About – University of Copenhagen

Sound Research > About

Sound as art - sound in history
Sound as culture - sound in theory

Network objectives

Sounds created by man and by nature have always been part of human cultures. Even though all sorts of sounds are thoroughly integrated in everyday life - and normally pass unnoticed (if not unheard) - sounds work both as socially integrating and socially differentiating phenomena. But while nature sounds have remained stable in character and in volume, man-made sounds have become still more numerous, still more voluminous, and still more nuanced.
  Industrialisation caused a tremendous rise in volume in and around the sites of production, and the growth of cities meant that the general noise level rose. Since then, various means of transportation have contributed to the continuous intensification and rise in volume, both in the city and the countryside. Also, electrically powered, mechanical gadgets from fluorescent tubes to washing machines and personal computers have changed the soundscape of the home into a near-continuous background ‘hum' sometimes drowned out by modern mass media applications.
  More recent digital developments have not changed this. Instead, it has made it still easier to produce and carry around sounds. Today you can produce your own sound files in your living room using equipment worth less than 1.500 €, others may download the sound file and carry it around on an iPod while being surrounded by sound signals from computers, cell phones, traffic lights, dishwasher machines, etc. In this way, man-made sounds from various applications have become still more copious, and producers and consumers give them still more attention either for branding or for identity building while the authorities try to regulate the most noisy ones.
  This situation where sound has become more ubiquitous and dominating ought to be researched in more detail than has been the case until recently. Thus, the object of this research network is to connect and further qualify a number of Danish sound research milieus in various contexts, partly by facilitating exchange across traditional research disciplines, partly by developing contacts to international milieus. Concrete aims are to publish an internet anthology and to set up an application for an international sound research network.

Research background and questions

Sound research as a distinctive area of research has slowly developed since World Was II. Pierre Schaeffer theorized his musique concrète in his Traité des objets musicaux. Essai interdisciplines and developed a systematic-theoretical focus on the sound qualities of music which the composers John Cage and Dennis Smalley also experimented with. The Canadian R. Murray Schafer established the term soundscape in his The Tuning of the World which helped focussing on everyday sounds and has since been followed by many sound ecology-informed studies. Also, the political scientist Jacques Attali who wrote Bruits: Essai sur l'economie politique de la musique has contributed to the interpretation of music history and to the opening up for a sound sociology while philosopher Don Ihde introduced the phenomenology of sound as a research area with his Listening and Voice: Phenomenologies of Sound.
  Within the arts it has traditionally been the role of music to articulate sound, even though for example the theatre is normally dependent on sound as well. But only with the development of electronic music and popular music since the 1950s and a bit later sound art has artistic reflections on sound become integrated in the arts, and it corresponds with music's still greater dependency on electricity and machinery for both production and distribution. At the same time, ‘postmodern' aesthetics indicated a range of basic changes in the arts in the 1970s and 1980s.
  Ethnomusicologist Steven Feld has coined the term acoustemology as a general term for the whole research field. The concept describes the way in which sound is central to the production of meaning and points to listening as a specific way of knowing through sound, and he continues: "Acoustemology, acousteme: I am adding to the vocabulary of sensorial-sonic studies to argue the potential of acoustic knowing, of sounding as a condition of and for knowing, of sonic presence and awareness as potent shaping forces in how people make sense of experiences" (1996: 97). This placing of acoustical knowledge as culturally central without ignoring the importance of discourse will be one of the main guides for the network.
  Even though traditional areas of research mentioned above investigate parts of the research area and contribute methodically and theoretically, the ‘turn towards auditivity' has indicated a gathering of the activities from separate areas in order to investigate new phenomena in art and in digital culture and basing the research on a plethora of methods and theories. What thus constitutes sound research is an interdisciplinarily grounded, specific gaze at - or, rather, ear for - sound and auditivity in historical and present cultures, not a specific theory.
  Today, sound studies provide an important framework for furthering cultural research related to a broad range of historical and contemporary issues while structuring currents in social and global activity increasingly determined by auditory, sonic, and communicative materiality. The investigation of auditivity and auditory cultures raises a series of significant general questions:

  • In what ways have the cultural changes related to globalization and digital media come to point toward a shift from a visualist paradigm (based on notions of visual representation, semiotics, and a hermeneutics based on reading) and toward an auditive paradigm in which modes of interaction, mobile communications, and spatial and geographic fluidity lead to a renewed sense of orality and listening?
  • How has musical and technological sound production and perception changed through the last century and how has it contributed to soundscapes of the everyday, the concert hall, and the media?
  • What do the specific aesthetic aspects of sound art seek to achieve in contrast to the predominance of visuality and modes of looking within the arts?
  • How has sound come to lend definition to urban environments, and how might issues related to urban planning, architectural design, and noise benefit from a deeper and more complex understanding and perspective on sound?
  • How might the emerging and interdisciplinary field of sound studies influence the disciplines of musicology, performance studies, art history, anthropology, urban studies, and the history of technology and media to inspire new modes of reflecting upon and examining their respective methodologies and subsequent political effects?

Such general questions will be taken up at the network seminars and discussed in relation to a range of topics, for instance:

  • Artistically by addressing the aesthetics of sound art and of music from the last 200 years.
  • Historically by discussing radio as a sounding and an artistic phenomenon in a historical perspective, by discussing examples of music since ca. 1800 from a sound perspective, and by discussing the development and changes in the meanings of environmental sounds.
  • Culturally by analysing individual soundscapes and by focussing on sounds in culture.
  • Theoretically by discussing relevant terminological apparatuses for describing sounds (including musical sounds) and soundscapes.