2019-2020 seminar Hypatia Vourloumis: Sound (un)Bound: Resonating Materialities

Participating students in their first year: Georgia Stellin, Lou Lou Sainsbury, Marie Tuckova, Rosa Ronsdorf; and in their second year: Julian Rusz, Marc Norbert Hörler, Zachary Schoenhut, Raphael Daibert, Flávia Palladino, Gayatri Kodikal

About Hypatia Vourloumis

Sound (un)Bound: Resonating Materialities

Cut 0: Listening

This year’s seminar thinks through matters and questions of sound, listening and resonance. The title of the seminar – Sound (un)Bound – seeks to do several things at the same time. It aims to emphasize the ways in which we are moved by sound, singularly and collectively, as well as how sound is materialized, moves and how we may move toward it too, bounding toward bounding and boundless sound. It also seeks to think the sonic as bond, as something that binds as well as sound as bind itself. And it wants to point to our practice of language, reading and writing: how questions of sound are also bound to and unbound from the words we incantate, scratch, type, and write into books that are pressed and bound. Also, and perhaps most importantly, by way of the play of its own rhyming, the title of this seminar seeks to sound out materially the materiality of sound. 

As the relatively recent development and emergence of the field of sound studies is wrought with controversies (namely to do, as the editors of Remapping Sound Studies argue, with a Northern and whitened bias in its aims, scopes and objects of study and its elision and ignoring of a plethora of ongoing historical and contemporary studies of sound in brown and black thought, theory, aesthetics, poetics, sonic practices and performances of modernity) this year’s seminar will be the first of several that will sit with and think through the politics of the study of sound and resonance– whether in language, literature, philosophy, poetry, music, ritual, architecture, technology, social formations, popular culture, aesthetics, and what is termed as sound art.

In order to grapple with the boundlessness of sound we will study and produce our own theories of resonance. Resonance will be the key thread weaving across the different iterations of this course. Firstly, we can think of resonance as encounter. There is no published book so far that engages exclusively and explicitly with a theory of sonic resonance. This seminar makes the case that a theory of resonance is crucial to the methods, scopes and aims of collective anti-colonial theory and practice, resonance as key to what Gayatri Gopinath terms South to South relationalities” across indigenous and diasporic geographies, social movement and unruly aesthetics. It also emphasizes the ways in which resonance is inherently interdisciplinary as resonance is only possible by way of encounter, but more importantly still, the spaces it travels, occupies, and makes between said encounter. Thus, resonance is rich with the possibility of breaking down the borders and limits of individual objects and subjects, as well as fixed notions of time and space (it does this physically, materially, practically, as well as metaphorically, theoretically, philosophically). This is the larger project of the course: the critiquing and troubling of modernity’s borders, limits, categories, ontologies and delineated subjectivities by acknowledging a preceding and exceeding resonating sociality, and builds upon and is indebted to studies of sound in black studies (the Black Atlantic, Afro-diasporas, Afro-modernity) and anticolonial music, literature and poetics (Caribbean, Mediterranean and S E Asian). 

Secondly, we will engage with resonance as vibration via an analysis of the etymology of resonance” and its varying meanings and functions as a term across different fields in the humanities and sciences. Etymologically resonance comes from the Latin “re – sonare” which means simply to re-sound. Theorizing re-sounding we will focus on vibration in sound studies, acoustics, and classical and quantum physics. We will look to queer feminist quantum physicist and theorist Karen Barad’s work to deepen questions of resonance in relation to intra-actions, indeterminancy and entanglement. Resonance as entanglement will also lead us to the critical work of Denise Ferreira da Silva. Vibration will be thought through re-sounding, reverberation, the reverb, sound systems, where a case can be made that vibration, which is resonance, is what makes planetarities gel, from their most miniscule microbacterial-organisms, to the dance floor, to their infinite galaxies and constellations. Re-sounding is also always about repetition in and as difference (and can lead to a fruitful discussion on questions regarding iterability and recording).

Thirdly, resonance is experienced as vibrating sense. The seminar will also think through what we mean when we speak of resonance as feeling connection to something or someone. How it is to be affected or affect by way of resonance? Sense will be thought through the body but also aesthetically. The seminar will also think through the sounds of nonsense. It will think through how sensorial multiplicities search for a communicability not just through prescribed words but through sound by way of an “ensemble of the senses” as Fred Moten writes. Or as historian and poet Kamau Brathwaite notes: “The hurricane does not roar in pentameters.” For resonance is also a word for the transmission of feeling, thought, memory, what José Muñoz terms a “transmission of brownness” that forms a commons unknowable in advance. “These Brown feelings are not the sole province of people who have been called or call themselves brown. It is, instead, and more importantly, the sharing out of a brown sense of the world.” A shared historical precariousness and the sharing out of the unsharable, invaluable, incalculable.

