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June 2011 Archives

June 3, 2011

Signal to noise

In defense of the cassette tape.

By Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93


Readers of a certain age, perhaps you, like me, still have a small selection of cassette tapes in your possession, which you hang onto for sentimental reasons. Mine are from high school (U2, Under a Blood Red Sky) and the period between college and graduate school, when I was traveling (Nirvana, Nevermind, and Sugar, Copper Blue). Not to mention the mixtapes made for me by random boys trying to improve my musical tastes, and their chances.

Ah, cassettes. Getting caught in the spools of your cassette player. Melting if you forgot them in the car on a hot day. Forcing you to rewind or fast-forward if you disliked a particular song. And distorting if you rewound or fast-forwarded them too much.

For years, these plastic leftovers have seemed ancient and a little embarrassing—the inferior products of an inferior age. No more. Cassette owners of the world, rise up, for tapes have become trendy—even though they were never particularly trendy before. Eric Hanss, ’11, who serves as program manager of WHPK and runs his own cassette-tape label, Field Studies, explains.

QandA_QDrop.jpgDefend the cassette to me.
QandA_ADrop.jpgAll right.
The cassette is great on a lot of different fronts. For people in the do-it-yourself, underground music scene, there is a long historical usage of cassettes as a revolutionary medium, going back to the late 1970s. When people couldn’t afford to press LPs, they’d use cassettes.
A lot of experimental and underground music and noise has been on cassettes for forever. So people see a cassette and there’s instantly a connection with an earlier time. There’s a grad student in the anthropology department [Brian Horne, AM'04] who’s writing his dissertation on folk music that was banned in the Soviet Union. These tapes were dubbed and dubbed and dubbed, to the point where you couldn’t hear anything on the tape at all. You’d have a 12th-generation tape circulating. But everyone already knew the lyrics, so the point was moot. What you could hear is every single person in the chain being in contact with you.

Eric Hanss

Cassettes make great art objects. They’re substantial. They’re the perfect size for really cool, small-scale graphic designs. They’re also the perfect size to trade with people or just give to someone. It feels good to have a cassette in your hand. Cassettes are so cheap that you can sell a cassette on tour for $5 and make some money to get to the next town. A cassette is the price of a beer at a club, so it makes a lot of sense.
And then personally, I really like the sonic aspect of them. The lows are boosted, the highs are clipped. There’s a noise floor, the cassette hiss, so instead of having a clean stereo space, there’s something different and weird going on. There’s a space to the medium itself that it imposes on the music.
So that’s why I really like cassettes. For the past couple years I’ve done mostly cassette-only shows.
QandA_QDrop.jpg Really?
QandA_ADrop.jpg Yeah. For the past year, more and more DJs have been bringing cassettes. A lot of music that’s really great, that really fits in with the do-it-yourself punk-rock thing that we have going on at WHPK, is starting to be only released on cassette.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat kind of music do you release?
QandA_ADrop.jpgField Studies releases underground experimental sound that engages with the broad concept of imagined space or spaces. Much of the music could be classified as drone, meditation music, inner journeys, or sound art. I’m primarily interested in non-narrative music that provides a tableau on which the listener can project their imagination or engage with the sonic space of the content.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhen did you get started?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThe very first Field Studies release came out in the summer of 2009 as a benefit tape. The label has only been highly active since the fall of 2010. I’ve put out five cassettes and one CD-R since then. I have six slated for release in late May and late June.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHow many bands are on your label?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI’ve done releases by eight different performers/groups so far: Astronaut, Faceworker, Cloaked Light, White Prism, 56K, Slag Heap, Lunar Miasma, and Quicksails. I have releases coming from Bil Vermette, Brett Naucke, Panabrite, Agnes, Dolphins into the Future, and Ultradome.
There are no bands “on” Field Studies, save perhaps Floating Gardens, which is my solo project. I am currently weighing how I would like to handle repeat appearances by the artists on Field Studies, if at all. Many artists have multiple recording aliases that are each a different facet of that individual’s output, or they play in different combos with other performers.
Many cassette labels are not run in the same way conventional labels are. Every single artist I’ve worked with thus far (and all of the artists I’m currently working with) runs their own label. Most agreements are done by word of mouth. The New Age scene is especially close knit, so this process generally involves asking friends or new acquaintances if they would be interested in doing a tape. There are no contracts. Field Studies operates in this way.
QandA_QDrop.jpgIs this something you plan on doing for the long term?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI plan to release cassettes for the long term under the no-profit business model. Whether that is with Field Studies, I don’t know.
Like many other cassette labels, Field Studies is designed under a specific mission. I currently have projects for two sub-labels in the works, as I’m afraid that Field Studies is falling into a trap that I’ve seen other labels fall into. I’m personally not interested in running Field Studies as a standard label with increasingly active promotion and visibility. While I do want the artists I work with to succeed and reach broader audiences, I don’t want cassettes to become generic commodities.
The sub-labels allow me to work creatively with the idea of what a label identity is.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHow many copies of recordings have you sold, and for how much per cassette?
QandA_ADrop.jpgEvery release is printed in an edition of 45-100. I have 25 copies total remaining from my last two batches. The retail price for each cassette is $7, but some are sold at lower distribution prices to record stores, while many others are traded, given away, or sold at live shows for less. All told, 500 have passed through my hands in one way or another.
Cassettes photo CC BY-SA 2.0 by Alberto Garcia; portrait of Hanss by Aaron Opie.

