This essay explores how the idea of the ‘sounds of space’ has been articulated in popular culture since the late nineteenth century through the early years of the Space Age. The primary focus is on sound and music in science-fiction films from Europe, the former Soviet Union, and the United States, and the four main topic areas are the sounds of signals from space, the sounds of outer-space technology, the sounds of ‘heavenly bodies,’ and the sounds/music associated with space travel. Framing this central portion of the essay, however, is a discussion of ‘space music’ by various composers for whom writing for the cinema was perhaps one of the furthest things from their minds. The essay argues that, in terms of depictions of weightlessness, perhaps certain works by composers Arnold Schoenberg and Edgard Varèse, and by the rock groups Popol Vuh and Tangerine Dream, have something in common with the music of sci-fi cinema.
In 2012, I came to a realization in Barry Truax’s graduate course, Acoustic Dimensions of Communication, that there might be a potential to use concepts from the acoustic communication model and research from the acoustic ecology community to shift paradigms in healthcare research. What started as an idea written in a moleskin notebook has now led to a body of work that transfers knowledge from the soundscape community to health sciences. Although this research is in its nascent stage, the use of media, specifically audio recordings, pervades several well-known approaches to pain management and anxiety. However, there remains consideration of the potentiality of using deep listening techniques, specifically recordings of mediated spaces as a tool for analgesic purposes. Mediated spaces can be conceived of as exploratory spaces that use the principles of soundwalks and soundscapes to create an experience for the patient that simulates an environment through the means of audio playback of binaural recordings. In this research, careful attention was placed towards creating specific soundwalks that produce a distinct auditory quality, which helps bring the attention of the patient to focus on three intertwined levels: a micro-narrated experience – heightening a visceral sensation as they engage with the sounds, the structure of the soundscape composed using binaural recording, and the sounds of real-time physical presence, such as walking or sounds of children playing in the environment. This approach allows the patient to self-orient himself or herself in a new environment, minimizing tension, and encourages them to reactively become attentive to the sites and sounds in the recordings. Therefore, this novel approach is one of the first attempts at improving the psychological experience of patients in clinics by immersing them in a sonic milieu.
In this essay I confront how sound art might make a contribution to groups practicing progressive ecology in a city as well as how that pursuit can enrich a sonic practice. As a result of research in permaculture gardening (a philosophy of ecological landscape design started in the late 70s) and ethnomusicology (especially on gamelan), I reimagined my creative process. I investigate whether it is possible with permaculture's philosophy to compose social connections, both in the imagination of sound and in the artwork's actual dissemination. I see how these structures impact the work's reception and the Hazelwood Food Forest (HFF) in Pittsburgh where the piece was developed. In this essay on my installation Gongburgh: Steeltown Forests I describe what my composition contributed and how that urban garden ensured a rich listening experience alongside other sound sources, including gamelan and steel factories. Gongburgh is an experiment in sustainable music making: in return for a (monetary) donation to the HFF on my website, listeners may download the forty-minute long composition that uses sound from the garden. In this way I promote the garden, but in return hope for repayment in organic food from the HFF as a form of worktrade. The sound of work in an urban garden versus that in a steel factory, in combination with gamelan music brings out novel similarities and differences between the sounds and, in turn, between ideas inherent in their social organization. This opens up political questions for both the garden and an anonymous listener. Further speculation on connections between specific permaculture principles and sound art emerge in a brief discussion of another one of my sound works, Phonosynthesis.
The disappearance of the object seems to be a fait accompli in recorded commercial music; nobody cares anymore about the traditional physical carriers of audio. Perhaps radio broadcast was the first dematerialization of music. The online/cloud streaming can be seen as a further degree of dematerialized ownership which takes us back to the age-long situation of our hands (and our shelves) being empty of any imaginable materialized music.
This paper will discuss acousmatic music as a simultaneously musical and narrative art form. Acousmatic narrative will be considered from the dual perspectives of the composer and the listener, and we will investigate some of the differences between these, and some of the mechanisms at play. A case will be made for the act of acousmatic composition as an ideal site for exploration and research into narrative processes. The composition and reception of the author's work Déchirure will be used as an illustrative example.
The phenomenon of noise has resisted many attempts at framing it within a singular conceptual framework. Critically questioning the tendency to do so, this article asserts the complexities of different noise-phenomena by analysing a specific technology: technological noise reduction systems. Whereas Sterne describes how engineers have sought to eradicate noise in order to reach what Dolby Laboratories called an ‘exceptional purity of sound,’ Serres and Kittler repeatedly stress that the presence of noise is not only inevitable, but even fundamental to sound and sound recording. Working at the crossroads of noise as a concept in information theory and noise as a physical and sonic phenomenon, a close reading of technological noise reduction shows how it not only produces its own notion of noise in the very process of reducing it, but even generates noise itself. Ultimately, this analysis offers valuable insights into the complexity of noise and the multiple levels on which it operates.
