Friday Varia and Quick Hits

December 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

After a week off to work in the Bakken, I’m back with a pre-holiday quick hits and varia for your enjoyment.

I’ll be too honest and say that my daily productivity has begun to decline as the holidays approach. We have a tree, are heavy into menu planning, and are looking forward to a day or two when work gives way to family good cheer and, of course, as many hours of test cricket as possible. 

That being said, I will prepare my usual year end blog review and my year end “what I’m listening to” for the next week. So, stay tuned!


Some thoughts on Marilyn Johnson’s Lives in Ruins

December 18, 2014 § 1 Comment

Over the last month there has been steadily more buzz on Marilyn Johnson’s Lives in Ruins. I was lucky enough to get and enjoy an advance copy and had planned to write a traditional review as soon as book came out. Then I remembered that I don’t usually write formal reviews here on The Blog, so I shelved the project and time passed and other things came up.

This past week a few friends have been bantering about the book and it received some good press over at The New Yorker.  So now, amid the social and old media buzz, I figure I should write down a few of my thoughts on the book.

In the interest of full disclosure (which is rarely very interesting), I met with Johnson after an AIA talk in New York City last year and chatted a bit about my work. We then corresponded about contemporary and punk archaeology over email. She was curious and gracious and even apologized for not including material from our conversations in her book. 

Not only did I like her, but I also liked her book. I bought a copy for my mother for Christmas!

I thought that she was very effective in drawing characters as lively as any I’ve met in the archaeological profession. She also balanced the struggles of professional archaeologists against their triumphs and the haves, personified by none other than Joan Connelly, against the have nots like Kathy Abbas who scrubbed floors to fund her quixotic campaign to document an 18th century fleet in Newport Harbor. Her survey of the field ranged from historical archaeologists of the Caribbean to Connelly’s work on Cyprus to contract archaeologists in New York state, forensic archaeologists in New Jersey, and government archaeologists for the US Military. Her book, then, provided a sweeping view of the profession and lingered well outside the insulating walls of academia. I suspect that the picture of the field and the discipline will sit well with many of my professional colleagues. 

Despite this, I still felt something was a bit off in the book. Something did not quite coincide with my experience in the discipline. Some of this feeling was almost certainly a product of the medium – popular non-fiction. The stories included in the book tended to follow a certain formula that created a satisfying rhythm to the narrative: first I did or said THIS, and no one believed me, peopled didn’t recognized my work, or people thought I was crazy, but then THIS, and everyone realized that I was right all alone. I think Hayden White would call this comedic mode of emplotment, not because it’s funny, but because her narratives tend toward the conservative and the socially integrating. In the end, Grant Gillmore, our struggling Caribbeanist hero, gets a job; Bill Sandy is able to forestall (for now, good reader!) the destruction of an important 18th century cemetery; Laurie Rush was able to promote to meaningful changes to the US Military’s policies toward cultural heritage. This is not to suggest that Johnson’s book is naive or unrealistic. She recognized the ongoing struggles of Sandy and Abbas in funding their projects, but there is this optimism throughout that, ultimately, the intrinsically compelling nature of our discipline and its practitioners will win out. This, of course, makes for compelling reading especially to a generation raised on the satisfying glow of situation comedies where confusion, antics, and pratfalls resolve themselves and life goes on the way that it should. Archaeology and truth win out. 

This is not to suggest that there wasn’t some hints at personal heroism (that is, suggestive of the Romantic or even the Tragic modes of emplotment) reinforced by the moral good of the individuals and their pursuits, but generally speaking the integrity of the discipline and methods, practices, and truth carry us forward.

So maybe it was the focus on individual and their place within the discipline that left me a bit unsatisfied. I think that I wanted to read something less conventional and less resolved. Archaeology for all its romance and appeal is not something that is achieved as much as something that is constantly produced through interactions between archaeologists in the field, in publications, and both within and outside of disciplinary media. The challenge of constructing a discipline with practice, methods, policies, ethics, and expectation constantly run ahead of modernist ideologies that see our fixation on the past as a hinderance to constructing a more enlightened, rational, and perfect future (perhaps, but not necessarily driven by market forces?). For example, notice the consistent critique of NSF funding archaeological projects.

