or a Rich Man’s Gold),” and a sleek, blue linen, sheath dress was preferred over country western attire. That evening, the plucky and ambitious Virginia Patterson Hensley of Winchester, Virginia—Patsy Cline to her listening public—uncharacteristically put aside her pride and did what was asked of her, singing the song she once disparaged as “nothing more than a little old pop tune.” Had she not, there may have been no thunderous applause to guarantee her landslide victory on the televised talent contest and no rush for the label Decca to release a recording of the song that would climb to number two on Billboard’s “Hot Country” chart and number twelve on the “Hot 100” (pop) chart. In short, Patsy Cline the country western singer may not have become Patsy Cline the country-pop crossover star.

It is hard to overstate the incredible power that television had, particularly in its early years, to catapult the career of a performer like Cline. According to the advertising trade publication Sponsor, about half of all homes in the United States with a television watched Godfrey’s show, which was the fifth most popular of the week. Cline was not only heard by millions that night, but also seen by millions. Although a recording artist’s dress had always been essential in constituting a persona, television significantly amplified its ability to construct celebrity.

Across her career, Cline adopted at least three styles of dress that reflected her background, the different performance contexts available for country music, and changes being made within the genre itself. At a time when producers, arrangers, and sound engineers were developing what would be called the Nashville sound—replacing steel guitars, fiddles, nasal roughness, and regional dialects with more commercially viable string arrangements, background vocal quartets, and rhythmic grooves—Cline found herself negotiating the lines between the honky-tonk roots she held dear and an industry bent on expanding country western’s markets. Cline preferred to project “traditional” country markers of authenticity, and particularly in the early years of her career was able to toggle between the fringed cowgirl outfits her mother Hilda made for her (for early stage shows and TV performances) and the “barn dance” look, which relied on an imagined conception of life in the rural American West. To these two options were added the more pop-friendly, form-fitting cocktail dresses prevalent in the early 1960s. As Joli Jensen notes in her contribution to the collection of essays, Sweet Dreams: The World of Patsy Cline:

Patsy Cline embodied the tension between down-home and uptown country music…That tension was obvious visually as well as aurally, where hillbilly, cowboy, and pop visual markers all mix together. Pictures of the Grand Ole Opry stage include performers in business attire (men) and dressy little suits (women) standing in front of wagon wheels, hay bales, and other barn dance signifiers, with cloggers in petticoats and banjo pickers in dungarees. This disjointed visual quality mirrors the contradictory effort, during the period, to find a commercially successful sound that could stay country but still cross over and appeal to a wider audience.

Although we should be suspicious of clear sonic distinctions between “country” and “pop,” there can be no doubt that an artist’s look carried important signifiers. Unlike the wardrobe choice imposed on Cline for her break-through debut on Godfrey’s television show, the pink performance outfit featured here, made by Hilda in around 1958, was fashioned in the barn-dance mold. However, the inclusion of five hand-stitched, rhinestone-adorned, “record” patches, each containing a (modified) title of a Cline recording, illustrates the kind of contradictions pointed out by Jensen above. Clearly shown in the photograph above, “Come On In” and “Poor Mans Roses” sit atop the shirt’s left and right shoulders, respectively. “Stop the World” appears at the bottom of the suit’s left pant leg, “Yes I Understand” is affixed to the right, and “Walking After Midnight” takes its position on the outfit’s back. The point is that we have a costume that is at once country and modern, traditional yet boastful, rural and urban. The patches, as an overt method of promotion, betray a sense of (gendered) humility that would have fed into the concept of respectability so important to the middle-class aspirations of many 1950s Winchester natives. But at the same time, they epitomize the striving for upward class mobility that characterized much of the decade as a whole.

The outfit also points to the rise of the disc as a medium through which to encounter music in the postwar era. After World War II, it was no longer necessary for the United States to restrict the commercial production of shellac, the material required for the construction of the record. Once records were again mass produced and displayed for all to see in jukeboxes, their prominent role as a means through which to disseminate country music could not be denied. Cline’s patches not only advertised her music, but also laid bare the most profitable medium through which it could be brought to the consumer.

Patsy Cline was simultaneously a country western musician and a pop star; the first female solo country artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the recipient of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Despite her untimely death, her lasting impact is, in no small degree, due not only to the songs she brought to life in her recordings and live performances, but also to the personas she projected. Both icon and iconoclast, Cline’s images remain as emblazoned on the history of American popular music as the record patches sewn on her suit.

This post was produced through a partnership between Smithsonian Year of Music and RILM with its blog Bibliolore.

Written and compiled by Michael Lupo, Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM).

Bibliography

Cline, Patsy. Love always, Patsy: Patsy Cline’s letters to a friend. Comp. by Cindy Hazen and Mike Freeman (New York: Berkley Boulevard, 1999). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 1999-5126]

Gomery, Douglas. Patsy Cline: The making of an icon (Bloomington: Trafford, 2011). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2011-24682]

Patsy Cline remains a much beloved singer, even though she died in 1963. By 1996, Patsy Cline had become such an icon that The New York Times Magazinepositioned her among a pantheon of women celebrities who transcended any single cultural genre. The making of an icon is a cultural process that transcends traditional biographical analysis. One does not need to know the whole life story of the subject to understand how the subject became an icon. This book explores how Patsy Cline transcended class and poverty to become the country music singer that non-country music fans embraced, going beyond a traditional biography to examine the years beyond her death. (publisher)

Hofstra, Warren R., ed. Sweet dreams: The world of Patsy Cline. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2013-8235]

