European Sound Studies Association Conference in Berlin

ESSA-konferenceEntry written by Philippa Lovatt

I was very fortunate to receive funding from   the Division to allow me to attend the inaugural European Sound Studies   Association Conference in Berlin 4-6th October 2013, which was   organised by the Sound Studies Lab at Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin and the   international research network Sound in Media Culture. The conference theme   ‘Functional Sounds: Auditory Culture and Sound Concepts in Everyday Life’   brought together a wide range of fascinating approaches to sound studies from   sonic artists, sound designers, sound archivists, historians, geographers and   musicologists. The range of topics covered at the conference was extremely   impressive and inspiring. For my own research, I was particularly interested   in the number of papers that addressed sound and politics through topics as   rich and diverse as the use of extreme metal music in military interrogations   (Dominik Irtenkauf), and the gendered and classed experience of sonic   geographies in the Smithfield Square area of Dublin (Linda O’Keefe). Keynote   papers came from Douglas Kahn who discussed the sonic environment and Jason   Stanyek who talked about the history of noise cancellation technologies, and   both addressed the core concerns of the conference in thought-provoking ways.
My own paper, entitled ‘Carceral Soundscapes:   Sound and Embodied Experience in films about Imprisonment’, explored how   ideas about sound, power and space in lived experience can be mapped onto the   microcosm of the prison environment as it has been depicted on film, and focused   in particular on A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson, 1956) and Hunger (Steven   McQueen, 2008). Sound design in film can provide insights   into how characters perceive their environment through subtle changes in   auditory perspective. In   this way, it can also align the spectator with the perspective of particular   characters. My paper considered what kinds of emotions this ‘closeness’ draws   out (empathy, pity, disgust?). And considered the ethical implications of   this phenomenological experience of cinematic space when viewing extreme   physical and emotional suffering of the kind depicted in these films.
The opportunity to exchange ideas at ESSA   with people similarly interested in sound but from very different backgrounds   had a bit impact on my own thinking about the subject of cinematic depictions   of sound and imprisonment, and sound and violence. I have since begun   developing this work into a longer piece that I intend to become part of a   monograph on Sound Design and the Ethics of Listening.
Judging by the range, volume  and quality of papers and performances at   ESSA in Berlin, this is a very exciting time for sound studies as it finally   emerges as a field in its own right. Inspired by the transdisciplinary   opportunities that sound studies presents us with, along with colleagues at   University of Edinburgh (Dr Martin Parker) and University of Glasgow (Dr   Michael Gallagher and Dr Nick Fells), I have organised the first meeting of   the UK Sound Studies Network to take place in Glasgow on 30th   April 2014. If you’d like to join us, please feel free to email me at to book a place.