The Ringtone Dialectic
Economy and Cultural Form
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: The MIT Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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Many thanks to Danielle Kuntz, research assistant and copy editor—the project would not have come to completion without her tremendous help; she also did much of the primary research for chapters 8 and 9. Thanks to Brian Schmidt, research assistant and copy editor, who was very helpful during the project’s final stages. ...
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The task of this book is, to cite Blake, to see a world in a grain of sand. Its eccentric, even perverse ambition is to examine the ringtone—the customizable, often musicalized ringer signal on mobile phones, typically several seconds long and first popularized in the late 1990s—as a means of understanding a spatial and temporal totality, ...
I. The Rise and Fall of the Ringtone Economy
1. This Business of Ringtones: The Unstable Value Chain and Accumulation of Capital by Rent in the Global Ringtone Industry
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“Let me be the first to say that the iPhone is [a] huge problem for the ringtone industry. In many ways it makes the ringtone industry completely obsolete. . . . In 3–5 years just about all of the newest phones will have easy syncing with your music library and the paid ringtone market will shrivel up and die.”1 ...
II. Ramifications of the Ringtone’s Identity Crisis: The Social and Cultural Fallout of Technological Transformation
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The “imperfect charms” of the ringtone’s earlier phases and potential nostalgia for its loss point to some of the ramifications of the ringtone’s rapid history of technological development from monophonic to polyphonic to sound-file formats, as described in the previous chapter. ...
2. Ringtones and the Deskilling of Mobile-Musical Labor: A Preliminary Investigation
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On January 19, 2009, the cartoonist Garry Trudeau inaugurated a week-long foray into the world of ringtones. In a series of Doonesbury strips depicting a radio interview between a central character, the NPR DJ Mark Slackmeyer, and a minor character, the genre-switching rock star Jimmy Thudpucker, now working as a self-described “ringtone artist,” ...
3. Left Behind: Case Studies of Decline and Recapitulation in the Ringtone as Representation
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In mid October 2002, a Welsh man and woman in their thirties who lived near the town of Aberdare waited at the Green Street Methodist Church with their respective families in tow. It was 3 p.m., and the organist had failed to turn up for the couple’s wedding service. ...
4. The Ringtone and Its Aesthetic Subgenres in Contemporary Classical Music and Media Performance/Installation Art
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Two privileged sites for witnessing the diminishing relevance of the ringtone in the 2000s are those of present-day classical music and the global art market—spheres that include many interrelated, semi-autonomous, and complex subdivisions, such as those between the modern orchestra and “new music” ...
III. The Ringtone’s Dialectical Reversals
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Jameson continues by giving a remarkable capsule history of the Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in airborne military technologies. In his schema, the United States’ superior atomic weapons led the Soviet Union to devise powerful rockets that could carry their bulkier, inferior nuclear warheads; ...
5. The Annoying Thing: Crazy Frog and the Strange Career of a Sample
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In late December 2010, Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate, the News Corporation, ended its involvement in mobile entertainment and sold off the Fox Mobile Group (FMG) to the Jesta Group for an amount not disclosed to the public. The new owner of FMG would command the brands Jamba, Jamster, Mobizzo, and Bitbop. ...
6. The Voice of the Politician and the Geographic Dispersion of the Political Ringtone
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In November 2004, a new sound was heard from mobile phones in the Indian state of Gujarat. A ringtone featuring a clip from a speech by the popular right-wing chief minister of the state, Narendra Modi, had been produced by an anonymous professor of information technology at Bhavnagar University and was quickly gaining in popularity. ...
7. A Spectrum of Forms: The Aesthetic Logic of Original Sound-File Ringtone Composition
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What does it mean to compose a ringtone? The question is not trivial, for there are few universals associated with mobile phone ringtones themselves now that they are digital sound files (usually MP3s) often of any length. (They are, nonetheless, conventionally around 15–30 seconds long and often subject to length restrictions. ...
IV. Revivals and the (Universal) Particularization of the Ringtone
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The dialectical processes of decline (part II) and reversal (part III) in the sociocultural transformation of the ringtone cannot account for every cultural or national register in which the ringtone appears. Indeed, in some contexts the shifting formats of the ringtone provided a recharging or reviving effect, ...
8. Personalization and Spectatorship: The Ringtone’s Narrative Functions in Cinematic and Televisual Media
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If you have attended a Hollywood blockbuster horror film or thriller in the last decade, you probably have witnessed a scene involving a cell phone failing to function at a critical moment during the narrative— often with a character ominously saying “There’s no signal.” ...
9. What’s in a Name? Race and the Ringtone’s Revival in (Un-)Popular Music
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On January 12, 2010, Berin Szoka, a blogger for the Technology Liberation Front—a libertarian media commentary site advocating against Internet regulation —posted a satirical report titled “We Must End the (Reverse) Digital Divide!” The occasion for the post was the recent release of statistics by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project ...
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With the decline and the particularization of the ringtone industry’s cultural products, we glimpse the last turn of the dialectic in its final degrees of rotation. There is, of course, a fundamental incompleteness to the story of the ringtone, whose afterlives in the wake of being downgraded from leading to trailing edge will be numerous and, in part, unforeseeable. ...
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Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2013