Jensen, Joli. “Patsy Cline, musical negotiation, and the Nashville sound”, All that glitters: Country music in America, ed. by George H. Lewis. (Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University, 1993) 38–50. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 1993-10704]

A brief survey of the life and career of Patsy Cline (1932–63), whose career spanned a transitional period in country music—the developing “Nashville sound” of the early 1950s. Her recording sessions reveal the search for a commercial country sound, combining pop with country. Her struggle to maintain a country definition demonstrates the defining power of music as a cultural form. (Judy Weidow)

_____. The Nashville sound: Authenticity, commercialization, and country music (Nashville: Vanderbilt University, 1998). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 1998-8200]

A history of country music. Emphasis is placed on the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the growing country music industry developed what has become known as the Nashville sound. The style was less twangy, softer, lusher, and more influenced by pop music than the country music styles that preceded it. The sound sparked debates about whether country music had “sold out.” The notion of country music’s authenticity in relation to charges of its commercialism is examined, and the development of the countrypolitan Nashville sound is explored in detail. (Terry Simpkins)

Jones, Margaret. Patsy: The life and times of Patsy Cline (New York: Harper Collins, 1994). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 1994-2174]

Nassour, Ellis. Honky tonk angel: The intimate story of Patsy Cline (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 1993-3776]

Patsy Cline, the beloved country singer, soared from obscurity to worldwide fame before her life tragically ended at age 30. After breaking all the barriers in the Nashville boys’ club of the music business in the 1950s, she brought the Nashville sound to the nation with her torch ballads and rockabilly tunes like “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Crazy,” and “I Fall to Pieces.” Earthy, sexy, and vivacious, she has been the subject of a major movie and countless articles, and her albums are still among the top five best-sellers for MCA almost 30 years after her death. In the end it is her music, a standard feature on jukeboxes from Seattle to Siberia, that prevails and keeps on keeping on. Patsy’s colorful and poignant life is explored in intimate detail by a veteran of The New York Times, Ellis Nassour. She is remembered in Honky Tonk Angel by the country stars who knew and loved her, among them Brenda Lee, Roger Miller, Loretta. Lynn, George Jones, Jimmy Dean, and Ralph Emery. With an introduction by the late Dottie West, a complete discography, and many never-before-published photographs, Honky Tonk Angel lovingly re-creates the life of an American legend whose music lives on forever. (publisher)

 

 

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“Scrubs” musical fantasies

Despite its hackneyed premise—a group of medical students trying to get ahead in the competitive hospital environment—the television series Scrubs had something special: a judicious selection of accompanying music.

Sometimes the choice was linked to the musical biographies of the prominent figures, and other times the lyrics referred directly or indirectly to the development of the plot, to particular events, or to important characters. The frequent fantasies involving the main character, Dr. John Dorian, are riddled with emblematic musical references to the pop–rock music of the last 60 years, offering a rich and representative sample of what the last three generations were listening to.

This according to “La inserción del número musical en las series de televisión: El papel de la música en Scrubs” by Judith Helvia García Martín (Cuadernos de etnomusicología 3 [marzo 2003] pp. 204–19).

Above and below, a fantasy sequence involving James Brown’s The payback.

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Mallarmé and dance

Mallarmé_(Manet)

Although Stéphane Mallarmé’s writings on dance are few, he has come to be considered an important dance theorist who allied and underscored two aspects of dance that are seldom simultaneously emphasized: its ritual character and its function as a system of signs.

While Mallarmé linked dance with poetry, he noted that—unlike poetry—dance’s symbolism does not develop from a codified semiotic system; rather, dance signifiers are inherently open-ended, and the spectator completes the art work by supplying the signified.

This according to “Ephemeral signs: Apprehending the idea through poetry and dance” by Mary Lewis Shaw (Dance research journal XX/1 [summer 1988] pp. 3–9).

Above, Édouard Manet’s portrait of the poet; below, perhaps the ultimate meeting of Mallarmé and dance, as Rudolf Nureyev performs a reconstruction of Nijinsky’s choreography for Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, a work inspired by Mallarmé’s L’après-midi d’un faune.

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The day Herrmann’s score stood still

Bernard Herrmann’s score for Robert Wise’s The day the earth stood still (1950) is widely celebrated among film historians, and its use of theremins and other electronic instruments makes it the first large-scale electronic music composition in history.

Three considerations explain the perceived suspension of motion in the film’s opening title sequence: nullification of harmonic progress through polytonality, nullification of rhythmic pulse through polyrhythms, and  nullification of acoustical interaction through the use of electronic instruments and tape manipulations.

This accordting to “Suspended motion in the title scene from The day the earth stood still” by Stephen Husarik, an essay included in Sounds of the future: Essays on music in science fiction film (Jefferson: McFarland, 2010). Below, a colorized version of the sequence in question.

Related articles:

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Korla Pandit’s universals

 

The son of an Indian Brahman and a French singer, Korla Pandit (born John Roland Redd, 1921–98) performed on Hammond organ and piano on Los Angeles television three times a week from 1949 to 1951. In every program he wore a suit and tie and a bejewelled turban, and he never spoke.

While he fulfilled, perpetrated, and even helped to form stereotypes of the mystical, exotic, Indian Other, Pandit interpreted and manipulated these notions to assert his ideas and beliefs about the essential union of East and West and the universality of spiritual experience.

This according to “Korla Pandit: Music, exoticism, and mysticism” by Timothy D. Taylor, an essay included in Widening the horizon: Exoticism in post-war popular music (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999). Below, a 1951 performance of one of his trademark pieces, the traditional Greek song Μισιρλού (Misirlou).

BONUS: A classic surf-rock performance of the same piece by Dick Dale & the Del-Tones:

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