Archaeology, then, like the discipline of history, is in a constant state of remaking itself and pushing back against the very Enlightenment values that defined its place within the modern academy. This tension does not lend itself to the comedic mode of emplotment, but is, to my mind, far more suitable for satire where the actors struggle to find a resolution within the world of their own making. The poetic structure of irony, then, that most 20th-century way of seeing the world is the most suitable for understanding the nature of archaeology as a discipline. Our discipline’s efforts to evince a conservative, scientific character run counter to our goals of understanding the past. This tension not only produces an atmosphere of dynamic questioning in the discipline, but also ensures that typical forms of resolution –  employment, solved problems, contributions to a fixed body of knowledge, professional recognition – can hardly represent the culmination of lives in ruins. 

Rural Roman Landscapes of Greece

December 17, 2014 § 2 Comments

Now that I’m back working in Greece, I’ll have to start paying closer attention to the annually published Archaeological Reports, and a number of my colleagues helped me out by tipping me off to some of the nice contributions to this year’s edition. Generally speaking, Archaeological Reports summarize recent research in particular chronological period, and mostly they have focused on newly discovered and published sites.  

I was especially glad to read Daniel Stewart’s summary treatment of rural Greece during the Roman period. He does a nice job surveying (pun, pun) the work of intensive pedestrian survey projects in Greece, and this is no easy task as many of these projects have not published traditional archaeological volumes, but in scattered articles in edited volumes and journals. Better still, he goes a step further and considers the general direction of intensive survey in Greece with special reference to the challenges of the Roman period. This attention transforms what could have been a parochial survey of newly discovered Roman rural sites into a must read for anyone interested in intensive pedestrian survey.

Stewart identifies four major areas of development in intensive survey: challenges to ceramic typologies, refined collections strategies, studies across landscape zones, and interdisciplinarity. He does a nice job communicating the problems associated with ceramic chronologies for the Roman period and the vexing, but somehow inescapable dependence on the Early, Middle, and Late Roman chronological division. (I blame prehistorians for passing this chronological structure onto us.) David Pettegrew’s landmark Hesperia article on the “busy countryside” of Late Roman Greece was cited with approval (pdf here). 

At the same time, I think any close observer of survey archaeology would agree with these developments broadly speaking, although one could also say that these recent development have characterized the general trajectory of intensive survey since the 1980s. For example, survey archaeologists have always been working to refine their collection strategies to sample more effectively the material on the surface, and Stewart’s attention to re-survey is less a product of recent methodological refinement and more of a particular opportunistic, expression of longstanding interest in how best to sample and document kaleidoscopic surface assemblages. Stewart is right in recognizing that site classification remains a challenge for intensive survey projects and this is tied directly to the intensity of sampling. More rigorous sampling techniques produce a greater range of sites both in terms of size and, in many cases, in terms of functional assemblage. In some conditions, as few as a handful of fine ware sherds can represent activity in the landscape, but they intensity, type, and duration of activities at that particular place must remain undefined. 

The same could be said for recent attention to interdisciplinarity. The earliest efforts at intensive survey in Greece incorporated ethnographic and scientific components to their work embracing the twin influences of processual archaeology and the unstructured perambulations of early modern travelers. By the late 20th century, it was unthinkable to conduct a survey without geologists, a plan for sectioning pottery, biologists to help understanding flora and fauna, and ethnographers to interpret local knowledge. It was odd that Stewart did not mention the influence of geologists as being particularly important to recent trends in intensive survey. 

Finally, efforts to survey different landscape zones has been part of the survey archaeologist’s tool kit from at least the dawn of the Second Wave of survey projects. This is hardly a new trend or one deserving particular mention. In fact, one could argue that recent (21st century) permit limits that impose a 30 sq km maximum study area for intensive survey project have led to a shift from more extensive approaches to the Greek landscape to a more intensive focus on collection and sampling strategies. Intensive survey is committed to saying more with less.  

