Editorial: Materials of Sound 

Caleb Kelly, guest editor

JSS16, “Materials of Sound” is the first of two issues that respond to a call for sound practices to be thought through the materials of their making. That is, the physical materials that create the sound-producing event are critical to the understanding of the sound produced. In the practices under investigation, arts and culture is read through materials and, in these cases, the materials are sonic.


These two issues germinated from a series of research focuses that began in 2013 when I initiated the research group Sound and Materials. At the time many of the artists around me who worked with sound had left the digital studio behind and replaced it with various analogue and electronic practices. This approach to sound making was radically different to the practices arising at the turn of the century that celebrated the digital studio and the use of the laptop as a performance instrument. Sound and Materials swiftly grew and widened its scope to Sound, Energies, and Environments (SEE) in 2016.


My developing research in the shift from the digital, a shift brought on by digital fatigue, had a series of research outcomes, including a special issue of the art magazine Das Superpaper,entitled “Materials,” and the symposium “Materials of Sound” that ran in Sydney in 2016. The former brought together artists working in the region, not solely sound makers, to discuss the emerging emphasis on an ecological critique in material practices. The symposium drew together Seth Kim-Cohen, Amelia Barikin, Francis Dyson, Johannes Kreidler, and Joel Stern and Danni Zuvela, who delivered papers discussing issues of materials-based sound practices. Finally, the first iteration of an ongoing series of exhibitions entitled “Material Soundopened at MAMA, the Murray Art Museum in Albury, Australia, in February. This exhibition included six installations and a series of performances and workshops.

Opening “Material Sound,” curated by Caleb Kelly at MAMA Albury, Australia. In order of appearance: Ross Manning, Robin Fox, Caitlin Franzmann, Pia van Gelder, Eric Demetriou, Peter Blamey, and Vicky Browne.

This issue of the Journal of Sonic Studies is the first of two issues. JSS16 looks to creative practices and artists and composer/musicians who work primarily beyond the digital. The second issue (JSS18) will look to sound within various cultures and cities beyond the art-centred critiques in this issue. 


It is important to note that this issue contains a predominance of Australasian artists and writers. Within the sound arts, and their scholarship, there has been a blindness (or should I say deafness) to practices in the Southern Hemisphere. While Northern Hemisphere theorists cite their multi-regional touchstones, the regions tend to be Northern Hemisphere countries, including Canada, the USA, The United Kingdom, various European Countries, the Scandinavian countries, Russia, China and across to Japan. South American countries are sporadically investigated as well as, on the rare occasion, Australia. From my region, this leaves out highly productive and diverse practices that originate in South East Asia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. This journal, I’m pleased to say, has published from this region, including the issue Encounters with Southeast Asia Through Sound (JSS12). The writers and practices that come from the Australasian region are highlighted in “Materials of Sound,” and I hope, as in all of my written ventures, that this bias will begin to alter through the critical discussion of our practices.