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The Vibrations of Affect and their

Propagation on a Night Out on

Kingstons Dancehall Scene

Abstract This article proposes that the propagation of vibrations could serve as a better model for understanding the transmission of affect than the flow, circulation or movement of bodies by which it is most
often theorized. The vibrations (or idiomatically vibes) among the sound system audience (or crowd) on
a night out on the dancehall scene in Kingston, Jamaica, provide an example. Counting the repeating frequencies of these vibrations in a methodology inspired by Lefebvres rhythmanalysis results in a Frequency
Spectrogram. This ranges from the sociocultural frequencies of nightly, weekly and seasonal cycles and
circulations of musical style and fashion, to the material frequencies of the amplitudes and timbres of sound
itself, with reggaes signature low-pitched bass-line, to the corporeal frequencies of the flesh and blood of
the dancehall crowd, pulsating with heartbeats and kinetic dance rhythms. The vibration model then
addresses the intensities of affect in terms of auditory amplitudes, as with sonic dominance; feelings as
frequencies; and the distinctive meaning of affect as timbre. This aims to encourage the radical impulse of
the idea of affect to abandon the traditional envelope of the autonomous, self-consistent, rational individual.
The meaning of affect is thus located in the ratio, proportions and patterning of vibrations, that is, outside
the discourse of emotions or representation of feelings.
Keywords embodiment, emotion, feeling, pattern, reggae, sound system

Movement and affect are widely thought of as being embodied together. To feel,
it is often said, is to feel moved. This is especially the case with the auditory
vibrations of sound, which are often associated with the kinetic expression of
Body & Society Copyright The Author(s) 2010, Reprints and permissions:
Vol. 16(1): 5789; DOI: 10.1177/1357034X09354768


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Body & Society Vol. 16 No. 1

feeling in dance. Starting with an example, one regular of the Kingston dancehalls
talked about her sensory experience of sound like this:
Theres something about just playing that bass that goes right through your toes to you fingertips. And you become part of it . . . part of the it. Its not music its a feeling, a sensation . . .
that vibration goes all the way through you. Its like an energy . . .1

Evidently, feeling and vibration is one and the same thing for this dancer.2 She
continues: You completely lose yourself in the movement, you just become the
movement. Your arms become the drums and you dont even know if youre
tired or not . . . To make this even more intense, she told me: I plug my ears so
I can get nearer to the speaker . . . I become the speaker . . . I love it.
Inspired by comments like these, it is suggested here that the propagation of
vibrations could offer a materialist model of affect, without this being essentialist
or reductionist.3 The energetic patterning of vibrating through the particles of a
medium provides the basis of what can be called a dynamic or rhythmic materialism. This eschews the linear determination of a single cause and effect, or determination in the last instance, in favour of patterning, cybernetic feedback systems
and control loops. It suggests that affect is expressed rhythmically through
relationships, reciprocations, resonances, syncopations and harmonies. Affect is
transmitted in the way wave dynamics are propagated through a particular
medium which may be corporeal, or material, or sociocultural. This is to
propose a vibrant cultural studies, working and thinking through vibrations themselves, rather than a cultural studies of vibration. It is a vibrational rather than
a social construction of the senses that is pursued.
The question this article raises is how movement and feeling might be related.
It suggests that the transmission of affect should be considered as the energetic
patterning of frequencies, as distinct from the circulation or traffic of objects, the
flow of particles or the kinetic movement of bodies. Rhythms are material, but
not physical. This is what makes wave propagation particularly appropriate for
understanding affect, in the dancehall and elsewhere. A wave consists of no more
than a moving pattern of intensity, that is, a periodic disturbance in a medium,
for which the diffusion of longitudinal sound waves through the gaseous medium
of air provides a good example. Waves pattern relationships. Modelling the transmission of affect on the propagation of vibrations is intended to aid and abet the
radical potential of the concept of affect to literally shake up traditional psychologys solid object of the subject. This individual has three key characteristics: selfconsistency, autonomy and rationality, as described by Blackman and Walkerdine
(2001), Brennan (2004), Clough (2007) and many others. Against the conventionally fixed boundaries of the individual, sound waves exhibit remarkable powers
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The Vibrations of Affect