And yet, resonance does not make for an easy and simplistic gathering of wholeness -- for resonance is always also a discrepant engagement, its movements and relays through time and space are simultaneously integrative and disintegrative. Fissure, fracture, incongruity, the rickety - the creaking of the word - these practices inhabit discrepancy for as Nathaniel Mackey writes: “Discrepant engagement, rather than suppressing or seeking to silence noise, acknowledges it.” Discrepant engagements are necessary for they reveal and sound out the ways in which “creative kinship and the lines of affinity it effects are much more complex, jagged and indissociable than the totalizing pretensions of canon formation tend to acknowledge.” Discrepant engagement “is the antifoundational acknowledgement of founding noise.” 

We will thus think of resonance as discrepant chorus and think and listen to echoes, rhymes and rhythms, cross cultural resonances, sonic archipelagos, Edouard Glissant’s “poetics of relation” and “opacity,” plurality, multiplicity, sounds and songs of non-human planetary life, sonic weaves. We will consider the ways in which resonance is a condition of possibility for critical fabulations that re-imagine and re-invent the world by resonating and meeting across difference –via different instances and performances of unexpected resonance, overlapping, and questions of in-betweenness, particularly in contemporary art, music and popular culture: i.e. experimental sampling, mixing, editing, writing, film, multi-media, collage. This leads us back to the findings in quantum physics that cut and touch are paradoxically one and the same. Finally, this all leads us to think sonic resonance as social resonance and for the listening to, the hearing of historical and present aesthetic and social compositions and possibilities for alternative organizing. The Invisible Committee write that revolutionary movements do not spread by contamination but by resonance.

If resonance is a key theoretical and methodological trope for our seminar the accompanying key thread running through it is the emphasis and close attentiveness paid to materiality. This is nothing short of the very question of studying performance itself. Due to sound’s ephemerality, formlessness and boundless capacities often the question of sonic materiality is surprisingly absent from the study of sound itself. Thus, this first iteration of the seminar will focus on the practice of listening – specifically: To what and how are we listening, where do the sounds we listen to come from and how are they produced? This is always a question of materiality, labour, techniques and technology. By technology I mean obvious machines such as phonographs, musical instruments, and computers and so on. But I also want us to think language itself as technology, orality and writing as recording and performance technologies as well.

Thus, the books we will be reading will guide us through the ways the study and theorizing of sound entails writing sound and sound writing. Or as Alexander Weheliye writes in his phenomenal book Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity – “thinking sound/sound thinking.” We will read Alexandra Vazquez’s vital feminist work Listening in Detail: Performance of Cuban Music in order to grapple with the ethics of an incremental listening to performance and fugitive sound, and we will read Josh Kun’s Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America in order to hear music and literature and painting together and how the singular materialities of the social aesthetics he studies complicate the supposedly fixed and simple, confining categories of music, art, race and nation. These are just some of the key texts we will be closely reading and listening to. Along with these books and other essays and poems such as Nathaniel Mackey’s “Cante Moro” and Haryette Mullen’s “Muse & Drudge,” our seminar will of course entail a lot of hearing and listening to different sources and movements of music and sounds, whether in songs, film, videos, art practices, documentaries and poetry – far too boundless and unknowable in advance to prescriptively list here in and across their singular, migrating and resonating materialities. 


Required readings will include:

Christine Bacareza Balance, Tropical Renditions: Making Musical Scenes in Filipino America. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.

Josh Kun, Audiotopia: Music, Race and America. Oakland: University of California Press, 2005.

Nathaniel Mackey, “Cante Moro” in Sound States: Innovative Poetics and Acoustical Technologies, edited by Adalaide Morris. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Fred Moten, B Jenkins. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.

Harryette Mullen, Muse & Drudge. San Diego: Singing Horse Press, 1995.

Pauline Oliveros, Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice. Lincoln, NE, iUniverse, 2005.

Janet Sarbanes, “Musicking and Communitas: The Aesthetic Mode of Sociality in Rebetika Subculture.” Journal of Popular Music and Society, 29, nr. 1, 2006.

Alexandra T. Vazquez, Listening in Detail: Performances of Cuban Music. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.

Alexander Weheliye, Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.


Seminar 1 (November)

For our introductory seminar on sound, we closely read chapters from Josh Kun’s Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America, in particular his essays on James Baldwin and the blues, and Jean-Michel Basquiat and jazz, hip-hop, djing -- ie: the relationship between literature and music, writing and listening, the painting of sound. We also paid close attention to how certain politics of singular and collective sounds and musical practices obliterate borders and fixed identities and monikers such as “American.”


Seminar 2 (January)

For this iteration of the course we are reading Roland Barthes’ essays “Listening” and “The Grain of the Voice.” Along with these two philosophical formulations on hearing, listening and voice we are delving into Alexandra T. Vazquez’s important book Listening in Detail: Performances of Cuban Music. We will closely read several chapters of this book in order to complicate Barthes’ approaches by way of Vazquez’s feminist detailed listening of the intertwined rhythms, instruments, gestures and voicings of the island’s sonic performances and the manners in which they are articulated and body forth. 



Roland Barthes. “Listening.” In The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music, Art, and Representation. New York: Hill and Wang, 1985.

Roland Barthes. “The Grain of the Voice.” In Music-Image-Text. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977.

Alexandra T. Vazquez. Listening in Detail: Performances of Cuban Music. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.