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Graduate Fall 2020: Justin Griffin

Ambient Technologies

Department of English 

Ambient Technologies

Despite a contemporary outpouring of popular and scholarly discourse on “the attention economy” and its discontents, cultural critics have scarcely considered the role of listening attention in this time of technological, economic, and social change. My thesis Ambient Technologies analyzes how collective listening practices change along with shifting techno-economic conditions, from Muzak Inc.’s subtle colonization of 20th-century background sound to the 21st-century explosion of MP3 listening and music streaming. Drawing on the thought of experimental musicians (Pauline Oliveros, Lee Perry, Brian Eno), as well critically maligned popular genres (easy-listening R&B, midcentury “mood music”), I theorize a concept and practice of ambient listening. In a techno-capitalist present that demands constant screen-mediated vigilance, ambient listening serves as a distracted yet critical mode of collective respite and reparative pleasure.