of diffusion round corners, unlike the straight line of sight and even through
objects, which are mostly impenetrable to light waves. Vibrations also propagate
in different wavebands through a wide variety of media, not only in the material
medium of solids, liquids and gases, but also, as argued below, in corporeal and
sociocultural media.4 In addition, rhythms and cycles can easily transfer from one
medium to another. So the term media is not biased towards the plurality of mass
media, but rather, to the singularity of a particular situated material medium,
what Serres (1982, 2008) and Deleuze and Guattari (1988) call a milieu.
In what follows, the propagation of vibrations is used to model the transmission of affect in a popular cultural street scene. On the one hand, this aims to
provide a comparatively neutral description of the phenomenon, which is open
to various possible interpretations including those of participants. On the other
hand, it does avoid assuming that affect is present at the outset; instead it specifies the vibratory media and mechanisms for its propagation. Bruno Latour, in
Reassembling the Social (2005), discusses a similar error of sociologys assuming
social being to begin with which it then often takes credit for explaining. It
can be added that this kind of error tends to arise when the phenomenon is
approached from the outside, whereby an objective account is required to explain
the nature of the subjective experience and understanding of participants. By
contrast, the vibration model directs attention to questions of how participants
manage, direct and manipulate vibrations in ways that they may or may not be
consciously aware of. It is claimed that affect is propagated by the skilled techniques and practices used on various instruments and machines. These include
the bodies of the crowd, the sound system set of equipment, the dancehall
session and dancehall scene.5
The value of vibrations for social and psychological phenomena, though
hardly new, has a special relevance with the current turn to affect. Vibrations
afford a re-turn to embodiment and the kind of meaning, understanding and
making sense that can be grasped as a pattern or Gestalt. This is a shift away
from accounts of meaning in terms of discourse or representation, as well as a
reaction against the recent research emphasis on the uses of digital technologies.6
Vibrations have been used to describe sonic diaspora, that is, the global spread of
the appreciation for a specific musical style, for instance (Henriques, 2008).
Likewise, the present study takes its inspiration from Henri Lefebvres rhythmanalysis where he proposes: nothing less than to found a new science, a new field
of knowledge: the analysis of rhythms (Lefebvre, 2004: 3). Lefebvre and his
collaborators go about describing the ebb and flow in the cycle of daily activity
in a Mediterranean city. As Lefebvre states: Everywhere where there is interaction between a place, a time and an expenditure of energy, there is rhythm
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(Lefebvre, 2004: 15). The French social anthropologist Francois Laplantine (2005)
has also developed ideas of intensity and rhythm in ways consistent with the
present vibration model. Laplantine calls for a modal anthropology that moves
towards a different horizon of knowledge which is no longer that of an anthropology of sign or structure, but of rhythm (Laplantine, 2005: 1112).7
The oscillating frequencies of vibrations have been considered across a range
of studies. These include Dunnes Hertzian Tales (1999) in the context of product
design; Fullers (2005: 1353) detailing a list of the various technological materials as the media ecology, from which the frequencies of Londons pirate radio
scene is assembled; Goodmans (2009) investigation of the modulation of affect;
and Jacksons (2004) account of the sensory experience of clubbing. The refrain,
as addressed by Deleuze and Guattari (1988: 310350), is another important
starting point. As they say: Every milieu is vibratory, in other words, a block of
space-time constituted by periodic repetition . . . Every milieu is coded, a code
being defined by periodic repetition . . . (1988: 313). British scholars have also
addressed the issue of vibrations with a special issue of Senses & Society journal
(Ridout, 2008; Shail, 2008; Trower, 2008a, 2008b).
Methodologically, the present study identifies repeating frequencies, the pitch
and rhythm of sound waves, the rotations of turntables and CD transports, as
well as the cycles of customs, practices, routines and rituals, all of which compose
the multiple milieux of the dancehall scene. The vibrations across all three sociocultural, corporeal and material wavebands are then approached by three distinct
procedures. These are counting, measuring and listening to them. The counting
is of frequencies as rhythms, inflections and repeating patterning of events,
cycles, reciprocations, circulations per minute, night or week, for example. Also
frequencies of pitch, as with musical sounds themselves, are counted as events per
second or Hertz. This methodology draws on Glaser and Strauss (1967; Glaser,
1992) grounded theory, in which the number of instances of a descriptive
category is noted as the start of a qualitative research process. Counting underlines the importance of repetition, as distinct from representation, for a vibration
analysis. The results are depicted in the Frequency Spectrogram, described below
(Figure 6). So the present auditing of vibrations marks a departure from the
ways the dancehall subculture, and indeed many other social phenomena, are most
commonly addressed.8
The measuring is of the value of amplitudes, or intensities, of these dynamic
events across all sensory surfaces, as with the whole-body experience of sonic
dominance (Henriques, 2003). The listening is to the timbre, tone or value of the
event. Most difficult to describe, the timbre of a vibration is its distinctive quality,
the details that make one night different from another, as only an aficionado of
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the scene might be able to discriminate, for instance. More than the usual observation, such listening has to be done not only with ears, but also through all the
senses, in what amounts to the multi-media environment of the sessions and the
journey between them. As well as being useful in describing the phenomenon of
the Kingston night out, these three elements of vibrations frequencies, amplitudes and timbres are also those that provide the basis for understanding affect
and feeling in the analysis that follows.
The Dancehall Scene: Rhythms of the Night
The best dancehall night out in Kingston is a Wednesday. In fact, dancehall
sessions are kept (take place) on literally every night of the week, every week
of the year, at different locations across the city. But on Wednesdays three of the
most popular sessions have established themselves: Weddy Weddy, Passa Passa
and, until recently, Chuchu Benz session in August Town (Henriques, 2007a).9
In Jamaica a dancehall night out means precisely that, a night in the open air,
under the stars, out on the street. Recorded music is played on the vast and
powerful sound systems, with only occasional PAs from the artists themselves
(see Henriques, 2007a). With the main night as Wednesday, Kingston is unlike
most popular cultures, where the cycle of pleasurable activity is synchronized
with that of the working week.10 This, together with dancehall sessions traditionally going on until dawn, suggests a Jamaican disavowal of the work ethic that
some would attribute to origins in the slave plantation.
All such weekly cycles of dancehall activity revolve within the slower seasonal
frequencies. Around Christmas and New Year, Valentines Day and over the
summer months, there is a lot going on compared with other periods, such as the
months of September and November, which are comparatively dry. Such spikes
in dancehall activities constitute the longer frequency of the rhythmic pattern of
the year. (Similarly in music, inflections of amplitude constitute a rhythmic beat.)
Anniversaries and birthnight parties (see Figure 1) for particular venues, promoters, artists and local personalities, not to mention the sound systems themselves, also emphasize the importance of repeating cycles. This has the additional
commercial value never overlooked in the dancehall world of a marketing
device to make an event special and thereby attractive for the crowd. There are
also community round robins, where the bars in a downtown community with
their speaker boxes out on the street agree to take turns on successive Saturday
nights as the main local attraction.
Furthermore, the dancehall scene is replete with all manner of circulations,
ranging from those of commerce, such as the compilation CDs, DVDs recorded
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Figure 1 Weddy Weddy anniversary dance flyer

at the sessions, to those of media images, with the local cable television stations
broadcasting their video filming of the sessions. These annual cycles can be
located within even longer ones of style and fashion, music and artists. Over a
period of several years, the popularity of gangster lyrics, which are usually
rapped or chatted by a DJ, alternates with that of cultural lyrics, usually sung,
though there are always examples of both at any one time.11 In addition, there is
the overall level of activity of the dancehall scene as a whole, which, with its still
marginal position in Jamaican society, is subject to varying degrees of regulation
and control (Stanley-Niaah, 2004a, 2004b), in some instances leading to conflict
with the police (Henriques, 2007a). The longest cycle is that of generations. Many
Jamaicans will only admit to going dancehall at a younger age, suggesting attendance as a rite of passage at a certain stage of their life.
Turning to a single Wednesday night, further cycles, circulations and rhythms
come into play. One is the circulation of the crowd (or audience) between these
three different sessions in different parts of Kingston. Their promoters have
deliberately scheduled them in succession on the same night to facilitate this, in
the manner of a theatrical promenade performance, or more prosaically, a pub
crawl (Henriques, 2007a).12 On the dancehall scene commercial imperatives are
seldom at odds with creativity, in the way they are commonly considered to be
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in the Western popular culture, dating back at least to Adorno and Horkeimers
(1972) famous critique of standardization. The crowds motility has direct affective consequences in the manner in which repetition reinforces intensities, as
discussed below. Participants recognize each other and the dance crews at each
session, as well as travelling between them. This serves to increase the positive
feelings of familiarity, belonging and socially experienced pleasure, as with the
regular meetings of any shared interest group.
A Dancehall Session
With the three single sessions of Weddy Weddy, Chuchu Benz and Passa Passa
of which the night is composed, rhythms and cycles are even more evident. When
the scale of the phenomenon is reduced from the sociocultural waveband of
annual seasons and cyclical trends of style and fashion to a single session, then
the speed of vibrations tends to increase. These include the corporeal frequencies
of the dance moves of the crowd, as well as the material frequencies of the sound
itself, as discussed below. In fact the session as a whole can be characterized as
an apparatus for configuring the entire range of vibrating frequencies from venue,
crew, sound system equipment, vendors, crowd, marketing and subculture, as
depicted by the Frequency Spectrogram (Figure 6).
In addition to counting the speed of these frequencies, their intensity can also
be measured, as with the crowds sensory experience of sonic dominance
(Henriques, 2003). This is the crowds intensive, immersive and visceral experience of the saturation of sound. Such vibrations emphasize the importance of the
corporeal medium itself, that is, the sensory bodies that enflesh the crowd, as the
dancer describes above. These thundering low bass and sub-bass auditory
frequencies provide the musical material, so to say, for building the slower
frequencies of the rhythmic inflections of the sound systems signature reggae
bass-line. Taken together, these bass frequencies and beats characterize what UK
dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson called Bass Culture (the title of his 1980 album).
This idea of bass culture links together the popular and theoretical uses of the
idea of vibrations, not to mention the bass of sound to the base of politics, as
described elsewhere (Henriques, 2008).
In the lingo of the crowd and the dancehall scene, vibes is the term commonly used to describe the mood, atmosphere or ambience of a session, with the
adjective vibesy. Such affective qualities are considered irreducible, requiring no
further explanation, as with feelings themselves. One person who knows possibly
more about this than anyone else is Winston WeePow Powell. He is owner and
manager of Stone Love Movement, resident at the Weddy Weddy sessions and
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arguably Jamaicas longest-running and most influential sound system (Henriques,

2007a). As WeePow put it:
A lot a man go to dance to find a girl, and if the music not bounce right him cant find a girl.
If the music bounce right it give him that push, cos everybody feel vibesy, can say: Can I beg
a dance? More time the music a right more time all the girl come and beg you a dance. And
things just start from there so . . . I have people married from Stone Love, hundreds of them.
(emphasis added)13

