Noise over signal
Phonography culture as participatory
Keywords:records, vinyl, participatory culture, fandom, music, analog, formats, collecting, material culture, phonograph
While participatory culture has been of special interest to scholars for nearly three decades, much of the focus has centered on digitally networked contexts. The digital age has indeed transformed our approaches to listening to music and how we operate as fans of music; these approaches can weave together the new and the old, and are enacted among a variety of spaces, objects, and relationships. We explore how the re-emergence of one such object in the digital age — the LP — has produced social arrangements that perhaps excavate older listening practices but do so in ways that have been affected by the mediascape more generally. We offer the concept of phonography culture: a term that emphasizes the social practices of those who not only curate and collect vinyl records but communicate through them in participatory activities including listening parties, vinyl nights at local bars, Facebook groups, and sites of e-commerce. We share the case study of Record Nite, a semi-regular gathering of phonography culture participants, who take turns playing one side of an LP on a given theme, revealing in their fandom and reveling in and encouraging that of others. Over the course of an evening, ten to twenty friends connect over their own “noise” — their experiences, histories, and knowledge of artists, albums, and genres—while simultaneously listening to LPs together. These phonographic, cultural interactions are revelatory because they draw our attention away from individualized and digital listening, which isolate signal, and make space for social and aural noise. That noise is infused with fandom and participation, as well as elements of memory, meaning making, and nostalgia.
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