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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.
I am an author and editor of eleven books, including Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America (winner of a 2006 American Book Award), Songs in the Key of Los Angeles, Sound Clash: Listening to American Studies, The Tide Was Always High: The Music of Latin America in Los Angeles, and Double Vision: The Photography of George Rodriguez. As a music journalist and essayist my work has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, 4 Columns, and many other publications.
As a music curator and artist, I have worked with the Getty Research Institute, LA Opera, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Grammy Museum, Los Angeles Public Library, Grand Performances, California African American Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Hammer Museum, Huntington Library and Art Museum, SFMOMA, Prospect New Orleans, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Gorki Theater, and Lincoln Center, among many others. He led music projects for both iterations of the Getty Foundation’s landmark Pacific Standard Time initiatives (including a six part music series with institutions and venues across Los Angeles). He has collaborated with musicians and composers such as Nicholas Payton, Ozomatli, Beck, Guillermo Galindo, Van Dyke Parks, Quetzal, Aloe Blacc, Julia Holter, Los Jornaleros del Norte, and La Santa Cecilia. With the composer and musician Nicole Mitchell he created the piece Spider Web, for which he wrote the libretto.
I am also the co-creator and co-curator of the acclaimed Latinx music and art series Crossfade Lab in Phoenix, Arizona, and host a monthly music program for Artform Radio on WorldwideFM.
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