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  • Center for Ethnomusicology
  • Department of Music
  • Department of Anthropology
  • Donald Keene Center
  • David Novak
  • Ana Maria Ochoa
Stylized spider web with rainbow colored lines

In recent years, several North American academic disciplines, including history, anthropology, ethnomusicology, and media studies, have devoted significant attention towards practices of listening. The act of listening is undoubtedly an underexplored dimension of modern sensory experience -- and of modernity itself, which is too often characterized by an overdetermined regime of visuality. What can listening offer to emerging interdisciplinary work on perception, performance, aesthetics, social life, and the circulation of sound media? Listening is more than a given function of musical interpretation, which might attend to sound only in its deliberately aesthetic or openly communicative forms. Rather, it is a culturally-situated practice that shapes the particular spatial and material conditions of our perception. Listening influences the social distinctions of daily life, and is inextricably bound to aesthetic and bodily experiences with music and noise. And increasingly, characterizations of listening recognize its diverse practices as productive transcultural relationships, which in themselves constitute the globalization of media. Our experiences with sound are key to broad projects of self-making that rewrite logics of authorship and cultural origin through circulation and new modes of appropriation.

Adding the metaphor of feedback to contemporary inquires into listening encourages us to reconsider the creative social relations that develop within the distinct spaces and circulations of sound media. Feedback touches on the cyclical nature of people’s experiences with recordings, the recurrent relationships between different sites of listenership, the connections between production and consumption, and the many circuits of authenticity and transformation through which sound travels. Re-situating feedback from cybernetics and network theory into mediated social practices of listening helps to reveal logics of interconnection, emplacement, attention and subjectivity that have become crucial to cultural politics. Feedback loops challenge linear histories of music; the isolation of hearing as a sense (and of listening publics from each other); and the maintenance of distinctions between genres and categories of musical style and experience. Feedback instead offers links, circulations, and connections: not as closed tautological arguments, but cross-wired circuitries that recognize constant change, and also stress their own coincidental and unpredictable infrastructure.

  • Karin Bijesterveld Historian and professor of Science, Technology and Modern Culture Maastricht University
  • Steven Connor Grace 2 Professor of English Cambridge University
  • James Fei Professor of Electronic Arts Mills College
  • Steven Feld Distinguished Professor of Anthropology Emeritus University of New Mexico
  • Charles Hirschkind Associate Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology University of California at Berkeley
  • Brian Kane Professor of Music Yale University
  • Louise Meintjes Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology Duke University
  • David Novak Associate Professor of Music University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Otomo Yoshihide Guitarist and composer
  • Mark Smith Distinguished Professor of History University of South Carolina
  • Jonathan Sterne Professor and James McGill Chair in Music McGill University
  • Amanda Weidman Professor of Anthropology Bryn Mawr College
  • Elizabeth Travassos Ethnomusicologist