Sound At Home II: City, Home, Body - Sonic Relations and Voice


Mette Simonsen Abildgaard, Marie Koldkjær Højlund and Sandra Lori Petersen


This is the second special issue of the Journal of Sonic Studies on the topic Sound at Home. In the original call for papers, we asked scholars from a variety of disciplines to engage with home sounds – everyday sounds such as the hum of appliances, the babble of water piping, the chatter of media or the creaking of a wooden floor; sounds that seep in from other homes and from the world outside (traffic, music, shouting, etc.); disconcerting, unfamiliar sounds of places that have become a temporary home; or sounds that go unheard in their familiarity – using a wide range of approaches and methods. 


The call was sent out in February 2020, just before much of public life around the globe came to a halt in response to the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic. Despite these challenging circumstances, we received an unexpectedly large number of exciting submissions from a variety of perspectives and decided to split the special issue up into two: The first issue (JSS21) was published before the summer of 2021 and consists of submissions that analyze, through diverse approaches, home sounds, focusing on sonic territoriality, materiality, and the concept of home beyond the traditional family dwelling.


This second issue (JSS22) consists of contributions dealing with a number of closely related topics, namely, the home in its relation to the outside world, sonic communities within or in spite of isolation, and vocal expression as part of or in defiance of this isolation. Instead of offering a brief overview of these papers in this introduction, we would like to take the opportunity here to call attention to some interesting rhythms and trends in the scholarly investigation of sounds in the home that have surfaced across both issues.


Some patterns emerge in terms of scale in the way the relationship between home and sound are treated in the two issues: at the macro level, we find extra-home studies that approaches the home from an external perspective, with a particular focus on the relationship between the home and the city that surrounds it. These studies tend to explore the porous boundaries of the dwelling or the emergence of sonic communities that transgress the boundaries of the home (often despite lockdowns and isolation) and emerge across the city (Bild et al. JSS21; Gendron-Blais JSS22; Meireles JSS22). The meso-level includes studies we might call inter-home research, which often focus on relationships between individual dwellings, with an emphasis on relationships between neighbors (Schmidt JSS21; Petersen JSS22; Neville JSS22; Spaulding JSS22) or sonic dynamics in larger apartment complexes (JSS21). Smaller studies that we might call intra-homely are concerned with sounds within homes or domestic structures, often between family members (Abildgaard JSS21; Kristensen JSS21; Johansen and Nielsen JSS21; Findlay-Walsh JSS22; Meireles JSS22) or co-workers (Carlson JSS21). Finally, at the micro-level, we see a body of research dedicated to intra-bodily explorations, where the exploration of sound within a body is central (Downs JSS21; Broeckmeyer JSS22).


As a central figure moving across these different scales, the human voice connects the inside of the body, where it is created (Broeckmeyer JSS22), with the inside of the home that it occupies, traversing its borders from time to time through a telephone line or through floors and walls to reach the neighbors (Spaulding JSS22; Petersen JSS22; Abildgaard JSS21) and sometimes even connecting with others in the public space of the city (Gendron-Blais JSS22). The voice, which is intimately connected to personal identity as well as to human exchange and relationships, illustrates one way the home is never disconnected or completely isolated, even if the pandemic seemed to drive us toward this state. The human voice is accompanied by another figure that emerges as a post-phenomenological entity within the contributions of these issues, namely the experiences of various digital technologies – smart speakers, telephony, and voice assistants – that overhear, listen, and respond. These technologies sometimes take the form of a voice (Neville JSS22; Findlay-Walsh JSS22) and sometimes mediate connections to others outside of the home (Abildgaard JSS21). 


The technological transgressions and private/public boundary negotiations during Covid-19 (partial) lockdowns occupied the core of the home and forced its inhabitants to (continually) re-negotiate the spatial and temporal territories of the home (Findlay-Walsh JSS22; Meireles JSS22). In this way social confinement intensified the volatile and messy character of sonic relations in the home. The relations in question involved both the human inhabitants as well as the nonhuman sonic presences. Home appliances, for example, came to play a prominent role in (Brown and Vuksic JSS21; Meireles JSS22; Chattopadhyay JSS22) at a time when confinement within the home reduced everyday soundscapes to be composed of expressions of presences that used to be merely accounted for such as the sound of water being heated up by an electric kettle or a vacuum cleaner suddenly encompassing all other sonic expression.


Across the contributions to the two issues it is made clear that spending a lot of time at home does not necessarily lead to uncomplicated experiences of homeliness. Rather, in many cases, it seems to result in a rupture with the usual patterns and rhythms, a rupture that suddenly reveals the overheard and habitual practices of daily life at home to which many of us have come to rely on as the backdrop of everyday life. This rupture brings out the unheimlich in the home and forces a renegotiation of affective boundaries and territories. 


With the publication of this second special issue on Sound at Home we would like to thank the editors of the Journal of Sonic Studies for their collaboration and commitment as well as the contributing authors for taking the time to share their inspiring work on these issues with us.