In February of 2010, The Mr. Roboto Project closed its doors, with no definite plans to reopen. Its closing left a considerable void for DIY arts and culture in pgh and the rust belt. Make no mistake, DIY music has and will continue to thrive without Roboto, but for everyone that attended a meeting, put on a show, saw bands or met friends there, Roboto was something special. It’s easy to be cynical about being young, punk community, DIY ethics and aesthetics, but Roboto worked. It just did. The first time I walked into Roboto, it felt like possibility. It never stopped feeling that way to me, or to many of the dear, dear friends I made there.
Personally, Roboto’s closing was another reminder of my changing relationship to music. During last year’s All Songs Considered Year in Review show, renaissance woman (and my perma-crush) Carrie Brownstein argued that music was becoming less and less social. In many ways, my experiences in 2010 bore this out. The memorable engagements with music that I once had in spaces like Roboto were in 2010 supplanted by extended headphone engagements. 2010 was, in many ways, a year of deep listening experiences–ambitious efforts by Kanye West, Titus Andronicus, The National, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Midlake and Sufjan Stevens proved that talk of “the death of the album” was premature. On the other hand, the chance encounters with music, the word-of-mouth promotion and direct relationship with artists that made Roboto so special to those of us who spent time there has in some ways been replicated by online music communities. Blogs like Can You See the Sunset and Rebel Frequencies, podcasts like Sound Opinions, aggregators like HypeMachine, sharing communities like Waffles and What, and sundry message boards and twitter feeds (like our very own @rustbeltrising) have all helped me keep music as an important part of my life. Without them, much of the music that follows would not have come to my attention. I’ve also been able to plug students in more directly to developing conversations in the music industry (special shout to students putting out albums of their own, including Sarah Aument, The Fly, Liz Lewis, and others that would probably be embarrassed by my endorsement.)
I’m past the point in my life where I could honestly try to compile a list of “best” music of 2010–best songs? best albums? best artists? best shows?–so instead, I’ll humbly offer my Mr Roboto Project Memorial 2010 Mixtape. So much music had to get cut from this 20-track opus: Beach House, Vivian Girls, Wiz Khalifa, She and Him, Girl Talk, Grass Widow, Reading Rainbow, Rot Shit, The New Pornographers, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, The Tallest Man on Earth, Best Coast, Joanna Newsom, The National, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Rural Alberta Advantage, Avi Buffalo, The Menzingers and lots more I’ve missed. What’s left is the music I spent the most time with and enjoyed the most this past year.[gigya width=”250″ height=”400″ src=”http://listen.grooveshark.com/widget.swf” /> <param name=”wmode” value=”window” /> <param name=”allowScriptAccess” value=”always” /> flashvars=”hostname=cowbell.grooveshark.com&widgetID=23329121&style=metal&bbg=000000&bfg=e88b19&bt=FFFFFF&bth=000000&pbg=FFFFFF&pbgh=e88b19&pfg=000000&pfgh=FFFFFF&si=FFFFFF&lbg=FFFFFF&lbgh=e88b19&lfg=000000&lfgh=FFFFFF&sb=FFFFFF&sbh=e88b19&p=0″ /]
Track by track breakdown after the jump.
The October issue of PMLA, the official publication of the Modern Language Association, was among my favorite reads of the year. The special issue on “Literary Criticism for the Twenty-First Century,” however, has held top-of-the-coffee-table status for three strong months now. One of the reasons why, aside from the general quality of the scholarship, is what Jonathan Culler calls in the introductory essay “a motif of return.” One of my major research areas is the function of nostalgia–the much-maligned practice of mournfully looking backward that, in my work, I argue can be utilized for diverse and overlapping purposes. Far from being ahistorical, I argue elsewhere, nostalgia tells us about our affective relationships, which are always historical relationships.
It’s perhaps natural that literary studies would get a little nostalgic. Literature and literary scholarship are fascinated with the past. The discipline itself is derived from the tradition of the scribes charged with cataloging the history of their society. Consider its titanic figures–Homer, Shakespeare, Balzac, Hegel, Marx, Twain, Dickinson, Ellison — even literary studies after the age of critical theory has found itself ever drawn to the past. This is, of course, a great strength. One of literary studies’ primary functions is to retain, reexamine, and recontextualize the culture of past societies, and it utilizes its past to think through problems of the present. Retrospection does not equal regression, and many of the best works of criticism, critical theory, and literary analysis have profited from looking back over past historical developments (Foucault’s The Birth of the Clinic), past texts (Fiedler’s “Come Back to the Raft Ag’in, Huck Honey!”) or past figures (Holly Jackson’s work on Emma Dunham Kelley) . As such, the motif of return that Culler notes in his introduction comes as no real surprise.
But, I found myself wondering while reading the issue, what about media studies? For all of literary studies’ interest in its past, looking backward is much more taboo in the realm of media studies. A special issue of Screen or Cinema Journal subtitled “The Future of Media Studies” would, I’d wager, feature much less retrospection. Whether it is the discussion on social media networks, panels at the recent Society for Cinema and Media Studies convention, or job listings for new professorships, the emphasis in media studies certainly does not seem to lay in silent cinema, the industrial history of radio, or music archivists, but rather sexy fields like new media and digital humanities. This is, after all, the same attitude that has allows so much of film and television history to go unarchived, and reflected in something so basic as the Facebook News Feed or Twitter Stream, which updates constantly but allows little easy access to past records.
So how might we think about “the future of media studies”? Frankly, I’m not sure. David Gauntlett has issued a brave attempt here, though I think the 1.0 vs 2.0 dichotomy is one that breaks down under close scrutiny, and truly, one can hardly consider 2.0 to represent “the future” when it actually more closely approximates “the present” or perhaps even “the 1990s” (and, as one of the 1990s primary advocates, I say that without malice).