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Isles of Noise

Isles of Noise: Sonic Media in the Caribbean
This project records the unwritten histories of radio and related sonic technologies in the early twentieth century. The book argues that communications media was not a tool of empire in the early 20th century Caribbean as much as it was generated in the space between empires. I am interested in the transposition of media from one place to another from three theoretical perspectives. The concept of empire serves as a point of entry into this research. Negotiating the presences of growing (US) and waning (British) empires, the Caribbean was among the first to acquire communications technologies that incorporated the region into zones of commerce and war, yet it often felt the sting of being relegated to the fringes. The nature of imperialism in this region was, in Frederick Cooper’s formulation, lumpy and uneven. The dynamic was not one that blanketed the Caribbean with full blown, completely interconnected circuits, but rather one that created voluble, dense media contexts while other zones remained electronically silent.
Another methodological premise draws from object theory and material culture. I am interested in what these machines were made of, where and how they traveled, and the requirements for their marketing, maintenance and repair. This widens my perspective to include materials such as mica and Bakelite, the laborers involved in assembling the machines, and the energies and resources required to transport, sell, fix, install, share and use them. Media history, in this understanding, involves much more than a few men making decisions about the content of a broadcast.
Finally I try to understand the emergence of multiple publics and counterpublics. This is the most challenging methodologically, and may be always inherently incomplete. But the question is worth asking. What kinds of listeners heard what kinds of voices? I attend to the embodied nature of voice, searching the documents for traces of tones, accents, and timbre. Drawing from Michael Warner’s understanding that media events animate fragile publics and Jean-Luc Nancy’s linking of resonance with subjectivity, I speculate what the wireless imaginary spawned in terms of habits of the body and mind, in terms of loyalties and affiliations. The project asks what close thinking about listening can bring to the discussion of repertoires of political action or of the boundaries of self.

Related Articles

Birth of a Station: Broadcasting, Governance and the Waning Colonial State in Small Axe Volume 18, no. 2, July 2014 (No. 44): 36-52. 

“Batista is Dead: Media, Violence and Politics in 1950s Cuba” in Caribbean Studies vol. 40, no. 1 (January-June 2012): 37-58.

Book Chapters

“El nacience público oyente: Towards a Genealogy of the Audience in Early Republican Cuba” in Amparo Sánchez Cobos ed, After the Intervention: Civics, Sociability and Applied Science in the New Cuba, 1895-1933 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014).

“El Octopus Acústico: Broadcasting and Empire in the Caribbean” in Michele Hilmes and Jason Loviglio, eds. Radio’s New Wave: Global Sound in the Digital Era. New York: Routledge Press, 2013.

“Introduction” co-written with Andrew Wood, in Bronfman and Wood, eds., Media, Sound and Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean . Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 2012.

“Weapons of the Geek: Romantic Narratives, Sonic Technologies, and Tinkerers in 1930s Santiago” in Bronfman and Wood, eds., Media, Sound and Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 2012.

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