So vibes connect musical beats with heartbeats, and thus become part of the
libidinal and commercial economies of the dancehall, as discussed below. Other
idiomatic terms such as turbulence also exploit the nomenclature of vibrations.
The Sound System Crew
For certain crewmembers, the cycle of activities required to stage a session begins
at about 3 or 4 in the afternoon. This is when the maintenance crew, or boxmen,
deliver the sound system equipment, assemble it together, string-up and do their
testing. If it is a gated dance, requiring an entrance ticket, another of their jobs
is to secure the perimeter fence and the ticket booth, to physically control the
flow of the crowd.14 As sound systems are peripatetic, the crew repeat their
pattern of work activities every day at a different venue.
Later in the evening, repeating frequencies also abound with the performance
of other crewmembers in front of the crowd. The MC (or DJ as they would be
known on other music scenes) on the microphone, together with the selector
with his music, have the key job to build the vibes of the crowd, that is increase
the pressure and excitement of their experience. Each sound system boasts
their own namebrand crew.15 The dancehall tradition is not one of live music.
Instead, the MC and selector re-perform phonographically recorded music, or
perform the archive as Bourriaud (2002) puts it. This makes repeating frequencies all the more important. Among the selectors repertoire of re-performance
techniques, for instance, is the rewind or the pull-up, whereby they re-play
the record back from the start. This is frequently in response to the enthusiastic
reception that the first few bars provoke from the crowd.16 Another technique is
their juggling, whereby the selector plays a sequence of four, or five, or more
different artists each chatting their own lyrics over the same riddim track (see
Manuel and Marshall , 2006). In the session this invariably produces precisely the
desired effect of building the vibes of the crowd, rather than the energetic dissipation and boredom that such reiteration might produce elsewhere. Each iteration of the beat of a continuous riddim has the effect of both reinforcing the
affective impact of the last one, as well as building an affective expectation for
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the next. The same holds true for different artists lyrical version on the same
riddim track, several of which selectors repeat as a continuous sequence, or
what is called in an appropriately alliterative fashion, a version excursion.
Each of the music tracks played also has to have a repeating rhythm to it. The
MC, as with the DJ or rapper recording artist, has to sit on the riddim, that
synchronizes their lyrical delivery with the musical beat to achieve what is
described as their flow. This is a key element to the voicing, that is, prosodic
performance. In the extemporized lyrical clash between DJs, which is a feature
of the reggae, dancehall and many other traditions, including the London Grime
scene, each contestant aims to cause the other to lose their flow. This instantly
punctures the rhythmic energy of their performance. In addition, there is the
reciprocal repeating rhythm in the MCs use of antiphony, that is their call and
the crowds response, as a key technique that uses the rhythms of repetition to
increase their involvement in the session. Another is their repetition of catchphrases as an especially important pathetic, or affective, technique, as speechwriters throughout history have exploited.
The Set of Equipment
The sound system set is the instrument or mechanism for propagating the
material frequencies of the auditory vibrations. The different components of the
set operate with all manner of reciprocations, rotations, vibrations and circulations
with turntables, CD transports, cooling fans, hard drives and the like. In addition,
there is even a triangular configuration to the sound systems normal three stacks
or columns of speakers, rather than the standard stereo pair. The reason for this,
I was told by a Stone Love engineer, was to spatialize the SFX (sound effects)
that are a vital part of the dancehall soundscape, causing them to circulate round
the crowd in the middle, rather than merely bounce from side to side.17
The material vibrations of the set provide an entry point to consider more
closely the nature of the vibrations on which the propagation model is based.
These are longitudinal waves, whose condensation and rarefactions require a
medium through which to propagate (unlike transverse waves of light which do
not). With a liquid or gaseous medium, such as air, it is easy to conceptualize
vibrations as an energy pattern (Figure 2), for which the wave of compressed coils
travelling the length of a childs slinky toy provide an example. This is very
different from the transport of objects, or the flow of a liquid. Indeed, the
distinction between movement as pattern of energy, on the one hand, and as the
transport of objects, on the other, is critical for the discussion of the transmission of affect.
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Figure 2 Longitudinal sound waves: frequency and amplitude, condensation and rarefaction

Waves propagating through a medium are conventionally defined by just three

elements (Nave, 2006).18 These are: frequency, pitch or tone; amplitude, loudness
or volume; and timbre, or sound colour or quality. The frequency () of a sound
wave is given by the distance between the peaks, which, for human hearing, ranges
from about 20 Hertz to 20 KHz. With longitudinal sound waves, amplitude is
the intensity, volume or loudness, and is given by the distance between peak and
trough. This is measured in decibels of sound pressure, ranging from the threshold of hearing to the threshold of pain at about 130 dB (giving an incredible sensitivity of human hearing from one billionth of atmospheric pressure to 1013 times
this).19 These three elements of sound waves provide the basis for discussion of
the meaning of affect, below.
Riding these sound waves, as it were, we can imagine entering the set of equipment itself, via the trembling surface of the speaker cone, as the dancer described
above. We thereby leave the corporeal wavebands of bodily kinetics and mechanics of sound waves, for the material waveband of electromagnetic and electromechanical milieux. Here the frequency of the vibrations is considerably faster and
their amplitude correspondingly reduced. The vibrations of the electromagnetic
spectrum are transverse waves, as distinct from the longitudinal sound waves
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discussed so far. Besides an occasional electrical voltage shock from the equipment, these are not frequencies to which the human body has sensitivity (though,
of course, micro voltages are the basis of brain and central nervous system [CNS]
activity). These material frequencies range from the 120 Hz of the AC electrical
supply (sometimes the sound systems connection jumped into the street lighting
cables), to the transmitter frequencies of the MCs radio mic, radio stations, mobile
phones, up to the visible light spectrum. In addition to longitudinal sound waves
and transverse electromagnetic ones, repeating frequencies are also expressed in
all manner of other material kinds of movement in the session, such as the oscillations, alternations, cycles, rotations, reciprocations and so on (see Table 1).
The Crowd
As well as sociocultural and material frequencies, a night out in Kingston on the
Jamaican dancehall scene is most crucially propagated in the corporeal waveband
of the individual flesh-and-blood bodies of the dancehall crowd. As is readily
recognized, the organism of the human body literally pulsates with all manner of
rhythms, cycles, heartbeats and CNS electrical potentials, whose intensities can
be measured physiologically and frequencies counted, by the second, the minute,
and the circadian and life cycle (Foster and Kreitzman, 2004). Affective intensities
can be induced by entrainment, or by increasing musical tempos and volumes, for
instance. What makes the crowd, as the audience identify themselves, of particular interest, is its status as an entirely corporeal, but at the same time, collective
subject. It is an individual entity that is not singular, but plural, or rather both
at the same time, that is, the one-who-is-many and the many-who-are-one
(Henriques, 2007a). Each member of the crowd or massive as it is also called, is
immersed in the rhythmic environment of the entire spectrum of frequencies that
the dancehall session fine-tunes (Figure 3). As an open, fluid and multiple
whole, the singular-multiplicity of the dancehall crowd breaches the epidermal
envelope in which individual identity is commonly considered to be sealed.
Indeed, Le Bon (1900) and other pioneers of late 19th-century psychology
described the group mind as entirely antipathetic to the rationality of the individual subject as evidenced by the way it allowed the transmission of affect
(Blackman, 2007; Brennan, 2004; Henriques, 2003).
The crowd attend the session for the pleasure of the vibes. These are tangible,
all-consuming and contagious, as DJ Squeeze describes:
It passes on from the people who are there. You come in there and the people going Wicked,
boop-boop-boop. You kind of fit, or melt, right into it. You get right up to speed real fast.
And you want your drink and you want to get into the thing. Real fast. In other words, you
coming to the fire youre going to get burnt. The fire is blazing already . . . (emphasis added)20
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Figure 3 Dancer at Passa Passa (photograph Varun Baker)

