Date of Degree

9-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Music

Advisor

Amy Herzog

Committee Members

Emily Wilbourne

Anne Stone

Alejandra Bronfman

Subject Categories

Audio Arts and Acoustics | Interdisciplinary Arts and Media | Music | Musicology

Keywords

Materiality, sound installations, musical instruments, politics of listening, weaponized and militarized sound, auditory environments

Abstract

This dissertation provides a set of entries into how audio technologies and listening practices play on broader tendencies in Western material culture in relation to sites of modern ruination in the early 21st-century. In particular, it examines the work music and sound perform as mnemonics, as artifacts, and as anticipators, in relation to ecologies of violence, trauma, and power.

Often, we think of music and of sound events as being immaterial, and of the past as something no longer present that we have left behind. This dissertation results from an effort to instead attend to their tangibilities, participating in a larger interest in materiality in the humanities and social sciences. I focus in particular on the ways in which sound, music, and audio technologies function within constellations of “things” (e.g., events, sensibilities, gestures and performance practices, physical and social structures, sounds, artifacts, commodities, political projects) in ways that remain, that act in the present, and that set up futurities that depart from representationalist and historicist approaches.

This study addresses sound art installations (e.g., by Steven Vitiello, Nadine Robinson, Susan Philipsz, Janet Cardiff, and Postcommodity), audio compilation and archival projects, on-location audio tours, obsolescent and mechanical musical instruments, newly developed hyper- and omni-directional audio technologies (HyperSound and Mass Notification Systems), and militarized and weaponized uses of sound (the Long Range Acoustic Device, LRAD). Each of these works and technologies is read in relation to their historical and material “sites”: the museum, the World Trade Center, Hurricane Sandy, Standing Rock, the war on terror. These have at their core a set of attachments and sensibilities toward the material world and are, at the same time, ways of explaining and exploiting it. I show these to be contradictory techno-cultural responses to troubled contemporary environments, negotiated through complex auditory practices and audio-technological design.

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