Reflections on the Voice

Perhaps no topic related to sound has proved simultaneously so elusive and so irresistible, not just to scholars of sound but also to composers, authors, politicians and many others. In our last session, Wolfgang Ernst related the  expeditions launched by the late Friedrich Kittler along the Amalfi coast in search of the “true” acoustic secrets… Read more »

Aural Memory

In writing about his childhood in Berlin, Walter Benjamin reflected on the nature of memory as an analogue of hearing: “The déjà vu effect has often been described. But I wonder whether the term is actually well chosen, and whether the metaphor appropriate to the process would not be far better taken from the realm… Read more »

Sounds and the Brain

“The alpha rhythm of the brain has a range from eight to twelve hertz, and, if amplified enormously and channeled through an appropriate transducer, can be made audible.” So begins the score to Alvin Lucier’s Music for Solo Performer, premiered nearly a half century ago at Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum, just outside of Boston,… Read more »

Hearing Through the Body

As our knowledge of the body and of hearing increase, sharp distinctions between mind and body become increasingly untenable. The body is not only the site of listening, it mediates, facilitates and delimits the very possibility of hearing. In this session, historian of science Mara Mills and music theorist Mark Butler join us as we… Read more »

Mediated Technologies

Despite the ubiquity of digital media in contemporary society, analog media continue to hold sway in many audio cultures and subcultures, from DJs spinning vinyl to religious cassette sermons, from resurgent mixtape practices to performers of vintage synthesizers. This session will examine the ways media–especially analog media, with their irreducible materiality–shape listening cultures. Building on… Read more »

Sound in Torture and Surveillance

The use of sound for the purpose of what was officially referred to as “enhanced interrogation” gained notoriety during the Iraq war. Its role remains controversial, as some continue to think of sound as “torture light” (as opposed to methods that cause visible physical harm), but experts have long argued against such a distinction. At… Read more »

Decentering Sound

Most narratives of auditory modernity center on notions of how the west became modern. There are many other stories that remain to be told. This session will focus on two other aural modernities, as experienced in Latin America and in the Islamic world. Ana Maria Ochoa is an expert in popular and traditional musical cultures… Read more »

Grand Narratives of Sound

The Sawyer seminar “Hearing Modernity” will raise the curtain by tackling the big questions.  Jonathan Sterne is the author of what many consider to be the seminal text in sound studies, The Audible Past; Veit Erlmann’s Reason and Resonance is a dazzling and ambitious study that traces the intellectual lineage of aurality in the history… Read more »