Close your eyes and listen. What do you hear – the hum of cars, the chatter of a television set, the bells of a church, the cry of a bird?
Soundscapes are more than just an auditory backdrop; they convey essential information about a culture, including racial lines. In his 2016 book The Sonic Color Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening (NYU Press), Jennifer Lynn Stoever, Associate Professor of English at Binghamton University, explores how soundscapes both reflect and shape American ideologies of white supremacy. Last year, his study was at the center of the “Stand For Sonic Diversity” commitment to the voiceover industry. Backed by Pandora, Stitcher and SiriusXM, he is pushing for concrete policies that will ensure the voices of people of color will represent 50% of on-air advertising.
But the impact of his research did not stop there.
“All of my projects are about the meaning of sound to people and the meaning we give to sound,” she explains. “That’s the heart of the matter: what is the role of sound in our lives? How is it a form of sociality, connection and conflict? And how can my research help people better understand this and potentially intervene in some of these deeper conflicts? »
Stoever is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Survey ! The sound studies blog, which functions as a research hub for sound studies, an interdisciplinary field centered on conceptualizations of sound. It features both academics and non-academics, offering diverse conversations about the sounds around us, including the intersections of sound and protest.
Closer to home, she also led The Binghamton Historical Soundwalk Project, a research-based art collaboration that connected students taking her Sound Studies course with the local Binghamton community through a partnership with TechWorks! Binghamton and its manager, Susan Sherwood.
The students both researched Binghamton’s history and recorded sounds from across the region, trying to capture the city through sound. Working with the Center for Civic Engagement, the students then pitched ideas for community sound-related projects at a fair held in University Union’s Mandela Hall, showcasing their work with local residents.
Later phases of this project saw Stoever students collect oral histories, research archives, and give presentations on “sound walks” through Binghamton, ultimately creating a sound archive of the city. Then, in May 2018, with a grant from the Whiting Foundation, students transformed those sounds into a series of live art installations throughout downtown Binghamton, bringing together hundreds of students and residents.
“We asked the students to go out and connect with the community, to talk with people, to listen, to ask them what the strengths of the community were and how the type of work we were doing in the classroom could change. build on these strengths. And this is how we encourage students to approach the community: not from a place of deficiency or need, but what can we do to join in and strengthen it? Stoever explains.
Currently, Stoever and his soundwalk collaborator, Associate Professor of Film Monteith McCollum, are in the documentation phase, working to create a CD featuring all of the projects and student-led interviews with community members. She’s also launching a multimedia digital community archive dedicated to Binghamton’s punk rock history with Binghamton University Museum of Art curator Claire Kovacs, the University’s Library Stack Care Coordinator from Binghamton John Lee ’02, art history graduate student Stephen McKee ’21 and local community member Brianna. Motunrayo Olaiya.
Next, Stoever plans to direct her research to the beginnings of hip hop and the history of black and Latina women in the 70s and 80s, and in particular how they cultivated record collections as part of their daily lives. Stoever speculates that the children of these women became the first hip hop DJs, entertainers, dancers, and performers.
“I trace hip hop back to how mothers heard the world and how their mothers passed on music, a way of listening to their children,” she explains. “It’s hip hop, this way of listening.”
What we hear offers deep insight into our world, and research in this area offers a vast field of exploration. Stoever evolves between his different projects with the expertise of a sound engineer.
“It’s like using a fader. I take on a project that needs my attention and go hard at it, then change when I need to. Because there is so much work to be done in the world on this topic that you have to seize the moments,” she says.