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Jeremy Braddock


Curriculum Vitae


Formed as a comedy group in Los Angeles, the Firesign Theatre began their career improvising on the radio in 1966, and went on to work in many media formats over their four-decade career, from the LP to cinema, books and zines, broadcast television, videocassette, interactive CD-Rom, and the Web. They are best known for a series of nine albums made for Columbia Records in the 1960s and early 70s, records that remain unparalleled for their density, complexity, and sonic range. Realizing in an astonishing way the possibilities of the long-playing record, and the multi-track recording studio, as media for literary writing, the Firesign Theatre's Columbia albums offer unusually propitious ground for bringing techniques of literary analysis to bear upon the fields of sound and media studies, and vice versa. They may also be taken as important in a broader sense, for they not only document the emergence and subsequent incorporation of the counterculture and New Left, but also, and relatedly, witness and theorize the increasing mediation of social and political life during these years.

Despite the recent efflorescence of sound art and audio work in the field of podcasts and elsewhere, the Firesign Theatre is almost totally unknown today. This obscurity owes in part to group's association with what Charles R. Accland has named "residual media." Very well versed in classic mid-century radio, the Firesign Theatre is sometimes understood as a revival of long-form radio drama in the age of the concept album and "head music." Yet it is their facility with what are now two residual forms radio drama and the album that nominates the group as a salutary subject for sound studies, a field that has powerfully examined technologies and techniques from the past (as in the work of Jonathan Sterne and Lisa Gitelman). Moreover, Firesign's interest, thematic and practical, in numerous media also suggests the ways in which a sustained study can contribute to media studies more broadly, representing as it does an opportunity to trace successive regimes of media across a pivotal phase of U.S. history. Aiming to forge thicker connections between literary and sound studies, and to find an audience of contemporary practitioners, my book project conjoins a formal analysis of the Columbia albums with a study of the technology that made them possible, while also presenting an ethnographic account of the collective listening practices the work solicited.


Jeremy Braddock is Associate Professor of English at Cornell University, and the author of Collecting as Modernist Practice, which was awarded the 2013 Modernist Studies Association Book Prize, and co-editor of Paris, Capital of the Black Atlantic (2013). He holds a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and has been Faculty Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center (2007-8). His research interests include the production and long reception of modernism in the United States, African American literature, the sociology of culture, and the study of media. He is currently at work on two projects, a study of libraries and information before and during the Second World War, and a book-length project on The Firesign Theatre.

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