Collaborative Research Seminar: The Life of Sound (Fall 2023)

Khoa Vu Drawing

The study of sound — in relation to music, literature, media, and performance — has required scholars to reconceive their objects of study and, in many cases, the very grounds of interpretation. In this seminar we aim to build a shared vocabulary to consider how material encounters are interwoven with symbolic exchanges to produce that experience we commonly call sound. Perhaps because sound has so often been overlooked as fundamental to cultural life, it also has served repeatedly as the adhesive for community formations organized in opposition to dominant cultures. Thus, our seminar’s concern for “the life of sound” aims to join critical attention to and analysis of auditory cultures with care for how entities work with sound to create interactive worlds.

This seminar might also have been called “Sound’s Vicissitudes,” or “Sound and Its Archives,” or just “Sound.” There are many coordinates to what might be called “the life of sound”: sound in the present, sound in the past, sound in the future, sound linked to place, sound linked to cultures, sound linked to listeners, sounds that are inclusive, sounds that are exclusive, sounds that are live, sounds that are archived, the death of (a) sound, and more.

The organizers have a set of concerns about sound that they wish to explore in the seminar, and graduate student participants might add to the list, which could include: histories of practices of listening, the archiving of sound in non-sonic forms, the semiotic systems in and through which sounds acquire various kinds of value, the displacement or forced severance of sound, categories of silence and silencing, the ethics and phenomenology of listening, the dynamic interactions of sound sources and auditors, synesthesia, orality, aurality, amplification.


Participating Faculty

Stephen Best (Townsend Center Director, English, Film & Media)

Roshanak Kheshti (TDPS)

Michael Lucey (Comparative Literature, French)

Tom McEnaney (Comparative Literature, Spanish & Portuguese)

Fumi Okiji (Rhetoric)

Beth Piatote (Comparative Literature, English)


Enrollment by Application

Admission to the seminar is by application. It will be made up of 12 graduate students and the six faculty organizers.

Interested students should write a one-page letter indicating what brings you to this course, what preparation you have, and how it fits with your ongoing interests. Send your letter of interest to no later than May 15, 2023

The seminar meets Fall 2023, Thursdays, 1–4 pm. We plan on visits from three sets of artists/writers during the seminar, and these will also include presentations outside the time of the seminar which all participants are warmly (and strongly) encouraged to attend.