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Sonic Bodies: the Skills and Performance Techniques of the Reggae Sound System Crew

Henriques, Julian F.. 2008. Sonic Bodies: the Skills and Performance Techniques of the Reggae Sound System Crew. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This research project describes the performance techniques of the reggae sound
system crew in the dancehall session. These are held until dawn every night of
the week on the streets of inner city Kingston, Jamaica. The research question
asked is: how does a sound system work? The methodology is one of participant
observation - what the crew do, with what, and with whom - as well as
participant listening. This attunes the research to the auditory qualities of the
sounds that the crew describe in recorded interviews, as well as the nuances of
the idiomatic expressions they use and their tone of voice. Taking Jamaica's
longest running and best-established sound system, Stone Love Movement as a
case study, the research concentrates on the roles of three crewmembers in
particular. These "sonic bodies" are: the audio engineers who design, build, finetune
and maintain the hugely powerful sound system "sets" of equipment; the
selectors responsible for the choice of recorded music played to the "crowd"
(audience) in the session; and MCs (or DJs) who introduce the music and "build
the vibes. " The crew's skilled performance techniques are investigated in
relation to the phonographic instrument of the "set" of equipment for making
sound, together with the media of sound, music and voice for diffusion of the
vibrations to the crowd. These occur at three vibrating frequencies: the material
waveband of the mechanics of auditory propagation and hearing itself; the
corporeal waveband of the embodied kinetic rhythms of the crowd's dancing and
crew's performance; and the ethereal waveband of the "vibes" or social and
cultural meaning of the dancehall session and entire scene. Rather than the
conventional technological, cultural and social "factors, " it is suggested that the
crew's skills and techniques "make sense" of all these frequencies with expert
evaluations, as the basis of their connoisseurship (Polanyi) or their logic of
practice (Bourdieu). The engineer "just knows" when their fine-tuning is
complete; the selector has a "gut feeling" when to repeat a track; and the MC
"judges" the exact timing of the punch line. It is concluded that the crew's
techniques are best understood as embodying a kind of rationality that pivots on
ratio, analogia and proportion, rather than concepts of disembodied logic,
representation or calculation. Thus the crew's evaluative techniques provide
evidence for understanding the workings of the sound system as an apparatus
for the propagation of vibrations.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Keywords:

reggae, soundsystem, dancehall, jamaica, kinetic rhythm, sonics, listening

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies
Media, Communications and Cultural Studies > Topology Research Unit

Date:

2008

Item ID:

22858

Date Deposited:

02 Feb 2018 14:24

Last Modified:

21 Aug 2019 10:20

URI:

http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/22858

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