The Automotive Womb

This is an abstract by Justin William (University of Nottingham). The paper was presented 17th March 2007 at the the Royal Musical Association’s Study Day for Students at the University of Nottingham. Paola Cannas, one of my colleagues in the Music Department shared this abstract with me. There’s a word document with the abstracts here.

I’m not usually that much into car-related mobile sound or music projects, but this analysis sounds interesting because it uses an interdisciplinary approach to research the “auditory pleasures” of listening to rap music in cars in the US. I wasn’t actually aware that some of this music is specifically produced for the mobile listening context of car stereos.

Justin Williams (University of Nottingham)
‘The Automotive Womb: ‘Jeep Beats’ and Psychoanalysis’

In the early 1990s, Los Angeles rap producer Dr. Dre (Andre Young) was crafting a sound he christened “G-Funk.” The music, unlike most East Coast hip-hop at the time, was not “sampled” from records, but featured live re-recordings with studio musicians, inspired and derived from 1970s funk and soul (George Clinton, Leon Haywood, Curtis Mayfield, Zapp, Cameo). As exemplified by Dr. Dre’s first solo album The Chronic, “G-Funk” emphasized a prominent, rumbling bass, synthesizers, and heavy beats to produce a unique and highly layered sound. According to Dr. Dre, these “beats” were specifically intended for car sound systems. The geography of the West Coast US (namely California) gave rise to a car culture where many of these “jeep beats” would be listened to. In this paper I investigate Dr. Dre’s production, intended for a specific instance of social listening, as one case of how we listen to music. Using concepts from Lacanian psychoanalysis, 1970s film theory, and more recent musicology (Middleton, Schwarz), I propose how auditory pleasures “work” in regards to its implied automotive listening space. In offering a psychoanalytic/film theoretical reading of these “jeep beats,” I intend to pose questions regarding the interdisciplinary challenges of such an analysis.

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