Four New Books: Sonic Virtuality, Listening To War, Sensing Sound, Instruments of New Music

new sound books november 2015

It’s very interesting to see the production of books about sound growing. In one side, it’s always challenging, difficult and almost impossible to theorize sound, at least in the way other aspects of life are theorized. But on the other hand, it means the possibility of looking for new ways of storytelling, new research methodologies and new ways of exploring the sonic realm from inter-disciplinary perspectives.

A couple of days ago, we were talking about the second edition of The Audio Culture Reader. Today there are other three books, two of them released a couple of months ago, and other two more that are released this month and the next. Here they are:

sonic virtuality

Sonic Virtuality: Sound as emergent perception, by Mark Grimshaw & Tom Garner

Oxford University Press | Amazon

In Sonic Virtuality: Sound as Emergent Perception, authors Mark Grimshaw and Tom Garner introduce a novel theory that positions sound within a framework of virtuality. Arguing against the acoustic or standard definition of sound as a sound wave, the book builds a case for a sonic aggregate as the virtual cloud of potentials created by perceived sound. The authors build on their recent work investigating the nature and perception of sound as used in computer games and virtual environments, and put forward a unique argument that sound is a fundamentally virtual phenomenon.

Grimshaw and Garner propose a new, fuller and more complete, definition of sound based on a perceptual view of sound that accounts more fully for cognition, emotion, and the wider environment. The missing facet is the virtuality: the idea that all sound arises from a sonic aggregate made up of actual and virtual sonic phenomena. The latter is a potential that depends upon human cognition and emotion for its realization as sound. This thesis is explored through a number of philosophical, cognitive, and psychological concepts including: issues of space, self, sonosemantics, the uncanny, hyper-realism, affect, Gettier problems, belief, alief, imagination, and sound perception in the absence of sound sensation.

Provocative and original, Grimshaw and Garner’s ideas have broader implications for our relationship to technology, our increasingly digital lives, and the nature of our being within our supposed realities. Students and academics from philosophy to acoustics and across the broad spectrum of digital humanities will find this accessible book full of challenging concepts and provocative ideas.

“Combining ideas and theories from philosophy and sound studies with evidence from cognitive science and neurobiology, Sonic Virtuality offers a new examination of sound that will challenge everything you thought you knew about our perception of sound.” –Dr. Karen Collins

listening to war

Listening to War: Sound, Music, Trauma, and Survival in Wartime Iraq, by J. Martin Daughtry

Oxford University Press | Amazon

To witness war is, in large part, to hear it. And to survive it is, among other things, to have listened to it–and to have listened through it.

Listening to War: Sound, Music, Trauma, and Survival in Wartime Iraq is a groundbreaking study of the centrality of listening to the experience of modern warfare. Based on years of ethnographic interviews with U.S. military service members and Iraqi civilians, as well as on direct observations of wartime Iraq, author J. Martin Daughtry reveals how these populations learned to extract valuable information from the ambient soundscape while struggling with the deleterious effects that it produced in their ears, throughout their bodies, and in their psyches. Daughtry examines the dual-edged nature of sound–its potency as a source of information and a source of trauma–within a sophisticated conceptual frame that highlights the affective power of sound and the vulnerability and agency of individual auditors. By theorizing violence through the prism of sound and sound through the prism of violence, Daughtry provides a productive new vantage point for examining these strangely conjoined phenomena. Two chapters dedicated to wartime music in Iraqi and U.S. military contexts show how music was both an important instrument of the military campaign and the victim of a multitude of violent acts throughout the war. A landmark work within the study of conflict, sound studies, and ethnomusicology, Listening to War will expand your understanding of the experience of armed violence, and the experience of sound more generally. At the same time, it provides a discrete window into the lives of individual Iraqis and Americans struggling to orient themselves within the fog of war.

“This book is profound and urgently important. It is literally a study of war, not its outcomes. Daughtry expands ethnomusicologists’ most basic assumptions, stepping sideways from music to the moment when sound creates and obliterates the self. He parses the inhabited, diachronic moment of sonic violence in a way I wouldn’t have thought critically possible. Listening to War is stunningly smart, informed, and original. Virtually every sentence made me pause. Daughtry shows how ethnomusicology can-and should-address the most pressing issues of our time.” – Deborah Wong

sensing sound

Sensing sound: Singing and Listening as Vibrational Practice (Sign, Storage, Transmission), by Nina Sun Eidsheim

Duke University PressAmazon

In Sensing Sound Nina Sun Eidsheim offers a vibrational theory of music that radically re-envisions how we think about sound, music, and listening. Eidsheim shows how sound, music, and listening are dynamic and contextually dependent, rather than being fixed, knowable, and constant. She uses twenty-first-century operas by Juliana Snapper, Meredith Monk, Christopher Cerrone, and Alba Triana as case studies to challenge common assumptions about sound—such as air being the default medium through which it travels—and to demonstrate the importance a performance’s location and reception play in its contingency. By theorizing the voice as an object of knowledge and rejecting the notion of an a priori definition of sound, Eidsheim releases the voice from a constraining set of fixed concepts and meanings. In Eidsheim’s theory, music consists of aural, tactile, spatial, physical, material, and vibrational sensations. This expanded definition of music as manifested through material and personal relations suggests that we are all connected to each other in and through sound. Sensing Sound will appeal to readers interested in sound studies, new musicology, contemporary opera, and performance studies.

“Sensing Sound offers a singular and original perspective on the status of the voice and the theory of music. Nina Sun Eidsheim teaches readers to think about voice as a multisensory phenomenon and, in so doing, turns the tools of sound studies and critical musicology against themselves, demonstrating conclusively that an understanding of sound is not enough for understanding voice, singing, or music.” – Jonathan Sterne

instruments for new music

Instruments for New Music: Sound, Technology, and Modernism, by Thomas Patteson

University of California Press | Amazon

Player pianos, radio-electric circuits, gramophone records, and optical sound film—these were the cutting-edge acoustic technologies of the early twentieth century, and for many musicians and artists of the time, these devices were also the implements of a musical revolution. Instruments for New Music traces a diffuse network of cultural agents who shared the belief that a truly modern music could be attained only through a radical challenge to the technological foundations of the art. Centered in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s, the movement to create new instruments encompassed a broad spectrum of experiments, from the exploration of microtonal tunings and exotic tone colors to the ability to compose directly for automatic musical machines. This movement comprised composers, inventors, and visual artists, including Paul Hindemith, Ernst Toch, Jörg Mager, Friedrich Trautwein, László Moholy-Nagy, Walter Ruttmann, and Oskar Fischinger. Patteson’s fascinating study combines an artifact-oriented history of new music in the early twentieth century with an astute revisiting of still-relevant debates about the relationship between technology and the arts.

“The smartest book on the German roots of what happened once electricity joined sound to make music and media. Amid profound historical events, technological possibilities were hacked, recordings stopped repeating themselves to perform something new, and the innovative art forms with us today were born.” Douglas Kahn