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Wednesday, September 23, 12:45pm - 1:30pm (Panel)

Sonic Geographies and Juvenescence 

  • “Come to My Garden”: The Pastoral, Juvenescence, and the Limits of Genre, Brittnay Proctor (UC Irvine) 
  • Love Will Never Do (Without You): The Black and Brown Transfigurations of a Rhythm Nation 1814, Joshua Chambers-Letson (Northwestern U) 
  • Youth and SZA’s Outdoor Retreat: Visualizing Millennial Sentimentalism and Black-Femme Figurations of Nature, Jared Richardson (independent scholar)


Panel Description

The following three-person (45 minute) panel considers the relationship between popular music, geography and notions of juvenescence (growing young, the state of being youthful). Specifically, the panelists analyze what Katherine McKittrick calls “the poetics of landscape” through the lens of popular music. We ask: How do popular sounds build geographic sites of youthfulness? What is sonic placeness of growing young? In what ways have notions of juvenescence been used to disavow the making of space via sound?

Working through the work of a host of artists (Minnie Riperton, SZA, and Amerigo Gazeway’s remix of Nina Simone and Lauryn Hill), the papers on this panel chart various sonic landscapes and geographies engendered by the work of popular artists, we question the juvenilization of sound, especially as it relates to popular music, and its inability to be thought alongside geography. Most importantly, the panel centers the racial and gender implications in theorizing sonic geographies alongside notions of juvenescence.

“Come to My Garden”: The Pastoral, Juvenescence, and the Limits of Genre, Brittnay Proctor

The following talk critically considers Minnie Riperton’s vocal performance on her debut solo album Come to My Garden (1970) and its disarticulation of the genre (especially, the genre of the pastoral).

Analyzing the geography of the garden and its figurative use in the album, the talk engages in analysis that attempts to on one end, de-legitimize genre as a way of taxonomizing black music (i.e. producing a theory of value), but also as a way of categorizing being human that is rooted in Western configurations of the pastoral. In other words, the talk argues that Riperton’s vocal performance of a garden helps us to untether theories of black womanhood from theories of being human that is rooted in the genre of the pastoral. Her performance on Come to My Garden reveals the built capacity of juvenescence (as it relates to the subjectivity of “black women”) and the limits of the pastoral as genre and geography.

Moreover, the talk ruminates on the following questions: What are the limits of enlisting nature (i.e. the pastoral) to capture and rationalize a theory of human (rooted in genocide, dispossession, and enslavement)? How is the pastoral imbued with notions of juvenescence? How do these notions romanticize the colonial logics of the pastoral and how might Riperton’s prodigious vocal performance of a garden disarticulate the juvenescence of the pastoral; our primary orientation to and toward nature in the West?

The Pedagogies of a Little Girl Blue: Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill, and Amerigo Gazeway’s The Miseducation of Eunice Waymon, Joshua Chambers-Letson

In 2018 DJ Amerigo Gazeway released an overlapping remix (and deep archival dive into) the work of Nina Simone and Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Eunice Waymon. Reflecting its namesake (Hill’s 1998 The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill), Gazeway’s conceptual album repeatedly returns the listener to the grade-school classroom, as in the first track, which concludes with the ringing of a school bell, followed by Simone’s speech layered over the ambient sounds of children in the background. Simone describes her training in classical musical against the background of Jim Crow (and its afterlives). We encounter a little girl in North Carolina, still named Eunice Waymon, studying with piano teacher Muriel Mazzanovitch, and playing Bach and Mozart to raise coin for her education. The school bell and ambient school sounds are borrowed from framing passages on Hill’s album, where elementary school children are guided through a tutorial on love (and its disappointments). Later in Gazeway’s remix, we will learn that Waymon’s education would never come to pass as she recounts the famous story of her rejection from a music academy because she was black.

Mediated through Gazeway’s edit, time and space come undone as the potentialities of Simone’s and Hill’s youthful geniuses crashes into the shattering force of black life’s foreclosure within any number of unfolding presents. Throughout Gazeway’s Miseducation, the listener is shuttled into the classroom, out into the street corner, through the “Baltimore” of Simone’s later cannon, and into a “world” conditionally “owned” (yet-never-to-be-claimed) by Hill and rapper Nas. With Simone and Hill cast as both students and professors, the archival reach of the album repeatedly returns us to the output of their youth as the two singers grapple with the implications of lives that are lived between the depressive juvenile position of Simone’s “little girl blue” and the complicated adulthood of “Four Women” or Hill’s “Peace of Mind.” Throughout, this presentation suggests that Miseducation stages the work of these two critical figures as a lesson in unbecoming, living on, and living against in the wake of any number of shatterings.

Youth and SZA’s Outdoor Retreat: Visualizing Millennial Sentimentalism and Black-Femme Figurations of Nature, Jared Richardson

Inspired by the often nature-oriented visuals of alternative R&B singer SZA, this paper considers the juvenescent intersection of Blackness’s impropriety, via the outdoors, and what I term “millennial sentimentalism” (e.g. an affect comprising a mix of nostalgia, melancholy, and material obsolescence compounded by early twenty-first century culture and catastrophe). Ultimately, I argue that SZA’s video for her single “Babylon” (2014, dir. Fredo Tovar, Scott Fleishman, and SZA) functions as a littoral anti-portrait bound to a linear narrative while the trailers for her 2017 debut album CTRL (2017) offer a pastoral portrait bound to looped footage. On one hand, the video for “Babylon” depicts SZA as Black Rückenfigur (e.g. the back-turned figure found as a trope in Romanticist landscape paintings), who simultaneously indulges in interiority alongside a muddy bank, refuses her visage, and furnishes an autobiography in the form of teenage affects-turned-keepsakes—all before drowning herself in a pond. On the other hand, the commercials for CTRL show the singer nestled amid a heap of obsolete hardware (e.g. broken computer monitors, keyboards, and televisions) in a meadow-like landscape on looped footage, which call to mind the GIF animation synonymous with millennial digital culture.

Overall, these two bodies of promotional material from SZA’s oeuvre present two distinct forms of visuality. As they mark distinct mis-en-scène tactics around landscape and artifact, these visuals also illustrate how a Black femme lyricizes their embodiment while figuring their visible body into the outdoors wherein millennial sentimentalism—a generational affect or feeling—unfolds. Accordingly, this paper grapples with several questions concerning temporality, affect, and racial-gendered juvenescence. Between the internalizing mechanism of melancholia; the ironic, long-distance yearning of “early-onset” nostalgia; and the disposability created by late-capitalist, environmental demise and technological obsolescence, how does SZA’s videos allow one to re-imagine the im/material artifact (or “object”) within the context of the Black femme’s agency and interiority? Furthermore, how does millennial sentimentalism complicate these temporal aspects? Likewise, how does this affect differ from general understandings of malaise or existential crisis? Given SZA’s lyricism and videography, how does the Black femme suture together notions of girlhood and womanhood in the outdoors? Art history, Black feminist geography, and ecocriticism inform this meditation on Blackness, gender, and the outdoors.