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Welcome to our special issue on Technology and Black Music in the Americas. As guest editor, I'd like to offer my personal thanks to all of our contributors, who are exploring relatively uncharted currents in the overall flow of black music technology. I'd also like to thank JSAM editor Ellie M. Hisama and assistant editor Benjamin Piekut for their tireless efforts, as well as their extraordinary abilities as editors to navigate quickly between leaf- and forest-level views.
This article investigates the music created by current rap and R&B producers such as Timbaland and Pharrell Williams in order to understand how their works evoke certain constructions of sonic space. The opaque, spare, two-dimensional qualities of the virtual spaces assembled by these artists serve as a useful window onto broader cultural forces, such as the peculiar short circuit of space and temporality that Paul Virilio evokes in his concept of “telepresence.” The author argues that the sonic construction of telepresence allows contemporary black music to comment upon the notion of “biopolitics,” the reduction of the political to the horizon of the body.
A cartographer constructs a map of an individual creative history, that of the American artist kara lynch, as it emerges in connection to a collective history of African American cultural expression. Positioning history as complex, dynamic systems of interwoven memory networks, the map follows lynch's traversals through various “zones of cultural haunting”: places where collective memories made invisible through systematic processes of cultural erasure may be recovered and revived. Through these traversals, which are inspired by lynch's “forever project” Invisible, the map covers such terrains as haunted narratives, mechanisms of abstraction and coding within African American media production, water as an informational technology, the distribution of memory in blood, the dialectics of materiality and immateriality that frame considerations of black subjectivity, and the possibility that place of music might not be the site of sound but instead the social production of memory.
Anthony Braxton's opera Trillium R (1991): Shala Fears for the Poor is examined macroscopically, microscopically, and theoretically for its resonances with both spoken and written language. The latter is posited as an ur-technology spawning six more specialized technologies tropes, through which the macroscopic survey unfolds. Braxton's music is conflated with the academic discourse of “speculative musicology” and the genre of “speculative fiction,” the literary arena of most fertile explorations of technological potential. The microscopic study examines the relationship between Braxton's libretto and music in the score, and that between the determinate and indeterminate in both, as the techne (tool) of its effectiveness. Finally, the article explains Braxton's work through its European, African, Asian, and Native American influences.
This essay explores the thematic use of music in the science-fiction writings of two African American authors, Henry Dumas and Samuel R. Delany. Each author visited this theme in more than one work, and in at least one work centered the Afro-technological focus upon a special musical instrument: the “afro horn” in Dumas's story “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and a machete/flute in Samuel R. Delany's novel The Einstein Intersection. Both writers treat music itself, without regard to a material instrument, as a technology. Dumas depicted black music as a tool that enabled black people to kill their enemies, and Delany represented music as a technology capable of avenging the wrongs committed against the politically and socially marginalized. Whereas Dumas's protagonists were more likely to be social pariahs because of their class or their sexual orientation than because of race, his descriptions specifically reference black music and its attendant rituals. Both writers portray music as a technology capable of creating and healing as well as avenging and destroying.