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Occasional posts on subjects including field recording, London history and literature, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.

13 January 2010

Weird Vibrations and the politics of sound

SOME RECOMMENDATIONS FOR other sound-related websites are long overdue, and there’s no better one to begin with than Ben Tausig’s Weird Vibrations blog.


The Ohio-based Weird Vibrations sets out its ambitions in a short ‘About’ section:

The site was created out of a belief that how we sense the world is a crucial political problem. Sense is at the heart of consumption – of media, food, art, material objects – as well as engagements between individuals. Influencing sensual preferences en masse is a key to political and economic power.

Also, Weird Vibrations appears keen on a conceptual integration of several different areas of research and practice into the single discipline of Sound Studies. More on this in a moment. The blog shows a voracious curiosity encompassing all sorts of subjects, each written about in a very clear explanatory style.

Here are some post topics picked at random: ethics in sound recording, visualization of sound using wavelets, sonic sculpture, sound design in film, sound in bureaucratic settings, the old practice of people hired to read literature and news to factory workers, the use of voice in protest. It’s a real pleasure roaming across them. Ben also includes some of his own field recordings: this one of a Thai language teacher working with English-speaking students is a particular favourite.

There’s an interesting post titled A Sound Studies Primer, which in my mind raises a lot of questions about what a fully-formed discipline of Sound Studies might be like. What practices and disciplines would it seek to integrate, and within what kind of framework? For someone tending towards reductionism, this isn’t easy to grapple with. My own hunch is that there may be some mileage in adapting the speech act theories of philosophers like John Searle and J.L. Austin to develop a theory of sound acts. The inclusion of a ‘sound actions’ section on London Sound Survey is a way of wondering about that out loud, but goes no further.

Weird Vibrations, I suspect, has a clearer road map and it’ll be well worth watching to see how it develops. The biologist John Maynard Smith believed it was valuable to allow room for both holism and reductionism, and so have a ‘well-furnished mind’. If you’re looking to stock up your mind, visit Weird Vibrations.

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