I also think that Stewart’s emphasis on the fragility of the surface assemblage in light of more intensive agriculture and development in Greece is misplaced or, at least, poorly defined. It seems hard to image even the most intensive collection regimes putting much of a dent in the abundant material present in a surface assemblage. In fact, our work on Cyprus in conditions in every way compatible with those in Greece suggested that typical sampling methods for intensive survey (20% of the surface) collect less than 10% of the material visible and that assemblage of material is only a tiny fraction of the material present. While deep ploughing/plowing does present a risk to archaeological remains (not to mention soil health), from the perspective of intensive survey, the danger is more closely related to movement of artifacts in the landscape than to any significant destruction of the archaeological record. 

I would have liked Stewart to focus more (any?) attention on the reluctance of the significant second wave survey projects (i.e. Pylos Regional Archaeology Project (update: I included PRAP accidentally in this list!), Nemea Valley Archaeological Project, Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey, Kythera Island Project, et c.) to make their raw digital data freely accessible. This has had a substantial impact on our ability to comparing and synthesizing the landscapes produced by these projects.

I might have also liked to see some critique of the tendency toward parochialism in Greek archaeology of the Roman period. Of course, this is a generalization that some might see as unfair, but it nevertheless would have been useful to understand how our understanding of rural Greece in the Roman period contributes or responds to similar interest elsewhere in the Mediterranean. For example, scholars invested in intensive survey methods have focused on rural Roman landscape across the Mediterranean basin. The work of these scholars have produced significant data both in terms of material and methodology for any understanding of Roman Greece.  

Despite my critiques (which are mostly saying that I’d write a different article!), Stewart’s article provides a nice summary of recent work and a great point of departure for anyone interested in staying abreast of recent research in the rural world of Roman Greece. 

Check out David Pettegrew’s review of this article here.

Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: A Digital Archaeology Workshop

December 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’m pretty excited to head back to the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts this winter to participate in another exciting workshop focusing on digital archaeology. The last workshop hosted by Eric Poehler at the University of Massachusetts – Amherts was great. This years worshop is hosted by Erin Walcek Averett (Creighton University), Derek Counts (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), Jody Gordon (Wentworth Institute of Technology), and Michael K. Toumazou (Davidson College). 

This group all hails from the Athienou Archaeological Project (AAP) on Cyprus. They work about 10 miles inland from my site at Pyla-Koutsopetria and helped us tremendously with advice and support as our project got started. Now, the AAP folks are moving into the digital realm in a deliberate and serious way. This conference is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Creighton University, the Wentworth Institute of Technology, Davidson College, and the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. 

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Here’s the program.

The list of contributors is like a who’s who in digital field archaeology in the Mediterranean world these days so the conversation should be lively and productive. I think that these annual meetings which bring together the same core group of digital archaeology practitioners has the advantage of allowing ideas and conversations to develop, but runs the risk of creating an echo chambers. Right now, we’re not an echo chamber, which is good, and this workshop will bring in some new voices to the conversation which will almost certainly leaven the results. 

The Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project is represented by Sam Fee and my paper. For my paper, I’m continuing to develop the idea of Slow Archaeology as a complement and counter-weight to current trends in digital archaeology that privilege efficiency and speed in the field. My first publication developing some of these ideas will appear early next year in a special edition of a literary journal (GASP), North Dakota Quarterly. I’ll keep folks in the loop as I develop my paper.

Click through the workshop’s website and, if you’re in the area, register and come and join the fun! We’ll have a twitter hashtag – maybe #MobileArc – to open the conversation up to a global audience. 

Agency, Formality, and Keeping Warm in Bakken Workforce Housing

December 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

After three lovely days in the Bakken, my mind is awash in ideas for research and I feel like I can start revising our submission to Historical Archaeology right away. We were once again overwhelmed by the generosity of both new and old North Dakotans. People’s patience with our sometimes intrusive requests to take photos and have conversation, their willingness to sign IRB paperwork, and their general good will makes doing research in workforce housing in the Bakken truly remarkable.  


Our goals for this trip were to focus on architectural innovation in the Bakken as a way to get at issues of agency in the context of workforce housing. The reviewers of our article suggested that our famous typology (Type 1, Type 2, Type 3) was more confusing than elucidating and, to be honest, we had spent more time talking about whether a camp was Type 1 or Type 2 (or whatever) was necessary over the past few visits. So, from the start of this trip we accepted that our typology was a heuristic that was useful when we started describing workforce housing, but has become less helpful as we have come to understand it better.

