In this seminar we will examine the role of hearing and listening as critical acts crucial to the formation of knowledge, meaning, culture, and communication. We will view listening and audition as culturally specific practices, as forms of performance in their own right, as modes of consumption and exchange, and as relationships to technologies. The following questions will animate our study of audition and sound:

  • How do humans experience the realm of sound? What is the difference between hearing and listening? How do practices of audition vary over time and across distances? What is the relationship between hearing and other sensory perceptions?
  • How are environmental, linguistic, and musical sounds understood and categorized cross-culturally? How has the distinction between sound and noise been imagined, created, and modeled across diverse contexts?
  • How have practices of listening been transformed historically? How have political, commercial, and cultural forces shaped what we are able to listen to, and how we listen to it? How have sound technologies (telephony, architectural acoustics, sound recording, etc.) contributed to a transformation of the senses?

We will address these questions through an exploration of case studies of soundscapes and practices of audition in contexts ranging from the rainforests of Papua New Guinea; to the urban spaces of Jamaican popular musical forms such as reggae, dancehall, and dub; to sounds in and of research laboratories and automobiles in the United States. We also will elaborate on how auditory cultures produce modes of knowledge and experience by examining the relationship between sound and audition in a variety of religious traditions including the recited Qur’an and Islamic music in Indonesia, environmental acoustics among New Age religious practitioners, and the sonic prompting of possession trance in West Africa.