2020-2021 seminar Hypatia Vourloumis: Writing Sound/Sound Writing: Resonating Materialities II: from month to month

Seminar 5 (April) online

Our exploration into what sounding and writing may, or may not have to do with each other, ends with a delving into several short writings by performance theorist and author of Listening in Detail: Performances of Cuban Music, Alexandra T. Vazquez. Vazquez’s scribing ear teaches us that to listen is to do hard work; it is to pay attention to what often goes unheard and unvalued. Vazquez’s hard work reveals the ways a listening in detail entails an expansion and deepening of historical, archival and city records, an attunement to the ways migrations of sound are always inseparable from the migration of people, and the too often uncredited work, artistry, musicianship and inventiveness of women in musical archives and the musical present. Vazquez’s brilliance lies in that she compositionally weaves different strands of research together (performance studies, gender and class studies, Latino/a studies, history and more), whilst never sacrificing the feel and feeling, love and loving, life and living of music; the ways a certain sound makes us “shut up and dance,” how a beat or intro launches us up and in and out to shake loose with others, or alone (are we ever alone with and in music?) We end our seminar with these short essays by Vazquez to attend to the ways deep listening entails deep writing.

For the second part of our seminar, we will read Julia Steinmetz’s healing essay on composer Pauline Oliveiros so as to ask: “what can listening do?” Further exploring the dynamics of feminist listening, we will also read out loud several of Oliveiros’s passages and exercises in her book Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice in order to practice a deep listening and sounding together across our internet connection, collection, and composition. 


Vazquez, Alexandra T. “How Can I Refuse?” Journal of Popular Music Studies 23, nr. 2 (2011): 200-206.

Vazquez, Alexandra T. “The Mega Mezclapolis.” In Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, edited by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. Oakland: University of California Press, 2016. 

Vazquez, Alexandra T. “The Wonder of Delays.” Current Musicology 102 (2018): 239-241.

Steinmetz, Julia. “In Recognition of Their Desperation: Sonic Relationality and the Work of Deep Listening.” Studies in Gender and Sexuality 20, nr. 2 (2019): 119-132.

Oliveiros, Pauline. Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice. Troy, NY: Deep Listening Publications, 2005.


Seminar 4 (March) online

Our fourth seminar will explore “jazz and the literary imagination” following Brent Hayes Edwards’s introduction and first chapter of Epistrophies on the typing, archiving, collaging, and correspondences of Louis Armstrong, and larger questions surrounding the relationship between music and writing, or more precisely, music as criticism and vice versa. We will also be closely engaging with several of Louis Armstrong’s letters to read, hear and feel the theory and musicality of his typings, which he termed “gappings.” The understanding of music as criticism leads us to the work of Fumi Okiji and her notion of “jazz as critique” in her book of the same title. Revisiting Adorno and Black expression, Okiji’s invaluable work poses important questions surrounding alternative socialities and “gatherings in difference” by way of a vital redrawing of the relationship between jazz and critical theory. The entanglement of music, critical theory and poetry will be further explored by way of an engagement with Fred Moten’s poems in B Jenkins and his interview in the book Words Don’t Go There. All of these texts will be approached as a “gathering in difference,” as practicing band, where band members Edwards, Armstrong, Holiday, Mingus, Moten, Jenkins, and Okiji, and many more, jam together and teach us how to listen, read, and write, and what to listen to, read, write, and practice.


Armstrong, Louis. Louis Armstrong: In his own words. Thomas Brothers, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Edwards, Brent Hayes. Epistrophies: Jazz and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017. 

Moten, Fred. B Jenkins. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.

Okiji, Fumi. Jazz as Critique: Adorno and Black Expression Revisited. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018.


Seminar 3 (February) online

This seminar engages with questions vibrant matter, colonial archives of sound, aurality and the sonic ecologies of anticolonial writing. For recently published writing on the seminar's themes see my essay published in The Contemporary Journal on February 2, 2021, edited by Sofia Lemos for the online publishing platform of Nottingham Contemporary under the theme Sonic Continuum. https://thecontemporaryjournal.org/strands/sonic-continuum/the-sonic-ecologies-of-anticolonial-writing
Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.
Wilson Harris, "The Music of Living Landscapes," in Selected Essays of Wilson Harris: The Unfinished Genesis of the Imagination, ed. Andrew Bundy. Oxfordshire: Routledge, 1999.
Ana Maria Ochoa Gautier, Aurality: Listening and Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Columbia. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.


