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The pervasive social presence of the mobile phone and ringtone over the past half decade has not remained unregistered in global cultural production. Cell phones have appeared as central accessories or narrative devices in recent Hollywood thrillers like Collateral and Cellular and the Chinese film comedy Cell Phone [ 94 ].
In the case of the former, orchestral musicians including composers of new orchestral works and innovative conductors have attempted to integrate cell phones and ringtone melodies into their compositions, either as bids to make their work more current and socially relevant or to ironically distance themselves from contemporary social phenomena. In most of these cases, ringtones are mostly novelty effects, often directly poking fun at audience members whose ringtones have interrupted concerts on other occasions.
Operating within a somewhat different artistic framework, new media artists have found ways of exploiting the technologies of cell phones and ringtones more directly through installations and interactive works. In all cases, these works use mobile handsets as objects in their works, often requiring corporate funding and sponsorship by mobile phone manufacturers and wireless providers.
These works for the most part serve to promote mobile telephony and even particular companies, often explicitly at corporate and technological expositions. Among such works include an installation by Nokia Finland at the Hanover Exposition in , in which Nokia phones were affixed to a wall with a painted tree backdrop and were themselves painted like birds, periodically sounding birdsongs as ringtones.
Perhaps this was an attempt to naturalize the handsets and the sounds they produce, although it also may have been reference to the often reported story that birds have been increasingly imitating cellphone ringtones [ ]. The intended effect is to give the gallery visitor or concert listener a sense of agency in the process of experiencing an installation or performance, and interacting audiences are often absolutely necessary to the existence and success of these works.
A representative example of such an interactive work is Handywolke or Cellphone Cloud, by Peter Hrubesch and Dirk Scherkowski, which was installed at the Berlin Communication Museum and partially funded by Siemens Mobile. Such artworks might seem more reminiscent of displays at science and technology museums, in which children are meant to interact with the display and perhaps each other by pressing a few buttons.
Among the best publicized of such works is a collaborative effort titled Dialtones: Levin worked in collaboration with several musicians and programmers, most notably electronic musician Scott Gibbons of the electronica groups Lillith and Strawberry and sound sculptor Gregory Shakar.
The technical requirements of the multimedia work were extraordinarily complicated, working on three levels. Second, Levin and Shakar manipulated onstage graphical user interfaces live onstage. The interfaces allowed each person to activate groups of cellphones in the audience, who were organized into a large grid, by touching an image of a grid on a computer screen.
Third, the team of technicians led by Yasmin Sohrawardy worked out a complicated switchboard mechanism. The audience and light effects were in turn reflected by a huge six meters x 12 meters angled mirror, which was hung towards the front of the stage.
The opening of the recording of Dialtones Staalplaat STCD , begins with the sound of a single cell phone ringer, drawing laughs from the audience. With the commencement of the first section, we hear the growth of phone ringer and ringtone textures that are reminiscent of forest soundscapes, replete with imitations of birds and insects.
Around 1: Around 3: The music grows a bit more dissonant as the section continues, and a new ostinato pattern ultimately appears 5: After a series of repeated note figures 0: Eventually drumming sounds around 4: A new ostinato appears 5: The music intensifies to a significant pitch around 7: The music decays for the next two minutes, ending with a single phone ringer. We might interpret the visual, sonic, and technical references of Dialtones in three ways.
First, the music in combination with the visual effects seems to evoke a kind of atomized connectedness associated with global digital communications. The work proceeds by portraying the intensifying conflicts between nature and human society, the potential catastrophes of which are hinted at, but never represented, towards the end of the piece [ ].
And with the previously mentioned reports that birds have learned to imitate ringtones and that birdsongs are popular as ringtones, the actual conflicts between nature and capitalist technology are yet further mystified [ ]. Third, the technical setup of the piece hints at a particularly ominous aspect of cellular technology.
Although the narrative themes in Dialtones might in some ways seem profound, its means could also be seen as inflated, gimmicky, and highly contingent upon corporate sponsorship [ ]. More modest cellphone and ringtone works have been created that are often able to project equally powerful ideas and aesthetic experiences while still remaining relatively independent of the advertising role that big budget works must often play.
The store has been a powerful symbol of the most utopian meaning of Internet art: One work by Craighead and Thomson elegantly investigates the ideologies of the cell phone in ways similar to Dialtones and other interactive ringtone works. Visitors to their installation Telephony are encouraged to dial the numbers of Nokia cell phones arranged in a grid on the wall. As the phones are dialed, they are programmed to dial each other in turn, and a massed texture built from the familiar Nokia Tune results.
