(Danish translation by Steffen Krejberg Knudsen: Støj er nydelse. Støjens antropologi, in: Kulturo 22 (2016) No. 41, Støj, p. 10-18)


Have you ever experienced total and radical silence? Probably not. Only if you enter an anechoic chamber, a room in which technically almost all first and subsequent reflections, all noises are blocked out, only in such a room you can experience total and radical silence. This silence is actual silence.

»The silence depressed me.
It wasn’t the silence of silence.
It was my own silence.«
(Plath 1963)

This silence is actual horror: As soon as you enter an anechoic chamber you realize: There is no one here. I am all alone. Not the slightest noise is to be heard in here. I am disconnected from everyone around. No one at all is connected to me anymore: There might exist not the slightest social relations anymore for me to connect with. I am lost – also in time and space. I do not know anymore where I am, I do not know anymore what time it is. An anechoic chamber is a sort of solitary confinement.

»Words are meaningless
And forgettable«
(Depeche Mode 1999, track 6)

There are other moments or environments in which you might feel in opposition to this loss of connectivity and of orientation, of security and hope, a certain momentary relief from professional or personal pressures. There are situations of relaxation, tenderness, of self-care. You might be tempted to call these situations silent. Though they are never effectively providing a state of radical silence at all. They only tone down and adjust the designed noise- & soundscape around you. This Soundscape is defined as:

»an acoustic environment
as perceived or experienced
and/or understood
by a person or people«
(ISO 12913-1:2014)

Suche aforementioned environments tone the soundscape down in a way that fits contemporary ideas of recreation and recovery in postindustrial, postcolonial and intensely networked cultures. Albeit there is one metaphorical interpretation of silence that could come quite close to this. If you follow some interpretations of silence as proposed by John Cage, by propagandists of various forms of auditorily lead meditations or other forms of spiritual self-reflection and reflected observation of a given environment, then the term silence is also used.

»Take a walk at night.
Walk so silently that
the bottoms of your feet
become ears«
(Oliveros 1974: 2)

Yet here the use of the word silence does almost never directly refer to an actually physical silence: The total immobility of all molecules and particles. Silence in these cases does refer foremost to a psychological and an enteroperceptive silence: A silence in one’s body, in one’s sensorium, in one’s mind. It is a silence of intentions, of urges, and of a will to dominate. The individual’s will to represent in a given situation only her or his own particularly individual interests or preferences is – quite willfully – silenced. It gets toned down. My intentions then keep silent.

»I sit quietly, listening, translating and responding,
I am touched and reach out with vibrations.

In my silence, my listening, the vibratory world
recreates itself in me,
and I become aware of the balance
between my bodily sounds,
my imagination
and the sounds entering my perception
from the world around me.«
(Stewart 2012)

Silence here means a rest of intentionality. Non-intentionality as silence. Hard to achieve, for sure; yet exactly for this quite obvious hardship a constant, a promising goal for many artists, thinkers, writers, composers. Even this sort of silence can though qualify as horror for some. Yet it is effectively a form of regeneration, a sort of training, a kind of perceptual and sensorial yoga. How to not overly dominate or even destroy this fragile, given situation?


Moving particles, objects, materials are the reason for sounding.

a mechanical disturbance
from a state of equilibrium
that propagates
through an elastic material medium.«
(Encyclopedia Britannica 2007)

Without moving particles there would be no sound. There are only remote and largly extreme, supposedly uninhabitable zones in the known time-space continuum where one does not find any moving and sounding particles at all. Where us anthropoid aliens dwell, there is matter: Where matter is, there is sound. This fundamental physical axiom results in an equally fundamental axiom for an Anthropology of Sound: The dwelling of alien anthropoids leaves sensory traces – sonic traces. Humanoid cultures are inherently cultures of movement and of resonance: cultures of sound.

»The historical, contemporary, and future
cultures of the popular
appear to be accessible through sound
and to function through it as well.

Sound is not incidental to popular culture:
it is fundamental to it.«
(Papenburg & Schulze 2016: 12)

There is no cultural practice hitherto known that would not effectively result in sonic traces and as such would not be activating the physical environment in a sort of resonance. Every single of your individual activities results in mobilizing materially the architecture, the furniture, the textiles, electric currents, the apparatuses stored in the location you are. The aural architecture (Blesser/Salter) of this place is activated.

»We can sometimes identify the aural architect of a space,
but more frequently, aural architecture is
the haphazard consequence of unrelated
socio-cultural forces.

Ancient cathedrals possess an aural architecture,
but without having had an aural architect.

Towns have an aural architecture that arises
from their natural geography and topography,
as well as from the uncoordinated construction
of streets and buildings.

Residential dwellings have an aural architecture determined by design traditions and construction budgets.

