Special journal issue for Sound Studies/Sonologia

12 Jun 2018 - 14:15
Logo of Interference Journal.


APC researchers involved in our focus on Sound Archives will be interested in a conference and special journal issue in this field in which APC post-doc,Thokozani Mhlambi, has been involved. In February 2018, a special issue of Interference: A Journal of Audio Cultures was published.

This is a journal interested in the role of sound in diverse cultural repertories such as acoustic ecology, philosophy, sensory anthropology, sound archives, music scholarship and technology studies; as a meeting point between scholarly writing, creative output and public activism.

The special issue, subtitled ‘Out of Phase,’ is based on selected papers from the Sonologia conference, which was held by the NuSom Research Centre on Sonology at the University of Sao Paulo in 2016.

Out of Phase, a technical audio engineering term, is used both in the literal and metaphoric sense, to denote a leaning towards views that are out-of-sync with familiar approaches in sound studies. And is fitting to the framing of sound studies as ‘sonologia’: a framing of sound studies to emerge in the Global South, which places emphasis on the cross-disciplinary element—computer science and acoustics, performance and media studies, and the sound arts.

Among the papers in the collection is a contribution by Mhlambi, whose article on loudspeaker broadcasting in Zulu in the 1940s explores alternative genealogies of listening from African perspectives. In the loudspeaker broadcasts, African men (and sometimes women) were called to assemble in order to hear the news the authorities felt were important in relation to the Second World War. South Africa’s involvement in the war was nominally accepted by most people.

This meant the authorities needed to secure a particular view about the war in the minds of listening audiences. But now where radio was expensive and out of the reach of most African people, a scheme was devised of placing loudspeakers in mining compounds, beer halls and other places where people would congregate. Drawing on HIE Dhlomo’s theorization of the role of inkomo (cow) in Zulu long history and thought, Mhlambi suggests that these may be deemed modern examples of listening, drawn from older techniques of listening to inkomo horns that would call people to assemble. He also shows how the crowd-gathering element of such listening events was subsequently used in the crafting of British colonial governance, by bootlegging African indigenous models.

In the special issue, sound and video artist, Sindhu Thirumalasaimy, writes about her sound artwork for temples in Bangalore, and addresses the tensions between secular and religious life in everyday India. Andre Damiao reflects on the production of experimental electronic music mediated by mobile music, and speculates that as long as we crave for “innovation which often transpires in the experimental music field as an exchange of the search for the ‘new sound’ pursued by the vanguards of the twentieth century in the quest of ‘new technology,’ without considering the specificities of each medium and what is its real social impact, we will continue doing more of the same, regardless of the media we use.”

Katrin Koppert’s work deals with the soundscape of HIV/AIDS activism. She argues that the emphasis on sound presents alternative approaches of what political activism could be in contemporary contexts. Of course, the subject of HIV activism is of paramount importance to readerships in southern Africa, where HIV activism has been most impactful in shifting perspectives. (See for example the work of the Treatment Action Campaign in the early 2000s and Mozambique’s media campaigns)

Explaining the way the papers were curated, co-editor Lilian Campesato explains that the project “was an important opportunity to create networks between local researchers with other like-minded people outside a Euro-American axis or point of view…to bring in contact other ‘voices’ in terms of methodologies and approaches.”

Given the diverse range of topics and geographical locations covered by the special issue, it is clear that the emergent field of sound studies, having gained currency since the 1990s, is still undergoing redefinition. As philosophical traditions rooted in Greek classical thinking confront cultures from parts of the world espousing different genealogies of knowing about the senses and contexts of sound production, they are being destabilized.