June 7, 2011

Alumni Weekend in review

Already ready to relive Alumni Weekend 2011? Check out photos posted to Facebook or view the photos submitted to our Flickr group in the embedded slideshow below.

Enrico Fermi and the time capsule of doom

The cornerstone's contents revealed!

By Benjamin Recchie, AB'03

opening the time capsule

pamphletsLast Thursday Dean of the Physical Sciences Robert Fefferman presided over the public opening of the time capsule that Enrico Fermi placed in the cornerstone of the Research Institutes building 62 years ago. In front of a crowd of students, faculty, alumni, and a few TV news crews, emeritus physics professors Riccardo Levi-Setti and Roger Hildebrand opened the capsule to reveal:

  • University of Chicago directory

  • University of Chicago announcements (i.e., class schedules) from 1948

  • Architect’s sketch of the Research Institutes building

  • Booklet: “The New Frontier of Industry—Atomic Research"

  • Booklet: “The Institute for Nuclear Studies, The Institute for the Study of Metals, The Institute of Radiobiology and Biophysics”

  • Timetables for several airlines (United, Capital, BOAC, Trans Canada, American, and TWA) and railroads (Union Pacific, New York Central)

  • Mobilgas road map of Indiana

  • List of postdoctoral fellows, Institute of Radiobiology and Biophysics, 1948-49

  • Buffalo nickel from 1927, which wasn't in the time capsule proper but rather alongside it in the cornerstone

Buffalo nickelThere was some prestidigitation involved in the time-capsule opening. The June 2 event was just the public opening of the capsule; the Physical Sciences Division had already opened the box and examined the contents a few weeks beforehand. (It was good thing too, because the capsule had been welded shut and required a good 30 minutes to cut open). The commonplace nature of the time capsule's contents were baffling; more than one person at the public opening observed that it looked as if Fermi had been given 15 minutes to come up with items and simply emptied the bottom drawer of his desk. Nevertheless, the crowd gathered around the memorabilia after the event; the material will eventually be displayed in the new William Eckhardt Research Center.

In my previous post, I promised U of C swag to anyone who guessed the capsule's contents correctly. We got a lot of responses, but let me examine just a few in detail:

"An atomic bomb."


Fortunately, no. If the PSD got its own A-bomb, then all of the other divisions would want one too.

"Almost certainly, he'd have included a chunk of graphite from the pile. Gimme my UC swag."

—Richard Ehrlich

Almost certainly no.

"My guess about my grandfather's time capsule: His little slide rule (we have his other slide rule) and/or something to do with early computers. My brother Paul's guess is more humorous—he thought perhaps Enrico invented a cell phone and put it in the time capsule instead of announcing it at the time. LOL"

—Olivia Fermi

An educated guess from someone who might actually know! A little-known fact about Enrico Fermi is that he did in fact build an early analog computer, dubbed FERMIAC. But, no swag for the Fermi siblings.

"Laura Fermi's meatball recipe?!!! I can't decide if this comment is more offensive because of the sexism or the ethnic stereotype. Did Roman Jews even eat Neapolitan meatballs? Mrs. Fermi published six nonfiction books, some of which are still in print. If her writings were preserved in the cornerstone, I'm sure it would be something more significant than domestic advice."

—Tony Mayo

First of all, as an Italian American myself, I was very much looking forward to eating the polpetti that could inspire a man to discover beta decay. Second, my association of Mrs. Fermi with food comes from when I worked in the RI: the canteen was named for her and included a photograph of her baking. (Also, for the record, although Laura was indeed Jewish, Enrico was not.) However, Olivia Fermi did set me straight on one thing: her grandmother's signature dish was not meatballs but rigatoni. Mea culpa.