Aural architecture exists regardless of how the acoustic attributes of a space came into existence:
naturally, accidentally, incidentally, unwittingly,
or intentionally.«
(Blesser 2007: 5)

An anthropology of sound describes these activities of humanoid aliens as the activities of a multitude of highly idiosyncratic, of situated, corporeally present and dynamically moving sonic personae: Aliens in sound.


You, being a sonic persona, you move. As soon as you do not move anymore, as soon as nothing in your body is inclined to move, to show activity, to be present in any form of tension – as soon as this is the case you might already be dead for quite some time. You have gone into rigor mortis.

»When the body is no longer alive,
has no more tonus,
it either passes into rigor mortis (cadaverous rigidity),
or into the inconsistency of rotting.

Being a body is being a certain tone,
a certain tension.
(Nancy 2008: 134)

A sonic persona lives in sonic traces. It lives in sonic tensions. The noises a body and a being generates and activates are living and reverberating proof of her or his existence. Silencing a sonic persona is hence functionally equal to one’s annihilation. Your sonic corpus, your physiological and sensorial activity, your responsivity, your inherent and incessant communication and radiation of existence would then be inhibited, prohibited, extinguished. You would not be allowed to live, to articulate, to move.

»Noise is presence.

Noise realizes
present differences and conflicts
in their most hurtful, disruptic
and erratic appearance.«
(Schulze 2017: 314)

The mere articulation of existence by other humanoid aliens, by maybe hostile, by detested, rejected, hated or feared alien anthropoids does generate affects of anger and a will to silencing in you or me. One easily hates noise – as it is necessarily related to certain activities, to operated mechanical, electrial or electronic tools or to particular styles of conversation, of bodily activity or articulations of joy, excitement, of exhaustion or effort. Noise is – as remotely or indirect this might by – tied to other people. Noise ist people’s noise.

»Joy inspires, quivers, dances.

Life dances like a curtain of flames,
death stiffens; intelligence dances;
stupidity, repetitive, stands still;

intuition dances, logic and memory
merely programme robots;
words dance at their birth
and collapse into stereotypes;

desire dances, indifference sleeps.«
(Serres 2008: 320f.)

The joy hence, or the effort, the excitement, some person is articulating, is effectively and necessarily a sort of noise for all others not too familiar or too involved in this. The articulation of joy is an interruption, a distortion, a turbulence in the supposedly irresistably executed flow of everyday activities in capitalist societies.

Joy as noise therefore implies noise as presence. Noise as articulation. Noise as representation. Noise as existence. Any form of existence an anthropoid alien like you or me could imagine is actually noise. Being noisy is how one is performing, how one is being alive and in tension, being in resistance. In joy. Make some noise. Now? Will you?


Berry Blesser & Linda-Ruth Salter, Spaces Speak – Are you Listening? Experiencing Aural Architecture, Cambridge/Mass.: MIT-Press 2007.
Depeche Mode, Violator, London: Mute Records 1999.
ISO 12913-1:2014, Acoustics — Soundscape — Part 1: Definition and conceptual framework, Geneva: International Organization for Standardization. ISO 2014.
Jean-Luc Nancy, Corpus. Translated By Richard A. Rand, New York: Fordham University Press 2008.
Pauline Oliveros, Sonic Meditations, Baltimore: Smith Publications 1974.
Jens Gerrit Papenburg & Holger Schulze (eds.), Sound as Popular Culture. A Reseach Companion, Cambridge/Mass.: MIT-Press 2016.
Sylvia Plath alias Victoria Lucas, The Bell Jar, London: William Heinemann 1963.
Holger Schulze, The Sonic Persona. An Anthropology of Sound, New York: Bloomsbury Publishing 2017 (forthcoming).
Holger Schulze, Adventures in Sonic Fiction. A Heuristic for Sound Studies, in: Marcel Cobussen, Vincent Meelberg, Holger Schulze (eds.), Towards New Sonic Epistemologies. Journal of Sonic Studies 4 (2013) No. 1.
Holger Schulze, The Sonic Persona. An Anthropology of Sound, in: Axel Michels & Christoph Wulf (eds.), Exploring the Senses. South Asian and European Perspectives on Rituals and Performativity, London/New York/New Delhi: Routledge 2013, S. 181-191.
Holger Schulze, The Body of Sound. Sounding out the History of Science, in: SoundEffects – An Interdisciplinary Journal of Sound and Sound Experience 2 (2012), No. 1, pp. 196-208.
Michel Serres, The Five Senses: A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies. Translated by Margaret Sankey and Peter Cowley, New York: Continuum 2008.
Sharon Stewart, Listening to Deep Listening. Reflection on the 1988 Recording and the Lifework of Pauline Oliveros, in: Journal of Sonic Studies 2 (2012) No. 1