Of course, the point here is not to choose between the two works, but merely to point out their differences, both obvious and subtle. With the appearance of later forms of the ringtone, one might argue that something is lost in exchange for the greater fidelity that appears. The abstracted, now quaint sounds of the monophonic ringtone were distinctive enough to merit artistic treatment on their own as new phenomena. But perhaps this move away from the peculiar and unique monophonic ringtone recapitulates a broader, parallel shift within the twentieth century from the verbal to the visual, as Perry Anderson has noted [ ].
The trajectory of the cell phone, a fundamentally auditory device, seems to be drifting into the realm of the visual. In retrospect, the years after the decline of the monophonic ringtone may come to be seen as initiating a line of development in which the cell phone approached its ultimate status as a primarily visual device.
Its aesthetic merits and artistic potential notwithstanding, the ringtone is very often understood as a form of noise [ ]. These disruptions, caused by the spectacular increase in global mobile telephony beginning in the early s, are among the most discussed and debated aspects of cell phone culture. Performance spaces in particular have become highly contested battlegrounds, in which cell phone users struggle to keep their phones from ringing, thereby avoiding unnecessary interruptions of performances or arousing the ire of fellow patrons.
Here we find angry outbursts in concerts by patrons in response to audience noise, which in many cases is ironically the sounding of a classical music ringtone [ ].
The reactions to these disturbances have ranged from reasonable to extreme. With slightly more severity, some owners of public spaces like restaurants and even bars have demanded that cell phone owners use their phones outside, along with increasingly in the United States smokers [ ]. For the most part, these reactions have remained within the realm of courtesy, but in at least one case such restrictions have become part of city law. But perhaps the most extreme reaction to public ringing of cellphones has been the development of new surveillance and control technologies to detect and disable cell phones.
The legality of such devices is questionable, given that the airwaves as sound transmitters are public property, and justifications for their use have included both the irritations caused by ringing phones and the presence of unwanted or even illegal cell phone conversations [ ].
In England, such actions constitute an offense of tampering with communications systems, with the possible charge of up to 5, pounds in fines and six months in jail [ ]. Unwanted cell phone rings in public are one category of a number of cell phone uses that bystanders find insensitive, unpleasant, and even dangerous.
These uses might include: These shifts in social morays did not go unregistered. With cell phones becoming more popular worldwide, discussions of cell phone etiquette in newspapers and on Web sites and Weblogs were increasingly prominent. A Guide to the Changing World of Instant Communication, the first in a series of publications that attempted to codify a cell phone etiquette in response to inconsiderate behaviors created by mobile telepony [ ].
Such writings were by no means limited to the United States: Nokia produced its own Book of Mobile Manners, which circulated in Australia in and appeared in India in as part of a campaign to improve cellphone etiquette [ ].
For example, the dangerous compulsions of drivers to talk nonstop on the telephone, often resulting in fatal accidents, is well known [ ]. From the perspective of these societal developments, the ringtone might be seen either as an ameliorating device or as exacerbating some of these problems.
But for most people, the ringtone is an annoying jingle whose musical qualities only draw more attention to the cellphone. But in addition to altering or amplifying preexisting disruptions, the ringtone has also inspired new forms of offensive behavior. And although ringtone addiction does not seem to be clinically distinct from other putative forms of mobile phone addiction, several contributors to Weblogs somewhat jokingly describe themselves as ringtone addicts [ ].
The ringtone thus provides a mediating link between public and private for the user, demanding to be heard and silenced at once. Moreover, with the appearance of the sound file ringtone, the cellphone appears to be gradually transforming into an actual combination of the boom box and walkman, producing high quality soundfiles for both the public and, in a subtler way, as a gate to private conversation.
But if the present use of the ringtone appears to be weighted towards its presence as a public sound, towards the boom box, its future might lie more clearly in the private world, as a walkman. Indeed, cellphone users seem to have largely adjusted to the uncomfortable teething period of mobile phone boorishness and, in the case of many adults at least, now speak in low murmurs in public and listen to their phones and iPods on speaker headsets.
The foregoing discussions of some of the global cultural ramifications of the ringtone attempt to illustrate, from different perspectives, a small set of points. Second, the still ongoing shift from the earliest preset monophonic ringtones to the latest sound file ringtone the latter of which are being promoted heavily by the music industry has resulted in a number of minor upheavals in the ringtone industry and broader society.