The choice of the verb melt and the incendiary metaphor are equally applicable
to atmosphere and affect. According to DJ Squeeze, long-established on the scene
with his own radio station and sound system, such feelings are not unique to a
dancehall session: You get that vibe on the streets, in a market, some neighbourhoods, get it in incidents where a lot of people are. He continued:
Its almost like mass hysteria. Its the same thing why dogs pack-attack one dog, its a vibe that
pass on. Its something we dont really understand, but I know it exists, where your whole body
transmits an energy that connects to another person energy, so that in two twos [i.e. immediately] everybody is doing the same thing without even realizing . . . (emphasis added)21

Though DJ Squeeze may not claim to know exactly what these vibes are, in his
practice he certainly does know how to control them through the selection of
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the music he plays. Theres this beat, what you do is catch the wave and it passes
on, he told me, referring to the music itself as a tool with which he could take
the crowd through different moods, different vibes . . . different emotions.22
Such dancing provides a striking example of the relationship between rhythms in
different media, in this instance, audition and kinetics, as evidence for film
theorist Michel Chions (1994: 1367) concept of transsensorial perception. Thus
through music, the selector excites and guides the crowd on an emotional
journey (Broughton and Brewster, 2002). This gives a cyclical pattern to the
evening, beginning at about one oclock in the morning when the session gets
under way, peaking at about 4 or 5 a.m. with the latest dancehall hits, and
mellowing out with perhaps some Bob Marley, for them to leave at dawn, quite
possibly going straight to church.
Intimately connected with the music, rhythms are also very much in evidence
in the dancing of the crowd. In recent years, dance has become increasingly
expressive and important for the session and the scene (as another instance of
the changing cycles of style and fashion). The choreography of the crowd is
expressed both individually, with body parts of arms, hips, feet and so on, and in
groups by the dance crews often kitted out in matching costumes. Their choreographic moves consist of circulations, rotations, extensions and contractions,
and so on. The MC usually controls the dance routines by literally instructing
the crowd on what action to make: land the plane, unscrew the light or ghetto
bicycle, are some of hundreds of examples. This is commonly accompanied with
the reciprocating antiphonic calls and responses between MC and crowd.
Such kinetic, not to say frenetic, participation offers some powerful techniques
for intensifying affect. The crowds exertion brings to the fore a corporeality that
literally pulsates with cycles of exertion and rest, sweating and cooling off. The
massive of the crowd also finds choreographic expression by participating or
making way for the dance crews as they sashay from one end of the dance floor
to the other, illuminated in the spotlights of the video cameras (Figure 4). What
was by day an ordinary stretch of tarmac road or car park, by night stages a spectacle the tropical air vibrating with a bass-line to engulf a crowd of hundreds,
sometimes thousands (Figure 5).
The Frequency Spectrogram counts the repeating rates across all the media
and frequency wavebands pertaining to the dancehall session from the pitch of
a note, to a dance rhythm, to the dancehall seasonal cycle (Figure 6).23 A variety
of types of repeating movement are transmitted and received on a broad range of
instruments, from ear and eye to record deck and mobile phone (Table 1). The
dynamic patterning of these vibrating relationships can now be pursued, with
affect and audition as the examples.
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Figure 4 Dance crew in video light at Passa Passa (photograph Varun Baker)

The Propagation of Affect: Feeling Moved

So what does the Frequency Spectrogram of a Kingston night out tell us about
affect? To find out, we can consider how the idea of the propagation of vibrations resonates in the theoretical field of affect, at sociocultural frequencies as it
were, as formulated with the work of Deleuze and Guattari (1988), Massumi
(2002), the late Teresa Brennan (2004), Ahmed (2004), Manning (2007), Clough
(2007) and many others. Massumi places a useful emphasis on the variable and
free-flowing character of affect, as with mood swings and the like. Colloquially,
the movement of feeling is often likened to liquid flow, that runs high, gets
whipped up, brims over, floods or drains away.24 Affect is even thought
of as a volatile gas, wafting from one individual to influence others, or worse, a
viral pandemic, emphasizing its mobility even more. Movement and feeling are
certainly the two key characteristics of embodiment for Massumi: When I think
of my body and ask what it does to earn that name, two things stand out. It
moves. It feels. In fact it does both at the same time (2002: 1). These are addressed
here in turn.
There is a broad agreement on what affect does it moves. What is more open
to question is how it spreads between people. The idea of movement with greatest
currency in the social sciences is that of objects, as with a projectile, or global
transport systems with flows, fluxes, liquidities, circulations and traffickings of
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Table 1 Types of repeating movement and frequency wavebands

Frequency bands/





Calendar events
Social cycles

Record turntable
Choreographic gyration
CD deck
Truck and trolley wheels


Crowd motility
between sessions
Musical selection
Cycles of style and

Day/night circadian
Annual seasons
Peripatetic travel of
sound systems

Blood and lymphatic




Longitudinal sound
Rhythms, beats

Pulse rate
Muscle contraction


Sashaying up and
down the street
MCs call and crowds

Truck diesel engine

Ebb and flow of tides,
lunar cycles

Heart rate
Choreographic and
actual copulation
Charge and discharge


of scene
To/fro between police
and crowd

Transverse light waves

AC current

Central nervous system

Synaptic activity in brain

materials, commodities and information (Appadurai, 1986, 1996; Bauman, 2000;

Lee and LiPuma, 2002; Shields, 1997), as well as social movements and economic
mobilities. For anthropologists, it was gifts that were exchanged, expressing the
relationship between giver and given to, that were a founding trope of their discipline (Mauss, 1950). In her influential The Transmission of Affect, Brennan (2004)
continues thinking about this kind of movement. Brennan offers a model of
affective spread entirely in terms of the movement of the biological entities of
pheromones. As she tells us: pheromones . . . traverse the physical space between
one subject and another (2004: 75). Similarly, germ infection, vectors of viral
contagion or diffusions of particles through a medium, are concerned only with
the movement of objects from one place to another. This kind of movement
allows Brennan, most helpfully, to break down the barriers between subjects and
between subjects and objects: the transmission of affect, conceptually, presupposes a horizontal line of transmission: the line of the heart (Brennan, 2004: 75),
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Figure 5 Crowd at Passa Passa, Spanish Town Road (photograph Varun Baker)

as distinct from the vertical line of history and inheritance. Less helpful, despite
her use of the term transmission, Brennan is only referring to the flow of
objects, albeit molecular ones.
Bodily kinetics is a second kind of movement relevant for affect. Gesture and
dance choreography have been favourite examples for non-discursive expression
and emotional communication (Hanna, 1979). Manning (2007) explores the flow
of affect with the particular example of the choreography of the tango dance.
Laplantine (2005) takes the example of la ginga, as a Brazilian style of movement.
The body itself reverberates with all manner of cycles, circulations, rotations,
pulses, beats and other bio-dynamics. With its kinetic movement in the environment these are breathing, eating, drinking, reproduction, perambulation, as well
as responding to the ecology of all surrounding frequencies (as depicted by the
Spectrogram). The phenomenologist Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, whose research
started with dance, makes the most radical claims for embodied movement. She
agues that feeling is the embodiment of movement, rather than being something
embodied by movement.
In The Primacy of Movement (1999) Sheets-Johnstone lays out the basis of
what amounts to a kinetic Cogito. She weaves a subtle web of relationships
between affect, feelings and subjectivity, on the one hand, and human motility,
kinetics and kinaesthetics, on the other (Sheets-Johnstone, 1994, 2009). This
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Figure 6 Diagram of Frequency Spectrogram of the dancehall scene and session: repeating
vibrations in material, corporeal and sociocultural wavebands

