Neanderthal Electronics – Cph

November 3rd, 2012

Week one:

Definition of sound

Lecture given by Jonas Olesen on the nature of sound.
The following subjects were described:

– Sound as waves, wavelength, pitch, frequency, amplitude and phase
– Measurement units: HZ, DB
– Ultrasound, infrasound and sound as vibration
– Mechanical recording (Edison and Berliner)
– Basic sound visualization, waveform and spectrogram views.
– Nature of sine-waves and white noise
– Conversion of electromagnetism into sound

Rune Søcting – two lecture on the theory of sound and listening:


The lectures were intended as an introduction to a broad (though in no way exhaustive) range of theoretical positions, examples of key literature and concepts related to sound art. Even though it had historical references (and had a brief historical outline) it was not a historical account of sound art as such.

The notion of sound art was discussed and an entrance-point for an exploration was suggested: Rather than emphasizing the historical, formal or technological aspects of sound art, it was suggested that a sound art practice can be understood as establishing unique situations or conditions for listening.
This suggestion would then call for a reflection on how we should understand the act of listening. We would need to consider how listening as a practice can be understood in the light of a (among ohters) aesthetic, inter-subjectve, political, physical, technological, social and historical context.

The lectures then gave a critical introduction to the concepts of sound and listening through an outline of various theoretical positions.

Main emphasis was put on the following positions:

1. Theory of the sound object, the acousmatic, reduced listening. Pierre Schaeffer’s idea of a “sound object”, sound “in itself”, as it is expressed in his writing. The experience of sound qualitites in themselves for Schaeffer involves a special kind of focused attention – a perceptual reduction (“reduced listening”).

2. Ontological theory of sound as energy and as a material disturbance. From this perspective sound is a kind of energetic material disturbance: sound is in essence a physical vibration. A number of theories are developed based on this premise. Of particular interest within the scope of this theory is the relationship between signal and noise, especially as it was developed within the frames of information theory and later expanded and renegotiated by theorists such as Michel Serres and Aden Evans (and Christoph Cox). Listening in this perspective is less to be understood as a pick up of audible qualities. Rather listening is a special sensitivity towards events or energies in the environment. Listening is a kind of resonance with the vibrations of the environment.

3. Phenomenological/critical theory of the listening act. With particular reference to the writings of Jean-Luc Nancy and Salomé Voegelin, this position holds that listening is to be understood as a sensitivity to a bodily presence in an environment.
The auditory awareness (it is claimed) differs from a more static, conceptually driven and visually dominated perception. Unlike the visual knowledge-oriented attitude, listening offers an open-ended creative perceptual attitude to the environment.
This claim has a certain affintiy to the phenomenology as developed in the later writings by Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

With these theoretical positions in mind a number of (mainly “canonized” works) artworks were discussed, among others works by Pierre Schaeffer, Alvin Lucier, John Cage. A discussion unfolded based on the work by Tino Sehgal (This variation) from this years Documenta.

Literature mentioned:

Aden Evans: Sound Ideas, University of Minnesota Press, 2005
Christoph Cox: ”Sound art and the sonic unconscious”, in: Organised Sound, 14(1), 2009
Don Ihde: Listening and Voice, State University of New York Press 2007
Friedrich Kittler: Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, Stanford University Press, 1999
Jean-Luc Nancy: Listening, Fordham University Press, 2007
Pierre Schaeffer: Traité des objets musicaux, Éditions du Seuil, 1966
Salomé Voegelin: Listening to Noise and Silence, Continuum, 2010

On the (philosophical) definition of sound: Roberto Casati, Jerome Dokic: ”Sounds” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy):

Lucretius: De Rerum Natura (online translation On the Nature of Things:

General literature mentioned
Douglas Kahn: Noise Water Meat, MIT press 1999
Caleb Kelly (ed): Sound, Documents of Contemporary Art, Whitechapel Gallery, MIT press 2011
Brandon LaBelle: Background Noise, Continuum 2006
Helga de la Motte-Haber: Klangkunst: ”Tönende Objekte und klingende Räume”, Handbuch der Musik im 20. Jahrhundert 12, Laaber-Verlag 1999
Daniel Warren & Christoph Cox (ed.): Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, Continuum 2004

Week two:

Neanderthal electronics. with Derek Holzer:

Pictures from the course: