Music: Miss Kitten & the Hacker: First Album
In CMS 367: Rhetoric and Popular Music, we’ve been engaging material about the relation between music and space. We’ve been riffing lately on Henri Lefebvre’s distinctions among different types of spaces. For class, a “representation of space” is the idealized space of the status quo, serving those in power. A “space of representation” is a “real” space in which people do stuff, and this doing may or may not cohere with the representation of space (e.g., the representation of space of a music arena is seats, neatly rowed, facing the stage, inclusive of an imaginary scene of people behaving themselves and facing the front, and so on, while in the actual space of representation—especially at, say, a Dead show, few are doing that . . . rather, they’re making out, smoking dope, dancing in the aisles, and so on). Last week we discussed “scene” as harboring an odd tension between these two kinds of space. Today, we looked at the “club scene” and the practice of “clubbing” as a “sensual practice” involving atmosphere, tactility, mind-altering substances, beat-submission (as in, dancing to it), and escape via transgression (however illusory).
Anyhoo, so, today was a hoot because we had a CLASSROOM DANCE PARTY to illustrate their reading about the feeling of the beat, but also, how spaces of representation (of “representin'”) usually occur within representations of space that were opposed to the practices they harbor. Super-TAs Amber and Roger helped me unload the DJ rig into the classroom. We set the gear up, but didn’t turn anything on except for the DJ rig. I began lecture as normal, and worked through a number of musical examples to show how “dance music” evolved from James Brown and Kraftwerk (via Donna Summer). I traced the evolution of the beat from the 70s to the 90s, noting how beats got heavier and heavier as years passed. I demonstrated how all dance music lyrics pulsate around the beat.
I then discoursed on S&M and bondage, and how the practices were similar to dancing, and then dropped the new remix of Madonna’s “Hung Up” single. At that moment, as I was talking about the libidinal economy of the dance floor and the politics of submission, Amber and Roger cut the lights and turned on the disco ball and dance globe strobe . . . fog filled the front of the room . . . and students looked truly puzzled. Then, I announced that for their quiz grade today, they would have to dance a little, and they needed to come to the dance floor . . . fog got thicker, the beat got stronger . . . and we danced for the rest of the class period.
Some of the students came down, pretended to dance, and went back to their seats mortified. Others sat and watched, but soon, a goodly throng of gleeful students collected and danced in the front until the end of the period.
It was a total blast. Here is the complete photo-album of the event. I think earning a Ph.D. was worth this little moment of transgression. And, I think, the students will actually remember the reading for today.
We did get busted, however. Here’s one of the two complaints we received (I’ll note, however, that after I apologized we’re all friends now, with no paranoid delusions on either end!):
Dear Professor Gunn,
I work in the Dean’s Office in the College of Natural Sciences, located in WC Hogg. Unfortunately, we’ve had several complaints regarding the volume of the music in your T/Th classes. Specifically, one of the Associate Deans, who’s office is directly above the auditorium, has reported disruptions. Additionally, the lobby of the Dean’s Office is located just on the other side of the auditorium, and we’re having problems hearing each other and our callers. Your class sounds like a lot of fun (we all talk about sneaking down there to dance), but we’d really appreciate it if you could lower the volume of the music. Thank you so much.
College of Natural Sciences
Next year I’ll warn them it’s coming, and then maybe, just maybe, they’ll join us.
I truly do enjoy teaching, and really appreciate that I get to teach what I want to teach. It is a shame that you can only do that in a college setting (my mind wanders to Ed Youngblood’s forced resignation for showing an R-rated movie) . . and it’s a shame that, increasingly, we’re having to self-censor. Let it be said that every song played in today’s sock-hop was the edited, radio-friendly version!