In the place of our typology, we discussed how camps seem to function on a continuum from the less formal to the more formal. Less formal camps tend to have less institutional control over behavior of residents, less regular appearances, and the greater fluidity of rules and policies and their enforcement than more formal camps. The most formal camps, for example, would by those set-up and run by large companies that cater to large companies in the oil patch by strictly enforcing rules of behavior and the appearance of the camp. The least formal camps are occupied by squatters with no institutional oversight and the only limits on the structure of the camp relate to their existence outside legally sanctioned settlement.

This continuum then, from formal to informal, allowed us to describe both greater variation within the workforce housing sites in the Bakken and to understand the mechanisms that have led to this variation.

In the specific context of revising our article, shifting our focus to the “formality” of camps links our descriptions of workforce housing sites much more tightly to issues of individual agency in the physical structure of the units in the camps. Less formal camps, have greater scope for individual agency and greater variation, but nevertheless still have certain limits that dictate their organization and practices. For example, the arrangement of water, sewage, and electrical hook-ups limits the arrangement of units in the camp. Moreover, the location of the camp and its visibility to local authorities also influenced how much freedom camp residents have to innovate architecturally.

For example, we focused some of our conversations with camp residents on the practice of insulating their RVs for winter. We learned that residents of RV parks tend to learn how to insulate their RVs from their neighbors with folks who had more experience weathering the long, cold North Dakota winters, providing informal advice to those from more mild southern climes. The photograph below shows stacks of extruded polystyrene insulation prepared to be mounted around the base of a new Sandpiper RV. The unit to the right has both polystyrene and plywood insulation affixed to the base of the unit and its mudroom.


In some cases, camp managers would inspect the insulation particularly around sewage and water attachments. Some camp managers explained that if one or two units let their water or sewage freeze, they pipes throughout the camp might be compromised. As a result, they inspect sewage and water pipes regularly.




The construction of mudrooms or other forms of enclosure attached to the RV is another indication of the formality of a workforce housing site. Our favorite camp in the Bakken is Williston Foxrun which has worked hard to manage the range of architectural innovation present at the site. In its earliest days, the camp showed a remarkable variation in mudroom styles including some that exceed the size of the RV or enclosed it completely. Recently, they have worked to limit the size of mudrooms to 8 x 10, but grandfather older mudrooms built in more permissive days provided that they’re not a fire hazard or encroach on their neighbors lot. The first two photos below show relatively large mudrooms probably grandfathered through at Williston Foxrun. Both rooms have air conditioning units suggesting that they’re used for more than just taking off dirty clothes and storage. The room in the top photo also has a propane tank with lines running into the unit for either a heater or a cooktop. The last of the following three photos shows a recently built mudroom which is a good bit smaller than the 8 x 10 size limit and lacks any amenities. 




Finally, we had a chance to look more carefully at discard practices at workforce housing in the Bakken. As the activity in the Bakken has shifted south and has slowed down because of the dip in oil prices, there are more and more signs of RV parks being abandoned or filled with empty lots. While some of the lots were tidy after the departure of a resident – as one of our informants noted: if he left stuff behind someone else would use it, so he might as well take it with him – other lots show signs of hasty departure or no particular concern about recycling insulation or scrap wood. 




In conversation with site managers, we learned the folks left cars, personal items, mudrooms, and other scraps behind when they pulled out. Abandonment sometimes followed a period of neglect when the RV would break down, its sewage system would fail, or the occupant had come into hard times and no longer maintained his or her living space. In some cases, the resident would leave abruptly or be evicted leaving behind a mess for the camp manager but a rich assemblage for archaeological investigation. The unit pictured below showed evidence for an infant living there at least for a short period of time (a single diaper, infant sunscreen, baby lotion), but the camp manager thought the lot was just occupied by a “couple of North Dakota boys.”


So, it was a productive trip out west thanks, especially to my colleagues Bret Weber and Richard Rathaus who helped me see differently. 


The Bakken Calls Once Again

December 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

With the price of cratering and the North Dakota cold settling on the Northern Plains (we can ignore the forecast for 55 degree temperatures in the Williston area tomorrow), the industrial beauty of the Bakken once again beckons.