"Contents of the time capsule:
  • Superman comic book

  • U of Chicago course catalog

  • Restaurant menu

  • Daily newspaper; either the Sun Times or the Tribune

  • Copy of The Physical Review

  • Slide rule

  • Fountain pen
These are my guesses."

—Michael J. Harrison

We have a winner! For correctly guessing the course catalog, Mike wins a bit of swag.

"The recipe for cold fusion."

—Drew Sokol

Presumably not Laura Fermi's recipe for cold fusion. Besides, everyone knows Romans serve their fusion hot.

Photos by Jason Smith.

June 10, 2011

Hire the humanists

Seven alumni share tips for finding a job in a tough market.

By Elizabeth Station


Even before the economy tanked, humanities graduates had no predictable career path. At Alumni Weekend, the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities (MAPH) brought back seven alumni to prove the point.

Speakers at the Alumni in Unexpected Places panel included a winemaker and a filmmaker, a union organizer, design and financial services executives, and staffers from educational nonprofits. They shared their professional stories with current MAPH students and recent grads. When someone asked, “How the hell do you get a job right now?” they offered this advice:

Play up—and prove—your writing skills.
Humanities grads know how to write; that’s an advantage. But applicant pools are too crowded for the sloppy to survive. When Justine Nagan, AM’04, executive director of Kartemquin Films, sees typos in a job candidate’s cover letter, it goes to the bottom of the pile.
Volunteer or be an intern.
If there isn’t a paid position in your dream organization, work for free (sigh). You’ll have an inside track when a job opens up. Consider working overseas—after graduate school, Austin Gilkeson, AM’04, spent two years teaching English on a remote Japanese island. He’s now the education and exchange coordinator at the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago.
Tell everyone you’re looking for a job.
Share your story with anyone who will listen, says Starr Marcello, AM’04, director of operations for the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself. As you develop a 30-second elevator pitch, focus on what you can do for a potential employer today.
Highlight your quirks—those oddities that make you memorable.
Suzanne Gallo, AM’02, a project manager for Discover Financial Services, is also a competitive figure skater. She says the little picture of skates she put on her résumé got mentioned in almost every job interview.
Don’t apologize for a diverse skill set.
Humanities grads often have eclectic backgrounds. “Being a hybrid, being able to see things from multiple perspectives, is good,” says Adam Richardson, AM’97, assistant vice president for strategy and marketing at frog, a global design firm. “Companies are trying to break down silos.”
Be open to veering from your imagined path.
A humanities education trains people to be flexible. David McIntire, AM’04, studied philosophy and Hindu mythology; he’s now a winemaker in Napa Valley. Carlos Fernandez, AM’03, a former film student, works as a labor organizer with the American Federation of Teachers.

The event kicked off the program's 15th anniversary celebration on June 3. Later that day, six other MAPH graduates shared their original writing and tales from the job front at an alumni writers panel. More information is available on the afterMAPH website.

From left: Gallo, Gilkeson, Nagan, Marcello, McIntire, Fernandez, and Richardson.

Photo by Drew Reynolds.

June 13, 2011

Welcome new alumni

Magazine photographer Dan Dry and Kyle Gorden, AB'00, share their pictures from the 507th Convocation festivities on campus last Saturday, June 11.

June 17, 2011

Beyond patients

While their children are treated at Comer Children's Hospital, some families go without food. Medical students established a program to help.

By Jason Kelly

Hospital food has a bad reputation, but it’s better than nothing—and that’s not just a figure of speech. Some families of patients at Comer Children’s Hospital do not have the means to eat. They go hungry while their sick kids undergo treatment. “It has serious consequences on the families’ ability to contribute as fully as they would like to their children’s care,” says medical student Robert Stern.

Stern heard about the problem two years ago as part of the Pritzker School of Medicine’s health-care disparities course. Stacy Lindau, AM’02, presented her wide-ranging South Side Health and Vitality Studies and mentioned the Comer problem. It sounded like an issue worth exploring for a class research project.

Along with classmate Dan Thorngren, Stern organized the Comer Food Project, one of several student programs that have emerged from the course to address inequality in medical care. Monica Vela, MD’93, who developed the health-care disparities curriculum, liked their idea but didn’t think it would work. “It’s too difficult; the red tape is too much,” she thought. “Why would the nurses and social workers want extra work to do?”