includes affect, feeling and emotions, as well as motivations, passions and desires,
not to mention meaning and thinking. In short, our entire relationship with our
environment is kinetic. We not only feel moved by something, but also are moved
to do something to take an action and move others. Sheets-Johnstone goes on
to claim that movement is what gives us our sense of self: Movement forms the
I that moves before the I that moves forms movement (1999: 138, emphasis in
original). This is what makes us alive. As she remarks: We intuitively equate aliveness with movement, it is difficult to explain why philosophers would overlook
the primacy of movement in the rendition of what it is to be human (1999: 135).
The same can be said of affect.25
Flow is a third kind of movement. Most often flow is thought of as simply the
rapid transport of objects, or the circulation of information, or simply the flow
of water in a pipe. Historically, the dynamics of affect have often been described
as flows, forces, pressures and drives of fluid dynamics. In late 19th-century
psychology, this was the key to Freuds hydraulic model of libido in his Project
for a Scientific Psychology (1955 [1895]). Likewise, William James (1957 [1890])
concept of the stream of consciousness utilizes this idea of movement. Similar
pressures and intensities define Deleuze and Guattaris model: A BwO is made in
such a way that it can only be populated by intensities. Only intensities pass and
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circulate (1988: 153), as the authors draw on Antonin Artaud and the Surrealist
celebration of the excessive energies of hysteria (Roudinesco, 1990: 7). The two
fundamental drives or instincts for late Freudian theory were, of course, sex and
death. Consequently it is to the animal body that affect leads and connects us; its
visceral reactions, such as disgust, famously described by Darwin in his The
Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1904).
Frequencies and Feelings
But there is also another kind of flow. The propagation model is especially useful
in specifying the propagation of an energy, or dynamic patterning. Here the
transmission is of the repeating frequencies of the pattern not a material object,
whether solid or liquid. Flows of this kind, such as sound waves, provide an
entire vocabulary for affective connections. A person might say, for instance,
they are in tune or in accord with someone else, or on the same wavelength,
or that something strikes a chord or rings true. Our antennae detect a mood
or atmosphere. Feelings are idiomatically characterized as high or low, that
is, in terms of frequency of pitch. Different pitches have distinct values and affective associations, as with the deep tones of male authority, or the beat of a bass
culture. These have been contrasted with the shrill high-pitched tones of female
hysteria, in Carsons (1995) exploration of Classical Greek thought (see also
Cavarero, 2005: 95161).
The flow of vibrations can be described as being particular in two respects
relevant for affect. One is that it is situated entirely within a particular situated
conducting channel, that is, the body of a specific medium. As Brouer and
Mulder (2004) tell us in their volume of that name, feelings are always local. The
other is that the flow of vibration is only ever the movement relationship between
the particles, as with the molecules of the gaseous air that allow hearing. With
sound or light waves the flow is that of a wave of energy, not a thing (Figure 2).
A flow of air would not be a sound, but a draught! Audition and affect are both
intrinsically dynamic they are not objects, but events. As Stephen Connor puts
it: All sound is disembodied, a residue or production rather than a property of
objects. . . . We hear, as it were, the event of the thing, not the thing itself (2001:
3). What we hear is only ever the trace that movement leaves behind, its echo, as
it were. Sound always has to be re-presented rather than represented (following
Lastra, 1992: 72). Similarly, feelings are effects, at one remove, seen in retrospect
after the event, the sloughed skin of the sentient beast of affect. Both affect and
SFX (sound effects) are equally high maintenance, demanding continual performance, or re-performance in the case of sound recordings (Bourriaud, 2002). It
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is specifically this cyclical, repeating, oscillating movement that resonates so well

with the character of affect, patterning an entire field with intensities, passing
through and within bodies, without respect for traditional epidermal and
indeed epistemological boundaries. Like sound itself, there is no stopping affect.
It is notoriously volatile and promiscuous. Rhythms are infectious, spreading
like wildfire, as DJ Squeeze put it.
With the richest and deepest understanding the transmission of affect being
modelled by the propagation of vibrations, it should not come as any surprise
that the most sympathetic notion of subjectivity should come from a sound
engineer but not one who ever had anything to do with Jamaican music. Daphne
Oram (19252003) was a pioneer of the field of electronic music and a co-founder
of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.26 In An Individual Note, she muses on
what should be called the vibrating subject:
It is as if human being is an instrument of concord and discord, consisting of thousands upon
thousands of finely tuned circuits; each with its own control of pitch and loudness, able to
adjust its voice, in harmony or dissonance, in balance and accord, so that it becomes part of
the great pattern which makes the individual. . . . we would [then] need a most wonderful
mixture of fundamentals, harmonic and overtones all subtly changing moment to moment . . .
(1972: 27)

This distinctive sound track of the individual, as she calls it, should not be heard
as any more radical an idea than the commonplace one of the subject of language,
as a discursive effect, so to speak, as Rotman (2008) discusses. Unlike this I,
the subject of vibration claims relationality, not exclusivity. Vibrations have a
resonating and reciprocal nature, so that every mechanism capable of expressing
them can also receive vibrations, as Moore (2003) points out in his concept of the
transmitting ear. This linkage between active and passive, or impression and
expression, helps to break down the traditional boundaries said to separate individual subjects from one another.
The Meaning of Affect
The second characteristic of affect on which there is broad agreement, as Massumi
(2002) identifies, is what it is an intensity. But what does it mean to feel moved?
The Spectrogram depicts the continuity of repeating movement across media
and mechanisms, suggesting that the meaning of affect could be recognized relationally, as pattern. For the crowd, the meaning of a dancehall session certainly
resides along the whole frequency spectrum that constitutes the event, as distinct
from being built up from component parts. In the theoretical field, this vibration
model furthers the radical implications of the idea of affect. In addition to its
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Body & Society Vol. 16 No. 1

transmission undermining the separateness and self-consistency of the autonomous individual, its meaning as pattern attacks the third and possibly most
precious attribute of the individual subject its faculty of reason.
The energetic patterning of vibrations offers a way of understanding meaning
that is not tied to ideas of representation, encoding, inscription, or even Aristotelian logic. This is the fecundity the affective turn opens up. The previous
discursive turn has tended to close such discussions. Considering meaning, on
the one hand, and affect, on the other, as if they were two separate objects, tends
to inscribe affect as a feeling or emotion. In that schema, meaning is only ever
bestowed by a signifying system of some sort. Things do not mean anything in
or by themselves.27 Consequently, there can be no necessary connection between
signifier and signified, the former floating above the latter. As a result, any nonrepresentational ideas of meaning have tended to be denied, ignored or marginalized by the dominant text-bound traditions of enquiry (Thrift, 2007). Anything
other than meaning as rational thought has been considered as impoverished, a
bacchanalian excess, or a romantic indulgence. The fact that affect has to be felt
haptically, as do vibrations, rather than be seen visually, also goes against the
grain of the ocularcentric philosophies of the Western canon, since the Enlightenment, if not Plato (Jacobs, 2001; Jay, 1993; Rorty, 1979). Music theorist Anahid
Kassabian makes this key point as follows:
Somehow, representation and meaning come to be synonymous, and arguments that music
is nonrepresentable are (implicitly, at least) understood as proving that music does not mean
in any recognisable sense of the term. (2001: 6)