These upheavals are not highly visible: Although these points and the previously outlined effects of the ringtone on society are somewhat illuminating, we would miss the historical significance of this new technology in global culture if we were to avoid synthesizing these cultural tendencies with the political economy of the ringtone industry, as described in the first part of this essay.
Hence, the desultory observations and tendencies described above might be placed in a more systematic framework that connects the economic aspects of the ringtone with its global cultural impact. The goal is then to map cultural phenomena onto these broader social tendencies. But it seems to me that, despite my emphasis on the economic and cultural aspects of the ringtone, an attempt to combine these in a Jamesonian fashion would also be to see the political in the economic or cultural [ ].
From the most immediate perspective, the ringtone is one of a number of fads or fashions associated with the cell phone. The political moment in such commodities is thus best characterized by the dialectic of reification and utopia present in all forms of mass cultural production [ ].
As a means of extracting wealth from consumers and keeping them occupied, the newest fads in mobile entertainment are mystifying forces. As symbols of the immediate accessibility of information and entertainment in the palm of the hand, however, they demonstrate a utopian quality that both helps to perpetuate their further consumption and yet points beyond the present social order [ ].
The ringtone and its companion mobile entertainment fashions, however, might be understood somewhat differently at a broader, conjunctural level. Consider, for example, the tendency of monopolies and oligopolies to decrease competitive production wherever possible and rely on more secure forms of accumulation, often acquired as a result of the demise of viable competitors.
One such reliable means of accumulation is rent, in which profits are assured by means of simply owning property and allowing others some form of use of that property for a fee. But if a classic example of the tendencies of such large monopolies might be company towns, in which capitalists also become rentiers as the landlords of employees, rent can appear in situations not tied to land or housing use.
These rentiers are then situated within a typical capitalist network of value producers and extractors. In the twentieth century, the perceived need for the enforcement of copyright laws for performances of copyrighted music led to the rise of licensing organizations that enforced the payment of royalty rent not only on sheet music but also on performances.
Cutting to the present, the case of the ringtone provides a rather extreme example of rentier control over a product. As described earlier, wireless companies also extract rent from ringtone providers by allowing those providers to use particular wireless networks. These rentier costs leave mobile entertainment providers, the capitalist organizations that produce the ringtones with a very small share of the surplus generated by ringtones, perhaps 20 percent as described above.
The relatively high profits of the ringtone raise the stakes of these forms of monopoly rentier control, which has impinged most heavily on mobile entertainment companies: The extra costs involved in placing what is exactly the same product a sound file in a different medium the cell phone as opposed to the Internet seem rather extreme and unwarranted. But they are certainly not accidental: The easily tracked and highly secure transactions of the mobile phone make it more favorable to bill collection for individual downloads of services [ ].
Unlike the Internet, where a longstanding culture of free service has predominated for some time, the cultural expectations of payment for service via phones are already in place. And, there are a vastly greater number of mobile users than Internet users, making the former much more potentially profitable on a global scale [ ].
Indeed, some software providers have already announced that they are developing rather complex applications for use and distribution via mobile networks instead of the Internet [ ]. In the case of the music industry, which was slow to get on the ball with digital communications and information technology, the stages of its reaction to the MP3 file have been: Although the file sharing lawsuits against individuals have ceased for the time being, the second and third strategies seem to have been somewhat successful in compensating for declining profits [ ].
The main social antagonism involved at this level of analysis, then, is the conflicting interests of music producers and consumers within the present neoliberal order. The former characterize the latter as engaging in outright property theft, while the latter draw on a long tradition of music sharing and claim that the inflated music industry is now rightfully reeling after failing to provide good products and squashing competition by monopolistic and underhanded means.
In the place of the music industry as it is currently constituted, many consumers believe in the possibility that independent record labels will continue to gain prominence in the short term and celebrate the existence of an independent online culture that extends beyond small record labels into online political collectives and informational sites, Weblogs, and news media such as indymedia.
Much of this online culture maintains a distinctly anarchist sensibility. Appearing during the long decline of American productive hegemony and concomitant rise of Japan and East Asia as competitive capital centers as early as the s, portable digital technologies in the form of miniaturized electronic devices became ubiquitous among the younger generational cohort in the s and were made possible by the new production techniques of integrated circuit design.
For what we have here is the simultaneous autonomization of consciousness inside a sonic bubble and the display of the autonomous self in the public, a strange dialectic present in a somewhat different form with the cell phone. Whereas the distinctive ringtone only heightens the display function of the object, the increasingly popular silent ringtone assigned to everyone except friends and family tightens the close kinship networks reinforced by mobile communication.
