Below are some of the major currents in my creative work.
Listening captivates me. I’ve been particularly drawn to communities that expand conventional ideas of listening, treating the whole body as an amplifier for music recordings. This work will appear in a book, under contract at Oxford University Press, which addresses the ways performers on digital platforms treat listening as an expressive act. The book features case studies on reaction videos, air guitar competitions, lip syncing apps, and music podcasts. These practices transform the ways people interact with popular music, inviting them to treat music reception as the subject of powerful performances. I focus on shifting listening norms in general and the experiences of disabled people in particular. I show how listening norms entail many bigger questions about bodily abilities and typical consumers. I hope this project can transform some of the ways people teach music in higher ed, as well as expand broader cultural conceptions of listening beyond the ears and the mind.
Following the principles outlined by Eli Clare in Exile and Pride, I have worked to use my respective positions to advance connections between disability and other movements for justice. My work remains deeply indebted to the work of disability justice scholars, activists, and advocates. I have designed and taught Music and Disability Justice, a course that highlighted disabled authors as subject matter experts. I have also published work on ableism in popular culture, focusing on disability stigma as a political tool.
I want conversations within higher ed to be shaped by those outside of it, and I want those outside to benefit from perspectives within it. One of the ways I approach this work is to create experiential learning opportunities for students. I have planned fieldtrips and recruited expert guest speakers. I have taught in ways combine creative and conceptual approaches. And I have also sought out teaching outside of a traditional classroom context. For example, I taught a series on listening for the public at Emory U, and I also taught a continuing education course on popular music and spirituality for a multi-faith organization. I regularly publish articles outside of academic venues. I share my work with the communities I describe, and I write in a language that makes this work useful to those outside of academic worlds.
I did not mean to linger in the world of competitive air guitar as long as I have, but here I am. As part of my research on listening subcultures, I discovered the world of U.S. Air Guitar, a national air guitar organization that features incredibly talented performers who choreograph routines to famous guitar solos in order to be crowned the greatest air guitarist in the country (think: American Idol for air guitar). Although this nearly 20-year national competition features hundreds of competitors and thousands of spectators each year, few scholars have taken air guitar seriously. Indeed, many of our contemporary popular pantomime practices (think: TikTok) remain indebted to the nearly 45-year history of air guitar. I wrote academic sketches of these practices, including air guitar history and remix practices, and I have also tried to draw attention to these communities, through interviews, presentations, and popular-press articles. I am honored to regularly judge these competitions around the country.
Equity via Administrative Work
Higher ed can be an engine for transformative social change. But higher ed can also reproduce some of the structural inequities that exist outside of academia. In my respective workplaces, I have pushed for reform and greater forms of inclusion. This work includes things like: co-founding an international mentorship program, serving on awards committees and disability boards, volunteering on DEI initiatives, and mentoring students from marginalized groups. While teaching courses at Northeastern U, Brown U, Emory U, and U of Alabama, I have designed curriculum that emphasizes underrepresented perspectives (e.g., East Asian Popular Music). I have also taken on leadership roles that increase opportunities for contingent scholars, such as chairing national academic groups and serving as a union representative.
Karaoke gave me entry into a world of digital music making. Long ago, dive-bar karaoke ignited an appreciation for participatory musical practices, where popular music can be remixed and animated by amateur performers. Karaoke is musically interesting to me, particularly because of the ways it breaks traditional musical rules and delivers wildly unpredictable performances (in a good way). Karaoke is also conceptually interesting, for the ways it challenges conventional ideas of good singing, virtuosity, and singing as a skilled practice that only experts can do well. I have conducted ethnographic research projects on in-person karaoke, as well as research on karaoke apps, and I had the honor of co-curating an interactive karaoke gallery display at Towson U, which centered the experiences of Asian and Asian American communities in Maryland. I remain fascinated by the different approaches to karaoke around the world, particularly in what those differences say about the broader cultural values of various communities.