This trip will enlivened by the magnificent Richard Rothaus once again joining the North Dakota Man Camp Project Field Team as well as an embedded radio journalist and a photographer.


The goal of the trip is to once again to check some material in two ongoing publication projects. The first, you should know well: A Tourist Guide to the Bakken. This is to say: go make comments on it over at The Medium.

The other is an article under revision for re-submission to Historical Archaeology. Over the last few days, I’ve deconstructed this article extracted the pieces that our generous peer reviewers thought most valuable, and now need to fill gaps, to smooth transitions, and to reassemble the core content (probably best next week). But for now, I need to check on a few things and fill some gaps. 

The article was this strange beast that included almost everything that we wanted to say about the Bakken in one ramshackle construction. It was not pretty, but it might be useful to someone thinking about their own research in the Bakken and since it will not be published in anything like its current form, I include it here:

We’ll also visit some of our long term study sites with some additional manpower making it easier to document them more thoroughly. Hopefully on Saturday, we’ll look at some of the mobile home camps that have appeared around Watford City and consider these from an archaeological perspective.

Updates will appear next week!

Audiophiles, Women, and Domestic Space

December 10, 2014 § 6 Comments

Over the last couple weeks there has been an interesting gaggle of columns and blog posts on the lack of women in the audiophile hobby. For those of you more comfortable with terms like “post-depositional processes,” audiophiles are folks who are really into their stereo gear and producing good sound. Generally, this has been a male dominated hobby, and as the traditional customers for this gear gets older, the industry and industry media has become concerned about the hobby’s future.

The industry and audiophile media have been quiet self congratulatory when it comes to attracting young people to the hobby through “head-fi” (that is audiophile quality headphones and related gear). With the youth market more or less covered, audiophiles have turned their attention toward the lack of women in the hobby. So far, the reasons put forward range tend to focus on the broadly cultural (women are raised differently).

A number of posts have focused on the rather unfortunate phrase “wife acceptance factor.” When I read this post by Kirsten Brodbeck-Kenny, I was up to my chest in reading about masculinity and suburbia (starting with John Higham’s classic article) as I work to revise an article on domestic space in the Bakken oil patch. So I posted a rather lengthy response exploring the relationship between audiophile gear, gender roles, and domesticity from a historical perspective. My blog today is an expanded version of that comment. 

According to The Wikipedias, the term “wife acceptance factor” first appeared in Stereophile magazine in 1983 but its origins appear to date to the 1950s. This makes the idea of the “wife acceptance factor” is so old school to almost be vintage. This notion has clear roots in the idea that women are in charge of the house and play a key role in establishing domesticity in the American home.

Domesticity represents the opposite of male encoded space of work, and this division first developed in the context of the industrial revolution when the workplace shifted from the home to the factory. With the rise of the middle class, people constructed homes that did not serve as workplaces and, more importantly for us here, conformed to different standards of presentation and decor than factories or offices. In fact, guys like Henry Ford went to great pains to distinguish the life of work from domestic life and created model towns to house their workers and families. These “Fordvilles” provided a space for the playing out middle class values and “civilizing” men who carried out the “brutish” work of industrial labor. For Ford and other early 20th century industrialists, the domestic represented the civilizing the domain of women, and stood as a civilizing counter point to the industrial.

So “wife acceptance factor” evokes the traditional domain of women: the home. The home, and the traditional middle and upper class house in particular was the place where the civilizing influence of women and family overwrite the dirty and competitive world of work (and perversely, make that work more efficient by maintaining the moral order and health of the men responsible). Most middle class homes went to great lengths to disguise the working parts of domestic life. The walls hid electrical cables, heating and cooling ducts, and water and sewage pipes, as well as the structural components to the house. More than that, the organization of the  house hid the places where the real work of domestic life took place. In traditional homes from the first part of the 20th century, garages, carriage houses, boiler rooms, storage, butlers’ pantries, and above all the kitchen were located out of sight from the main living spaces. Upper class homes developed parallel service areas that allowed maids, butlers, and other domestic personnel to move unseen between living spaces. By hiding the working parts of a home, the serene and effortless nature of domestic life was insulated from “working,” industrial life. This had the additional effect of occluding the role of women and their role in maintaining domesticity from the public view, and this allowed men to claim control over the economic productivity and public life. The home was not a place for wires, cables, ugly black boxes, protruding tubes, knobs, industrially inspired speakers and the like.