In these latter cases, one might perceive the different relation to the body within Japanese modernity, in which a certain distance from nature is typical and for which, in recent times, digital gadgets have compensated [ ].
The shell created by the Walkman or cell phone is not physical so much as affective, created by the learned ability to sink into the aural, visual, and tactile experience of the particular device and, in the case of the cell phone, its networks of communication.
If the measure of the global social impact of a particular culture, nation, or region would be the creation and spread of new cultural forms and practices beyond the geographic boundaries of their source, one might note the greater presence of Japan in the rest of the world after But the impact of Japan cannot be separated from the entire East Asian region, whose relative economic strength has variously shifted from Japan s to South Korea s before the crash and now to China at present.
Indicative of these economic and cultural tendencies, the ringtone industry has been highly significant in this region. Ringtone consumption is widespread throughout and profits remain incredibly high in Japan and South Korea, whereas the state control of the ringtone market has kept prices and profits low within China [ ]. But with the presence of massive social expenditures and rising development and consumption, often at the cost of human lives and the environment, China seems poised to become the predominant site of capital accumulation in the East Asian region, which in turn would attain economic dominance within the world system [ ].
It remains to be seen what new global cultural forms will arise as result of the specific cultural impact of China. In the face of a globalized and, in some ways, internalized Western ethnocentrism, in addition to linguistic barriers and relative cultural insularity, the production logics of this regional economy may function so as to keep newer Chinese cultural forms largely within the region, preventing their broader dissemination across the globe outside of diasporic communities for some time [ ].
Thanks to Brad Zutaut of Xingtone and Keith Nowak at Nokia for providing a great deal of information on ringtones during telephone interviews in May See Alexander Weheliye. Michael Bull and Les Back editors. The Auditory Culture Reader Oxford: Berg, , pp. Apparently the first among handset manufacturers to provide melodic rings, Nokia offered a list of newly composed and public domain melodies on their phones in MIDI was developed in the early s by synthesizer manufacturers especially Japanese companies like Yamaha and Roland in order to coordinate many different synthesizers in rock concerts.
Despite its numerous limitations, MIDI become the standard protocol for the transfer of digital instructions to electronic musical instruments. This Week in Consumer Electronics 9 February , p. Ringtones Market? The two major forms of music publishing royalties are mechanical and performance royalties. The former governs the mechanical reproduction of a particular musical composition in the form of sheet music or recording , whereas the latter covers performances of such music either scores or recordings in public spaces.
For example, in the small but growing U. Charts Co. Thanks to Hazel Carby for pointing out this recent development to me. A survey by Yankee Group revealed that 18 percent of mobile phone users are interested in ringtones. The NPD Group has claimed that teens between the ages of 13 and 17 have decreased spending on clothing by 10 percent in order to pay for electronics goods.
Strategy Analytics, a research firm in Boston, estimates U. The growing Chinese consumer goods market is another potential site for ringtone sales, the significance of which I discuss below. But media company TDK has produced a program called Fona Style that appears to combine file sharing and ringtone creation, seemingly on the model of Xingtone, and is now available in the U.
However, one facet of the Xingtone software that belies such a description is that it is designed to be used by only one computer and one phone, presumably owned by the same person. Further information on the company can be found at http: Much of the information here derives from an interview with Zutaut in May The company seems to have been founded in late , marketing itself as selling software for converting MP3 files to ringtones.
See Weheliye, pp. Information viewed online at http: See Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture: Penguin, , pp. Kazaa itself seems to adopt a similar perspective by promoting legal, licensed content available through the Web site while still defending its facilitation of free file sharing.
See http: As discussed an interview with Keith Nowak in May Whether or not Winsoar actually created the first ringtone company in the U. Instead, Winsoar appears here as a figure for a certain kind of enterprise, a small, independently owned and managed ringtone and mobile entertainment provider. Listing viewed at http: New Press, , p. Relatively little can be gleaned from the Web sites of Melodi Ltd. Leeds also notes that promotion through ringtones is fast becoming the norm for artists and that many artists have agreed to sell their music as ringtones after having resisted doing so like U2.
David Kirp editor. Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: Harvard University Press, , pp. See the discussion, for example, of a remarkable, but now defunct, Web site for posting remixes of songs by Bjork www.
Another Web site http: Viewed at http: The first phrase ends without the tonic note in the melody, thus closing with an imperfect authentic cadence, and the second phrase responds to this relatively inconclusive phrase ending by starting the same music again and finishing with the tonic note and tonic harmony or a perfect authentic cadence.
