Sound Studies’ Basic Terminology


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How can we speak about sounds? Mainly there are four terms used to speak about sounds in the research field of sound studies; there are of course a lot more terms in diverse cultural and artistic theories of the last decades (acousmatic, audile, audible, you name them) – but those terms seem not yet to have caught on in the broadest possible discourse on sound. Often the following four basic terms seem to be used rather arbitrarily and in a rather not very reflected manner. So, could we even agree on just basic, reasonable and consensual descriptions and usages of these four terms amongst sound studies scholars? For a start I would like to propose the following definitions:

a) sonic/sonique/sonisch: referring to a culturally defined, a historically and locally very specific and transformational concept of sound in general (cf. Wicke 2008)

b) auditory/auditif/auditiv: referring to the operations of hearing and listening as performed by the whole body of human creatures in a specific cultural and historical context (and not referring to listening by the ears only)

c) aural/aurale/aural: referring to the specific concept of hearing and listening by concentrating only on the ears as listening organs (and not referring to the whole body in kinesthetic motion in everyday life as listening organ)

d) acoustic/acoustique/akustisch: referring to the very specific cultural concept of sound as proposed and disseminated by research and teaching on physical acoustics

This discrimination of these four terms (following of course my personal experience of their use in the sound studies-discourse) might allow us to use these in a way that helps us in speaking about different concepts and aspects of sounds in a meaningful manner.

If there are terms that need to be defined and thought about in addition to these four: Feel free to contact me/us!