Embracing the meaning of affect invites us to forsake the comforts of our reading
habits, scriptural routines and the other familiarities of visual culture. Listening
provides a good model. Listening assumes a connective relationship, or attunement, where the listener directs their attention to the listened-to, precisely where
the visual metaphor assumes a separation between viewer and viewed (Levin,
1989; Ihde, 2007). The death of the author was announced some time ago, but
only to resurrect the text. Perhaps the idea of affect affords the opportunity to
proclaim the death of the autonomous individual, in order that it might be reborn
as a distinctive pattern of resonating frequencies, in the manner that Oram
suggests, above. To bring this article to a close, the meaning of affect is explored
here on the basis of the three elements of sound waves noted above (see Figure 2).
The first to consider is affect in relation to frequencies of repetition; the second
between intensities of affect and amplitudes of sound; and the third is between
the distinctiveness of sensations and the timbre of sound.

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The repeating of vibrations is counted as a frequency. What is repeated is an
inflection of emphasis. The Spectrogram counts the abrupt percussive variations
in amplitude as the tempo of beats and rhythms, built from the faster frequencies of pitch. Such rhythms are the foundation for all forms of popular music,
especially in Jamaica, whose reggae industry is built on distinctive riddim
tracks, as discussed above. Pitch is also patterned with repeating riffs, motifs
and refrains, built from smooth melodic variations of frequency. As repetition
has received a considerable amount of attention across a number of fields, it
needs only a brief mention here. Deleuze and Guattari put it succinctly: Rhythm
is the milieus answer to chaos (1988: 313). Philip Turetzky agrees: Rhythms
group heterogeneous material elements together (2002: 124). The affective impact
of the weekly cycle of dancehall activity, as with the variation of intensity required
of any rhythm, is made with a control-release pattern, or movement and rest.
Pleasure is built in as anticipation, progression to climax, cathartic release,
followed by a period of recovery, from where the cycle starts again. Amplitudes
are seldom consistent, continuous or without variation. Through the prosodic
inflections of an utterance, for example, a person may express intentions, subtext
and feelings, that give the listener clues on how to interpret what they say,
possibly at odds from its literal meaning. Bateson (1979: 116) describes this as
metacommunication. Such inflections may be consciously patterned as a rhythm,
to create further rhetorical effects, as the MCs do on the sound system mic.
Affect revolves round repetition. Repetition can cause affective attachment. In
the dancehall repetition is a key technique for generating affective intensities, as
with the selectors pull-up technique described above. Everybody feel vibesy,
WeePow told us, to describe how good the crowd felt at his sessions. This makes
a direct link between repeating vibrations and affect. Such emphatic repetition is
even evident in the doubling in each name of the Wednesday sessions visited,
Weddy Weddy, Passa Passa, Chuchu Benz, one of the rhetorical tropes the
Jamaican vernacular shares with that of African America (Gates, 1988). Repetition
is also linked to affect with circadian and monthly cycles, as well as routines
and rituals, making us literally creatures of habit. In addition, reversing this,
affect can also cause repetition, as with trauma of separation, as Freud discusses
with the fortda routine in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920). Repetition
compulsion and other syndromes, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD),
are also an important issue for Relational Psychoanalysis (Russell, 2006).
Crucially, with the patterning of vibrations, there is no repetition without
variation. Repetition, like the Heraclitean river, is never the same twice. This is

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an issue with which Deleuze, among others, has been pre-occupied (Deleuze,
1994; Pearson, 1999). As Lefebvre adds: dawn is always new. He continues:
No rhythm without repetition in time and space, without reprises, without returns . . . but
there is no identical absolute repetition, indefinitely. Whence the relation between repetition
and difference. . . . Not only does repetition not exclude differences, it also gives birth to them;
it produces them. (2004: 67)

With repetition giving birth to difference, as Lefebvre puts it, for both frequencies
and feelings, being itself is always becoming and becoming is always becoming
different. Examples of this include dub versioning (Veal, 2007), or each dancer
in a crew in the session rendering the synchronous choreography slightly differently. Unlike Guy Debords simulacrum (Knabb, 1981), the only place for the
original is in the mind of the listener, snatched hints of which dub producers
engineer into the version for precisely this effect. It is indeed only the disembodied mind that fosters the ideal of repetition as identical reproduction, as the
absolute standard to judge the imperfections of the actual (see Henriques, 2007b).
With repetition as the key organizing principle for the patterning of vibrations,
we listen with Echo, counting the rhythms and repeating cycles of a dancehall
night, for example, rather than gazing at Narcissus reflection. This reciprocal
relationship between affect and repetition suggests that both promote a reiterative identity, recursive rather discursive.28
Intensities and Amplitudes
With both affect and sound waves, strength of feeling as well as amplitude of
volume are measured as intensity. This is the second way in which vibrations can
help understand the meaning of affect. The lack of latency indicative of direct
experience requires the embodied presence of actually being there, as the dancer
interviewed above testified. These are the joys and pleasure experienced by the
crowd, as measured by their numbers and enthusiasm (Henriques, 2007a).
Affect has the immediacy of sensory experience, as with the loudness and visceral
presence of the sonic dominance of the session, for example. Variation in intensity is felt, as Massumi (2002: 15, emphasis in original) puts it. This is evidently
very much the case with the reggae bass-line of the dancehall session. Not only
do bass frequencies, compared with those of a higher pitch, demand substantially
more amplifying power, but also human hearing is less sensitive to these than the
mid-frequencies of speech. Hence the dancehall soundscape becomes more than
auditory, or even haptic, it is a whole-body vibrotactile experience. The commercial economy of the dancehall scene revolves almost entirely around the intensities of affect.
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Amplitudes measure the quantities of power, impact, pressure and dynamic

energy that are then experienced as sensory qualities. The crowds experience of
the dancehall readily conforms to Silvan Tomkins point that feelings are intensities (see Henriques, 2003). Each appetite, such as thirst, hunger, sexual desire
and so on, has its own elemental quality, which cannot be further broken down
into constituent parts (Sedgwick and Frank, 1995). The same is true of our tastes
of bitter and sweet and so on. It is indeed taste that Serres (2008) identifies as the
foundation of homo sapiens knowledge in developing his philosophy of mingled
bodies. The current turn to affect has encouraged a reconsideration of the boundary that privileged human over animal nature, which it condemned as being
governed by instinct.29 It was from this that man was to be liberated by reason.
Further emphasizing bodily reactions, in The Principles of Psychology William
James turns around the common-sense causal chain. He claims that feelings follow
bodily expression, rather than cause it: we feel sorry because we cry, angry
because we strike, afraid because we tremble . . . (James 1890: 10656). In this
view we do not think or feel a certain way in order to make our bodies move in
correspondence to this plan, harnessed as it were, as a mechanical slave to the
mind. James embodied theory of affect is useful against the armoury of cognitive
processes marshalled to control our motivations, attitudes, intentions, feelings
and so on (see Blackman, 2008). The mindless body is, of course, the counterpart to the bodiless mind psychologys inheritance from the Cartesian cogito.
The vibrations of affect offer an escape from the cage of the autonomous, selfconsistent, rational subject liberating the relational subject. The practice of
listening, in the broadest sense and senses, allows us to sink under and sync up
with the dynamics of the vibrating world of intensities.
The meaning of affect, as with that of sound, is not necessarily representational. As Connor describes: Hearing provides intensity without specificity, which
is why it has often been thought to be aligned more closely with feeling than with
understanding . . . ( 2001: 2, emphasis added).30 One example of this might be
how dancehall patrons can travel directly from the Saturday night session to
church at dawn on Sunday morning, as mentioned above. Here affective intensity is devoid of the evaluative specificity by which the Western tradition divides
sacred from profane. These strengths are usually at liminal extremes, as with the
engulfing bass frequencies of the crowds sensory experience of the music of the
dancehall session. Excess and acme often emerge together on the dancehall scene.
To the chagrin of Jamaican middle-class opinion, the choreographic rhythms and
positions mimic the affective expenditure of copulation, part of the most sexually
explicit style, fashion and attitude of any popular culture (see Figure 7).31 This is
certainly the driver, to use another energetic term, for the crowd to return week
after week, in circulating economies of music and pleasure that the dancehall
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Figure 7 The Wheelbarrow: dance as procreation (photograph Varun Baker)

