The Sonarium, or, Towards a Spatiality Proper to Sound

One of the most refreshing aspects of Deleuzian philosophy is the imperative to create concepts. For music, a field long dominated by less-than-satisfactory incursions from other domains, the need for better concepts could not be more acute. In this paper I explore a concept constructed from within a sound-centred experience, what I’m calling “the Sonarium,” which I will argue has the potential to open thought to something closer to what I intuit about the way(s) we experience sound, and a better place from which to set out asking questions about musical ideas, musicality, rhythm, and beyond. One advantage to thinking about sound in terms of the Sonarium is that it disrupts the central intervention of this abstract creature we call pitch. Indeed, it challenges the authority of any preconceived object or dimension ordinarily recognised by scholars (and the well-known biases that attend these divisions). But ultimately the Sonarium is a productive concept, as I will argue, and resonates with some of Deleuze’s most challenging metaphysical concepts. It also reinvigorates some Bergsonian strands that have largely gone silent in discourse about Deleuze but which are exceedingly helpful for music.

Towards a Sonic Materialism

In 1986 James Clifford wrote in his introduction to Writing Culture, “Why bother about the ear?” as our culture is the result of acts of inscription, reading, and interpretation, acts within the domain of vision, visibility, and perspective. However, the final decades of the twentieth century have given rise to what is now known as “auditory culture” or “sound studies,” a new discourse that takes the aural relation between humans and their environment as its main topic.

Increasingly, sound studies must deal with ontological, epistemological, and methodological questions, such as How can sonic phenomena be scrutinised? How can knowledge on the sonic world be generated? And which methods enable the articulation of this phenomenon? These questions have led to the first initial and cautious steps toward what can be called a sonic materialism, which tries to avoid the pitfalls of a (new) essentialism and realism and argues in favour of acknowledging temporality and process (perhaps somehow comparable to Deleuze’s idea of becoming).

In my presentation I will try to sketch some contours of what a sonic materialism could be(come) and how this deviates from the conceptual frameworks that have dominated Western culture and discourses, as Clifford described back in 1986.