Troubadours & Troublemakers: Stirring the Network in Transmission & Anti-Transmission

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2014
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Presented as part of an ELO 2014 conference panel session, "Troubadours of Information: Aesthetic Experiments in Sonification and Sound Technology," led by Andrew Klobucar. In his work, Trouble Songs: A Musicological Poetics, Johnson literally tracks the ways the word “trouble” passes through popular 20th and 21st century song, and the ways trouble is and is not represented via the Trouble Song. For Johnson, there is both a transmission and an anti-transmission of trouble in Trouble Songs: The singer performs an exorcism of trouble, or contributes to a discourse of authenticity with an audience of trouble voyeurs. (These are distinct but related processes, as the trouble singer can relate trouble from outside the community, and can as well—or instead—relate to the troubles of a community; likewise, the trouble singer can reflect, deflect or project trouble.) Trouble itself appears here simultaneously desired and feared, invited and expelled. “Trouble” replaces trouble as a protective spell, as a fetish, and as a generic signifier. The Trouble Song is cast as a spell that evokes and dispels trouble. If Trouble Songs travel, they are carried place to place by individuals and in migrant cultural practices. The Trouble Singer performs a social function in bringing “trouble” to town, then taking trouble away. This economy of trouble follows the lineage of the troubadour. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the etymology of troubadour via the troublesome (and questioned) verb form “from Latin turbāre to disturb, through the sense ‘turn up’” and suggests a comparison with “the form French troubler.” Perhaps, then, we can imagine the troubadour as a carrier of trouble—a troublemaker—and Pound’s love code might then relate to the transmission and anti-transmission of trouble via “trouble.” [from conference program]

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Jeff T. Johnson