In recent years, scholars in fields ranging from media studies to history and musicology have turned explicitly to interrogations of the aural dimension of human existence. In so doing, they have challenged visually focused modes of historical and cultural analysis but have also problematized assertions of a peculiarly “visual” slant to modernity itself. These scholars’ insights hold the potential to enrich research across the humanities and social sciences, but a serious obstacle to operationalizing this research has been its intensely pan-disciplinary orientation. In engaging with the most important literature in sound studies, the scholar of sound necessarily confronts methods far outside the scope of any given discipline. To fully understand how sound and music have been conceptualized, categorized, and defined, it is necessary to seek out explanations that cut across disciplinary boundaries and methodologies.
The Music and Sound Studies Reading Group seeks to foster interdisciplinary conversations about sound with two primary aims. First, it will explore existing scholarship, relying on the staggered competencies of its members to make sense of this diverse body of literature. Three times in the fall and four times in the Winter, the Reading Group will meet to discuss salient topics in sound studies grounded in explorations of foundational texts paired with more recent scholarship, which continues to push the boundaries of conceptualizing what sound is, what sound can do, and how conditions of possibility create listeners through historically and culturally contingent sonic practices. The aim will be a more multifaceted and interdisciplinary understanding of the breadth and depth of the field of sound studies, including its perennial keywords, concepts and themes: soundscapes, sound objects, ecologies of sound, listening practices, and ontologies of sound, among others.
Secondly, the Reading Group will use these insights to inform our own work in our own disparate fields. Bringing to bear sound studies’ historical, musicological, ethnographic, philosophical, and literary-analytical approaches, among others, the Music and Sound Studies Reading Group will constructively critique participants’ works-in-progress at two end-of-semester workshops. Additionally, the second of these two workshops will feature a guest speaker. Ideally, this speaker will have produced important scholarly work in the field of sound studies that has either facilitated cross-disciplinary conversations or drawn from a range of methods to move the field forward.
Because Sound Studies continues to resist coherence in method and discipline – a tendency that cultivates innovation yet undercuts easy attempts to define it – emerging scholars may find it challenging to engage with the expansiveness of the field on their own. The Music and Sound Studies Reading Group remedies this by carving out space for graduate students to converse across disciplines, share expertise, and exercise a variety of approaches to sound and music. It is becoming increasingly unsustainable to approach the topics of ‘sound’ or ‘music’ from one’s own discipline alone. The ultimate objective of this RIW is to generate productive discussion between disciplines, to expose young scholars to a diverse lexicon that is specifically advantageous in this field, and to encourage conceptual flexibility in terms of asking how to contemplate and critique the complexities of self, culture, and nature through a sonic frame of mind.