Perched on the fringe of the extreme metal underground and named after the brand of vintage amplifiers they use, the band Sunn O))) creates 90 minute mostly-improvised live sets that focus on bass and sub-bass (20-60 Hz) tones, played at a volume of about 120 dB. With a motto of “Maximum Volume Yields Maximum Results,” loudness is their musical content, and the droning, low tones they project require multi-sensory
interpretation, as they are felt in the body as vibrations.
This paper explores the experience of a Sunn 0))) concert, as it transgresses and dominates the listener’s body, controlling available sensory data. The heavily amplified low frequencies bring the listener's body into direct contact with the physical properties of sound, touching it with bone-rattling vibrations. Cloaked in thick artificial fog, the means of sound production remain hidden. Furthermore, the sounds themselves rely more on effects pedals than on instrumental prowess; the plucking of a guitar string may supply the signal for several minutes of music. This combination of visual deprivation and aural/tactile overload enacts a ritual of sensory domination, to which the audience submits.
This paper considers “close listening” in the context of classic America radio drama through a study of “The Thing on the Fourble Board,” a radio play by Wyllis Cooper. Although it is among the most esteemed works of dramatic audio in U.S. popular culture, the piece has seldom been engaged critically. Doing “readings” of radio drama is a rare activity to begin with, and this play is especially elusive because its features exceed the common preoccupations of theory of radio dramatic technique. Following Jonathan Sterne’s proposal to blend “sonic imaginations” with other fields of thought and practice, I take a new approach, heeding Cooper’s odd “geological” aesthetic and arguing that the play offers an idea of “auditory fossilization.” Building on some of my earlier work that considers classic radio drama as a mineralized transmission, I further propose the “sound fossil” as a heuristic to help us conceptualize the form as a whole as it exists in our time. This nearly extinct yet modern genre has always been a kind of objet sonore, surely, inasmuch as it occupies a “theater of the mind” whose pleasure rests on a disavowal of its own production, but radio drama is also increasingly a sonorous “thing,” defined by glitches and errors in the preserved audio that point toward a struggle against – and requirement of – materiality. According to this model, to critically engage with a recorded drama is to unearth these two underground counterpressures, and close listening is both a mode of reading and one of excavation.
This article reflects on recent notions about data sonification within sound-based experimental and artistic practices. The intention is not to survey the current state of data sonification methods and techniques as such, but rather to suggest a number of selected points of critique for addressing specific assumptions about processes and discourses related to what we may broadly refer to as sonification. Furthermore, these issues will be addressed by critically asking what we understand by “data” in the first place, as something susceptible to be turned into actual sounding material. Considering how specific discourses and cultural understandings frame contemporary notions of data, the article also includes different examples of alternative, exploratory practices. Thus, one of the aims will partly be to open up a transdisciplinary discussion about the critical affordances and potential pitfalls of data sonification seen both as an aesthetic and a knowledge-producing practice. This involves not only attention toward strictly academic and scientific settings, but also relates to how data sonification ventures are being communicated within broader societal, cultural and art institutional contexts.
This paper was written as a keynote address for ESSA 2014, Mapping the Field, where the conference organizers asked me to reflect on my own and others’ journeys between sound theory and sound practice. As a live presentation, focused on voice, my aim was to speak in a way that would invoke the journey and invite the audience to join me. To do this, I both took literally the conference’s trope of mapping, and also, in terms of style, wrote/spoke in a performative mode that does not always translate easily into a written form. While I have adapted that address for written publication here, I have chosen to leave some traces of the aural mode, because in my view it speaks to the specific task of evoking a (theoretical and practical) journey. I have also retained the voice of situated knowledge, even if I have curbed some of its more poetic and emphatic spoken moments, because it resonates with the aim of reflecting on my own and others’ journeys, as I hope will unfold in the paper below.
The semiotic model described by CS Peirce has been adapted to film and media generally, and more recently to sound and music analysis but seldom has it been applied to the actual practice of sound design. This paper argues that the model provides not only a comprehensive and powerful tool for the analysis of sound but may also be used as a tool to examine and inform the practice of sound design and production.
By focussing particularly on Peirce’s later model of semiotics, which clarifies and reframes the definitions of some of the principal elements of his system, its utility in application to the analysis of sound is greatly enhanced. It provides an appropriate and flexible conceptual framework which can be applied to the processes involved in creating elements of the soundtrack – the practice of sound design – and a means to understand how the sounds themselves, and in conjunction with the image, can be used to create meaning for the audience.
This article argues for a new critical perspective called “Post-Natural Sound Arts” (PNSA). Its focus resides within the context of environmental sound arts and disciplines such as field recording, acoustic ecology and soundscape studies. PNSA questions entanglements of power and agency between recordists and their subjects and produces new epistemological consequences in relation to silence, subjectivity and technology.
By discussing historical and contemporary audio documents, the author demonstrates how sonic representations are part of an interlacing of geographies, media, and time. These recordings harbor trace evidence of anthropogenic incursion and are re-heard in order to question a history of non-impact within the practice of environmental sound arts. PNSA therefore aims to function as both an audial-analytical methodology and instigator for artistic praxis.