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DS

David Suisman

David Suisman is associate professor of history at the University of Delaware. His is author of Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music recipient of numerous awards and honors (including honorable mention for IASPM-US’s Woody Guthrie Prize) and co-editor of Sound in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. He is also associate editor of the Journal for Popular Music Studies and a sometime disc jockey at WFMU.

 

Abstract:

"The Urban Ear of Tony Schwartz"

Tony Schwartz was one of America’s great recordists and one of its great humanists as well. When the Library of Congress acquired his collection in 2007, it contained more than 45,000 recordings he had made. Yet in profound ways, Schwartz differed sharply from America’s best known recordist-cum-humanist, Alan Lomax. Whereas Lomax specialized in recordings from rural areas, Schwartz listened particularly to the urban soundscape. Whereas Lomax roamed the world, Schwartz suffered from agoraphobia and often could not leave his apartment. Whereas Lomax explored and theorized the complexities of the world of music, Schwartz’s principal concerns were sound and media. Finally, whereas Lomax is today widely known and well studied, Schwartz’s work remains almost wholly unexamined. When Schwartz died in 2008, a flurry of obituaries described his oeuvre, but aside from that, little has been written about his practice and critical legacy.

Based on recordings and archival sources, this paper begins the work of critically rethinking Schwartz’s work, with particularly attention to the way his recordings conceptualized urban listening and non-commercial sound recording. Hailed by Marshall McLuhan as a fellow “guru of the electronic age,” Schwartz was deeply aware of and interested in the aurality of urban life and the significance of creating an archive of it. Such work was a counterpoint to the ascendence of television in the same years, the ultimate “cool” medium (in McLuhan’s sense), which Schwartz not only wrote books about but also participated in as a media consultant (including, most famously, designing Lyndon Johnson’s “Daisy” commercial).