For and Against Sound

Event Date: 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016 - 5:30pm

Event Location: 

  • 2509 SH
  • Transcriptions Research Center

Professor Stefan Helmreich

Elting E. Morison Professor of Anthropology Program Head, MIT 



What is sound? At a moment when modes of sonic representation and transmission bring into earshot sound from previously unheard realms—the deep sea, the inside of the head, outer space; when new technologies make it possible to conjoin hearing and deaf worlds through a common currency of vibration; and when techniques of “sonification” render audible nonsonic material and information (sun spots, climate-change data, nineteenth-century visual tracings of vibration patterns)—the definition of “sound” has expanded to access worlds previously inaudible, even unimagined. Thinking through recent technologies of transduction, eduction, and sonfication, this talk asks how we should conceptualize sound—as object? as event? as waves in oceans of media?


About the Speaker:

Stefan Helmreich is Professor of Anthropology at MIT. He is the author of Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas” (University of California Press, 2009) and, most recently, of Sounding the Limits of Life: Essays in the Anthropology of Biology and Beyond” (Princeton University Press, 2016). His essays have appeared in Critical Inquiry, Representations, American Anthropologist, and The Wire.


This talk is co-sponsored with the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Music and the Transcriptions Center.