provides. Though the intensities and pressures of auditory and affective vibrations
may exceed and exclude discursive representation, evidently this does not render
them meaningless.
Timbre, Tone and Affective Qualities
Both vibration and affect are distinctive on account of their timbre. This is the
third way in which propagation can be used to understand the kind of meaning
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that attaches to affect. Timbre is the unique quality, or synaesthetically the sound
colour of a particular instrument (Nave, 2006), or the distinctive characteristics
of a persons voice to be recognized when we say Its me. Though vibrations
can only vary in the two dimensions of amplitude and frequency, timbre describes
the way in which a fundamental frequency combines with its harmonics, resonances and overtones, to give rise to an infinite range of intimate and subjective
sensations.32 Moving from the material frequencies of sound to the sociocultural
waveband, that is, from sine waves to sign waves, only increases the potential for
these subtleties, which philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy explores in Listening. There
is no amplitude or frequency, he tells us: without timbre (just as there is no line
or surface without colour). We are speaking, then, of the very resonance of the
sonorous. . . . Timbre is the resonance of sound: or sound itself (2007: 40,
emphasis added). In short, timbre is the actual stuff of sound and affect.
Nancy then links the timbre of sound with specifically percussive reverberations of the skins of drums and other instruments, claiming that the origin of the
word timbre is the Greek tympanum, that is the tambourines of orgiastic cults
(2007: 42).33 Nancy develops this into a conception of resounding subject: [a]
sonorized body [that] undertakes a simultaneous listening to a self and to a
world that are both in resonance (2007: 43). Sound and self are born of timbre.
So to the expert discriminating ear, each individual example of each instrument is
distinctive, as with different Stradivarius violins, for example, or indeed Kingston
recording studios, as reggae singer Berres Hammond pointed out to me.34
Thus timbre, as timpani drum, is the touch of the tympanic membrane of the
ear as the site of transduction from sound to nervous impulses. This idea of the
body sensing itself both through and as sound summons the echoic metaphor
(see Lacoue-Labarthe, 1998). It accords with Massumis conception of intensity
as resonation, that is, the bodys folding over of sensation onto itself:
Sensation is never simple. It is always doubled by the feeling of having a feeling. It is selfreferential. . . . It is best to think of it as a resonation, or interference pattern. . . . Resonation
can be seen as converting distance, or extension, into intensity. It is a qualitative transformation of distance into an immediacy of self-relation. With the body, the walls are sensory
surfaces. The intensity is experience. (2002: 1314)

This is movement in and of itself as both audition and affect. Nancy calls it:
the state of return without end, like an echo that continues on its own, and that
is nothing but this continuance going in a decrescendo . . . (2007: 267, emphasis
added). Nancy continues by saying that timbre is not an auditory figure, but
rather, it is its very pace, it is my body beaten by its sense of body, what we used
to call its soul (2007: 3). If timbre touches us as the particular soul of sound, so
do feelings as our particular individual experience of affect.
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Affect, like sounds, music, colours and abstract images, has the kind of significance that has to be embodied, felt and experienced. For some, this might evoke
fears of unbridled excess and extremes against which canons of discourse and
representation provide a safe bulwark. But this does not make it irrational. The
performance techniques of crew and crowd are nothing if not the making of
meaning through practice. In this manner, the adjectives for feelings, from the
most basic happy or sad, up or down, manic or depressed, to the emotions of
anger, regret, jealousy or empathy, are best communicated by describing the
personal circumstances and sociocultural context of their staging. Neither sound
nor affect is easily subject to systematization. Sounds are most commonly
described by how they are made, as the sound of a creaking door, gunshot,
police siren, for instance (Lastra, 1992). They have to be recorded phonographically, in ways that have yet to be invented for affect, other than in the rituals of
arts and culture itself. Even with musical notation, the written score does not
attempt to describe what a note actually sounds like. Instead, it acts as a set of
instructions for what to do to make one, as a recipe does for the taste of a dish.
Thus meaning as situated enaction (Varela, 1999) enables remembering without
representation, as does the embodied memory of ritual and tradition (Connerton,
1989; Halbwachs, 1980).
The idea of the timbre of sound suggests how the intensive qualities of the
sensory experience of affect do not necessarily have to be translated into feelings
or emotions, so to speak. Affect has its own textures, colours, complexities,
multiplicities and contradictions, whose simultaneous, parallel, non-linear
mixings are all the more valuable for being based in analogue variation, outside
diacritical formal encoded systems (see Shepherd and Wicke, 1997; Zuckerkandl,
1956). Musical sounds or familiar faces, for instance, have analogue meaning.
This is derived in comparison with the variations of a multitude of similar others
sounds or persons, rather than as a diacritical difference in a signifying system.
As rhythmic patterns extend in time, not only space, and are haptically sensed,
they also escape the dominance of vision. The meaning of symmetry, scale,
proportion, ratio and rhythm are born out of, and borne on, variation and repetition. This is the basis of the rhythmic materialism, mentioned at the start. A wave
requires the material aspect of particles, as it cannot be propagated outside some
embodied medium. This prevents the idea of affect disappearing into the immaterial realm of abstract ideas. At the same time, the energetic rhythmic patterning of waves prevents them from being determined by the material medium of
its propagation. In practice, vibrations, at the frequency of both sound and affect,
invariably bear the mark of the particular medium of their embodiment. This is
precisely what affords them their characteristic tone, texture and qualities.
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Conclusions: Vibrating Affect

Going back to the Kingston night out, what does the vibration model tell us about
the street scene? Possibly most important, it provides a theoretical elaboration of
what participants already know in practice, but is probably little known outside.
The idea of affect as the propagation of vibrations certainly resonates with dancehall-goers own nomenclature of vibes. In addition, because the idea of vibrations requires a medium through which to propagate, it readily recognizes how
these are invariably situated, particular, local and contingent in a way avoided
by abstract ideas and philosophical generalities. The vibration model recognizes
and respects participants tacit, enacted and embodied ways of knowing. This
kind of knowledge is distinct and different from the epistemes of the academy, as
would be expected of a subaltern, marginal street culture.
At the same time, the propagation model recognizes that the dancehall scene
described by the Spectrogram is a most sensitive, sophisticated and finely tuned
example of an apparatus for monitoring and manipulating vibrations. If these
vibrations did not include those of affect, it is difficult to imagine how the dancehall scene could have stood the test of 50 years at the heart of an inner city street
culture. Dancehall is both a bass and a base culture. As with the vibes of the
scene, waves and rhythms hardly restrict themselves to a particular medium or
channel. Instead, their intensities vary, sometimes spilling over into violence, as
is precipitated by the liminal multi-sensory intensities of the scene. The rhythmic
patterning of vibrations thus helps dissolve the autonomous individual as a
distinct self-consistent object in space and through time, as it is often considered.
This reinforces the attack the idea of affect makes on the rubrics of the psychological subject. A Kingston Wednesday night out on the dancehall scene is nothing
if not a shared social, collective and transindividual experience, staged amongst
what would be considered as the most dangerous of crowds the mobile mob.
The propagation model is valuable insofar as it offers an organizing principle
for the transmission of affect that eludes the prism of representation and for
the meaning of affect that escapes the prison house of language. The unconscious, the seat of such unrepresented feelings and desires, is not necessarily
structured like a language, as Lacan famously told us it was. Instead, it might be
patterned as a vibration. The meaning of affect concerns practice, performance
routines, habitual routes, which do not require schema, cognitive maps or any
other images (see Reed, 1988: 302). Vibrations can literally shake the monopoly
of rationality as representation. This suggests a different logos, one of sound and
movement, not only the word (Henriques, forthcoming). This is rationality as
ratio, proportion and value. In this way the turn to affect becomes a full revolution, with vibrations propagated not only through the corporeal media of bodies,
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but also at material and sociocultural frequencies as well. Breaking the boundaries of text, image and the surfaces of objects, vibrations offer an opportunity
to conceptualize the permeability of individuals in their environment as they
selectively transduce and amplify its energetic patterns that is, propagate affect.
1. Interview with Yvonne Iles Douglas, dancer, Kingston, 20 June 2004.
2. As well as Yvonne Iles Douglas, I would like to thank my interviewees for sharing their
knowledge and understanding, particularly the late Ms Louise Frazer-Bennett, Winston Wee-Pow
Powell, Horace McNeal, DJ Squeeze, Denton Henry, Vuraldo Barnett and Hedley Jones.
3. As Noble (2006) develops with his account of systems biology.
4. Elsewhere the term ethereal has been used rather than sociocultural to describe this shared
waveband (Henriques, 2003, 2007b, 2008).
5. The term dancehall refers to the currently popular style of music that succeeded reggae;
dancehall is also the open-air venue where this and other kinds of music are enjoyed.
6. Especially when virtual realities are considered as if separate from our mixed reality, see Hansen
7. Thanks to Couze Venn for the translation.
8. These more conventional types of analysis have included histories of the music, musicians and
music scenes; see for example Cooper (1993), Stolzoff (2000), Bradley (2002) and Stanley-Niaah (2009).
9. One reason for this is that they have been able to hold these sessions regularly at one location.
At other venues neighbours complaints and the police have forced them to move, evidencing the
marginal and mobile character of the dancehall. Besides the street dancehalls, there is also a thriving
club scene, with one of the main clubs being Asylum, on Knutsford Boulevard, in the heart of the
commercial district of New Kingston.
10. As evidenced in the lyrics of innumerable pop songs that look forward to the joys of the
Saturday night to come.
11. Movado, for example, who headlined the 2008 Sumfest, had been almost unknown the previous
12. From a psychological standpoint such an active exploration of the sensory environment is
entirely consistent with Gibsons (1986 [1979]) conception of the exploratory organism developed in
his ecological psychology. This contrasts the conventional psychological subject who tends to be
laboratory-located and stationary.
13. Interview with Mr Winston WeePow Powell, 24 June 2004 at Stone Love HQ, Burlington
Avenue, Kingston.
14. In fact many dancehall sessions are not gated, taking place literally on the street, where the
promoters make their money entirely from sales at the bar.
15. For instance Stone Love Movement selectors include WeePow, G-Fuss, Rory and Billy Slaughter;
see URL (consulted June 2009): http://www.imexpages.com/stonelove/selectors.htm
16. Radio DJs employ exactly the same technique based on the number of calls and dropped calls
they receive at the beginning of the track.
17. Interview with Denton Henry, Kingston, 24 June 2004.
18. See URL (consulted April 2008): http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/Hbase/sound/timbre.
19. See HyperPhysics website, URL (consulted April 2008): http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/
20. Interview with DJ Squeeze, aka Glenworth Samuels, Kingston, 22 June 2004.
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21. Interview with DJ Squeeze, 22 June 2004.

22. Interview with DJ Squeeze, 22 June 2004.
23. A spectrogram or sonogram is the visual image of the frequency of a sound signal, generated
by a spectrograph or sonograph instrument.
24. Painter Francis Bacon talked about opening the valves of sensation, for instance with his
Triptych inspired by TS Eliots Sweeny Agonistes (1967), Room 9, Tate Britain, 11 Sept. to 4 Jan. 2009.
25. This is consistent with Massumis (2002: 15) conception of the Spinozian body of capacities and
transitions between movement and rest. As the German sound theorist Victor Zuckerkandl provocatively puts it: a body is where it acts (1956: 304, emphasis in original). This is pursued in further
26. Daphne Oram invented the Oramic analogue music synthesizer programmed by hand-drawn
film, see Hutton (2003).
27. This theme resonates with Derek Walcotts describing the virginal unpainted world of the
Caribbean, in which the poet has Adams task of giving things their names (1992: 294).
28. Some of the further issues, which unfortunately there is insufficient space to explore here,
include the transfer of repeating patterns from one medium or milieu to another, that is transduction
(Mackenzie, 2002; Simondon, 1992), Gestalt auditory patterning (Bregman, 1990; Vernon, 1934) and
the affordances (Gibson, 1986 [1979]) of a medium for vibrations.
29. This challenge has come in various directions, see for example Agamben (2004).
30. This issue has been addressed in the philosophies of Bergson (1983 [1911]) and Whitehead
(1969 [1929]). In this respect both affect and amplitudes may also be described as intensive properties
of matter as Delanda (2002: 267, 5960) describes them, following Deleuze and Guattari (1988), to
be contrasted with its extensive properties and possibly the pitch of frequencies.
31. The issue of the sexuality of the dancehall and womens role in this is an important and complex
one, see for example Saunders (2003), Hope (2004, 2006) and Cooper (1993, 2004).
32. It was the French mathematician Joseph Fourier (17681830) who demonstrated that all waves
could be reduced to simple sine waves, with the procedure named in his honour, the Fourier transform.
33. In fact the OED does not substantiate this claim, stating instead that the origin of the word is
the French for a small bell.
34. Personal communication while he was composing some of the music tracks for my film Babymother (1998).

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Julian Henriques has interests in music and auditory culture as both filmmaker and researcher. After
a first degree in psychology, he co-authored Changing the Subject and was a founding editor of the
Ideology & Consciousness journal. He worked as a freelance journalist, a researcher for London
Weekend Television and a producer for BBC Television, Music and Arts Department, making films in
Latin America and the Caribbean. He also ran his own production company making television documentaries. His fiction credits as writer-director include the improvised drama We the Ragamuffin and
the feature film Babymother, a reggae musical. He also ran the film and television department at
CARIMAC at the University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica. He is currently senior lecturer in
the Department of Media and Communications, at Goldsmiths, University of London, convening the
MA in Script Writing programme and leading the BA Music as Communication and Creativity course.
His PhD was from the University of London and recent published chapters and journal articles have
been in Auditory Culture Reader, Sonic Interventions, Sonic Synergies and African & Black Diaspora.
[email: j.henriques@gold.ac.uk]

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