Seminar 2 (January) online

For our second seminar we are closely reading Wai Chee Dimock’s essay “A Theory of Resonance” and excerpts from Nathaniel Mackey’s book Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing. Dimock argues that literature moves through space-time continuums and that the literary is always necessarily read and interpreted outside its “temporal vicinity.” Dimock offers the analogy of resonance in order to attend to semantic change and the ways frequencies and vibrations abound across literature’s “diachronic historicism.” Here, texts are understood as emerging phenomena that constantly unravel as changeful non-entities that yield words differently across time and contrary readings. Dimock attends to the noise inherent to interpretive contexts, reinscribing literature as marked by its “non-integral survival... its tendency to fall apart, to pick up noise, to break out in a riot of tongues.” For Dimock, literature bears the generic mark of incompleteness. 

In Discrepant Engagement Nathaniel Mackey also proposes a theorization of noise. Attending to the problems of canonization, fixed categorizations, axiomatic exclusions and monolithic understandings of identity, Mackey engages in a method of discrepant engagement and creative kinship by bringing together writers and musicians in a conversation across disciplines, fields and geographical divides. By weaving together the sounds, novels, poems and theories of practitioners from the US and the Caribbean, black or white, Mackey’s book calls for a questioning of convention and attends to these works as refractory, insubordinate and oppositional “rumblings.” In essays such as “Poseidon (Dub Version)” and “Other: From Noun to Verb,” Mackey seeks to open “presumably closed orders of identity and signification, accent fissure, fracture, incongruity, the rickety, imperfect fit between word and world.” Echoing Dimock’s intervention that proposes literature is experienced as and within noisy phenomena and context, Mackey also emphasizes that the method and practice of discrepant engagement by way of experimental writing and cross-culturality, rather than suppressing noise, acknowledges it. In following these two authors this seminar valorizes noise, sound and experimental writing in order to shake and creak “preconceptions regarding who belongs where and with whom,” as Mackey insists.


Wai Chee Dimock, “A Theory of Resonance.” PMLA 112, no. 5 (Oct, 1997). 

Nathaniel Mackey, Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1993.


Seminar 1 (November) Oldenbroek

Writing Sound 

Extending “sound studies toward the urgencies of contemporary life” (p.1) Brandon LaBelle’s book Sonic Agency: Sound and Emergent Forms of Resistance outlines and points to what is at stake, and often ignored, in a study of sound – namely the politics and social formations of sound, or inversely, sound as politics and social formation. LaBelle works “through an acoustical framework…” in order to trace “the ways in which the life of the senses is equally a political question.” (p.3) For our first seminar we will closely read the opening chapter of this book “Unlikely Publics: On the Edge of Appearance,” so as to develop a foundational contextualization at the start of this course regarding the development of sound studies as discourse, what defines “sound,” and questions of methodology. And we will pay close attention to the ways in which LaBelle, through “an auditory position,” listens and writes to the ways “sounding practices and engaged listening may contribute to the new ‘ways of being and doing’ by offering a critical route through contemporary realities.” (p.25)

Another foundational text we will be discussing in depth is Theodor Adorno’s essay “Music, Language, and Composition” (1956) so as to attend to the dialectic between music and language, as Adorno understands it, and the ways this dialectic leads to philosophical questions about context, interpretation, signification, composition and representation. What does a close reading of this essay reveal about the differences between communication and communicability? Furthermore, we will closely attend to Adorno’s own discursive slippages (the moments where the dialectic he sets up collapses) and think through what they may generate and enable. 

Brandon LaBelle. Sonic Agency: Sound and Emergent Forms of Resistance. London: Goldsmiths Press, 2018.
Theodor W. Adorno. "Music, Language, and Composition," in Essays on Music (Richard Leppert, ed. Susan H. Gillespie, trans.) Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002: 113 - 126.