“The last three days I’ve been working straight 9-5, and I mean 9 AM to 5 AM!”
Hello crazy thesis-ers and also crazy other people reading this! In this third installment of THESISCRAZY 2017, I bring to you the longest interview I’ve seen in my tenure at Wesleyan, clocking in at just over 20 minutes, and the shortest, at just under four. You can check my unscientific assertion for yourself by reading our archive here and checking out the first two posts of the series here and here.
If you’re interested in being interviewed (preferably for shorter than 20 minutes and longer than 4–eight to ten is usually the sweet spot!), email staff(at)wesleying(dot)org with your name, major, workspace/carrel number, and times you can meet before April 19th.
Hold onto your hats for this whirlwind of a ride after the jump!
Anthony Sertel Dean ‘17 THEA/MUSC major, thesis in both, no carrel (but #1 on the waitlist!)
Working title: “Well, my advisors keep shutting down my titles, so I’m now back to the original one I first started with: “Who Is Listening: [Catchy Title About Hold Music and Performativity Here].”
On his topic: “My topic is Music on Hold; the whole system of when there are too many people calling into a place, they give you music to listen to and it’s so lovely, and everyone loves it… which is not true, everyone–well, not everyone–most people are very annoyed by it, and so I was interested to see what happens to music in that context. When music is so frequently causing an annoyance or taking the place of a wall keeping you from where you want to be, looking at the performance of what happens to music in that context, when it’s not listened to and just exists as noise. It’s really fun.”
On how he thought of his topic: “Last February, so February 2016, I was in Fauver, and we were trying to watch something on TV… it was the Super Bowl! We were trying to watch the Super Bowl on the TV, but the audio for our Roku wasn’t working and so we were freaking out. So I was like, ‘Okay, don’t worry, I’ll call Roku customer support.’ And so I called Roku customer support and I was on hold for about half an hour, and I loved it! The music was so good! I was just dancing around our living room and having such a great time. At the time I was planning on doing a music thesis, doing like and ethnography and just an in-depth study of this vocal ensemble called Room Full of Teeth (which is performing at Wesleyan next year and they’re so good and I’m so jealous I’m not gonna be here for that!). They’re great, and I was really excited to do my research on contemporary vocal techniques in a study on Room Full of Teeth, but then after being on hold for half an hour, I couldn’t not… my world was changed! Cause people don’t really think about this music, and when you get thinking about it, it’s so fascinating! It’s so pervasive in everyday life, very outside of an art context and a music context, but still is music, but doesn’t really serve as music for enjoyment. And so the more I got thinking about it… well at first I threw out, ‘That would be so silly if I did this,’ and the more I started thinking about it I was like, ‘I need to do this!’”
On his progress: “Definitely for, well I guess for both of my majors, my performance element was a lot earlier than most people. I did it the first weekend back on campus [after winter break], so February 3rd through… *gestures at the poster for his thesis performance* 3, 4, 5, that’s the poster for it right there. ‘RESISTENTIALISM,’ which is a word that means a spiteful behavior enacted by inanimate objects, which might be how people feel, phones playing hold music may act in a spiteful manner. So that was really great, I had all of the break to work on it. A lot of my time in the fall was spent planning this whole thing. It went through so many iterations. At some point over the summer I had a whole budget outlined for spending hundreds of dollars on neon tubes to fill Russell House–or I think it was originally gonna be in the chapel but I realized it needed to be in Russell House just for the feel of the space, and just, it worked so well. So I spent a lot of time and then really last semester was really knocking out and researching and getting a really good understanding on the history of music on hold as a medium, because the original patent for an on-hold messaging system was not created until 1962, the patent was filed in 1966. So it really didn’t happen til the later part of the 20th century. So really getting a good foundation on how it works, how music on hold works, and just also calling so many places. On my lunch breaks on Mondays and Wednesdays first semester I would just call places. I called places like United Airlines and Netflix and just a bunch of different places to hear the variety of music on hold. And there is a significant variety! But it also all sounds like music on hold, it has a certain quality to it. And through writing all my music and organizing all the sound design for my installation, I feel like now I can hold-music-ify any song. The installation was 15 telephones placed throughout Russell House and each had it’s own audio signal which was music in the style of music on hold that I composed with intermittent messages kind of poking fun at the whole nature of music on hold as well, so like, taking your tropes of, ‘The next customer available will be with you shortly,’ and other things. There was one point every 30 minutes where all the phones in the space would ask, ‘Do you want to be on this call?’ which was silly. There was one phone that’s only musical content was popular songs that I just made sound like music on hold. There was that hit Cyndi Lauper tune, ‘Time After Time.’ I’m trying to remember what all the other ones were, it was a while ago… There was ‘Time After Time,’ oh, *sings* ‘You’re beautiful’ whatever that song was, is it someone named James… Blunt! It was James Blunt. There were five different songs that looped between, ‘Every Breath You Take,’ whatever that Police song is, yeah, it was really silly. The installation, this whole project is so goofy! Like who needs to do academic, critical research on this really goofy medium? But I really love it! *laughs* But there really is no other research being… like, in a way, this is groundbreaking work, just because no one has talked about it outside of like, commercial research. The only research on music on hold that has been done is really just companies trying to figure out, ‘How can we improve customer support, and how can we make more money off of this? What can we do to make people buy things?’ And really, a lot of studies have found that it’s not musical. Like, there are these big corporations that provide music on hold, there’s Mood Music which is probably the biggest ‘sensory marketing,’ they have their fingers in a lot of things. They actually just purchased Muzak, the company, in 2012 after Muzak went bankrupt. But there are these organizations that promote messages about your company. It’s weird. Especially because ever since the internet came into play, the internet coming into play has really messed things up for music on hold, cause people call places less and they just go on the internet. Also, Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VOIP, you’re able to do a lot more with your messaging; instead of having to wait on hold, you can have it automatically call you back once there’s a representative available. So there’s kind of a diminishing impact of music on hold on everyday life. We’re kind of at the boundary right now where there is a decline of it in the everyday soundscape, but everyone knows what it sounds like.”
On his current mental state: “Current? Like this week? Oh boy! This week’s been a good one. So like the last three days I’ve been working straight 9-5, and I mean 9 AM to 5 AM *laughs* Yeah, so it’s been good, yeah, it’s been great. I’m in a lot of pushes like getting the writing done, just trying to get everything all squared away. Because I’ve had since the first week of spring break, I finished a draft of my paper, but no one ever teaches you how to edit something that’s this long. So just learning to edit this huge piece of writing has been a challenge, and right now my most recent working file is just so many red marks all over everything on Word. It’s kind of a mess, but hopefully will be cleaned up this weekend… by hopefully I mean please god it needs to be cleaned up this weekend! *laughs*”
On his most traumatic thesis experience: “I don’t like have… oh… no, that’s just mean to my advisor, also like in the nicest, well, not the nicest… My music advisor Paula Matthusen, I look forward to my meetings with her every single week, cause it’s so lovely, she always has tea and we go over this and just talk about things… I mean, the first semester, when I didn’t have a lot of writing to edit we’d just talk about music on hold in abstraction for an hour, and it’s just really fun! But there was one time I brought in my writing, and granted it was not a great thing that I had written for that week, and she just tore it to pieces and it felt so bad. *laughs* But it deserved, I deserved, that writing really deserved to be torn to pieces. But traumatic? The installation was just so easy because I had a month here just working alone over break. I came back one of the first days in January and I gave myself an entire month just to work on this project, which you never really have time to do at this school, just commit one month, do one thing. If anyone wants to do a performance element of a thesis, I’m all for doing it right after break because you have that whole chunk of time to just do that. And also everyone else, all those theater majors and music majors who are doing their performance elements now, they’re freaking out because they want to spend all of their time on the performance, but they also have a huge paper to write, and they just can’t divide up that energy. After my installation was done, I just kind of collapsed for two days, it just took so much out of me. So maybe that’s… no, nothing really traumatic, that’s my answer to your question.”
