Sounding Sonic Materialism

6 December 2021 (online, from Studio LOOS, The Hague)

Introduction by Marcel Cobussen


Marcel introduced the title of this session – Sounding Sonic Materialism – by looking at three seperate terms: New Materialism, an ‘interdisciplinary, theoretical and politically committed field of research’ in which ‘matter is considered as an active force which is coproductive in conditioning and enabling social worlds, human lives, discourses, and experiences’. Sonic Materialism, a term originally coined by Christoph Cox and Salomé Voegelin, which suggets rethinking the concept of matter through sound. And finally, Sounding Sonic Materialism: ‘What would it mean to think sonically, rather than merely to think about sound? What concepts and thoughts can be generated by sound itself?’

Listen to Marcel's intro (3’18” - 6’45”)

Presentation by Gabriel Paiuk


Gabriel’s research looks at the material aspects of listening, and tries to give an account of the material conditions and the material nature of listening. Gabriel asks: ‘how to account for the different ways in which listening happens and is not only dependent on the will of the listener?’ How do certain conditions – the acoustic space, the playing devices, and so on – shape the way in which listening takes place?

Gabriel mentioned the work of philosopher Gilbert Simondon. Although not considered normally as a new materialist in his thinking, the materialist perspective appears in Simondon’s work as ‘an operational account of how the real occurs’, which is, as Gabriel asserts, ‘how Simondon tackles the sensorial’ – a key to the questions concerning listening experience. Thus, ‘sense is produced neither by an organism nor by homo sapiens, but emerges from the relation of communication through which groups of organisms and the organism itself at different levels and through different milieus are structured’

Listen to Gabriel talks about his own sound work, taking as a starting point the idea that ‘listening cannot be separated from a context in which it unfolds’. (21’55” - 24’10”)

Impressions from Gabriel's installation Focus, presented at November Music Festival 2017 (11’02” - 12’40”)

Gabriel presented also the work Construction of an Imaginary Acoustic Space, for ensemble and 6-channel soundtrack, played by New European Ensemble. (12’42” - 15'30”)

Presentation by Richard Barrett

Richard’s presentation focused on his solo electronic piece hylozoon, which takes its name from hylozoism – the idea that the basic substance of matter is in some sense alive.

Richard presented his computer instrument, which he has been playing for many years in various musical contexts. The idea of Sonic Materialism is brought into a particular focus once we consider the computer as a musical instrument. ‘Since the computer can also be imagined to have a mind of its own, in the sense of being able to make autonomous decisions even if it obviously lacks the desire that motivates decisions made by human minds, one might expect the mind extension aspect to have a somewhat different quality than in the case of a traditional instrument’. Richard pointed out the intersection between musical creation methods such as notation and improvisation on the one hand, and instrument or interface design on the other, all of which he considers to belong under one overarching heading – composition.

Listen to Richard's talk, presenting his particular use of the computer as a musical instrument (29’00” - 34’36”)

I’d like to suggest a connection to my own work, which is using the computer and other digital interfaces and controllers in a similar way to Richard Barret. In SLIL, the idea of Sonic Materialism relates not only to the exploration of the tactile and interactive possibilities of the physical controller and the digital interface, but also to the way the latter relies on sample processing, thus suggesting the exploration of the qualities of sound matter through a live improvisatory performance.

Listen to a solo performance of SLIL, which was presented at the New Music Weekend 2020, NottFAR (Nottingham Forum for Artistic Research), University of Nottingham.

Richard’s solo performance hylozoon (37’22” -  47’00”)

Click to open Richard's exposition NEW INPUTS – a detailed report of the the output from the two years of his research project suppoerted by the Royal Conservatoire's lectorate ‘Music, Education and Society’.



Kevin's solo set (52’55” - 1:22’20”)

Presentation by Kevin Fairbairn 

Kevin Fairbairn takes the positions of 1) an instrument builder and 2) a trombone player as the starting points for his practice and research. He seeks to ‘explore the bodies of brass instruments, discovering and exploring their foreclosed and excluded sonic materialism’. He works ‘with the detritus of the instrument building process (so called waste materials)’ to create new sounding bodies which are ‘chamerico homages’ to the original instruments, and that ‘can help trace the non-linear networks of sonic possibilities’ – an ‘ ecosystem of bodies, materials and agencies’.

By creating these devices and playing them, Kevin Fairbairn explores how New Materialism strives for a constant interaction between matter and meaning, and how the different histories of the bruised or damaged metal shapes forms the way a musical performance unfolds in the present.


Listen to Kevin's presentation (48’20” - 52’40”)