Most scholarship on audio engineering analyzes practices and practitioners in terms of musical and technical knowledges. The few references to sensory perception typically center on critical listening practices (“golden ears” engineers), audiophilia, and technologies of audition. However, particularly in light of computer-based workflows, the practice of audio engineering features carefully developed synesthesias of critical listening, visualization of digital audio, and tactile manipulations of interfaces, which can’t adequately be explained as cognitive processes or as conscious knowledge.
I draw on literature in the emerging field of sensory scholarship, in particular Brian Massumi’s theorization of synesthesia and affect and Charles Hirschkind’s analyses of cultivated “sensoriums” in order to show how practices of audio engineering can be productively theorized as a strategic retraining of the senses. I draw diverse examples from field research conducted in the US and Turkey. One example – Ron’s right arm – explores how one audio engineer uses his right arm to “feel” when the bass is right in a rock mix. Another example explores the creation of “büyük ses” (big sound) in Anatolian “ethnic” music and the use of the Protools edit window to “visualize” bass. In both cases, bass is something that is felt or seen, but not immediately audible. Through an attention to differing kinds of synesthesias, we can better understand how audio engineers perform their craft.