Thor Magnusson: Sonic Writing: Technologies of Material, Symbolic, and Signal Inscriptions (2019)

16 September 2019, dusan

Sonic Writing explores how contemporary music technologies trace their ancestry to previous forms of instruments and media. Studying the domains of instrument design, musical notation, and sound recording under the rubrics of material, symbolic, and signal inscriptions of sound, the book describes how these historical techniques of sonic writing are implemented in new digital music technologies. With a scope ranging from ancient Greek music theory, medieval notation, early modern scientific instrumentation to contemporary multimedia and artificial intelligence, it provides a theoretical grounding for further study and development of technologies of musical expression. The book draws a bespoke affinity and similarity between current musical practices and those from before the advent of notation and recording, stressing the importance of instrument design in the study of new music and projecting how new computational technologies, including machine learning, will transform our musical practices.

Sonic Writing offers a richly illustrated study of contemporary musical media, where interactivity, artificial intelligence, and networked devices disclose new possibilities for musical expression. Thor Magnusson provides a conceptual framework for the creation and analysis of this new musical work, arguing that contemporary sonic writing becomes a new form of material and symbolic design–one that is bound to be ephemeral, a system of fluid objects where technologies are continually redesigned in a fast cycle of innovation.”

Publisher Bloomsbury Academic, New York & London, 2019
ISBN 9781501313851, 1501313851
xiv+290 pages

Reviews: Gregory Taylor (Cycling ’74, 2019), Diana Chester (Interference, 2019).

Author’s research blog


Thomas Patteson: Instruments for New Music: Sound, Technology, and Modernism (2015)

25 November 2015, dusan

“Player pianos, radio-electric circuits, gramophone records, and optical sound film—these were the cutting-edge acoustic technologies of the early twentieth century, and for many musicians and artists of the time, these devices were also the implements of a musical revolution. Instruments for New Music traces a diffuse network of cultural agents who shared the belief that a truly modern music could be attained only through a radical challenge to the technological foundations of the art. Centered in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s, the movement to create new instruments encompassed a broad spectrum of experiments, from the exploration of microtonal tunings and exotic tone colors to the ability to compose directly for automatic musical machines. This movement comprised composers, inventors, and visual artists, including Paul Hindemith, Ernst Toch, Jörg Mager, Friedrich Trautwein, László Moholy-Nagy, Walter Ruttmann, and Oskar Fischinger. Patteson’s fascinating study combines an artifact-oriented history of new music in the early twentieth century with an astute revisiting of still-relevant debates about the relationship between technology and the arts.”

Publisher University of California Press, Nov 2015
Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike 4.0 license.
ISBN 9780520963122 (EPUB), 9780520963122 (PDF)
250 pages



Stefan Helmreich: An Anthropologist Underwater: Immersive Soundscapes, Submarine Cyborgs, and Transductive Ethnography (2007)

14 November 2014, dusan

“In this article, I deliver a first-person anthropological report on a dive to the seafloor in the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s three-person submersible, Alvin. I examine multiple meanings of immersion: as a descent into liquid, an absorption in activity, and the all-encompassing entry of an anthropologist into a cultural medium. Tuning in to the rhythms of what I call the “submarine cyborg”—“doing anthropology in sound,” as advocated by Steven Feld and Donald Brenneis (2004)—I show how interior and exterior soundscapes create a sense of immersion, and I argue that a transductive ethnography can make explicit the technical structures and social practices of sounding, hearing, and listening that support this sense of sonic presence.” (Abstract)

Published in American Ethnologist 34(4), 2007, pp 621-641.

PDF (from the author, updated on 2016-8-25)