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At the bottom of a standard DJ mixing console, there is a horizontal slider known as the crossfader. By toggling it left and right, you can carefully move between the music on one input channel and the music on the other without fully fading out either—it allows you to mix without erasing, combine without destroying, to juggle and sustain difference, to use what already exists to create something entirely new. You use the crossfader when you want to create a new conversation between disparate voices, a new mix out from the archive, all while moving crowds and shaping publics. Crossfading requires listening for often microscopic shared details and sharply researched points of connection: a common beat, sound, texture, feeling.
In my work as a scholar, writer, journalist, teacher, and curator, I’ve held up what I call “the art of the crossfade” as a kind of goalpost of intellectual investigation, public engagement, and scholarly practice to which I continue to aspire. To be a good crossfader, one must toggle and slide, always focused on points of connection and intersections between different identities, cultures, communities, publics, platforms, disciplines, institutions, and ways of interpreting, and living in, the world. A crossfader must work with an original and creatively assembled archive of materials, then aim to create unexpected publics, juggling and balancing divergent sources in the making of new communities. Most of all, a crossfader listens for the edges, not the centers, the borders and interstices, those challenging regions where suture exists in the face of division and separation. I study crossfaders and learn from crossfaders, be they musicians or activists or scholars or poets (or those gifted and inspired enough to be all at once), but I also strive to be a crossfader. I strive to be a scholar who crossfades disciplines, who slides between and creates conversations between multiple publics, who diligently works with archives in order to animate them in new ways, and who follows historical and critical clues to excavate and learn from points of intersection.
My work has increasingly focused on the city of Los Angeles and the greater Southern California-Northern Mexico borderlands, regions where the crossfades of borders—geopolitical, infrastructural, urban, cultural, economic—have long shaped the devastating and often deadly limits, but also the joyous, nourishing possibilities, of civic life and belonging.
I hold a PhD in Ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley and am a Professor in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, where I direct the Popular Music Project of the Norman Lear Center.
Photo: Jeremy Deputat