Michael J. Kramer

Lecturer, Northwestern University

Greetings HiPSTAS hipsters! My interest in the digital study of vernacular music and culture brings me to this Institute for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities. Currently, I am developing a digital project around the Berkeley Folk Music Festival collection at Northwestern. The Berkeley collection is a 30,000 object archive of multimedia materials that documents a folk music festival held on the Cal campus from 1959 to 1970 during the heart of the post-World War II US folk music revival. The archive contains a set of magnificent and quite rare audio recordings, from festival performances and talks to demo tapes to interviews to an original reel-to-reel recording of Bob Dylan and the Band’s “Basement Tapes.” It also contains almost 10,000 photographs of the festival. My curiosity as a historian is how we might move between audio and image, sound and vision, in this collection to think more probingly about the meaning and significance of the Berkeley Festival and “folk” music and culture as a whole. How might we better understand individual and collective modes of expression in the US folk revival during the 1960s? Can we better perceive expressive style in voice, instrumentation, and performance through digital approaches that toggle between the aural and the visual? What does a voice look like? What does an image sound like? Can we develop a twin approach of visualization studies and, just as crucially, if somewhat less common, something like “sonification” studies? Might digital technology allow us both to access and to analyze ephemeral events such as the Berkeley Festival in new, more productive ways? And can the digital, in all its intangibility, offer new avenues into intangible cultural heritage, allowing us to preserve, share, and study it more robustly and insightfully (as well as insoundfully!)

As for my own biography, I teach history, American studies, and digital humanities at Northwestern University, including courses on popular music and culture, technology, consumerism, cultural theory, transnational understandings of America, sound and sensory studies, and the arts and intellectual life. My first book, The Republic of Rock: Music and Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture, is coming out from Oxford University Press this spring. The book examines how rock music generated engagements with public life and social belonging in two crucial locales, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Vietnam War zone. My new project, mentioned above, is a combination of print and digital efforts. I am writing a book about the US folk music revival on the West Coast. As I do so, I am also working with librarians, archivists, musicians, and technologists to investigate new possibilities for the digital study of vernacular music and culture by designing the Berkeley Folk Music Festival Collection’s digital incarnation as a kind of “living archive,” a “commons” for online inquiry, study, creativity, and interpretive meaning-making. Part of this effort includes the development of a digital “sonification” tool that enables a user to translate visual data into sonic forms. Overall, I am most especially interested how we might better understand sound in the past by thinking about the past through sound. I blog about a range of topics at Culture Rover, www.culturerover.com, and I run the Northwestern University Digital Humanities Laboratory, or NUDHL (pronounced “noodle”), www.nudhl.net.

Look forward to meeting everyone in Austin!

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