Audible Phenomena in the Everyday


Session Title:

  • Sensory Body (Papers)

Presentation Title:

  • Audible Phenomena in the Everyday




  • This paper is a provocation to consider sounds as forces acting on us in urban settings, both on audible and inaudible registers. The constant stream of urban sound and its impact on us has been considered by disciplines as varied as audio-ecology, the arts, neuro-anthropology and town planning. The ways in which we interact with the urban landscape reveal how our capacity to hear and listen has both evolved and devolved alongside the gradual disappearance of quiet.

    Increasingly interdisciplinary art works reflect the complexities of our contemporary self-awareness within this constantly audible and man-made landscape. Additionally works such as those by artist Professor Christina Kubisch point to an awareness of near silent, electro-magnetic sound. Her work can be used as a starting point from which to consider the effects on humans, of pervasive space informatics, which computerises the environment to respond to and transmit signals about our movements. Increasing volumes and dense sonification risk the erosion of human sensibility to our own interiority. This paper takes interiority as defined by an introspective monologue, or threads of thought explored in works such as the video experiments of neuro-anthropologist Dr. Andrew Irving. In order to be heard over the din, the inner monologue cannot afford to be sensitive, nuanced and open. In effect, we develop a hard shell to navigate the intensity of the city with, particularly engaging what this paper terms ‘an internal mute button’.

    As urban development increases, city centres intensify and peripheries expand and so our mostly sound absorbent, natural landscape disappears. Additionally living, travelling and working within inconvenient proximity to one another becomes the norm, resulting in our own ambient circle of sound overlapping unavoidably with the those of others, and the sanctuary of near-silence becoming no more. This paper considers how the arts are addressing these concerns from the starting points that awareness is permeable and sound diffuse.

    Auditory processing of these environments can result in sensory overload, yet we have learned to survive with the din as an everyday practice. If our sensory integration with ourselves and proprioception has become fraught with interruption, to navigate the streets our capacity to deal with prominent sound while being aware of our interiority has changed. This paper considers artists exploring the effects of this daily knowing disregard on our wider perception of the world and our position within social webs. Means of study include the examination of inner monologues in urban environments, public artworks that activate near-silent electrical phenomena and the musical field which, due to the urban landscape itself, has expanded since the last century.