Retroactive Listening: Perspectives on Music and Technology

Pitch Deadline: 20 February 2010

Final Deadline: 15 March 2010

Contact: Sarah Zupko and Louis J. Battaglia

Email: editor AT AND battaglia AT

There was a time when passive listening was impossible, when the only way to hear a song was to watch it live or to play it yourself, but nowadays even the shortest train ride is interminable without an iPod. Vinyl records have become products for enthusiasts, that group of people for whom a piece of music has value as a physical object in addition to the stream of data representing those sad, sweet longitudinal waves. What does it mean for a song to be a “B-side” in 2009? What use is a single when almost all songs are available a la carte? What role has technology played in changing the ways we think about the music we create?

We are looking for smart, focused essays on the inflection points of musical history, those moments in time when the acts of listening, performing, and experiencing music became something new entirely. An evolutionary biologist might call it mutation; we’ll go with progress. Some benchmarks were bound to be crossed eventually: if the Beatles didn’t play Shea Stadium, surely someone else would have. But there’s always a story in the specificity of the event. Why then? Why there? And as much as we’re looking for stories of the innovations themselves, we’re interested in hearing about the wider impact of technology’s persistent meddling in music history.

The scope of this series is intentionally broad, and you are free to cover topics unbound by space and time, as long as music and technology are central to your paper. Speculate! Explicate! Ruminate! Depth, not breadth, is the operative dimension here. And we want essays that are written like something is at stake, because we believe that there is a universe of difference between listening to Pearl Jam at the Garden and listening to Dan Bejar in a dive bar, and the simple matter of whether a person is playing guitar through racks upon racks of amps or scraping a güiro has implications on perception and identity that stretch far beyond the sounds emanating from the instrument. There are powerful forces at work here, people. We’ll be satisfied to get the briefest of glimpses at the heart of the matter.

Pitches will be due by 20 February 2010, and we’ll need your pieces in no later than 15 March 2010. Typically, features on our site are between 1,000-3,500 words, but take it longer if the mood strikes you.

Any questions or complaints should be directed to Sarah Zupko and Louis J. Battaglia, the editors for this special feature, at editor AT AND battaglia AT