Auditory archaeology: object, text and place as Sonic Time Capsule

Prof. Paul Whitty
Research Director for Film, Fine Art and Music, Director of the Sonic Arts Research Unit (SARU), Oxford Brookes University

This paper examines relationships between objects, texts and places and their potential activation as Sonic Time Capsules. Using auditory archaeology as the principal methodology it proposes the prioritization of sound as the principle method of reading our surroundings.

Sound is latent in the objects that surround us. The sounds of manufacture – memorably synchronised with our experience of the finished object by Robert Morris in his Box with the sound of its own making (1961); the sounds of use; of installation – even that most mute of objects, the shelf, has a rich auditory heritage when it comes to installation; of location – the soundscape inhabited by the object. This paper will explore the auditory world of the object; the insight that texts can give us into past soundscapes inhabited by those objects; and the former life of objects and places. Examining how the objects we encounter in our everyday lives – if we listen to their auditory past – can become Sonic Time Capsules hidden in plain sight.

Sound is a key element in the evocation of place in novels and poetry from the ‘bellow and uproar’ of Mrs. Dalloway’s London (Virginia Woolf; 1925); to the sound of radio static described by Tom McCarthy in his novel C (2010): ‘The static’s like the sound of thinking.’ The written word is rich with allusion to sound and this is particularly observed in the Text Scores of experimental composers. Alvin Lucier’s Gentle Fire (1971) features lists of sounds
that tell us much about the world the author inhabited in 1971 ‘Buzzing saws, Landing jets, Drilling rigs…’ and forms an index for further exploration of the soundscape of the early seventies.

In examining this territory I seek to activate the cacophony of auditory information latent in our daily experience.

11:30 (PRM Lecture Theatre) Saturday, November 24
Session 2: Making Sonic Time Capsules: Histories and Futures of Listening and Circulating


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