Sound Instruments and Sonic Cultures: An Interdisciplinary Conference

Conference: 15–16 December 2020 at the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford (UK); Deadline: 28 June 2020.
Keynote speakers: Mara Mills (NYU Steinhardt), Trevor Pinch (Cornell University).

Infos and Call for Papers:

Modernity has witnessed an accelerating proliferation of soundinstruments—devices that allow humans to purposefully produce, capture, observe, manipulate, broadcast or otherwise interact with sound. Examples are numerous: sound instruments include all musical instruments, acoustic and electronic, as well as scientific, medical, and military instruments that operate sonically, from the tuning forks and resonators of 19th-century acousticians, to Geiger-Müller counters, Fessenden oscillators (sonar), and ultrasound scanners. Sound recording, playback, and listening devices are sound instruments—record, CD, and MP3 players, tape recorders, loudspeakers, headphones, etc.—as are studio and live sound technologies like mixing desks, compressors, reverb units, computers and software devices such as Autotune, and guitar effects pedals. Radio and television sets are sound instruments, as are terrestrial and mobile telephones, as are hearing aids. The list goes on.

The development of sound instruments has been paralleled by the development of sonic cultures—cultures of listening, cultures of creative production and consumption, cultures of scientific and medical practice, cultures of scholarship and heritage, cultures of designing, building, and testing sound instruments. Sonic cultures (to expand upon the perspective offered by musicologist Mark Katz in his book Capturing Sound) can develop in response to, or through the use and/or creation of, sound instruments. A sonic culture exists wherever a social group orients its activities around a particular set of practices that has to do with sound, listening/hearing (or non-hearing), and/or the use or creation of sound instruments. Examples are too numerous to list comprehensively, but Karin Bijsterveld has highlighted sonic cultures among scientists, engineers, and medical practitioners in her book Sonic Skills, and Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco documented sonic cultures of instrument making and use in their book Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer.

As part of the National Science and Media Museum’s recent incorporation of sound technologies as a key area of collecting and research, the purpose of this interdisciplinary conference is to critically explore relationships between sound instruments and sonic cultures. Concurrently, a conference to present the results of the museum’s AHRC-funded ‘Sonic Futures’ collaboration with the University of Nottingham will be happening and participants are welcome to also attend sessions at that event.