Thanks to Steven Rings for the information on the advertisements, which he watched while in Europe in Rings has also mentioned to me that several classical guitarists might be employed as ringtone composers and arrangers, given the obscurity of the Tarrega piece. Keith Nowak, spokesman for Nokia, recounted the dates and basic details of this history to me in a telephone interview in May The psychiatrist interviewed for the article was named Dr.
Glenn Wilson. See endnote 3. Uimonen, drawing on the work of T.
Change, Adaptation, and Survival New York: Schirmer, Carol Pub. Group, , esp. Schenker makes this point in a highly civilizationalist way, arguing that Western music before tonality was extremely primitive, in Harmony, Oswald Jonas editor , Elisabeth Mann Borgese translator Chicago: University of Chicago Press,  , pp. Schenker is a fascinating and contradictory figure. Thanks to Roman Ivanovitch for this reference.
Resounding Concerns Munich: Iudicium, , pp. University of Chicago Press, , pp. Thanks to Eric Drott for this reference. Oswald writes,. As Brad Zutaut noted to me, the history of video games is also being reproduced through the cell phone, with games like Snake repeating the technology of early video games like Pong.
In this case, Zutaut believes that the games are capitalizing on nostalgia value for older video game formats. Writing sometime in if not earlier , the author did not find ringtones appearing per se in the songs he examined.
The piece was premiered at Albert Hall on 25 July at the Proms; Andrew Motion wrote lyrics to the piece that were sung by a choir. Bach and J. The Music of Ringtones: Indeed, a long history of attempts to break barriers between artists and artworks would have to extend at least as far back as the work of John Cage and Fluxus, then moving through the sound installations of the s and beyond, which were direct precursors to the works described above.
Crucial in this history is the development of interaction not only with other artists or performers but with technologies like sound recordings, etc. The timbral limitations of the phone help to blend the different elements of the performance sonically, and the results are surprisingly effective. This information and most of the foregoing facts were available at http: At the site, Moody offers some trenchant criticisms of the piece and Levin responds with thoughtful comments.
See Uimonen, pp.
See Attali, Noise: University of Minnesota Press, , esp. An Essay in the Philosophy of Music Oxford: Some cellphone firms are even tying up with niche groups, such as the Art of Living Foundation and International Society for Krishna Consciousness Iskon to offer regular content and advice to worshippers.
Others are gaining sponsorships from temples and churches to send messages of faith. In many ways, the marketing tactics cater to the ever busier lives of Indians who still want to be able to pray wherever they are—and, these days, many Indians, at least in cities and towns, are rarely without their mobiles. Users also say they like being able to send meaningful messages to friends, adding that most of them could benefit from digital doses of philosophy and gospel, to deal with the problems of life, work and family.
Demand and customer traffic spikes around religious festivals and dips in between, said Mahesh Prasad, who heads value-added services at Reliance Communications Ltd. Thousands of people sent in requests for this service; the proceeds were used to download the candles, said Prasad.
Most cellphone providers now offer a range of basic services such as SMSes for daily horoscopes, Vaastu and Feng-shui living tips, and Panchang and Rahukaal consultations that help ascertain auspicious and inauspicious times, for a fee of about Rs3 per message.
Devotees also can sign up for texting services, such as Gurubani, a collection of sayings of Sikh gurus, or excerpts from the Bible or the Gita. Hindu, Muslim and Parsi calendars also send reminders of important holidays. Worshippers can plan pilgrimages, from room availability to darshan timings and special puja offerings through text messages. Some providers also offer live contact with an astrologer to help with crises, from personal to professional.
Hutch charges Rs6 per minute for this service. Intense competition in the mobile phone market has forced the industry to look at offering distinct features and truly unique content. Reliance has gone so far as to allow customers to directly question god. A virtual god, that is. In its dart game called Prashnavali, users can play with god, as they would any other mobile phone game.
It will hit some point on the picture, which will reveal an answer for your question, or give you some set of predictions about it," he added.
Both organizations declined to comment for this story. Sethi says that the financial arrangement between his company and such niche groups follows industry standards, but refused to elaborate further.
Such arrangements, according to telecommunications experts, can vary widely, from revenues split to other deals more favourable to the cellphone service providers, since religious content is often available freely and some groups are grateful to spread their message.
Now, Tata Indicom is planning a similar alliance with two other religious congregations to form more exclusive partnerships.