On Tuesday, September 21, 2021, at 11 am, Christy Tidwell will present a Brown Bag on the connections between 1970s horror film, 1970s racial politics, and recent songs by Clipping. This free presentation will be held in-person on the South Dakota Mines campus in Classroom Building 309.
Experimental hip hop group Clipping’s recent work revisits and revises 1970s horror narratives in new media and for new audiences. “Nothing Is Safe” (2019), for instance, draws on John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and Halloween (1978) to update 1970s critiques of authority, institutional forces, and suburbanization for the 21st century, while “Blood of the Fang” (2019) combines Bill Gunn’s Blaxploitation vampire film Ganja & Hess (1973) with the radical Black politics of the 1970s to comment on 21st century racial politics.
Clipping’s commentary on contemporary issues like police brutality is clear in other songs that do not connect directly with 1970s horror and politics, however. So what is gained by connecting these two periods specifically? How do the politics and horror media of the 1970s resonate with the moment we are currently living through? In this presentation, Christy Tidwell will both introduce the audience to Clipping and explore these larger questions about politics and media.
After Matthew Bumbach’s recent Brown Bag presentation on the history of bluegrass, I found myself thinking about the role of technology in the genre. I’ve long listened to bluegrass myself but have largely taken the technologies involved for granted. I wondered what we can learn about technology by thinking about its role in the arts and also what we can learn about bluegrass specifically by paying attention to its relationship to technology. To find out more, I invited him to discuss the topic.
Christy Tidwell: For any readers who may not be familiar with bluegrass, let’s quickly provide some basic information. How would you define bluegrass in just a couple of sentences? And what is the basic history of the genre?
Matthew Bumbach: Bluegrass music emerged from old time music and hillbilly string bands from the historically isolated region of Appalachia. The primary instruments in the genre are fiddle, mandolin, banjo, guitar, upright bass, and singers. Bluegrass emerged, as a genre, during the 1940s and 1950s and owes a lot of its character to the unique playing and singing of Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, and Earl Scruggs.
CT: With that established, I’d like to focus more specifically on the relationship between bluegrass and technology. People often tend to think about technology as high-tech or futuristic, and bluegrass is not seen as either of those things. Historically speaking, what technologies were important for the creation and dissemination of bluegrass music?
MB: That is an excellent question and one that we don’t often discuss when we talk about this genre. Bluegrass could not have developed the way it did without the microphone. In the early days of bluegrass, the entire band would gather around a single microphone in both recording and live performance applications. They would create blend and balance through the use of proximity to the microphone.
The microphone was first invented and introduced to the public in 1877 by Emile Berliner, but it would be decades before we had a microphone that was effective enough to do what the pioneers of bluegrass needed. E.C. Wente invented the condenser microphone (or capacitor microphone) in 1916, a much more sensitive microphone than the earliest moving coil mics from the previous century. It took several more decades for condenser microphones to be study and cheap enough for use by the general public.
I mention the microphone as an indispensable technological advancement in the development of bluegrass music because bluegrass was professional music played by professional musicians. Unlike old time and hillbilly music that was played in churches, porches, and barns, bluegrass music developed in part because it could be played live for large audiences. Virtuosic professional musicians toured the country spreading these new sounds. Furthermore, bluegrass spread through recordings and radio. None of this could have happened without the microphone.
Bluegrass music is all around us. Though the genre sprung from the old-time music of Appalachia, a historically isolated region, bluegrass has found its way deep into popular culture. With this increased visibility we are beginning to see more inclusion of bluegrass instruments in other genres. These include banjos and mandolins appearing in popular music, choral arrangements of popular bluegrass songs, and larger works for choir and bluegrass band. Some of these works preserve as many characteristics of traditional bluegrass as possible, while others simply borrow bluegrass instruments and apply them to folk song arrangements.
Dr. Matthew Bumbach will present a brief history of the bluegrass genre and map out its recent expansion.