An Introduction by Way of Song

Monday, January 20th, 2014 by eadodge

(Note to the reader: Underlined sections are hyperlinks!)

As I reached the end of What Is Media Archaeology?, I ran across this representative statement: “We need to understand the various modalities of our tools for thought – such tools are not only about text and writing” (156). As a student of literature, I found the opening of the door into new modes of research at once terrifying and liberating. In order to take that step into new modalities, I challenged myself to make this post a bridge between my usual artifacts of study and new ones, examined in a way that indicates an approach media archaeology.

To do so, I want to look at Arcade Fire’s “We Used to Wait.” (Lyrics.)

I listen to this song fairly often, because my significant other burned all the CDs for the car at about the same time, and as a result, many CDs repeat the same artists. It wasn’t until after ENGL 5529’s first class session that the song stood out in any different sort of way.

During our first class, one of the points raised, and one that Parikka also touches on in his book, is that of the effect of media on human subjectivity. When speaking about the more materialist side of media archaeology, Parikka indicates, “The problem is that such a focus on machines, despite making a very refined point about the technical conditions of perception, does not effectively connect this to themes of political economy, or for instance subjectivity and subjectification” (133). Upon hearing the song “We Used to Wait” again after noting these discussion points, I realize that the song is very concerned with some of media-archaeology’s key themes, including: nostalgia for older technologies in the face of a fast-paced, ever-changing modern era; the ways in which a media system affects human routine and subjectivity; and the precariousness of archive. These ideas come from the lyrics of the song, but the idea of sound becomes even more appropriate when looking at this song media-archaeologically. From the slight prolonging of the song intro to the ever-present rhythmic piano that does not break its pattern even during the crescendo of other sound layers, the audience is in a fairly constant state of waiting in the song, creating a visceral experience of the song’s mood. The song is at once a lament for modernity and a product of that modernity.

The statement from which I began this post is followed soon after in the book by a summary: “The chapter ends with the question of whether we could further develop media-archeological art methods into ways of engaging the wider publics as well” (158). I think that songs like Arcade Fire are at once a mild introduction to the idea of media-archaeology and can lead rather smoothly into some more experimental versions of sound for public enjoyment/consumption, including ones that, as Parikka hopes for, use, create, and modulate (161).

 -Erin Dodge

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One comment on “An Introduction by Way of Song

  1. lasu9006 says:

    Erin, I think it’s pretty dang cool that you chose to talk about music in relation to the concept of media archaeology. The whole time while I was reading the book, I wanted to see/hear/touch/experience the concept of media archaeology through some way other than the written word, like through song or through a video or something to that effect. I think media archaeology is everywhere around us–in standup comedy routines and television shows and movies and songs, etc–and I want to dissect some more examples of it.

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