Careful Convivial Listening : Making Sound Work Apparent as Political Action

Abstract: Focusing on the creation and performance of sound work this doctoral thesis considers the value of listening as a site of political action. The meaning of sound work is dual; connoting both an artifact that is created and performed, a work of art, and the processes of creating sound, the work of listening. Listening is integral to the creation and performance of sound work and is defined in this thesis as an aesthetic relation generated in the in-between of hearing subject, sound and sound technology. Drawing on the philosophy of Hannah Arendt I recognize a distinction between the objective world building of work, and the transformative potential of political action. Listening and the relational qualities that listening affords are integral to the processes through which sound work can transform to become apparent as political action. In my doctoral research I consider a diversity of sound work including popular music, sound art, podcasting and contemporary experimental music. Applying an experimental media research methodology, I interrogate sound work’s potential to be made apparent as political action using a repertoire of methods drawn from ethnography, artistic research and participatory design. In this research I find that sound work’s potential to become apparent as political action is informed by both the quality of attention tendered by hearing subjects and the material affordances of sound and sound technology. Being attentive to the agencies of both human subjects and non-human objects I posit that an orientation towards careful convivial listening in the creation and performance of sound work can succeed in making political action apparent. Reflecting on the contribution that this research makes within the field of media and communication studies I recognise that sound work, careful convivial listening and experimental media exist as tools that can be applied in future research to build new knowledge and instigate transformative change.

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