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In Session: Music, Language, and the Politics of Sound
Partials of an Analog Voice: Digital Specs, Everyday Vocal Auditing, and the Spoken and Sung Poetics of Becoming in Neoliberal South Korea
Friday, March 26, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Duke University, United States
Despite recent public campaigns aimed at fulfilling better work-life balance (worabel) among workers in South Korea, neoliberal ideals of competition and market-oriented self-development continually intensify as young Korean adults desperately seek dwindling long-term employment opportunities. Amid a spec culture that valorizes the résumé-like activity of acquiring market-valued skills (Cho 2015), this paper centers on the residual social consequences of vocal and communicative development stemming from English language exam study in Korea, where an audit culture of second-language measurement reifies techno-linguistic automatization of language acquisition, voiding language from creating intimate subjective connections (Berardi 2012). Taking seriously everyday complaints that perceives Korean subjectivity as becoming “carbon-based computers,” this paper on how young Koreans disillusioned with the developments of a “digitalized” sociality critically strive to (re)constitute more holistic interconnected sensibilities. Drawing from fieldwork in Seoul in spaces that proffer open spoken and sung English language performance—language exchanges and noraebang (karaoke)—I highlight the multiplicity of creatively minor and expressively poetic ways Koreans utilize their “developing” voice to exceed the quantitative auditing logic of examination. From this, I posit the possibility of an analog voice: whereby the analog, as reaction to certain onsets of digitality in everyday life (Palm 2019, Sterne 2016), suggests these everyday vocal subversions against expected measurement help refigure the precarious digitality of contemporary Korean subjectivity. I argue this is part of a conscious becoming where one seeks to continually differentiates life (Bergson 1944, Deleuze 1991)—without the articulation of concrete hopes—from an explicit development of self as valued in the contemporary moment.