[Event] Resonant Bodies: Landscapes of Acoustic Tension

ICI Berlin
13-15 June 2013


When a solid body meets its natural resonant frequency, it violently vibrates and breaks into pieces. What happens when the human body meets its resonant frequencies? Mostly a combination of soft tissue and water, the human body is not one solid object. It includes a variety of molecules each of which has a different resonant frequency. Yet the soft tissue and water do not allow these molecules to be completely destroyed. Instead, the human body’s liquidity and elasticity perpetuate the fundamental principle of acoustic resonance: holding a multitude of similar frequencies neither as precisely same nor as perfectly different. For the very same reason perhaps, the human body is involved in a constant reciprocity with its sonic environment. Knowingly or unknowingly, it vibrates with multiple other bodies. Without any necessary physical contact, it matches its resonant frequencies from a distance. Acoustic resonance draws a particular proximity between one’s physical location and his/her phenomenal extension to another.

Consider this proximity acoustic tension, a case of mental distance despite the physical closeness, and equally, a case of mental closeness despite the physical distance. Then picture acoustic resonance as a landscape of acoustic tension, a horizontal spectrum of multiple modalities of sounds, which do coincide with one another but which do not necessarily become one. The very act of hearing holds the acoustic tension. When we hear a sound, we are simultaneously moved to and positioned in a place. What happens if acoustic tension is heightened, if we pay close attention to the intensity and volume of sound? What would be the material effects of such sonic embodiment in everyday life? What kind of subjectivity does it enact? What kind of an epistemology does acoustic tension evoke, mirror and transform? And how do our resonant bodies function in understanding the self’s relation to its external world? The symposium will explore these questions by marking three landscapes of acoustic tension: sensory ecologies of hearing, materiality of voice, language and speech, and affective states of sound.

The conference is organised by Zeynep Bulut (ICI Berlin), Claudia Peppel (ICI Berlin), and Brandon LaBelle (Bergen Academy of Art and Design).

[Event] Royal Musical Association Annual Conference 2013

This year’s RMA conference includes a panel on music and dance that might be of interest to some readers of this blog.

Panel: Crossing the Audio-Visual Divide: Music and Dance in Dialogue

Helen Julia Minors (Kingston University), convenor, ‘Music in Motion: Proposing a Gestural and Spatial Analysis of Music-Dance Works’

Stephanie Jordan (Roehampton University), ‘Arguments and Conversations: Music and Dance and the Work of Mark Morris’

Lawrence Zbikowski (Chicago University), ‘Music and Dance: An Embodied Dialogue’

Steffi Schroedter (Free University Berlin), respondent

The conference will be held at the Institute of Musical Research in London from Thursday 19th to Saturday 21st September 2013.

Immaterial and Sonic Bodies

A few hours after writing yesterday’s post, in which I mentioned Lisa Blackman’s book Immaterial Bodies, I chanced across a video of her talking about some of the ideas she writes about. It’s a happy find because I wasn’t searching for anything particularly related to the book (I was looking for a video of Philip Glass’s music on Sesame Street, if you must know!). What makes it even better is that Blackman is joined by Julian Henriques, author of Sonic Bodies.


“This talk explores two examples of immaterial communication. One is sound waves, as the energetic disturbance of a medium. The other is automaticity as the sense a person has of being directed by someone or something else, human or non-human. Popular conceptions of the immaterial suggest that the imperceptible, the invisible and the ethereal are often aligned to the occult, supernatural and haunting. Ideas about sound are associated on the one hand with embodied affects, drives, entrainment, rhythmic compulsion, as well as on the other the sublime and the ethereal. The session is presented as a dialogue between Julian Henriques’ work on sonic bodies (2011) which draws on the ways of knowing of the Jamaican reggae sound system engineers, and Lisa Blackman’s work on voice hearing, suggestion, and telepathy (2001; 2012) which draws on imaginary media such as telepathy and hypnotism at the start of the 20th century. In line with the turn to affect, the talk will purpose the idea of the immaterial for a discussion of voicing, hauntings, the virtual, atmpospheres, the subliminal, or even transliminal.”


transitional thoughts + genealogies


As I write this I’m sitting on a metal bench on a snowy West Yorkshire station platform. I have a bit too much baggage, too many books. Recently most of my weekends have been spent on trains, dashing from here to there, caught up between work and the various places that may or may not be home.

Today I’m trying to read Lisa Blackman’s Immaterial Bodies so that I can finish an article I’m working on and publishpublishpublish my way into a more permanent academic career. I flip back to the first few pages. Since finishing my PhD I’ve taken to reading authors’ acknowledgements and admonishing myself for the hash that I made of it in my thesis (mainly because there were far, far more people deserving heart-felt ‘thank you’s than I managed to name there). As I read I’m struck by something Blackman writes:

The inter-disciplinarity that was characteristic of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is one that I carry through today such that my own disciplinary location is far from settled. However, I have found an intellectual home at Goldsmiths, University of London in the Department of Media and Communications since 1994 . . .

This has a certain resonance for me, mainly because, like Blackman’s, my research does not fit into one easily-labelled discipline. I am far from settled in art as well as in life. In my viva the examiners asked me where I would shelve my thesis if I worked in a university library. I responded to their question with jokes about how I do work in a university library and I wouldn’t touch it with the proverbial sharp stick an argument that I would like to see it in the 780s (780.1?), even if some scholars might argue it doesn’t quite belong there. But this masks a sense that this is in fact a deeper concern for me. Like Blackman, I think I am the kind of scholar who will find an intellectual home in a particular department or research group rather than in any one subject as a whole.

Later in the book Blackman considers the idea of intellectual genealogies, and I’m reminded that sometimes it’s important to remember where I come from as well as where I’d like to be going. Thinking through answers to the question ‘where do I come from?’ is perhaps another way of thinking about home. Put like that, a sort of disciplinary family tree, then I am perhaps more aligned to musicology than a simple description of some of my current work might reveal. Though it’s also hard to forget that somewhere in my scholarly-DNA I’ve inherited more than a few attributes from my inter-disciplinary beginning at Dartington College of Arts.

DCA has gone, merged, changed. I’m still looking for home.  I hope I will find a similarly stimulating and creative intellectual home elsewhere, but I still feel the gentle tug of the tide in South Devon. No doubt like many aspiring academics, I’ve been wondering if there‘s a way I can have both. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve started to think more about how home and my desire for an academic job intersect, to consider whether I’d be willing to live and work anywhere for the elusive full-time contract. Increasingly the answer is, ‘no’.  Don’t get me wrong; I’d love an academic job, but it has to be the right one.

Until now I was too willing to write off the alternatives because of the widely-held attitude that anything less than a full-time lectureship or research fellowship is a failure, something that marks out a lesser mind. Of course, financial considerations have to be taken into account too, and I’m no supporter of the way the system seems to be shifting towards contingent labour (an excess of short-term, part-time, or even zero hours contracts can’t be good for either academic staff or their students). My career-making, I suspect, will be magpie-like; some leaves from here, twigs from there. I’ll do my best to steal the opportunities that will make it sparkle. Perhaps it’s worth moving back to a geographical home, too. Maybe my nesting would be better-served by the metaphor of putting down roots and then branching out.