This chapter describes the Jamaican sound system as an experimental apparatus. The engineers use it to increase affective intensities, or “build the vibes,” of the dancehall session with their specialist techniques for modulating, shaping and fine-tuning auditory output of their set of equipment. As an engine of affect each sound system competes with all the others for biggest crowd (audience) and thereby the greatest commercial success. The auditory vibrations on which the sound systems operate are identified as a model for both the subtle “scyence” of feelings as it is called by the Jamaican engineers and the vibrational theory of affect developed in this chapter. It compares and contrasts some of the techniques of this “street lab” with those of commercial or academic research institutions. The ways-of-knowing of affect in the hands, hearts and ears of the sound system audio engineers contrast with conventional social and scientific methodological and epistemological approaches to such intensities. The chapter concludes by suggesting that the sensitivities and sophistication of the engineers’ vibrational fine-tuning is best compared with Eastern spiritual traditions in which the human body is conceived as a series of chakra, each with their own particular frequency of vibration.
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Rather than on the workbench of a university or corporate laboratory as has been investigated. See Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar (1979).
For a useful collection of essays on affect and music, see Marie Thompson and Ian Biddle (2013).
The critique of the rational individual and its cleavage from the social has been a longstanding interest of mine. See Henriques (1984, 1998).
It is important for me to acknowledge that my understanding of sound system engineering has been derived directly from the audio engineers with whom I have been in conversation over many years. Besides Anthony Myers, I should name Winston “WeePow” Powell, Denton Henry and the late Horace McNeal, each of whom I thank for their generosity of time and knowledge.
Interview with Anthony Myers, One Jam HQ, 13 Minott Terrace, Kingston, Monday, 29 May 2017, see Henriques (forthcoming).
Such “flow states” have become a research topic, see Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (2008).
Shelley Trower’s Senses of Vibration (2012) gives an excellent historical account of the concept of vibration.
Currently voice recognition software is being rolled out by banks and others as a method of confirming identity.
Interview with Stone Love audio engineer Horace McNeal, at his workshop, Torrington Avenue, Kingston, 18 September 2003, quoted in Henriques (2011, p. 47).
Currently audiophile domestic sound equipment also deploys these “active” crossovers, pioneered by Jamaican engineers.
See Isabella van Elferen (2020) for an excellent account of the complexities of timbre.
Henriques (2011) deals with performance techniques in some detail.
See also Hermann Schmitz (2019).
It introduces a concept of a distributed field of consciousness, as is consistent with Edwin Hutchins’s concept of cognition in the wild, or Andy Clarke’s of the extended mind, rather than this most valuable of human faculties being trapped in the brain entombed in the skull, see Edwin Hutchins (1995); Andy Clark and David Chalmers (1998).
See my ERC-funded research project Sonic Street Technologies, http://sonic-street-technologies.com/
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Henriques, J. (2022). Engines of Affect: Experimenting with Auditory Intensities in the Jamaican Sound System Session. In: Timm Knudsen, B., Krogh, M., Stage, C. (eds) Methodologies of Affective Experimentation. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-96272-2_5
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