Summer 2014: Berlin

Part II: Epistemologies and the Order of Sound 

(NYU Center / MPIWG Berlin, August 18-22, 2014)

When the natural philosopher Robert Hooke failed in the late seventeenth century to explain the flight of birds and insects after years of research, he conceived a remarkable, if unsuccessful experiment: he imitated the sounds of flight using a spectacular machine, in order to understand by means of sound the complex rhythm of movement that escaped visual observation. In short, sound was considered to provide critical information for the study of nature where visual and optical devices (telescope, microscope etc.) seemed to be less helpful. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, sound was used more effectively to determine critical physical constants, like the speed of sound through gases (including air), liquids, and solids. Indeed, sound became an assay to test the physical purity of a number of metals. Sound vibrations served to verify physical laws, such as Laplace’s law, or the relationship between the change in density to the change in pressure of a sound wave. Physicists like Wilhelm Eduard Weber and Hermann von Helmholtz also used musical instruments, such as the organ reed pipe and the piano as scientific instruments. What emerges diachronically between these developments is the trace of a strategy that shall be considered more precisely within the frame of the summer school – namely the production of sound and the introduction of auditory apparatus, instruments and machines as alternate means of investigation.

The summer school is dedicated, on the one hand, to these strategies of auditory-medial knowledge production, which foster the generation of new modes of listening and leave their signature in the production and representation of knowledge by virtue of their specific mediality. On the other hand, the summer school will focus on the history of the order of sound: participants are invited to examine historical modes of sound identification and analysis, transduction and classification, the emergence of sound archives, and digital modes of audio tagging. We shall investigate how sound shaped scientific theories and ways of categorization.

A principle interest of the summer school lays in the role that mechanical, electroacoustic and digital media play in the history of knowledge and science:

  • In what ways do auditory media circulate between cultural or artistic praxis, neighboring scientific contexts and daily life?
  • To what extent do these media require and create their own techniques and strategies, new scientific disciplines, art forms or professions?
  • How are auditory media inventions related to local knowledge and site-specific material cultures, and how did they generate new modes of listening, investigation, archiving and imagination?
  • Can contemporary sonification and audification be related to preliminary forms of aural experimentation, imitations or simulation in the sciences?


We welcome contributions that respond to such questions from the perspectives of the History and Philosophy of Science, Science and Technology Studies, Cultural Studies, Archival Studies, Musicology, Media Studies, Art History, Theatre and Performance Studies, Literary Studies, Audio engineering, Architectural acoustics and Urban Studies.