To navigate the hospital bureaucracy, the students felt they had to emphasize their enthusiasm for more than just a good grade: “to really demonstrate that, although we are students, we’re committed enough to the project to see it through and make it the best it can be,” Stern says. Working with Comer chaplain Karen Hutt, the students found ample support from the staff to establish the program.

After a few months of planning—with $1,000 from a community organization, can openers from Whirlpool, and paper bags from Whole Foods—they stocked a closet in the Comer chapel with food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Distribution began in February 2010 with four to five bags per week.

Since then the project has grown, with $7,000 from the hospital and the University’s Urban Health Initiative, serving 625 families in 15 months. That’s about ten percent of the families at Comer, Stern says, “but if you look at the rates of food insecurity on the South Side, the numbers are much higher than ten percent.”

That tells Stern the program has to increase its reach at the hospital. Determining who receives food is mostly a matter of intuition and observation. “We know we’re missing people,” Stern says, so the group is working on a short survey that nurses or social workers can incorporate into discussions with families to identify those in need.

A first-year Pritzker requirement, the health-care disparities course where the Comer Food Project originated encourages students to develop solutions to problems that afflict poor communities. Mammography access and nutrition education are among the other programs that students have created. To Stern, the importance of the course comes from its emphasis beyond the science of medicine.

“It says that there’s more to understanding health than the disease process,” he says. “We can be the best doctors we can at curing disease processes, but that, in and of itself, is not going to bring health to the communities we’re serving.”

Join the discussion. Leave a comment on our Facebook page about the Comer Food Project and other medical student outreach projects.

Photo of Karen Hutt inside the food storage closet is courtesy Pritzker Pulse.

June 28, 2011

Under the dome

The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, in blog form.

By Katherine Muhlenkamp and Benjamin Recchie, AB’03

You’ve probably read a lot lately about the University’s domed robo-library, but the odds are good that you haven't had a chance to tour it in person yet. We at UChiBLOGo present this virtual tour, based on an actual tour we took on a ridiculously cold May morning with David Borycz, special projects librarian.

Starting in the Joseph Regenstein Library, we walked across the glass bridge to Mansueto. We entered the Grand Reading Room and gazed up at the sunlit, elliptical dome, composed of 691 glass panels buoyed by steel supports. The long wooden tables feature task lighting, outlet power, laptop locking bars, and seating for 180 people. During our visit on an ordinary end-of-year day, every seat was full.

Descending five stories below the reading room floor, the automated shelving has the capacity to hold a whopping 3.5 million volumes. (By comparison, the entire Regenstein was designed to hold 5 million.) It takes only a few minutes to process a patron’s request for a book stored there, said Borycz, meaning you can request an item from a computer on the Reg's main floor, walk over the bridge to Mansueto, and find your material waiting for you at the circulation desk when you arrive.

Two units of the preservation department—digitization and conservation—have new space on the north side of Mansueto (binding remains in the Regenstein). The digitization space is equipped with an overhead scanner, flat-head scanners, and a digital photo lab. The conservation area boasts a fume hood (pictured above), which removes fumes from chemicals used in the restoration process.

Crossing back into the Reg, Borycz pointed out the intricately crafted, lead silhouette printers’ marks lining a hallway wall. The trademarks, Borycz explained, are part of the R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company Archive, a gift to the University made in 2005 and 2007. They represent influential printers, publishers, typographers, and designers from the 15th through the 20th centuries. This silhouette is the mark of Daniel Berkeley Updike, who established Merrymount Press in 1893. The piece depicts Thomas Morton’s maypole of Merrymount, with six young people dancing around a pole and a banner that carries the Updike family motto, Optimum Vix Satis ("The best is hardly enough").

Facing the printers’ marks is a new, glass-walled exhibition space for the Special Collections Research Center. Building the walkway between the Reg and Mansueto necessitated rehabbing Special Collections' space in the former building.

Inside the gallery sit unassuming wooden benches with a special provenance: they were made from the wood of a tree cut down to make way for Mansueto (A few of the luckier trees were moved elsewhere on campus).

For more images, see the University of Chicago Library’s Mansueto albums on Flickr. This video explains the automated retrieval system.

Join the discussion. Leave a comment on our Facebook page about the new Mansueto Library.

Photos by Benjamin Recchie, AB’03; fume hood photo courtesy Cheryl Rusnak; Special Collections photo courtesy Jason Smith/University of Chicago News Office.

About June 2011

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in June 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

May 2011 is the previous archive.

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