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The above video is a homage to Sound in Theory, Sound in Practice. Through lectures, discussions, performances, workshops, and art, the Symposium looked at sound as an expressive medium, a material, and an object of critical inquiry. This video, entitled SOUNDSPACE, includes a compilation of sounds recorded exclusively at the Symposium and accompanying imagery that explores the place of the Experimental Humanities’ sound archive, and sound in general, in digital space and demonstrates that the content of the academy extends beyond the physical and temporal borders of a conference or institution.

Sound in Theory, Sound in Practice brings together scholars and practitioners to consider the potential of thinking about and through sound. Recent years have witnessed a sonic turn in the humanities and beyond. Many working in the fields of anthropology, literature, urban studies, history, media studies, and the arts have increasingly shifted their attention to sound as both an expressive medium, a material, and a critical object of inquiry. Under the auspices of Experimental Humanities and the Sound Cluster at Bard College, this two-day symposium will focus on questions of aurality, transmission, aesthetics, and evidence.

Breaking with conference convention, the symposium will invite participants to engage in a lively dialogue around keywords and questions that have emerged through discussions in the sound cluster. Complementing a series of three roundtable discussions will be two keynote addresses by Emily Thompson, author of The Soundscape of Modernity and Jonathan Sterne, author of The Audible Past and editor of The Sound Studies Reader, an exhibition of sound art by Bard faculty, students, and invited sound artists, and experiential workshops taking the form of sonic “interludes” between panel discussions.

Aurality connotes doubly: depending on the source one consults, it may have to do with the sense of hearing, or with the act of listening, or, sometimes, with both. The term equivocally points us, in other words, to the ear as a site both of sensory reception and of directed attention—implying starkly divergent models of what it means to be an aural subject. In either case, whether one privileges the receptivity or the selectivity of the ear, the concept of aurality might seem to emphasize the immediacy or immersiveness of the experience of sound. Yet this immediacy is cut by many mediating conditions: atmospheric, technological, architectural, and cultural, to name a few. These are some of the productive tensions that motivate this roundtable, which will bring together scholars and artists working with issues of hearing and listening in the fields of anthropology, media performance, sound art, and the history of technology. Participants will describe the ways that their work responds to—and might help us to newly articulate—questions of aurality in relation to issues of voice, politics, law, disability, technology, privacy, synesthesia, and space. In the study of culture and of expression, for instance, what are the implications of focusing on aurality rather than, or in addition to, orality? In what contexts do practices of listening take on political weight, or bear legal consequences? How does our understanding of human audition intersect with the history of auditory technology, from notation to telecommunications? And what does it mean, as a scholar and/or maker, to work from the point of this intersection?

Transmission highlights the way sound is conveyed through a variety of different media: a telephone, a radio, a record, an MP3.  To consider transmission, we need to address the nature of the medium or format, its communicative limitations and potentials, the social protocols for its use, as well as how sound travels through it.  Rather than assume transparency, remote presence, or disembodiment, this panel discusses the way transmission conditions and frames communication – whether it be communication between machines, machines and humans, or between humans.  Communications satellites, undersea cables, and switchboards tie together humans and nonhumans in technosocial networks.   More often than not transnational agreements and national regulations condition these networks and their work. At the same time, this technological understanding of transmission is often projected on communication at large, reducing the multiple modes of transmission into a universal abstraction.  Transmission highlights operations of transduction – that is, how sound changes as it moves across media – and the communication between two or more media.  In the 1950s, for example, audimeters were installed in selected radio sets in North America that recorded every turn of the dial, creating a massive set of data about listeners and their preferences.  Processes of transmission are also often connected to practices of archiving, recording, and storing sound.  A record or an MP3 are both means of storing sound and forms from which sound is transmitted. Transmission turns our attention away from descriptions that emphasize the ephemeral, intangible, and evanescent nature of sound towards the processes of moving and fixing sound in tangible forms.  As such, it points to a relationship between transmission of sound and the transmission of knowledge.  The transmission (and transduction) of sound between the radio set and the audimeter, for example, created the conditions for generating knowledge about radio listening.  How does a focus on audio transmission shape our understanding of the way different forms of knowledge are transmitted through sound?  What contingent social and sociotechnological relations do different forms of transmission create and/or require?

Resonance sketches relationships: it produces a network that tethers vibrating objects to listeners in a web of signification that has both material (physical, acoustic) and affective (aesthetic, ideological) dimensions. Further, in its vernacular use, it is suggestive of sound’s power to allude, to evoke, to index feeling. Metaphorically, we say that something “resonates with us” as an assertion of our subjectivity; it is a method of assimilating the operations of memory and sentiment to the self. Thus, resonance may recast sound by launching it well past its origin into new contexts. In doing so, it troubles assumptions about the ephemerality of sound through its emergent and contingent nature. Testimonies resonate with judges and jurors just as songs resonate with audiences past the moment of delivery. Resonant voices are valued for their expressivity and authoritativeness; they may also be held in suspicion as instruments of ideological sway and rhetorical coercion. A resonant utterance may reverberate long after it has dissipated acoustically. It may generate unexpected “empathetic resonance”–or, in some instances, pain–in those who hear it. Rather than fixing sound into a form, a resonant sound moves with, through, or past those who hear it. Veit Erlmann has pointed out that “resonance is eminently suited to dissolve the binary of the materiality of things and the immateriality of signs that has been at the center of Western thought for much of the modern era” (2015: 181). This panel seeks to explore the tensions produced by resonance in its multiple roles as an acoustic, affective, and ideological phenomenon.

Organized by the Sound Cluster
Laura Kunreuther, Associate Professor of Anthropology
Alex Benson, Assistant Professor of Literature
Matthew Deady, Professor of Physics
Danielle Riou, Associate Director of the Human Rights Project
Maria Sonevytsky, Assistant Professor of Music (Ethnomusicology)
Julianne Swartz, Artist in Residence
Drew Thompson, Assistant Professor of Africana & Historical Studies
OIga Touloumi, Assistant Professor of Art History

Sponsored by Experimental Humanities, Center of Civic Engagement, Human Rights Project, and Bard College.