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Sound Waves

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Organizer: Julie Beth Napolin

Co-Organizer: Sara Marcus

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“Voice” is both a key metaphor and a key medium of politics. Political participation is figured as “having a voice”; the word vote has its origins in the Latin vovere, “to vow.” But what of the sonic and acoustic occurrences not encompassed by such presumed promises, declarations, and rightful audiences? What of the sonic scenes that cannot be readily counted or that do not coalesce into a coherent event? In this moment globally, “voice” seems remarkably weak as a metaphor and medium for polity. At the same time, overwhelming technologies of surveillance attempt to frame, extract, distribute, and commodify polity, such that any return to the voice’s liberal origins would be fictional at best. This seminar takes its cues from several recent studies that have encouraged thinking and listening beyond the “voice”: studies that engage noise and the color line, religiosity and breath, performance and resonance. We aim to discuss the hiss, murmur, and dissonance of political convergence and divergence, collectivity and dispersal, not only in time and space but in and between subjects in the making and unmaking: sound as material and metaphor of politics. 

Questions motivating this seminar include: How does sound’s materiality affect its functioning as political metaphor? How does sound condition migrations of political concerns and feelings across aesthetic and audiovisual forms, and how do processes of technological mediation shape these flows? How does sound hail, index, and trouble the races, genders, and sexualities attributed to bodies and subjects? How do we hear the political conditions--carceral, capitalist, ecclesiastical, confessional--that frame scenes of sound reproduction? How do these conditions in turn shape the genres of recording and listening that attend such diverse sites as the field recording and audio diary, the blues 45 and the best-selling piece of sheet music, religious music and telecommunications? 
Topics might include, but will not be limited to: performance and performativity, politics, listening, capital, race, gender, sexuality, migration, diaspora, analog and digital technes of memory/memorialization, recitation, “voice” as phonic materiality/as political participation, democracy.

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