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Today, of course, we can roll our eyes at these traditional ways of organizing house and home. My wife and I have generally lived in 19th century or turn-of-the-century homes variously modified in various way to accommodate “modern life.” For example, our first house had the wall between the kitchen and what had been the formal dining room removed and the wall between the dining room and the front parlor removed to create a more open plan. We added to this by removing an unsightly fake wall to expose a forced-air heating duct. We joked about adding some industrial chic to our home. Industrial lofts in major cities now fetch top dollar. Kitchens have become areas for display and socializing. Many new homes have even adopted the “two car garage with attached home” appearance that is the bane of so many suburban subdivisions. Many homes now have “home offices” designed to allow the laboring classes to bring work back to their previously serene domestic bliss.

What’s interesting to me is that while our ideas of domesticity are changing (as our notions of work and life are changing) why have views founded in traditional notions of domesticity continued to persist in audiophile circles?  Well, some of it must have to do with demographics; audiophiles tend to be older and (let’s say) more thoroughly invested and steeped (nostalgic for)?in traditional gender roles. Audiophiles also tend to me upper middle and upper class which tend to be more conservative groups within Western society.

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I wonder, though, whether there’s more than that playing out here. First, I’d argue that notions like the “wife acceptance factor” are cut of the same cloth as the “man cave.” Audiophile gear is part of the changing discourse of domesticity: the notion that stereo cables, crudely functionalist industrial design (like my Audio Research VSi60 integrated amp), are the violation of certain norms of proportion and effortless propriety have located the audiophile home stereo to the realm of the industrial and, by extension, the masculine. Women, in our historical and stereotypical treatment, become the guardians of an effortless domesticity that carefully guards the working interior of the home from outside eyes. Men, with their industrial, non-domesticated tendencies (born, I’m sure, by their longs hours in the factory), are relegated to specific places: the garage, the “den”, or the “man cave” where they watch sports, behave in uncivilized ways, and ignore aesthetic traditions of the home.

The curious irony is this: we know that the idea that “man stuff” is relegated to the “man cave” is bunk in a modern domestic context. Since the 1960s, modern homes have celebrated industrial design elements, kitchens are no longer hidden, but prominent social spaces, and traditional differentiation of spaces has given way to a proudly functional aesthetic. In other words, the tradition of relegating men to (or the need for men to claim) some kind of designated space is rhetorically and architecturally outmoded as hiding the kitchen behind a swinging door. Stereo equipment has likewise enjoyed this shift toward the functional in their design with elegantly constructed, furniture grade cabinets giving way to exposed tubes, grill-less speakers, and cables too bulky (and expensive) to hide from view. So rather than stereo equipment lagging behind modern domestic expectations and requiring an adjustment to gain “wife acceptance factor,” most high end gear (and big box gear as well) has long adopted the industrial design standards appropriate for the modern, functionalist home. 

We continue to use this language, however, because entire structure of work and life among the American middle class has become unsettled. This nostalgia for a long ago abandoned architectural and design vocabulary represents a persistent unease with changing gender norms, dual incomes, domestic partnerships, and increasingly blurred lines between work life and home life. As the life of the American middle class is eroded by shrinking incomes, volatile labor markets, new expectations, and work cultures, we stick to these traditional stereotypes (see my pun there) and revel in our man caves, wife acceptance factors, as we beat back the work life from the tempting expanse of the formal dining room table.

Our concern with women in the audiophile hobby is not just the late arrival of the audiophile media and industry to modern conceptions of domestic space, but the flailing of a culture that finds its basic structures and expectations increasingly out of sync with economic and social realities. That we’re having this debate at all reveals its ultimate irrelevance. Women and men will enter the hobby and industry (or not) based on their resources, aesthetics, and interest rather than some kind of gendered notion of the home or overdetermined nostalgia. All this is to say, that we should invest more time in being inclusive rather than attempting to justify the exclusivity of our hobby. Treat women who are interested in sound and music just as you’d treat men interested in sound and music. 

More on this conversation here.


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