The Edge of Words

2 May 2014

Thomas Western, PhD student, Music, University of Edinburgh

Writing Sound: Agency Beyond the Edge of Words


Sound recordings can be understood as non-verbal performances of verbal ideas. The framework of entextualisation and contextualisation (Silverstein and Urban 1996)— or the conversion of verbal discourse into non-verbal texts or artefacts, which then generate more verbal discourse as they return to the aural public sphere (Ochoa 2006)—is useful in conceptualising the place of words in the production, circulation, and reception of sound recordings. But the verbal is only one aspect of this cultural production; beyond the edge of words lie other heterogeneous agencies: technologies, the materiality of voices, aesthetic systems, institutional and state edict.

In this seminar I will explore these ideas through a case study of a field recording made in Britain after the Second World War, listening into its conception, and following it through various mediations and disseminations, right into the digitised present. Throughout I will trace how the verbal supervision of listening is continually and cyclically performed, submerged and reproduced; but also how recordings enact their own agency that evades verbal control as they drift, are recombined, and reassociated in new spatial and temporal settings.