Favorite form of procrastination: “I guess I have to say baking. I started growing a sourdough started a few weeks ago, I’ve been baking a lot of bread, making donuts, cupcakes, cakes… yeah, it’s really nice. I think, yeah, it has to be baking. But it’s not procrastination, it’s to make sure I don’t have a mental breakdown. If it’s procrastination, probably, Pintrest. [michelle: So you’re basically just a middle-aged housewife?] Yeah, that’s the goal *laughs*”
On his plans for April 19th: “Continuing in that baking vein, I’m planning on opening up a bakery from my kitchen. [michelle: Like the pop up that happened last year?] Yeah, I didn’t know about it, and now I keep on telling people and they’re like, ‘Oh, like that thing?’ and I’m like, ‘Psh, yeah, I guess so.’ I also, there’s this book that my advisor just gave me called Information Arts by Steven Wilson, where I saw this picture and I’m just like, ‘Wow, I’m unoriginal.’ Just an array of telephones. Damn. Someone had this idea before me. Well, it’s a very different piece… Yeah, so baking, and opening up a bakery from my kitchen to sell baked goods. Because as much as I love theater and music, my true passion is baking! No that’s not true! *laughs* That’s not true at all, I just like baking and people, and I can’t eat everything that I bake, so if I sell it to other people, then that’ll be fun. *laughs*”
Advice for future thesis writers: “Yeah, don’t do a performance when you’re writing a thesis! That’s so difficult! Who would do that???”
On his favorite part of his thesis: “It’s made me realize how interesting arts research is. Like I didn’t really think about art research before this project. It’s something that’s really, it’s a lovely field. And I never really understood, like, we have an ethnomusicology PhD program at this school and I was always like, ‘I don’t get it, what’s the importance of that? Ethnomusicology? More like schmethnoschmusicology! Doesn’t matter!” But it’s so fascinating! And this is what I’m really interested in and why I’m a music major. I do like writing music, which is a good thing to be a music major, but also just looking at music from a social and cultural standpoint is a super valid approach for looking at music. Because music doesn’t just exist as notes, it exists within social and cultural perspectives. So I think that’s really what I’ve gotten out of it, especially in this super-mediated medium. This is not music just as music, this is music used expressly as a commercial tool, so it only lives in context.”
On if his thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “Oh, I mean I guess it has to be Opus No. 1 by Tim Carleton, the most widespread piece of music on hold! Oh my gosh, it’s soooo tacky! But I feel like I’m obligated to say that. If I had to pick, the other obligation is Roku customer support music is the other one. I think the best music I’ve heard in my research has been from different DMVs across the country. Some DMVs have some really great tunes! I guess I’d say Roku customer support music sums it up pretty well, though.”
Zachariah Ezer ‘17 PHIL major, thesis in General Studies, carrel #306
Working Title: “The title is ‘Aporia! A Tale of Rhetoric and Philosophy.’”
On his topic: “The decreased role of dialogical philosophy, and mediating cultural conflict through art.”
On how he thought of his topic: “I was in Philosophical Classics I taught by Dr. Tushar Irani and he’s one of those professors who wants philosophy to be relevant to today’s kids, so he said something when we were reading the Gorgias, ‘Think of socratic debates as rap battles,’ and I took it maybe too literally.”
On his progress: “It’s been long. I’ve been working on this–actually, it’s been two years I’ve been working on this, we’re coming up on the second anniversary, it’s like about a week after the show goes up. So I’ve been working on the show for almost two years with my composer Eli Maskin ‘17. We did a year of writing, and then last semester we did a full-read through, and this semester is a full production where we’ve got all of our current people.”
On his current mental state: “The kind of delirious that you are when you haven’t slept in a really long time, but you did what you needed to do, so you’re okay.”
On his most traumatic thesis experience: “Trying to get the venue, for sure. That was a nightmare. Got rejected from at least a dozen places, had words with Dean Mike Whaley about potentially going up in Beta, and then getting him to give me a space in the Malcolm X House basement. Shouts to Malcolm X House, thanks for putting us up.”
Favorite form of procrastination: “Watching garbage sitcoms. I’m watching Schitt’s Creek right now; it is… as bad as you think it is.
Advice for future thesis writers: “Start early. It didn’t help me, but it could theoretically help you.”
On his favorite part of his thesis: “Working on the production. Working with our director, Miranda Hoyt-Disick ‘19, working with all the actors, the creative team has been a wonderful experience.”
On if his thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “I mean if it were a song, it would probably be the soundtrack of the musical Aporia!”
On his most used word/phrase: “Allosensus, which is instead of consensus, where you either agree or disagree, allosensus is where you recognize the other person, don’t necessarily agree with them, but recognize their right to a different opinion.”
On any questions he wished we asked: “When’s it going up? Good question! April 14th, 15th, and 16th in Malcolm X House Basement! 7 on Friday, 7 on Saturday, 2 on Sunday!”
On his plans for April 19th: “Take a champagne bath.”