Skip to main content

Travelling Sounds: A cultural analysis of sonic artefacts in postcolonial Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TRAVELLING SOUNDS (Travelling Sounds: A cultural analysis of sonic artefacts in postcolonial Europe)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2020-08-31

The project studies modes of listening – understood both as a sensory modalities and ways of sonic thinking – around artistic interventions and everyday sonic practices in the urban spaces of Copenhagen and London. Focusing on the performative spaces around public monumental sculptures, the project explores the sonic situations, sonic artefacts, and sonic encounters and how they shape and are shaped by the postcolonial condition of Europe.

The project investigates modes of listening around three case studies: the public monumental sculpture I Am Queen Mary by artists LaVaughn Belle & Jeanette Ehlers and the temporary light sculpture Inuit Nutaat by artist collective SIIKU that was installed at the Greenlandic Monument in Copenhagen, and Karen Walker’s »Fons Americanus«, a monumental fountain for Turbine Hall of Tate Modern in London.

The study’s attention is on the decolonial potentials and tensions, the audible and inaudible sonic narratives, the intensities and materialities of sound, which reconfigure dominant narratives of colonialism and postcolonialism and challenge the regimes of looking and listening that tend to dominate modes of engagement and perception around public monuments.

The main objective of the project is to develop a practice-based methodology for the study of critical modes of listening around public monuments and in the urban space, which is accomplished by using auditory research methods such as field recordings and sound editing, the production and performance of audio walks, and the production of audio papers.

A comparative perspective is established through the case studies which allows an investigation of different listening positionalities, material-discursive entanglements, socio-spatial and institutional framings, and methodological questions.

An important outcome and conclusion of the project is that a sonic and sensorial engagement with modes of listening around public sculptures may contribute to practices of decolonial sonic thinking that challenge the cultural politics of perception and unmarked white listening positionalities in postcolonial Europe.
The main scientific achievement of the project is the development of a practice-based methodology for the study of modes of listening and sonic thinking in postcolonial Europe, which was developed in this project to study the postcolonial entangled histories and sensibilities in public urban spaces in Copenhagen and London, but which is a transferable to other (postcolonial) contexts as well. I analysed specific sonic situations, sonic artefacts, and sonic encounters using ethnographic methods (participant observation and semi-structured interviews) which were extended through sensory ethnography and sonic research methods such as field recordings and sound editing, the production and performance of audio walks, and the production of audio papers.

I especially contributed to further establish and develop the format of the audio paper within the academic world, as this is an innovative scholarly and sound-based publication format that is becoming recognized more broadly within sound studies as an equivalent to written articles. My own audio paper »Towards an ethics of Listening: Sonic research and postcolonial sensibilities« (2020) is a record of this.

Moreover, the project has established international and transdisciplinary research collaborations and networks (created through a symposium, workshops) that created exploitable results (through valuable publications) and that will continue to connect scientific communities in Denmark, the UK, Germany et. al, through their research on sound, listening, and cultural transformation.
The project contributed to the state of the art by closing the research gap between sound studies and postcolonial studies. This was accomplished by systematically linking the two research fields while establishing a methodology for the for the analysis of modes of listening and sonic thinking under the postcolonial condition of contemporary Europe.

The concept of Rhythming (Maier and Van Drie 2021) was established in collaboration with Marie Curie Fellow Dr. Melissa Van Drie and her project »SOUNDS DELISHIOUS« as a practice-based methodology for studying rhythm beyond musical scores and meter, and to analyse more deeply the sensory modes and performative acts that guide our sonic thinking.

The project has yielded a number of insights that will be of use in the larger field of sound studies, postcolonial and cultural studies, cultural anthropology and the study of European culture. On a larger scale, the findings of TRAVELLING SOUNDS will also impact academic and popular discourses on European cultural identity and Europe’s postcolonial condition – debates that have become even more prevalent with regard to the political and social challenges the EU members have to face regarding economic crises, the accommodation of refugees, and the Covid-19 pandemic. The results of TRAVELLING SOUNDS have become part of Academic Handbooks for students especially at MA level, and young researchers who study European and Globalisation Studies.
The results of TRAVELLING SOUNDS may also be relevant resource for policy makers in the context of culture, migration and integration politics in Germany and beyond.
Listening at the public sculpture I Am Queen Mary, Copenhagen, October 2019