The Contemporary Sound Object: Introduction

The Contemporary Sound Object
Jo Burzynska and Richard B. Keys

“Close to seven decades ago Pierre Schaeffer proposed his idea of the ‘sound object’; by which any sound could be perceived as a whole, independent of its origin and meaning. Through explorations using the electroacoustic technology of his day, he came to perceive the sound object as something plastic and possessing the potential for radical recontextualisation. However, the world we now live in has seen our cultural production reconfigured by new technological, social, political and economic revolutions, which leads us to ask in this issue of Writing Around Sound, what is the contemporary sound object?

Music has witnessed a migration away from physical to virtual objects; with records and instruments replaced with sound files and computers capable of the kind of rapid and extreme transformations that Schaeffer’s tape splicing could never accomplish. Our world has become digitised. In today’s sonic environments bird calls are often indistinguishable from mobile ringtones, and viral YouTube clips sound from and in the streets. However, in reaction to this ‘digital turn’, recent years have also seen a revival of the tangible in sound: from cassette culture and material-based installations, to embodied sound and the renewed popularity of analogue hardware, modular synthesis and home-built circuitry.

Just as our current climate is diverse, so is the application of the notion of the sound object in the contemporary context. It’s a concept that invites multifarious standpoints and perspectives, as evidenced by the varied responses of the contributors to this issue. These range from a dialogue between environmental acoustic information and its bodily perception to the subtle pleasures of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), a collective female radio walking acousmonium to the sound object as society itself.

We hope these offer an insight into the ways the understanding of the sound object may have played forwards since its inception, rather than getting stuck in one of Schaeffer’s endlessly looping locked grooves.”

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